So far as we can tell from the archaeological record, then, human creativity first manifested itself to any significant degree about 40,000 years ago, continuing to emerge independently around the globe over the next 10-15,000 years. (This is the so-called ‘creative explosion’ of the Upper Paleolithic period.) The question is, what happened in the intervening 50,000-plus years from the first emergence of our species? The puzzle is compounded by the fact that by the time of the creative explosion human beings were already widely separated around the globe, and had been so for at least 20,000 years (with Australia having been reached by boat for the first time some 60,000 years ago). Yet this upsurge in human creativity occurred more-or-less simultaneously around the world (give-or-take 10,000 years).
These facts set one of the central puzzles which any account of the origins of creativity needs to address. It looks as if we shall either have to claim that human creativity resulted from a series of gradual cognitive/cultural accumulations, independent of genetic change and built up independently by different human communities over many millennia; or we shall need to claim that some change occurred in the human genotype which could be selected for independently of the nature of the ecological environment (as opposed to the universal aspects of the social milieu). Yet neither of these alternatives looks initially very plausible. For on either account, how are we to explain why the relevant developments should have been constrained to take place in parallel amongst dispersed human populations?
In what follows I shall canvass a number of possible explanations of human creativity, each of which carries different implications for the cognitive underpinnings and likely evolution of that capacity. These explanations will be assessed both for intrinsic plausibility and for how successfully they can explain the 20,000-50,000 year gap between the geographical dispersal of modern humans and the appearance of physical manifestations of significant degrees of creativity in the fossil record. But these accounts will also be assessed for the extent to which they can explain the connection between adult creativity and childhood pretend play. This desideratum will be elaborated and defended in the next section.