Behavioral Modernity and the Cultural Transmission of Structured Information: The Semantic Axelrod Model

Part of the Replacement of Neanderthals by Modern Humans Series book series (RNMH)


Cultural transmission models are coming to the fore in explaining increases in the Paleolithic toolkit richness and diversity. During the later Paleolithic, technologies increase not only in terms of diversity but also in their complexity and interdependence. As Mesoudi and O’Brien (Biolog Theory 3:63–72, 2008) have shown, selection broadly favors social learning of information that is hierarchical and structured. We believe that teaching provides the necessary scaffolding for transmission of more complex cultural traits. Here, we introduce an extension of the Axelrod (J Confl Resolut 41:203–226, 1997) model of cultural differentiation in which traits have prerequisite relationships, and where social learning is dependent upon the ordering of those prerequisites. We examine the resulting structure of cultural repertoires as learning environments range from largely unstructured imitation, to structured teaching of necessary prerequisites, and we find that in combination with individual learning and innovation, high probabilities of teaching prerequisites leads to richer cultural repertoires. Our results point to ways in which we can build more comprehensive explanations of the archaeological record of the Paleolithic as well as other cases of technological change.


Structured trait model Axelrod model Unbiased transmission Knowledge prerequisites Cumulative cultural transmission 



The authors wish to thank Briggs Buchanan and Mark Collard for the invitation to participate in the symposium “Current Research in Evolutionary Archaeology,” at the 79th Annual Meeting of the Society for American Archaeology in Austin, TX. A summary of this research was presented in that session, and Alex Mesoudi provided valuable comments on an early post-conference draft. Kenichi Aoki and an anonymous reviewer provided feedback prior to publication, and although we did not take all of their suggestions, the comments led to a number of improvements. Madsen wishes to thank Frédéric Chapoton of the Institut Camille Jordan for answering a question about the maximal automorphism group of trees.


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Copyright information

© Springer Japan 2015

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of AnthropologyUniversity of WashingtonSeattleUSA
  2. 2.Department of Anthropology and IIRMESCalifornia State University at Long BeachLong BeachUSA

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