Skip to Main Content
Have library access? Log in through your library
Pattern and Process in Cultural Evolution

Pattern and Process in Cultural Evolution

EDITED BY Stephen Shennan
Copyright Date: 2009
Edition: 1
Pages: 352
  • Book Info
    Pattern and Process in Cultural Evolution
    Book Description:

    This volume offers an integrative approach to the application of evolutionary theory in studies of cultural transmission and social evolution and reveals the enormous range of ways in which Darwinian ideas can lead to productive empirical research, the touchstone of any worthwhile theoretical perspective. While many recent works on cultural evolution adopt a specific theoretical framework, such as dual inheritance theory or human behavioral ecology,Pattern and Process in Cultural Evolutionemphasizes empirical analysis and includes authors who employ a range of backgrounds and methods to address aspects of culture from an evolutionary perspective. Editor Stephen Shennan has assembled archaeologists, evolutionary theorists, and ethnographers, whose essays cover a broad range of time periods, localities, cultural groups, and artifacts.

    eISBN: 978-0-520-94336-0
    Subjects: Anthropology

Table of Contents

Export Selected Citations Export to NoodleTools Export to RefWorks Export to EasyBib Export a RIS file (For EndNote, ProCite, Reference Manager, Zotero, Mendeley...) Export a Text file (For BibTex)
  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
    (pp. vii-viii)
  4. ONE Pattern and Process in Cultural Evolution: AN INTRODUCTION
    (pp. 1-18)
    Stephen Shennan

    The aim of this book is to demonstrate the potential for building a genuinely integrative evolutionary anthropology, in which evolutionary theory unites studies of the past and the present even though the nature of the evidence often requires different methodologies. A basic premise of the book is that one of the best ways of demonstrating that potential is by means of case studies. It is increasingly clear that, despite the existence of different theoretical schools and positions, such an endeavor does not have to be theoretically exclusive. Evolutionary anthropology is a broad church, not a narrow sect. Not only do...

  5. Understanding Cultural Transmission

    • TWO Placing Archaeology within a Unified Science of Cultural Evolution
      (pp. 21-32)
      Alex Mesoudi and Michael J. O’Brien

      Mesoudi, whiten, and Laland (2006) have argued that culture can be studied within a single overarching evolutionary framework, just as different branches of biology are linked within a similar synthetic framework. Here we explore how archaeology fits into this framework, primarily as a means of studying macroevolutionary patterns. This is illustrated by the use of phylogenetic methods to analyze artifact distributions (e.g., Buchanan and Collard 2008; Jordan and Shennan 2003; O’Brien, Darwin, and Lyman 2001; O’Brien and Lyman 2003; O’Brien et al. 2002; Tehrani and Collard 2002). We argue that macroevolutionary archaeological work would benefit from a more detailed and...

    • THREE Human Communication as Niche Construction
      (pp. 33-44)
      Robert Aunger

      Cultural transmission is essentially the idea that beliefs and values are passed from generation to generation. The question I would like to address in this chapter is, How does this happen? In particular, what is the mechanism? In the absence of a deep understanding of the process by which people come to have similar ideas, a variety of metaphors have been used. My purpose here is to outline the options for understanding cultural transmission as a process and to analyze their consistency with what we know about cultural change and communication more generally. I conclude with a view that I...

    • FOUR Modes of Transmission and Material Culture Patterns in Craft Skills
      (pp. 45-60)
      Robert Hosfield

      The transmission of knowledge, teaching and learning mechanisms, and the role of social learning in determining what is transmitted have been extensively considered in recent years. Studies have explored primate tool use and behavior (e.g., Boesch 1993; Boesch and Boesch 1993; Whiten 2000), cultural traditions and variations (e.g., Boyd and Richerson 1985; Cavalli-Sforza and Feldman 1981; Guglielmino et al. 1995; Shennan 2002; Shennan and Steele 1999), and the nature of transmission and learning (e.g., Boyd and Richerson 1988; Rowlands 1993; Tindall 1976). These studies have highlighted both the complexities of learning and knowledge transmission processes, and their implications for what...

