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Evolutionary theory and archaeology, Part I: Cultural transmission, cultural evolution, and evolutionary archaeology

Part of: Society for American Archaeology 80th Annual Meeting, San Francisco, CA (2015)

Once found only at the margins of the discipline, evolutionary theory has become commonplace in archaeological inquiry. Not surprisingly, evolutionary approaches to understanding past behavior from culture material have undergone an adaptive radiation, filling niches defined by different research questions and data. The research featured in this session is most closely allied with the subset of approaches that includes cultural transmission theory, cultural evolution, and evolutionary archaeology. We aim to make the powerful new methodological tools employed in these growing sub-fields accessible to a wider audience. A secondary goal is to bring together a large group of evolutionary-minded researchers to discuss outstanding problems of shared interest and to plant the seeds for future collaboration. Discussants will comment on the research presented in the context of their own ideas about where we as a group should focus our future efforts to benefit the discipline as a whole.

Resources Inside This Collection (Viewing 1-15 of 15)

  • Documents (15)


  • Analysing cultural change (2015)
    Citation DOCUMENT [ID: 395373] Anne Kandler.

    The archaeological record provides information about frequencies of different cultural artefacts in potentially time-averaged samples. The temporal frequency changes of these artefacts reflect the dynamic of the underlying evolutionary processes but the question remains whether inferences about the nature of those processes, especially about the nature of cultural transmission processes, can be made on the base of observed frequency patterns. Here we develop a non-equilibrium framework which...

  • An Approach to Fitting Transmission Models to Seriations for Regional-Scale Analysis (2015)
    Citation DOCUMENT [ID: 395372] Carl Lipo. Mark Madsen.

    At scales where individual copying events are not measurable but the regional archaeological record is rich enough to support models more detailed than phylogenies, seriation can play a unique role as a diachronic measurement tool for linking cultural transmission models to data composed of assemblages of artifact class frequencies. As a first step towards fitting cultural transmission models to regional-scale transmission scenarios, we develop a iterative deterministic seriation algorithm. We...

  • Cultural Evolution in Archaeology (2015)
    Citation DOCUMENT [ID: 395369] Peter Richerson.

    Models of cultural evolution aim at a process level understanding of cultural change and gene-culture coevolution. The micro level foundations of these models can be tested in the lab and field on living populations and, in favorable circumstances, with fine-grained archaeological data. Macro scale problems can only be studied by fitting models to historical and archaeological data that can resolve patterns on time scales of a century or more. Progress in two areas in particular are contributing...

  • The evolution of farming, and the boom and bust of culture. (2015)
    Citation DOCUMENT [ID: 395363] Adrian Timpson. Katie Manning. Stephen Shennan. Enrico Crema.

    Occam’s razor judges the success of any model by its ability to explain the evidence with the greatest simplicity. We present two powerful yet simple models; the first evaluates the transition from hunting and gathering to farming within an evolutionary framework, by considering farming as a phenotypic mutation under positive selection. This allows us to estimate the selection coefficient and map local times of first appearance and fixation. The second evaluates the appearance and eventual...

  • Investigating Drivers of Technological Richness among Contact-Period Western North American Farmers (2015)
    Citation DOCUMENT [ID: 395377] Briggs Buchanan. Mark Collard. Michael O'Brien.

    Building on several previous studies we investigate the factors that influence technological richness in nonindustrial farming groups. A number of studies have shown that the factors that influence technological richness and complexity in hunter-gatherer groups differ from the factors that influence farming populations. Specifically, environmental risk is the primary driver in hunter-gatherer technological richness and complexity, whereas population size seems to be the main driver for farmers....

  • Is Wright-Fisher reproduction an appropriate null model for cultural transmission via objects? (2015)
    Citation DOCUMENT [ID: 395374] Mark Lake. Eugenio Bortolini. Enrico Crema.

    For various reasons many archaeologists are interested in identifying what kinds of social learning operated in past societies. One approach to this problem that has proved increasingly popular since it was pioneered by Neiman in the 1990s is use of the Wright-Fisher population genetics model of reproduction as a null model for human cultural transmission. The basic idea is that a mismatch between the amount of cultural diversity predicted by the neutral allele theory and that actually observed...

  • Measuring the complexity of lithic technology (2015)
    Citation DOCUMENT [ID: 395376] Charles Perreault.

    Assessments of the complexity of lithic technologies coming from different time periods, regions, or hominid species are recurrent features of the literature on Paleolithic archaeology. Yet the notion of lithic complexity is often defined intuitively and qualitatively, which can easily lead to circular arguments and makes difficult the comparison of assemblages across different regions and time periods. Here we propose, in the spirit of Oswalt’s techno-units, that the complexity of lithic...

