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Cultural Macroevolution on Neighbor Graphs

Vertical and Horizontal Transmission among Western North American Indian Societies

Abstract

What are the driving forces of cultural macroevolution, the evolution of cultural traits that characterize societies or populations? This question has engaged anthropologists for more than a century, with little consensus regarding the answer. We develop and fit autologistic models, built upon both spatial and linguistic neighbor graphs, for 44 cultural traits of 172 societies in the Western North American Indian (WNAI) database. For each trait, we compare models including or excluding one or both neighbor graphs, and for the majority of traits we find strong evidence in favor of a model which uses both spatial and linguistic neighbors to predict a trait’s distribution. Our results run counter to the assertion that cultural trait distributions can be explained largely by the transmission of traits from parent to daughter populations and are thus best analyzed with phylogenies. In contrast, we show that vertical and horizontal transmission pathways can be incorporated in a single model, that both transmission modes may indeed operate on the same trait, and that for most traits in the WNAI database, accounting for only one mode of transmission would result in a loss of information.

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Notes

  1. For an annotated copy of our code, contact mary.towner@okstate.edu or mngrote@ucdavis.edu.

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Acknowledgments

We thank Eric Alden Smith, Bret Beheim, Robert Boyd, Victor Golla, Shelly Lundberg, Barney Luttbeg, Marc Mangel, Richard McElreath, Charlie Nunn, Peter Richerson, Bruce Winterhalder, and other members of the HBE lab group at UC Davis for their encouragement, comments and discussion. John Gillespie introduced us to the enumeration method used in the exact estimation study. The research was support by a grant from the National Science Foundation (SBE Cultural Anthropology Program 0546119).

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Towner, M.C., Grote, M.N., Venti, J. et al. Cultural Macroevolution on Neighbor Graphs. Hum Nat 23, 283–305 (2012). https://doi.org/10.1007/s12110-012-9142-z

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Keywords

  • American Indians
  • Cultural evolution
  • Cultural transmission
  • Cultural traits
  • Cross-cultural variation
  • Autologistic models
  • Neighbor graphs
  • Model comparison