The Evolution of Cultural Diversity: A Phylogenetic Approach

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Psychology Press, 2005 - Law - 291 pages
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Virtually all aspects of human behaviour 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 are 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.


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About the Contributors
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About the author (2005)

Professor Ruth Mace, DPhil, is a Reader in Human Evolutionary Ecology at the Department of Anthropology, University College London. Dr Clare Holden, BA (Hons), PhD, is a Lecturer at the Department of Anthropology, University College London. Professor Stephen is Director of the AHRB Centre for the Evolutionary Analysis of Cultural Behaviour (CEACB) at UCL.

Nancy Holder has published sixty books and more than two hundred short stories. She has received four Bram Stoker awards for fiction from the Horror Writers Association, and her books have been translated into more than two dozen languages. She has written or cowritten twenty Buffy and Angel projects. Her books from Simon Pulse include the "New York Times" bestselling series Wicked and the novel "The Rose Bride. "A graduate of the University of California at San Diego, Nancy is currently a writing teacher at the school. She lives in San Diego with her daughter, Belle, and their growing assortment of pets. Visit her at or follow her on Twitter at @nancyholder.

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