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What Is Evolution? A Response to Bamforth

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  20 January 2017

Michael J. O'Brien
Affiliation:
Department of Anthropology, University of Missouri, Columbia, MO 65211
R. Lee Lyman
Affiliation:
Department of Anthropology, University of Missouri, Columbia, MO 65211
Robert D. Leonard
Affiliation:
Department of Anthropology, University of New Mexico, Albuquerque, NM 87131

Abstract

Douglas Bamforth's recent paper in American Antiquity, “Evidence and Metaphor in Evolutionary Archaeology,” charges that Darwinism has little to offer archaeology except in a metaphorical sense. Specifically, Bamforth claims that arguments that allegedly link evolutionary processes to the archaeological record are unsustainable. Given Bamforth's narrow view of evolution—that it must be defined strictly in terms of changes in gene frequency—he is correct. But no biologist or paleontologist would agree with Bamforth"s claim that evolution is a process that must he viewed fundamentally at the microlevel. Evolutionary archaeology has argued that materials in the archaeological record are phenotypic in the same way that hard parts of organisms are. Thus changes in the frequencies of archaeological variants can be used to monitor the effects of selection and drift on the makers and users of those materials. Bamforth views this extension of the human phenotype as metaphorical because to him artifacts are not somatic features, meaning their production and use are not entirely controlled by genetic transmission. He misses the critical point that in terms of evolution, culture is as significant a transmission system as genes are. There is nothing metaphorical about viewing cultural transmission from a Darwinian point of view.

Resumen

Resumen

El reciente trabajo de Douglas Bamforth que apareció en American Antiquity y llamado “Evidencia y metáfora en Arqueología Evolutiva” acusa al darvinismo de tener poco que ofrecer a la arqueología excepto en un amplio sentido metafórico. Especí ficamente, Bamforth afirma que los argumentos que supuestamente conectan la selección y el desplazamiento con el registro arqueológico son insostenibles. Dada la opinión estrecha de la evolución—que deber ser estrictamente definida en términos de cambios en frecuencia de genes—tiene razón. Pero ningún biólogo o paleontólogo estaría de acuerdo con la acusación de Bamforth de que la evolución es un proceso que deber ser considerado fundamentalmente al nivel micro. La arqueología evolutiva ha sostenido que los materiales en el registro arqueológico son fenotipos de la misma manera que lo son las partes duras de los organismos. De esta manera, los cambios en las frecuencias de las variantes arqueológicas pueden ser usados para seguir de cerca los efectos de la selección y el desplazamiento en los fabricantes y usuarios de esos materiales. Bamforth considera esta extensión de los fenotipos humanos como metafórica porque en su opinión los artefactos no son características somáticas, lo que quiere decir que su producción y uso no están controlados completamente por transmisión genética. Él no capta el punto crítico que en términos de evolución, la cultura es un sistema de transmisión tan significante como los genes. No hay nada metafórico en considerar la transmisión cultural desde un punto de vista darviniano.

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Copyright © The Society for American Archaeology 2003

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