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  • Comforting Things: cherished possessions as sources of social comfort and security, from the Palaeolithic to the present

    Penny Spikins

    Chapter from the book: Spikins, P. 2022. Hidden Depths: The Origins of Human Connection.

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    All around us, almost all the time, we see objects with no obvious function that seem to play an important role in our lives. This apparently bizarre obsession with non-functional objects is one of the most obvious differences between ourselves and other animals. Our lives are filled with all kinds of objects, not just those with a practical function but a whole range of mementos such as photographs, or treasured childhood toys, or necklaces or bracelets whose special place in our hearts has little to do with physical appearance. Although many non-industrialised societies are far less materialistic, even constantly mobile hunting and gathering populations create and attach meaning to objects such as beads, figurines or amulets, which do not have any immediate practical function.

    Here, we consider the extent to which new emotional vulnerabilities may explain our apparently bizarre emotional attachment to certain treasured things and provide an explanation for the creation, significance and movement of many non-functional things in the archaeological record. We draw together evidence for an often-overlooked characteristic of cherished possessions – their capacity to provide comfort and a sense of connection and counteract loneliness. We then consider the characteristics of those kinds of objects that particularly inspire a sense of comfort and security in our own societies and the extent to which these characteristics can also be found in archaeological artefacts from the Upper Palaeolithic. There will have been many other aspects of meaning that are important in the creation and use of non-functional things by Palaeolithic societies. Nonetheless, the significance of new emotional vulnerabilities, and compensatory attachments to objects, appears to provide important insights. By moving away from the concept that our own species – modern humans – must have had a superior mind to other humans, we can begin to better understand how new vulnerabilities may have been integral to community resilience.

    Understanding how we came to rely on cherished objects to bring us a sense of emotional security also leads to a better understanding of our human vulnerabilities and our need for warmth and social connection.

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    How to cite this chapter
    Spikins, P. 2022. Comforting Things: cherished possessions as sources of social comfort and security, from the Palaeolithic to the present. In: Spikins, P, Hidden Depths. York: White Rose University Press. DOI: https://doi.org/10.22599/HiddenDepths.g

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    Published on Aug. 23, 2022