Cultural Transmission, Genetic Models and Palaeolithic Variability: Integrative Analytical Approaches

  • Stephen J. Lycett


It is increasingly recognised that cultural transmission involves inheritance, variation of practice and the differential representation of particular variants in subsequent generations due to a variety of sorting mechanisms. As such, patterns of cultural variation and change (including those seen in lithic artefacts) can be seen as an emergent property of a process of “descent with modification.” Two immediate analytical implications arise from recognition that changes and variation in lithic artefacts are partly brought about by a process of descent with modification, which have particular relevance for Palaeolithic archaeology. The first of these is that understanding the historical process of lineage descent and diversification (i.e. phylogeny) becomes an imperative research goal; the second is that many of the factors known to structure variation in genetic data (e.g. drift, selection, demography and dispersal) will have an influence upon patterns of variation in the attributes of artefacts. Here, using a data set of Acheulean handaxes, it is demonstrated that methodologies designed to address these issues in biology might profitably be used to address analogous questions pertaining to Palaeolithic technologies.


Cladistic Analysis Maximum Parsimony Tree Phylogeographic Pattern Dispersal Route Stone Artefact 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.



Special thanks are due to John Gowlett, Mike O’Brien, Alex Mesoudi, Chris Norton, Mark Collard, Noreen von Cramon-Taubadel and two anonymous reviewers for perceptive comments and conversations relating to this chapter. I am especially grateful to Parth Chauhan for many important discussions relating to my research over the years, and for co-editing the current volume. I, of course, remain responsible for any errors or omissions.


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© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2010

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of AnthropologyUniversity of KentCanterburyUK

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