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Spring 2024


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New in The Journal of the Royal Musical Association
Music in the Deep History of Human Evolution

In a review for The Journal of the Royal Musical Association, Shane McMahon discusses Gary Tomlinson’s A Million Years of Music: The Emergence of Human Modernity. Click here to learn more about the book. Click the button to the left to read the full article. An excerpt appears below.

“In A Million Years of Music: The Emergence of Human Modernity, Gary Tomlinson does not engage such topics directly, but the implications of his astonishing foray into the deep history of the emergence of sapient music-making, or ‘musicking’, are far-reaching and potentially transformative. To be clear, this is not a book about either the origin or the ‘evolution’ of music, though it punctures many assumptions surrounding these issues. It is, rather, a study of the emergence of human cognitive modernity, or the incremental attainment over millennia of those interrelated capacities which distinguish modern humans: musicking, language, symbolic thought and ‘thinking-at-a-distance’. In its focus on the emergence of the capacity for musicking in the context of human biological and cognitive evolution, Tomlinson’s work may initially appear remote from the everyday concerns of the musicologist. In fact, written in dialogue with evolutionary biology, cognitive science, palaeoarchaeology and palaeoanthropology, the book is hardly a work of musicology at all, and many of its central claims will demand careful consideration from a wide and diverse academic community. Nevertheless, A Million Years of Music may be the most important contribution to musicology in its short history: in his historical purview and methodological blend of hard science and historiography, Tomlinson sketches a map of the future terrain that every musicologist will one day be obliged to explore.”