  • Mobility and cultural diversity in central-place foragers: Implications for the emergence of modern human behavior (2015)
    Citation DOCUMENT [ID: 395368] Luke Premo.

    Although anthropologists have long recognized the importance of mobility to hunter-gatherer subsistence strategies, it remains unclear how mobility affects cultural diversity in subdivided populations. A better understanding of how mobility affects both total diversity and regional differentiation in selectively neutral cultural traits may provide us with an additional line of evidence for explaining the appearance of archaeological indicators of modern human behavior. Here, I introduce a...

  • No strength in numbers after all? Demographic explanations of cumulative culture re-examined (2015)
    Citation DOCUMENT [ID: 395365] Krist Vaesen. Wybo Houkes.

    Cultural-evolutionary models of scientific and technological change enjoy growing popularity. This family of mathematical and agent-based models purportedly explains how cultural change results from a ‘demographic’ effect: complex traits accumulate in large groups, and disappear in smaller groups. We use agent-based modelling to reveal hidden contingencies in these findings. We show that the demographic effect is sensitive to assumptions regarding social learning mechanisms and skill...

  • The Origins and Distribution of Oceanic Agricultural Techniques Revealed through Comparative Phylogenetic Analysis (2015)
    Citation DOCUMENT [ID: 395367] Timothy Rieth. Ethan Cochrane.

    Agricultural innovation fuelled the development of Oceanic societies. Techniques such as pond-fields and lithic mulching increased yields and made marginal landscapes habitable. Unfortunately, our knowledge of the evolution of techniques, including ancestral states, homologies, and independent inventions has been largely speculative. Here I present a phylogenetic analysis of ethnohistorically and archaeologically documented agricultural techniques across Oceanic societies. The analysis combines...

  • Population, monuments and violence in Neolithic Europe (2015)
    Citation DOCUMENT [ID: 395366] Stephen Shennan.

    The EUROEVOL project has recently created reconstructions of changing regional population densities based on summed radiocarbon probability distributions for a large area of western and central Europe for the period 8000-4000 BP, covering the later Mesolithic and Neolithic periods. These have revealed a pattern of population booms and busts in many regions following the arrival of farming. The project has also gathered data on the construction dates of enclosures surrounded by ditches, banks and...

  • The "taskscape" and its effects on cultural diversity: A spatially explicit model of mobility and cultural transmission (2015)
    Citation DOCUMENT [ID: 395364] Gilbert Tostevin. Luke Premo.

    Ethnoarchaeology has shown that culturally learned behavior is structured in its performance in many ways. For archaeologically-visible artifactual behavior, this performance is structured both geographically, in terms of where the artifacts are made and used on the landscape (what Ingold calls "the taskscape"), as well as temporally, in terms of the sequential nature of operational chains which can be distributed among taskscape locations. Yet cultural transmission theory has not yet explored...

  • Using glyphic variation to infer the social and spatial scale of learning among Classic Maya scribes (2015)
    Citation DOCUMENT [ID: 395375] Jonathan Scholnick. Matthew Looper. Jessica Munson. Yuriy Polyukhovych. Martha Macri.

    This study uses Maya hieroglyphic inscriptions to trace the evolution of alternative writing conventions during the Classic period (ca. 250-900 CE). The third person ergative pronoun u- is represented by up to a dozen different graphemes in Classic Maya writing. These glyphs are also the most common set of signs found in the corpus of hieroglyphic inscriptions, regardless of media. The variation and frequency of these signs provide data to model cultural forces that shaped this writing system....

  • Validating niche-construction theory through path analysis (2015)
    Citation DOCUMENT [ID: 395370] R. Alexander Bentley. William Brock. Michael O'Brien.

    Under the conventional view of evolution, species over time come to exhibit those characteristics that best enable them to survive and reproduce in their preexisting environments. Niche construction provides a second evolutionary route to establishing the adaptive fit, or match, between organism and environment, viewing such matches as dynamical products of a two-way process involving organisms both responding to problems posed by environments as well as setting themselves new problems by...

  • Why terrestrial diets in island environments? Evolutionary considerations of isotopic results from Rapa Nui (2015)
    Citation DOCUMENT [ID: 395371] Brian Popp. Jarman Jarman. Hilary Close. Thomas Larsen. Terry Hunt.

    Archaeology and isotopic studies have demonstrated several examples of initial colonists of Pacific Islands subsisting mainly on terrestrial diets, with exotic domesticates preferred over local seafood. Seemingly a poor adaptation to remote island environments, this appears confusing from a behavioural ecology perspective. From a culture evolutionary viewpoint, however, this could demonstrate how intergenerational transmission of human behaviour may preserve dietary traditions in long-distance...

Arizona State University The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation National Science Foundation National Endowment for the Humanities Society for American Archaeology Archaeological Institute of America