On the Origin of Cultures

Author(s): Jonathan Marks

Year: 2019


This is an abstract from the "The Extended Evolutionary Synthesis and Human Origins: Archaeological Perspectives" session, at the 84th annual meeting of the Society for American Archaeology.

As an analytic category, a culture shares many of the same difficulties that a species has in biology: notably, fuzzy boundaries, temporal instability, and extensive substructuring, which render it difficult to define adequately and comprehensively. Nevertheless, the symbolic world or semiotic matrix that any human learns and inhabits can be quite different from one partaken by other people elsewhere, and this is conveniently designated as culture. While there has been considerable speculation on the evolutionary origin and adaptive value of culture as a human mental capacity, there has been little discussion of the evolutionary meaning of another of its salient features: its diversity. Is there an evolutionary benefit to a species speaking different languages, for example, rather than just one? Further, how can we project cultural diversity back to the Paleolithic: Does a similarity of tool type imply a common language or belief system; and if not, then what are the implications for understanding ancient human life? Is culture monophyletic or is cultural diversity primordial, and if the latter, how can we reconstruct early human society?

Cite this Record

On the Origin of Cultures. Jonathan Marks. Presented at The 84th Annual Meeting of the Society for American Archaeology, Albuquerque, NM. 2019 ( tDAR id: 450876)


Record Identifiers

Abstract Id(s): 23335