Online ISItA Conferences

Since 2021, the Italian Institute of Anthropology annually organizes online conferences on topics of interdisciplinary interest aimed at a non-specialized audience. The meetings will be available free of charge through an online platform, also in the form of video recording.

2022 Visuospatial integration and cognitive archeology

with the patronage of the PhD in Environmental and Evolutionary Biology, University of Rome "La Sapienza"

For images's credits see below


The mind has always been interpreted as the product of the brain. In recent years, cognitive sciences are offering instead an alternative view, which sees cognition as a process based on the interaction between the brain, body and environment.

In the case of mankind, the environment obviously also includes the cultural environment and, in particular, the technological one. These theories obviously require a radical change in the interpretation of the body and the perceptual system, of tools as peripheral and extra-somatic cognitive elements, and of the concept of space related to processes such as visual imagination, attention, executive functions, social dynamics, mnemonic mechanisms or consciousness itself.

New disciplines are trying to create bridges between anthropology and neuroscience on methodological, theoretical and experimental levels. Paleoneurology studies brain anatomy in fossil species, neuroarchaeology studies brain functions associated with behaviors that we can deduce from archaeological records, and cognitive archeology tries to interpret these behaviors in the context of psychology's theories and research methods.

This cycle of meetings includes four conferences aimed at describing some experimental aspects related to this context, integrating evolutionary aspects (especially technological evolution in humans) with cognitive aspects related to perception and attention. Annapaola Fedato will present a series of studies that consider the attentional response during industrial manipulation of the lower Paleolithic, measured through the electrical potential of the skin (electrodermal analysis). María Silva-Gago will analyze the visual interaction with the same stone tools, using eye-tracking techniques. Justine Cléry will talk to us about how perception changes when an instrument enters the range of action of our body (peripersonal space). Finally, Emiliano Bruner will close by presenting a summary of the visuospatial and attentional evolution in mankind.

Electrodermal analysis, haptic perception and prehistory

Annapaola Fedato*

7 November 2022, 5 p.m. (in Italian, online:

The electrodermal analysis allows you to analyze the variation in attention and the level of cognitive activation (arousal) by studying the impedance changes of the skin. Using this technique it is possible to study how the attentional state changes in the tactile exploration and manipulation of the Lower Paleolithic industry, revealing differences between Olduvaian and Achelean associated with their physical and geometric characteristics.

*Annapaola Fedato has a degree in Environmental Sciences and a Ph.D. in Human Evolution. She deals with cognitive archeology and haptic perception, and in particular with the integration between the body and stone technology, using techniques of ergonomic analysis, morphometry, and electrodermography.

Visual attention and paleolithic technology

María Silva-Gago*

21 November 4 p.m. (online:

Vision is a key filter for both exogenous and endogenous attentional selection, and it can be analysed by using eye-tracking devices. Patterns of visual scanning associated with the exploration of Lower Paleolithic tools suggest that salient features of the tools are not influential in this sense. Instead, executive attention and affordance are largely associated with structural (base) and functional (tips) regions, with differences between choppers and handaxes.

*María Silva-Gago has a bachelor in History and a PhD in Human Evolution. Her research focuses on the study of visuospatial integration in cognitive archaeology. She investigates the patterns of visual attention associated with the exploration of Paleolithic stone tools, mainly through eye-tracking methods.

Peripersonal space: beyond the body

Justine Cléry*

5 December 4 p.m. (online:

The space directly close to the body represents a priority for survival purposes, when compared with more distant spaces. This space, called peripersonal space, when invaded by an object or even by a conspecific, generates defensive or avoidance behaviours for the sake of self-protection. In this lecture, the functions of this space will be presented, as well as the dynamic and modulation linked to physical, emotional, social and cultural factors. Hypotheses about the potential changes of this space during human evolution will be also discussed.