      (pp. 61-84)
      Peter Jordan

      Increasing numbers of archaeologists and anthropologists are borrowing theory, models, and analytical methods from evolutionary biology in order to produce novel ways of understanding the emergence of cultural and linguistic diversity in different regions of the globe. Central to these investigations are longstanding interests in the processes by which traditions are passed from one generation to the next via a suite of social learning mechanisms that go on to generate larger-scale patterns of cultural evolution (Cavalli-Sforza and Feldman 1981; Boyd and Richerson 1985; Durham 1990, 1992; Shennan 2002).

      The application of cladistics (Lipo et al. 2006b; Mace, Holden, and Shennan...

      (pp. 85-98)
      Felix Riede

      Evolutionary biologists have long been aware that species are connected in complex and reciprocal ecological as well as evolutionary relationships with one another. In evolutionary time, such linked relationships produce linked phylogenies that, at least to some degree, reflect the evolutionary history of all organisms involved (Page 2003a). The study of long-term coevolution is part of the wider project of understanding the history of life through the construction of phylogenies and a battery of different methods is now available (e.g., Brooks and McLennan 1991; Page 2003b), many of which have been implemented in popular—and often free—software packages (see,...

    • SEVEN The Evolution of Material Culture Diversity among Iranian Tribal Populations
      (pp. 99-112)
      Jamshid J. Tehrani and Mark Collard

      A widely held view in anthropology suggests that the processes of cultural and biological evolution differ greatly. An early expression of this view can be found in Kroeber’s 1948 volumeAnthropology: Race, Language, Culture, Psychology and Prehistory. Kroeber suggested that

      the course of organic evolution can be portrayed properly as a tree of life, as Darwin has called it, with trunk, limbs, branches, and twigs. The course of the development of human culture in history cannot be so described, even metaphorically. There is a constant branching-out, but the branches also grow together again, wholly or partially, all the time. ....

      (pp. 113-132)
      Ethan E. Cochrane

      In the first part of last century, anthropologists and archaeologists such as Kroeber, Childe, and others suggested that in some instances material culture similarities in space and time could be explained by the passing of information between individuals. The kernel of this simple idea—people copy those around them—was quantitatively elaborated by scholars working in North America and Europe (Lyman and O’Brien 2003; Shennan 2000). Americanist archaeologists and ethnologists noted that when the material culture record was described in a particular manner, cultural trait frequencies approximated normal or unimodal distributions. Kroeber (1919, 257), for example, revealed the “underlying pulsation...

    • NINE Identifying Iron Production Lineages: A CASE STUDY IN NORTHWEST WALES
      (pp. 133-144)
      Michael F. Charlton

      Iron production technology is inseparably linked to social, economic, and ecological changes of the last three millennia in the Old World and historic centuries in the New World. An evolutionary analysis of ironmaking behavior can add significant insight into these changes and serve as a platform for investigating theoretical problems related to the transmission of technological knowledge, innovation, industrial organization, and manufacturing strategies. From an archaeological perspective, this task must begin with the identification of technological traditions or lineages. Only in this way can we monitor the descent of ironmaking knowledge and its modifications across time and space.

      Evolutionary archaeologists...

  6. Testing Evolutionary Hypotheses

    • TEN Quantitative Analysis of Macroevolutionary Patterning in Technological Evolution: BICYCLE DESIGN FROM 1800 TO 2000
      (pp. 147-162)
      Mark W. Lake and Jay Venti

      A recurring pattern in biological evolution is that increases in diversity (adaptive radiation) proceed by early diversification at higher taxonomic levels, followed by later diversification at lower taxonomic levels. Kauffman (1995, 205–206) has argued that this macroevolutionary pattern results from the increased cost of exploring distant locations in design space as evolution proceeds and is the expected outcome of any process of adaptive evolution irrespective of substrate. Indeed, he asserts that the development of the bicycle is a good example of a human design history that matches the pattern of adaptive radiation very closely (Kauffman 1995, 207). Van Nierop,...

