Cultural Evolution Round Up

I have not been the biggest fan of cultural evolution research—treating culture in too biological a fashion, a lot of theory without a lot of mechanism, not enough consideration of the brain, difficulties with ideas about progress and direction. But the field has slowly advanced, and there has been some interesting blogging and research lately.

I also think cultural evolution, done right, has direct implications for how to think about neuroanthropology. If brain and culture interact (with camping caveats), then how they came to interact plays a central role in understanding neuroanthropological dynamics. So, with that brief introduction, here’s the latest topical round up.

Canoe Design

Deborah Rogers and Paul Ehrlich, Natural Selection and Cultural Rates of Change
Open access article from PNAS on how the functional and aesthetic design of Polynesian canoes change at different rates. Basically Rogers & Ehrlich arguing that the functional parts (i.e., that interact more significantly with the environment) go through stabilizing selection and thus are more conserved, while aesthetic aspects tend to get elaborated locally and exhibit faster rates of change.

For those of you looking for something briefer, here’s the overview in the press release, which also includes praise from Jared Diamond and Nina Jablonksi.

John Skoyles had his critical response published in PNAS, but without open access, so here’s Anthropology.Net discussing Skoyles’ reaction to the Rogers & Ehrlich article.

For additional commentary, see Gene Expression and Anthropology.Net’s initial reaction to proposals about canoe design and natural selection.

And don’t forget Malinowski’s original chapter on Polynesian canoes!

Projectile Points

R. Lee Lyman and colleagues have a Journal of Archaeological Science article entitled “Variation in North American dart points and arrow points when one or both are present.”
The paper argues that projectile points are subjected to experimentation and selection, and thus an optimizing design. For the press release, click here.

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