*Justine Cléry is an assistant professor at The Neuro, McGill University, since April 2022. She did her PhD studies with Suliann Ben Hamed at The Institute des Sciences Cognitives (Lyon, France) and her postdoctoral research with Stefan Everling at Western University (London, Canada). She uses functional magnetic resonance imaging and behavioral measurements in awake macaques and marmosets to investigate the functional networks involved in sensory processing, space representation and social cognition.

Visuospatial integration and human evolution

Emiliano Bruner*

19 December 4 p.m. (online:

Paleoneurology has highlighted important changes in the parietal cortex of mankind, and cognitive archeology has described important variations of its main cognitive functions, in particular of the aspects associated with visuospatial integration. These evidences suggest a crucial importance, for the evolution of our species, of the functional relationships between brain, body and technology.

*Emiliano Bruner has a degree in Biology and a doctor in Animal Biology. He is a researcher in paleoneurobiology at the Centro Nacional de Investigación sobre la Evolución Humana in Burgos, Spain. He deals with evolutionary neuroanatomy, functional craniology, and cognitive archeology.

2021 Dialogues on cultures, behaviors and ethics 150 years after The descent of man by Charles Darwin

Ethics and evolutionism: biology and philosophy of the moral sense

Eleonora Severini, Università di Pavia, Dipartimento di Studi Umanistici

11 December 2021

How can the relationship between ethics and evolutionism be understood? We can start from the problems connected to this relationship and ask ourselves why it is so difficult to talk about ethics and evolutionism. At the base of this difficulty there seem to be both historical and theoretical reasons. To address these issues, three theses are discussed: (1) ethics and evolution coincide; (2) ethics counteracts evolution; (3) ethics is disconnected from evolution. Starting from the difficulties faced by the three theses, an alternative way of thinking about the relationship between ethics and evolution is proposed that is able, on the one hand, to include the environment within the reference evolutionary vision and, on the other hand, to place ethics in an ecological perspective.

Extended Mind and Cognitive Archeology

Emiliano Bruner, Centro Nacional de Investigación sobre la Evolución Humana, Burgos (España)

10 November 2021

video link

In recent years, the evidence supporting the hypotheses of cognitive extension has increased, proposing that the mental process is not limited to the brain system but also actively involves the body and the environment (especially technology). In human phylogeny, the evolution of a "prosthetic capacity" that allowed the inclusion of instruments in the body and central nervous system schemes would therefore have been fundamental. This process can also be analyzed through the archaeological register, using methods and techniques of neuropsychology and cognitive sciences.

Continuist Darwin, non-humans and cultural anthropology

Stefano Allovio, Università di Milano Statale

9 November 2021, 11:15

video link

In "The Descent of Man", Darwin insistently claims the continuist paradigm, emphasizing the reasoning power of non-human animals, going so far as to connect the dreams of dogs to "non-human" possibilities of animism. Contemporary anthropology, increasingly attentive to the relationships between humans and non-humans, would not struggle to superimpose, for example, Darwin's considerations around the mental faculties of dogs with what can be traced in refined ethnographies such as that of Eduardo Kohn on the Runes of Peru. . Darwin and the Runas (who he could perhaps have defined as “low savages”) are much more similar than one might imagine: they think about what dogs think and they do it starting from a knowledge that feeds on dense interspecific relationships.

Evolution of altruism

Telmo Pievani, Università di Padova

31 May, 17:30

video link

The animal world offers us many examples of altruism, even in species that are evolutionarily distant from ours. This spread of altruistic behaviors may seem like a paradox, as natural selection favors traits that allow their carriers to survive and reproduce. How can altruistic behaviors override self-interest?

Evoluzione dell'altruismo

Telmo Pievani, Università di Padova

31 may, 17:30

video available at the link

The animal world offers us many examples of altruism, even in species that are evolutionarily distant from ours. This spread of altruistic behaviors may seem like a paradox, as natural selection favors traits that allow their carriers to survive and reproduce. How can altruistic behaviors override self-interest?

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