    • ELEVEN Innovation Diffusion and Traveling Waves
      (pp. 163-174)
      James Steele

      In this chapter, I will examine the dynamics of innovation diffusion, to illustrate the difficulty of using changing frequency distributions to diagnose a particular social learning process. I begin by discussing an influential model of new product diffusion taken from the marketing science literature (Bass 1969). This model estimates the importance of social imitation (or contagion) in the temporal evolution of frequencies of adopters for new consumer durables. This model has some similarities to the social learning components of a model subsequently proposed by Henrich (2001) in anthropology. Limiting the discussion to empirical innovation diffusion in modern market economies, I...

      (pp. 175-190)
      Sam Smith, John Hughes and Steven Mithen

      The archaeological evidence from the Lower and Middle Palaeolithic does not easily lend itself to fine-grained quantitative models of cultural transmission, even though the processes of social learning can readily be appreciated as important for gaining an understanding of variability in stone tool technology (Mithen 1994, 1999; Shennan and Steele 1999). Models such as that used for examining variation in Neolithic ceramics by Shennan and Collard (2000) require a level of chronological resolution that is simply not possible for the Lower and Middle Palaeolithic archaeological records. Moreover, the ecological, social, and cognitive contexts in which such stone artifacts were manufactured...

    • THIRTEEN Population History and the Evolution of Mesolithic Arrowhead Technology in South Scandinavia
      (pp. 191-202)
      Kevan Edinborough

      Theories of cultural evolution have developed rapidly in recent years, but the number of archaeological case studies that make use of these ideas to develop and test hypotheses remains small. This chapter addresses the specific evolutionary mechanisms affecting technological stability and change in projectile point technology in data-rich Mesolithic southern Scandinavia, with a case study focusing on Zealand and westernmost Scania.

      An extensive regional database of archaeological data was collated from seven previously excavated Middle–Late Mesolithic southern Scandinavian archaeological sites dating from about 6500–4600 BCE (Edinborough 2004). A chronological model was created for the nine archaeological site phases...

    • FOURTEEN Experimentation and Innovation in the Archaeological Record: A CASE STUDY IN TECHNOLOGICAL EVOLUTION FROM KODIAK, ALASKA
      (pp. 203-220)
      Ben Fitzhugh and A. Kate Trusler

      This chapter explores a dimension of technological change at the heart of archaeological inquiry. We ask the question “How did changes arise in the archaeological past?” and focus our efforts on an attempt to develop test implications for the risk-innovation model of technological evolution proposed by Fitzhugh (2001). Then we explore this model in the context of a case study from Kodiak, Alaska, in which small-scale hunter-gatherers shifted their flint-knapping repertoire from blade based to biface-based tool production. In this context, we ask whether this change was driven by a process of risk-driven innovativeness or whether people simply shifted from...

  7. Social Evolution

      (pp. 223-234)
      R. I. M. Dunbar

      Modern humans live in large complex societies, and these must have evolved over time from more conventional primate-like social groups. This is not, however, a straightforward issue: rather, I shall argue here that the nature of bonding in primate societies is such that there are natural glass ceilings on the size and structure of primate social systems, and it was necessary, in the course of hominin evolution, to find ways of circumventing the limitations that these imposed.

      There are two main aspects to this argument. One concerns the cognitive demands of sociality, the other the mechanisms of bonding needed to...

      (pp. 235-250)
      Laura Fortunato and Ruth Mace

      Behavioral ecology is the branch of biology dealing with the study of animal behavioral variation within and across taxa; it addresses questions about the function of behavior, focusing on its survival value in relation to the environment (Tinbergen’s [1963] “why” questions; Krebs and Davies 1993, 382). Human behavioral ecology investigates variation in human behavior, including cultural behavior, within and across societies (Winterhalder and Smith 2000).

