Virtually all aspects of human behavior show enormous variation
both within and between cultural groups, including material culture,
social organization and language. Thousands of distinct cultural groups
exist: about 6,000 languages are spoken today, and it is thought that a
far greater number of languages existed in the past but became extinct.
Using a Darwinian approach, this book seeks to explain this
rich cultural variation. There are a number of theoretical reasons to
believe that cultural diversification might be tree-like, that is
phylogenetic: material and non-material culture is clearly inherited by
descendants, there is descent with modification, and languages appear
to be hierarchically related. There are also a number of theoretical
reasons to believe that cultural evolution is not tree-like: cultural
inheritance is not Mendelian and can indeed be vertical, horizontal or
oblique, evidence of borrowing abounds, cultures are not necessarily
biological populations and can be transient and complex. Here, for the
first time, this title tackles these questions of cultural evolution
empirically and quantitatively, using a range of case studies from
Africa, the Pacific, Europe, Asia and America. A range of powerful
theoretical tools developed in evolutionary biology is used to test
detailed hypotheses about historical patterns and adaptive functions in
cultural evolution. Evidence is amassed from archaeological, linguist
and cultural datasets, from both recent and historical or
pre-historical time periods. A unifying theme is that the phylogenetic
approach is a useful and powerful framework, both for describing the
evolutionary history of these traits, and also for testing adaptive
hypotheses about their evolution and co-evolution.
Contributors include archaeologists, anthropologists,
evolutionary biologists and linguists, and this book will be of great
interest to all those involved in these areas.
This title is sponsored by Institute of Archaeology, University College London.