Cultural Innovation from an Americanist Perspective

  • Michael J. O’Brien


No matter how wide a search one might conduct, it would be difficult to find another topic in anthropology that has played as an important a role as innovation in framing arguments about why and how human behavior changes (O’Brien 2007; O’Brien and Shennan 2010). Clearly, innovation was implicit in the nineteenth century writings of ethnologists, such as Tylor (1871) and Morgan (1877), both of whom viewed the production of novelties – new ideas, new ways of doing things, and the like – as the underlying evolutionary force that keeps cultures moving up the ladder of cultural complexity. From their point of view, the vast majority of cultures that have ever existed pooped out somewhere on the way up – presumably because they either ran out of good ideas and products or were too set in their ways to borrow them from other cultures. A few were innovative enough to escape the lower rungs and develop into civilizations through the acquisition of traits, such as writing, calendars, and monumental architecture.


Cultural Evolution Great Basin Cultural Transmission Culture Trait Cultural Innovation 
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.



My ideas on cultural transmission have been greatly influenced by my ­collaborations with Lee Lyman, Alex Mesoudi, and Stephen Shennan.


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© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2011

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.University of MissouriColumbiaUSA

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