      Investigation into the function of behavior involves making hypotheses based on observations, deriving testable predictions from the hypotheses, and testing. Three strategies are available for testing functional hypotheses: examination of variation among individuals within a...

      (pp. 251-264)
      Polly Wiessner

      In 1875, t. smiles wrote, “‘Marriage is a lottery?’ Well, it may be so but only if we abjure all the teachings of prudence.” In anthropology, prudence has been attributed to both biological preferences and cultural conventions. Biological approaches to mate choice emphasize factors that may be indicators of reproductive potential and ability to invest in offspring—namely, beauty in females and status in males (Brase 2006; Buss and Barnes 1986; Grammar 1993; Thornhill and Gangestad 2005). In these studies, it is assumed that individuals choose their mates and others have little say in the matter. In contrast, cultural approaches...

    • EIGHTEEN Prestige Goods and the Formation of Political Hierarchy: A COSTLY SIGNALING MODEL
      (pp. 265-276)
      Aimée M. Plourde

      Graham Clark (1986, 82) observes that the particular “hierarchies of esteem” of materials considered to be precious vary—sometimes widely—by culture, “yet the transmission of precious substances in the form of jewelry or other objects of display has at all times and most notably during the last five millennia served the same purpose the world over, that of signalling and enhancing status,” an observation commonly thought to apply more generally to prestige goods of all kinds. For this reason, scholars studying the development of social institutions and structures of ranking and political hierarchy, particularly archaeologists, typically interpret artifacts postulated...

      (pp. 277-296)
      Timothy A. Kohler, Sarah Cole and Stanca Ciupe

      Ecologist peter Turchin and anthropologist Andrey Korotayev (2006) propose that population size and incidence of internal warfare or sociopolitical instability exhibit a deterministic relationship in prestate societies. Important to their thesis is that both population size and incidence of instability are, and must be treated as, dynamic variables: population growth eventually causes an increase in instability, with a lag, whereas increased instability, also with a lag, eventually leads to decreases in population size.

      Because of these lags, they argue that a straightforward attempt to cross-tabulate current incidence of warfare against current population size, as done by Keeley (1996, 117–121,...

    • TWENTY An Ecological Model for the Emergence of Institutionalized Social Hierarchies on California’s Northern Channel Islands
      (pp. 297-314)
      Douglas J. Kennett, Bruce Winterhalder, Jacob Bartruff and Jon M. Erlandson

      One of the central questions in anthropological archaeology is how and why institutionalized social hierarchies evident in ranked societies and chiefdoms developed independently in multiple locations around the world during the Holocene (Feinman and Manzanilla 2000; Flannery 1998). Status competition and social inequality exist in all human groups, regardless of size or mode of production (Fried 1967; Boehm 2000; Diehl 2000). However, archaeological evidence for significant and institutionalized intragroup differences in status and wealth are confined to the last 13,000 years, well after the first evidence for anatomically modern humans in Africa (ca. 150,000 years ago) and their subsequent appearance...

    • TWENTY-ONE Population, Sociopolitical Simplification, and Cultural Evolution of Levantine Neolithic Villages
      (pp. 315-328)
      Ian Kuijt

      How does one describe and model the tempo and underlying causes of cultural change? This represents one of the central questions for studies of cultural evolution. Any attempt to address it faces two interrelated challenges. First, researchers need to develop interpretive models that incorporate both external and internal causes for the direction and tempo of cultural change. Depending on the case study in question and their specific agendas, researchers (Diamond 2005; Shennan 2000; Tainter 1998) have explored diverse explanations, such as paleoclimatic change, population growth, and ideology, to account for short-and long-term cultural change, but it is uncommon for researchers...

    (pp. 329-330)
  9. INDEX
    (pp. 331-341)
  10. Back Matter
    (pp. 342-344)