Culture Evolves

Front Cover
Andrew Whiten, Robert A. Hinde, Christopher B. Stringer, Kevin N. Laland
OUP Oxford, 2012 - Medical - 454 pages
Culture - broadly defined as all we learn from others that endures for long enough to generate customs and traditions - shapes vast swathes of our lives and has allowed the human species to dominate the planet in an evolutionarily unique way. Culture and cultural evolution are uniquely significant phenomena in evolutionary biology: they are products of biological evolution, yet they supplement genetic transmission with social transmission, thus achieving a certain independence from natural selection. However, cultural evolution nevertheless expresses key Darwinian processes itself and also interacts with genetic evolution. Just how culture fits into the grander framework of evolution is a big issue though, yet one that has received relatively little scientific attention compared to, for example, genetic evolution. Our 'capacity for culture' appears so distinctive among animals that it is often thought to separate we cultural beings from the rest of nature and the Darwinian forces that shape it. 'Culture Evolves' presents a different view arising from the recent discoveries of a diverse range of disciplines, that focus on evolutionary continuities. First, recent studies reveal that learning from others and the transmission of traditions are more widespread and significant across the animal kingdom than earlier recognized, helping us understand the evolutionary roots of culture. Second, archaeological discoveries have pushed back the origins of human culture to much more ancient times than traditionally thought. These developments together suggest important continuities between animal and human culture. A third new array of discoveries concerns the later diversification of human cultures, where the operations of Darwinian-like, cultural evolutionary processes are increasingly identified. Finally, surprising discoveries have been made about the imprint of cultural evolution in children's predisposition to acquire culture. The result of a major interdisciplinary meeting held by he Royal Society and the British Academy, this book presents the work of leading experts from the fields of ethology, behavioural ecology, primatology, comparative psychology, archaeology, anthropology, evolutionary biology and developmental psychology.

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About the author (2012)

Andrew Whiten is Director of the Centre for Social Learning and Cognitive Evolution at the University of St Andrews and Director of the University's 'Living Links to Human Evolution' Research Centre in Edinburgh Zoo. His research interests are broadly in the evolution and development of social cognition, with a particular recent focus on social learning, tradition and culture in humans and in non-human primates.

Robert A. Hinde is formerly Royal Society Research Professor and Master, St. John's College, Cambridge, UK.

Kevin N Laland received his PhD from University College London in 1990 and is currently Professor of Biology at the University of St Andrews. His research employs both experimental and theoretical methods to investigate a range of topics related to animal (including human) behaviour and evolution, particularly niche construction, social learning, and gene-culture co-evolution. He is the author of over 170 scientific articles and 8 books.

Professor Chris Stringer has worked at the Natural History Museum since 1973, and is now Research Leader in Human Origins and a Fellow of the Royal Society. His early research concentrated on the relationship of Neanderthals and early modern humans in Europe, but through his work on the 'Out of Africa' theory of modern human origins, he now collaborates with archaeologists, dating specialists and geneticists in attempting to reconstruct the evolution of modern humans globally.
His recent books include The Complete World of Human Evolution (2005, with Peter Andrews), and Homo britannicus (2006), which was shortlisted for the Royal Society Prize.
He has excavated at sites in Britain, Gibraltar, Morocco and Turkey, and is currently leading the Ancient Human Occupation of Britain project in its third phase (AHOB3), which began in October 2009, funded by the Leverhulme Trust. AHOB is a major collaborative project to reconstruct the pattern of the earliest human colonisations of Britain and Europe.