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The Cultural Transmission of Great Basin Projectile-Point Technology I: An Experimental Simulation

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  20 January 2017

Alex Mesoudi
Affiliation:
Department of Anthropology, University of Missouri, Columbia, MO 65211. Current Address: Department of Social and Developmental Psychology, University of Cambridge, Free School Lane, Cambridge CB2 3RQ, United Kingdom (am786@cam.ac.uk)
Michael J. O'Brien
Affiliation:
Department of Anthropology, University of Missouri, Columbia, MO 65211 (ObrienM@missouri.edu)
Corresponding

Abstract

A Darwinian evolutionary approach to archaeology naturally leads to a focus on cultural transmission. Theoretical models of cultural evolution indicate that individual-level details of cultural transmission can have specific and significant population-level effects, implying that differences in transmission may be detectable in the archaeological record. Here we present an experimental simulation of the cultural transmission of prehistoric projectile-point technology, simulating the two transmission modes-indirect bias and guided variation-that Bettinger and Eerkens (1999) suggested were responsible for differences in Nevada and California point-attribute correlations. Groups of participants designed “virtual projectile points” and tested them in “virtual hunting environments,” with different phases of learning simulating, alternately, indirectly biased cultural transmission and independent individual learning. As predicted, periods of cultural transmission were associated with significantly stronger attribute correlations than were periods of individual learning. We also found that participants who could engage in indirectly biased horizontal cultural transmission outperformed individual-learning controls, especially when individual learning was costly and the selective environment was multimodal. The study demonstrates that experimental simulations of cultural transmission, used alongside archaeological data, mathematical models and computer simulations, constitute a useful tool for studying cultural change.

Résumé

Résumé

Una perspectiva Darwiniana de la arqueología conduce, naturalmente, hacia un enfoque en la transmisión cultural. Los modelos teóricos de la evolución cultural indican que el nivel individual de la transmisión de cultura puede tener efectos específicos y significativos sobre el nivel demográfico. Esto implica que las diferencias de transmisión pueden ser detectadas en la documentación arqueológica. Aquí presentamos una simulación experimental sobre la transmisión cultural de la tecnología prehistórica de puntas de proyectil, representando los dos modos de transmisión: tendencia indirecta y variación guiada. Ambos modos, según Bettinger y Eerkens, fueron responsables de las diferencias en las correlaciones punto-parámetro de Nevada y California. Grupos de participantes diseñaron “puntas virtuales de proyectil” y las probaron en “medios virtuales de cacería” con diferentes fases de aprendizaje, simulando el modo de tendencia indirecta y el aprendizaje individual independiente. Como fue previsto, los periodos de transmisión cultural fueron asociados con parámetros de correlaciones significativamente más fuertes que los periodos de aprendizaje individual. También encontramos que los participantes dedicados a la transmisión cultural horizontal de tendencia indirecta, superaron los controles de aprendizaje individual. Este resultado se obtuvo especialmente entre los grandes grupos, cuyo aprendizaje individual es costoso y el entorno selecto es multi-modal. El presente trabajo demuestra que las simulaciones experimentales de transmisión cultural, usadas con modelos matemáticos y simulaciones en computadoras constituyen una herramienta para estudiar los cambios culturales.

Type
Articles
Copyright
Copyright © The Society for American Archaeology 2008

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