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Archaeology within a unified science of cultural evolution

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If you have a question about this talk, please contact Simon Carrignon.

I will provide an overview of modern cultural evolution theory, and suggest how archaeology fits into a unified science of cultural evolution. Cultural evolution is the idea that cultural change constitutes an inheritance process that bears some similarities with (but also differences to) genetic evolution. Cultural evolution researchers are interested in the processes by which cultural traits (e.g. archaeological artifacts) change and diversify over time. Some of these processes are psychological, such as tendencies to copy prestigious individuals or conform to group majorities, others are material, to do with the qualities of the traits being copied, and others are demographic, such as the effects of population size and structure. I will illustrate some of these ideas by presenting the results of past studies that have experimentally simulated patterns in the archaeological record. In the first, participants designed virtual arrowheads that could be copied by others, testing hypotheses about prehistoric projectile point variation in North America. In the second, participants designed and copied virtual handaxes, testing whether changes observed in real handaxes are consistent with unintentional copying error or whether intentional, directional change was important. The theory of cultural evolution has the potential to unify the social sciences just as it has the natural sciences, and archaeology stands to play a crucial role in this unified science of cultural evolution.

This talk is part of the Department of Archaeology - Garrod seminar series series.

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