Analysing cultural change

Author(s): Anne Kandler

Year: 2015


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 establishes whether observed frequency changes between samples at two different time points are consistent with different hypotheses about cultural transmission, in particular with unbiased, frequency-dependent and age-dependent transmission. We account for the fact that any evolutionary process acts on the population of artefacts and not only on the observed sample and allow for time-averaging mechanisms. The model produces theoretical samples conditioned on the considered transmission hypotheses and using Bayesian techniques we are able to infer which hypotheses could and more importantly could not have produced the observed frequency changes between the two samples. Lastly we apply the developed framework to a dataset describing the Linear Pottery Culture and show that unbiased and frequency-dependent transmission are not adequate descriptions of the observed data. Age-dependent transmission, however, is mostly consistent with the observed frequency changes.

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Cite this Record

Analysing cultural change. Anne Kandler. Presented at The 80th Annual Meeting of the Society for American Archaeology, San Francisco, California. 2015 ( tDAR id: 395373)