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Culture of Empathy Builder:  Penny Spikins


Penny Spikins and Edwin Rutsch - How to Build a Culture of Empathy with Archaeology

Penny Spikins is Senior Lecturer in the Archaeology of Human Origins in the Department of Archaeology, University of York. One of her main areas of research is on the archaeological evidence for the evolution of empathy and compassion.  "My early research centred on Mesolithic northern England where I retain an interest and enthusiasm, although I'm best known for my later research into the emergence of autism and the evolution of empathising and compassion in the Palaeolithic."  Penny is writing a book titled, 'How Compassion Made Us Human: An archaeology of prehistoric sentiment,'

We discussed;
  • why it is important that compassion was key to our evolutionary history.
  • how archaeological evidence can tell us about how compassion evolved.
  • how a capacity to put others first in modern hunter-gatherers works to help them survive, not just as a group but as individual (which helps us understand the evolutionary pressures in the stone age).
  • the building blocks of capacities to put others first in apes, and how humans take those capacities to another level.
    Sub Conference: Science

Penny Spikins and Edwin Rutsch - How to Build a Culture of Empathy with Archaeology



  • (transcription pending) (Video Transcriptions: If you would like to take empathic action and create a transcription of this video, check the volunteers page. The transcriptions will make it easier for other viewers to quickly see the content of this video.)

From hominity to humanity: compassion from the earliest archaics to modern humans,
"We are increasingly aware of the role of emotions and emotional construction in social relationships. However, despite their significance, there are few constructs or theoretical approaches to the evolution of emotions that can be related to the prehistoric archaeological record. Whilst we frequently discuss how archaic humans might have thought, how they felt might seem to be beyond the realm of academic inquiry. In this paper we aim to open up the debate into the construction of emotion in early prehistory by proposing key stages in the emotional motivation to help others; the feeling of compassion, in human evolution. We review existing literature on compassion and highlight what appear to be particularly significant thresholds in the development of compassion for human social relationships and the evolution of the human mind."


(2010). The Prehistory of Compassion.  pdf
"Compassion is key to what we feel makes us ‘human’. Compassion binds us together, and
acts of unselfish compassion inspire us and in troubled times give us hope for the world. Yet
compassion is also remarkably fragile and elusive. As soon as we feel stressed or under
pressure we can easily lose our sense of compassion for others (or indeed for ourselves), and
as soon as we seek to understand or analyse our own sense of compassion we lose our
feeling of this emotion.

This apparent fragility of compassion makes addressing the
evidence for its development in our most ancient ancestors a unique challenge, yet the
archaeological record nonetheless has an important story to tell about the prehistory of
compassion. In this volume we review the archaeological evidence for what can be seen as
compassionate behaviour from our earliest ancestors to later archaic humans including the
Neanderthals to modern humans like ourselves. Through discussing the evidence for a deep
seated capacity to care in our ancient past we hope to begin to tell the story of the
prehistory of compassion and perhaps to inspire further research. "