ABSTRACT: It has been claimed that a meaningful theory of cultural evolution is not possible because human beliefs and behaviors do not follow predictable patterns. However, theoretical models of cultural transmission and observations of the development of societies suggest that patterns in cultural evolution do occur. Here, we analyze whether two sets of related cultural traits, one tested against the environment and the other not, evolve at different rates in the same populations. Using functional and symbolic design features for Polynesian canoes, we show that natural selection apparently slows the evolution of functional structures, whereas symbolic designs differentiate more rapidly. This finding indicates that cultural change, like genetic evolution, can follow theoretically derived patterns.
Project description:The study investigated cross-cultural differences in variability and average performance in arithmetic, mathematical reasoning, symbolic and non-symbolic magnitude processing, intelligence, spatial ability, and mathematical anxiety in 890 6- to 9-year-old children from the United Kingdom, Russia, and China. Cross-cultural differences explained 28% of the variance in arithmetic and 17.3% of the variance in mathematical reasoning, with Chinese children outperforming the other two groups. No cross-cultural differences were observed for spatial ability and mathematical anxiety. In all samples, symbolic magnitude processing and mathematical reasoning were independently related to early arithmetic. Other factors, such as non-symbolic magnitude processing, mental rotation, intelligence, and mathematical anxiety, produced differential patterns across the populations. The results are discussed in relation to potential influences of parental practice, school readiness, and linguistic factors on individual differences in early mathematics. Statement of contribution What is already known on this subject? Cross-cultural differences in mathematical ability are present in preschool children. Similar mechanisms of mathematical development operate in preschool children from the United Kingdom, Russia, and China. Tasks that require understanding of numbers are best predictors of arithmetic in preschool children. What does this study add? Cross-cultural differences in mathematical ability become greater with age/years of formal education. Similar mechanisms of mathematical development operate in early primary school children from the United Kingdom, Russia, and China. Symbolic number magnitude and mathematical reasoning are the main predictors of arithmetic in all three populations.
Project description:BACKGROUND: Recent advances in automated assessment of basic vocabulary lists allow the construction of linguistic phylogenies useful for tracing dynamics of human population expansions, reconstructing ancestral cultures, and modeling transition rates of cultural traits over time. METHODS: Here we investigate the Tupi expansion, a widely-dispersed language family in lowland South America, with a distance-based phylogeny based on 40-word vocabulary lists from 48 languages. We coded 11 cultural traits across the diverse Tupi family including traditional warfare patterns, post-marital residence, corporate structure, community size, paternity beliefs, sibling terminology, presence of canoes, tattooing, shamanism, men's houses, and lip plugs. RESULTS/DISCUSSION: The linguistic phylogeny supports a Tupi homeland in west-central Brazil with subsequent major expansions across much of lowland South America. Consistently, ancestral reconstructions of cultural traits over the linguistic phylogeny suggest that social complexity has tended to decline through time, most notably in the independent emergence of several nomadic hunter-gatherer societies. Estimated rates of cultural change across the Tupi expansion are on the order of only a few changes per 10,000 years, in accord with previous cultural phylogenetic results in other language families around the world, and indicate a conservative nature to much of human culture.
Project description:Human cultural traits-behaviors, ideas, and technologies that can be learned from other individuals-can exhibit complex patterns of transmission and evolution, and researchers have developed theoretical models, both verbal and mathematical, to facilitate our understanding of these patterns. Many of the first quantitative models of cultural evolution were modified from existing concepts in theoretical population genetics because cultural evolution has many parallels with, as well as clear differences from, genetic evolution. Furthermore, cultural and genetic evolution can interact with one another and influence both transmission and selection. This interaction requires theoretical treatments of gene-culture coevolution and dual inheritance, in addition to purely cultural evolution. In addition, cultural evolutionary theory is a natural component of studies in demography, human ecology, and many other disciplines. Here, we review the core concepts in cultural evolutionary theory as they pertain to the extension of biology through culture, focusing on cultural evolutionary applications in population genetics, ecology, and demography. For each of these disciplines, we review the theoretical literature and highlight relevant empirical studies. We also discuss the societal implications of the study of cultural evolution and of the interactions of humans with one another and with their environment.
Project description:Products, styles, and social movements often catch on and become popular, but little is known about why such identity-relevant cultural tastes and practices die out. We demonstrate that the velocity of adoption may affect abandonment: Analysis of over 100 years of data on first-name adoption in both France and the United States illustrates that cultural tastes that have been adopted quickly die faster (i.e., are less likely to persist). Mirroring this aggregate pattern, at the individual level, expecting parents are more hesitant to adopt names that recently experienced sharper increases in adoption. Further analysis indicate that these effects are driven by concerns about symbolic value: Fads are perceived negatively, so people avoid identity-relevant items with sharply increasing popularity because they believe that they will be short lived. Ancillary analyses also indicate that, in contrast to conventional wisdom, identity-relevant cultural products that are adopted quickly tend to be less successful overall (i.e., reduced cumulative adoption). These results suggest a potential alternate way to explain diffusion patterns that are traditionally seen as driven by saturation of a pool of potential adopters. They also shed light on one factor that may lead cultural tastes to die out.
Project description:The dispersal of modern humans across the globe began ~65,000 y ago when people first left Africa and culminated with the settlement of East Polynesia, which occurred in the last 1,000 y. With the arrival of Polynesian canoes only 750 y ago, Aotearoa/New Zealand became the last major landmass to be permanently settled by humans. We present here complete mitochondrial genome sequences of the likely founding population of Aotearoa/New Zealand recovered from the archaeological site of Wairau Bar. These data represent complete mitochondrial genome sequences from ancient Polynesian voyagers and provide insights into the genetic diversity of human populations in the Pacific at the time of the settlement of East Polynesia.
