The Center for Cognitive Archaeology will now start featuring books that faculty members believe all cognitive archaeologists should be reading! The current featured book, The Material Origin of Numbers: Insights from the Archaeology of the Ancient Near East, is written by UCCS alum Karenleigh A. Overmann.
Below is Professor Thomas Wynn’s description of the book:
In “The Material Origin of Numbers: Insights from the Archaeology of the Ancient Near East” Karenleigh Overmann pursues two ambitious goals – achieving a new understanding of Mesopotamian number systems and in so doing making a case for the active role of bodies and artifacts in the development of human cognition. Overmann deploys a broad-based analysis that includes data generated by psychologists, neuroscientists, linguists, ethnographers, archaeologists and mathematicians. Beginning with an account of the perceptual experience of quantity (subitization and magnitude appreciation) she uses judicious reference to ethnographic examples and comparative linguistics to highlight the importance of finger and body-part counting, and the use of artifactual assists such as tallies in the development of number sense, setting the stage for her discussion of Mesopotamian numbers. In her meticulous analysis of 4th millennium BCE clay tokens, token-impressed bullae, and clay tablets, including 2300+ hitherto uncatalogued tokens, Overmann is able to demonstrate that the clay tokens could not have been the earliest Mesopotamian number system, as some have argued, and that restrictive number use must have been in place since the onset of the Neolithic, with roots even deeper in the Palaeolithic. But the most provocative component of her presentation is her discussion of how material forms such as tallies and tokens interacted with human psychology and physiology to produce true abstract number concepts. The result is a tour de force of cognitive archaeology, destined to reshape the way archaeologists and cognitive scientists understand the role of material culture in cognitive evolution.