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A test of competing hypotheses concerning the impact of demography on cultural evolution

Author(s): Brea McCauley ; Mark Collard

Year: 2017

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Recently there has been a surge of interest in the possibility that demography affects cultural evolution. Some authors have proposed that population size affects the appearance and retention of innovations and therefore influences the complexity of a population’s cultural repertoire. Others have averred that it is not population size that drives cultural complexity but rather population pressure (the ratio of population density to the density of available resources). Still others have argued that population size may only have an indirect impact on cultural complexity. According to these authors, larger societies tend to have more specialization of tasks than smaller ones. Task specialization has the potential to affect the complexity of a population’s cultural repertoire because individuals need not master all skills and can focus on learning a small number of more complex tasks. Here, we report a study designed to test among these hypotheses. We obtained from the literature data on technological complexity for a sample of small-scale societies. These data were combined with data for a number of independent and control variables. Subsequently, we used partial regression analysis and multiple regression to test the predictions of the three hypotheses. Our results do not support the hypotheses equally well.

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A test of competing hypotheses concerning the impact of demography on cultural evolution. Brea McCauley, Mark Collard. Presented at The 81st Annual Meeting of the Society for American Archaeology, Vancouver, British Columbia. 2017 ( tDAR id: 430553)


Record Identifiers

Abstract Id(s): 15597

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