Project description:The rapid diffusion of farming technologies in the western Mediterranean raises questions about the mechanisms that drove the development of intensive contact networks and circulation routes between incoming Neolithic communities. Using a statistical method to analyze a brand-new set of cultural and chronological data, we document the large-scale processes that led to variations between Mediterranean archaeological cultures, and micro-scale processes responsible for the transmission of cultural practices within farming communities. The analysis of two symbolic productions, pottery decorations and personal ornaments, shed light on the complex interactions developed by Early Neolithic farmers in the western Mediterranean area. Pottery decoration diversity correlates with local processes of circulation and exchange, resulting in the emergence and the persistence of stylistic and symbolic boundaries between groups, while personal ornaments reflect extensive networks and the high level of mobility of Early Neolithic farmers. The two symbolic productions express different degrees of cultural interaction that may have facilitated the successful and rapid expansion of early farming societies in the western Mediterranean.
Project description:The evolution of hominin culture is well-documented in the archeological and fossil record, but such a record is largely absent for nonhuman primates. An alternative approach to studying cultural evolution is to examine patterns of modern cultural variation. In this article we measure nestedness across human and great ape "cultural repertoires" to gain insight into the accumulation and maintenance of putative cultural diversity in these species. Cultural assemblages are nested if cultures with a small repertoire of traits tend to comprise a proper subset of those traits present in more complex cultures. This nesting will occur if some traits are sequentially gained or lost, which may be because of the differential dispersal or extinction of traits. Here we apply statistical tools from ecology to examine the degree of nestedness in four datasets documenting the presence or absence of specific cultural traits across indigenous human populations in North America and New Guinea. We then compare the human data to patterns observed for putative cultural traits in chimpanzee and orangutan populations. In both humans and chimpanzees, cultural diversity is highly nonrandom, showing significant nested structure for all of the datasets examined. We find no evidence for nestedness in the orangutan cultural data. These findings are consistent with a sequential "layering" of cultural diversity in humans and chimpanzees, but not orangutans. Such an interpretation implies that the traits required for sequential cultural evolution first appeared in the last common ancestor of chimpanzees and humans.
Project description:Archaeological accounts of cultural change reveal a fundamental conflict: Some suggest that change is gradual, accelerating over time, whereas others indicate that it is punctuated, with long periods of stasis interspersed by sudden gains or losses of multiple traits. Existing models of cultural evolution, inspired by models of genetic evolution, lend support to the former and do not generate trajectories that include large-scale punctuated change. We propose a simple model that can give rise to both exponential and punctuated patterns of gain and loss of cultural traits. In it, cultural innovation comprises several realistic interdependent processes that occur at different rates. The model also takes into account two properties intrinsic to cultural evolution: the differential distribution of traits among social groups and the impact of environmental change. In our model, a population may be subdivided into groups with different cultural repertoires leading to increased susceptibility to cultural loss, whereas environmental change may lead to rapid loss of traits that are not useful in a new environment. Taken together, our results suggest the usefulness of a concept of an effective cultural population size.
Project description:Debate about initial human migration across the immense area of East Polynesia has focused upon seafaring technology, both of navigation and canoe capabilities, while temporal variation in sailing conditions, notably through climate change, has received less attention. One model of Polynesian voyaging observes that as tradewind easterlies are currently dominant in the central Pacific, prehistoric colonization canoes voyaging eastward to and through central East Polynesia (CEP: Society, Tuamotu, Marquesas, Gambier, Southern Cook, and Austral Islands) and to Easter Island probably had a windward capacity. Similar arguments have been applied to voyaging from CEP to New Zealand against prevailing westerlies. An alternative view is that migration required reliable off-wind sailing routes. We investigate the marine climate and potential voyaging routes during the Medieval Climate Anomaly (MCA), A.D. 800-1300, when the initial colonization of CEP and New Zealand occurred. Paleoclimate data assimilation is used to reconstruct Pacific sea level pressure and wind field patterns at bidecadal resolution during the MCA. We argue here that changing wind field patterns associated with the MCA provided conditions in which voyaging to and from the most isolated East Polynesian islands, New Zealand, and Easter Island was readily possible by off-wind sailing. The intensification and poleward expansion of the Pacific subtropical anticyclone culminating in A.D. 1140-1260 opened an anomalous climate window for off-wind sailing routes to New Zealand from the Southern Austral Islands, the Southern Cook Islands, and Tonga/Fiji Islands.
Project description:Our species is characterized by a great degree of cultural variation, both within and between populations. Understanding how group-level patterns of culture emerge from individual-level behaviour is a long-standing question in the biological and social sciences. We develop a simulation model capturing demographic and cultural dynamics relevant to human cultural evolution, focusing on the interface between population-level patterns and individual-level processes. The model tracks the distribution of variants of cultural traits across individuals in a population over time, conditioned on different pathways for the transmission of information between individuals. From these data, we obtain theoretical expectations for a range of statistics commonly used to capture population-level characteristics (e.g. the degree of cultural diversity). Consistent with previous theoretical work, our results show that the patterns observed at the level of groups are rooted in the interplay between the transmission pathways and the age structure of the population. We also explore whether, and under what conditions, the different pathways can be distinguished based on their group-level signatures, in an effort to establish theoretical limits to inference. Our results show that the temporal dynamic of cultural change over time retains a stronger signature than the cultural composition of the population at a specific point in time. Overall, the results suggest a shift in focus from identifying the one individual-level process that likely produced the observed data to excluding those that likely did not. We conclude by discussing the implications for empirical studies of human cultural evolution.