A Million Years of Music: The Emergence of Human Modernity

Gary Tomlinson
August 6, 2015

Whitney Professor of Music & Humanities Gary Tomlinson, Director of the Whitney Humanities Center, explores the pre-history of human music-making in an ambitious new book, A Million Years of Music: The Emergence of Human Modernity (Zone/MIT, 2015). Drawing on new findings in archaeology, biology, anthropology, cultural studies and other fields, Tomlinson reconstructs the most likely ways in which the earliest hominids could have gained the constellation of capacities that together make music possible. 

“This brilliant book offers the most convincing argument I have seen for how music came to be. If the model of biocultural coevolution  The Emergence of Human Modernityproposed here is right, the explanation for music lies not in a simple adaptationist logic—that it was ‘good’ for us in some way. Instead, music arises from a beautiful spiraling dance between culture and biology extending across the deep history of humanity. In developing this complex and compelling argument, Tomlinson synthesizes a literature that spans both science and the humanities. A Million Years of Music is a model for how scholarship in the twenty-first century can be done.” —Daniel Lord Smail, author of On Deep History and the Brain