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The Cultural Transmission of Great Basin Projectile-Point Technology II: An Agent-Based Computer Simulation

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  20 January 2017

Alex Mesoudi
Affiliation:
School of Biological and Chemical Sciences, Queen Mary, University of London, Mile End Rd., London El 4NS, UK (a.mesoudi@qmul.ac.uk)
Michael J. O'Brien
Affiliation:
Department of Anthropology, University of Missouri, Columbia, MO 65211 (obrienm@missouri.edu)
Corresponding

Abstract

We present an agent-based computer simulation that extends a previous experimental simulation (Mesoudi and O"Brien 2008) of the cultural transmission of projectile-point technology in the prehistoric Great Basin, with participants replaced with computer-generated agents. As in the experiment, individual learning is found to generate low correlations between artifact attributes, whereas indirectly biased cultural transmission (copying the point design of the most successful hunter) generates high correlations between artifact attributes. These results support the hypothesis that low attribute correlations in prehistoric California resulted from individual learning, and high attribute correlations in prehistoric Nevada resulted from indirectly biased cultural transmission. However, alternative modes of cultural transmission, including conformist transmission and random copying, generated similarly high attribute correlations as indirect bias, suggesting that it may be difficult to infer which transmission rule generated this archaeological pattern. On the other hand, indirect bias out-performed all other cultural-transmission rules, lending plausibility to the original hypothesis. Importantly, this advantage depends on the assumption of a multimodal adaptive landscape in which there are multiple locally optimal artifact designs. Indeed, in unimodal fitness environments no cultural transmission rule outperformed individual learning, highlighting how the shape of the adaptive landscape within which cultural evolution occurs can strongly influence the dynamics of cultural transmission. Generally, experimental and computer simulations can be useful in answering questions that are difficult to address with archaeological data, such as identifying the consequences of different modes of cultural transmission or exploring the effect of different selective environments.

Résumé

Résumé

Presentamos una simulación por computadora basada en agentes que es una extensión del anterior experimento de simulación (Mesoudi y O'Brien 2008) de transmisión cultural de la tecnología prehistórica de puntas de proyectil en la Gran Cuenca. En esta simulación los participantes son reemplazados por agentes generados por computadora. Como en el experimento, el aprendizaje individual genera bajas correlaciones entre los atributos de los artefactos, mientras que en una transmisión cultural sesgada indirecta (copiar el diseño de la punta del cazador más exitoso) genera altas correlaciones entre los atributos de los artefactos. Esto apoya la hipótesis de que bajas correlaciones en los atributos en la California prehistórica resultan del aprendizaje individual, y que las altas correlaciones en los atributos en la Nevada prehistórica son consecuencia de la transmisión cultural sesgada indirecta. Sin embargo, modos alternativos de transmisión cultural como la transmisión conformista y la imitación aleatoria generan correlaciones altas, en forma similar a las del sesgo indirecto, lo cual sugiere que tal vez sea difícil inferir cuál regla de transmisión generó este patrón arqueológico. Por otro lado, el sesgo indirecto supera todas las otras reglas de transmisión cultural, lo cual da verosimilitud a la hipótesis original. Es importante subrayar que esta ventaja depende de suponer un entorno multimodal adaptativo, en el cual haya múltiples diseños de artefactos localmente óptimos. En efecto, en un entorno de ajuste unimodal, ninguna regla de transmisión cultural superó al aprendizaje individual, destacando así cómo la forma del entorno adaptativo dentro del cual la evolución cultural ocurre, puede influir fuertemente en la dinámica de transmisión cultural. Por lo general, simulaciones experimentales y por computadora pueden ser útiles para contestar preguntas que son difíciles de abordar con información arqueológica, como identificación de las consecuencias de los diferentes modos de transmisión cultural o de exploración de los efectos de los diferentes ambientes de selección.

Type
Articles
Copyright
Copyright © Society for American Archaeology 2008

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