Prehistoric Perspectives on “Others” and “Strangers”

Anna Belfer-Cohen*, Erella Hovers

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

12 Scopus citations


Social “connectivity” through time is currently considered as one of the major drivers of cultural transmission and cultural evolution. Within this framework, the interactions within and between groups are impacted by individuals’ distinction of social relationships. In this paper, we focus on changes in a major aspect of social perceptions, “other” and “stranger.” As inferred from the archaeological record, this perception among human groups gained importance during the course of the Pleistocene. These changes would have occurred due to the plasticity of cognitive mechanisms, in response to the demands on behavior along the trajectory of human social evolution. The concepts of “other” and “stranger” have received little attention in the archaeological discourse, yet they are fundamental in the perception of social standing. The property of being an “other” is defined by one’s perception and is inherent to one’s view of the world around oneself; when shared by a group it becomes a social cognitive construct. Allocating an individual the status of a “stranger” is a socially-defined state that is potentially transient. We hypothesize that, while possibly entrenched in deep evolutionary origins, the latter is a relatively late addition to socio-cognitive categorization, associated with increased sedentism, larger groups and reduced territorial extent as part of the process of Neolithization. We posit that “others” and “strangers” can be approached from contextual archaeological data, with inferences as regards the evolution of cognitive social categories. Our analysis focused on raw material studies, observations on style, and evidence for craft specialization. We find that contrary to the null hypothesis the archaeological record implies earlier emergence of complex socio-cognitive categorization. The cognitive, cultural and social processes involved in the maintenance and distinction between “others” and “strangers” can be defined as “self-domestication” that is still an on-going process.

Original languageAmerican English
Article number3063
JournalFrontiers in Psychology
StatePublished - 21 Jan 2020

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© Copyright © 2020 Belfer-Cohen and Hovers.


  • inter-group relationships
  • material culture proxies
  • paleolithic archaeology
  • social behavior
  • social stereotypes
  • socio-cognitive construct


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