Exploring Cultural Niche Construction from the Paleolithic to Modern Hunter-Gatherers

  • Nicole CreanzaEmail author
  • Laurel Fogarty
  • Marcus W. Feldman
Part of the Replacement of Neanderthals by Modern Humans Series book series (RNMH)


Niche construction is an evolutionary process through which organisms modify their environments, thereby altering the selection pressures on future generations. Cultural niche construction theory concentrates on those changes made by the spread of socially learned traits or to the evolutionary niche in which these learned traits evolve. We present a number of cultural niche construction models exploring important cultural processes that are either unique to, or uniquely well developed in, modern humans. We assess the role of these processes in the success of humans compared to other now extinct Homo species.

We concentrate particularly on cooperation, cooperative hunting, and active teaching. We show that teaching can increase the probability of a trait with marginal fitness benefits becoming fixed in the population, that this effect is strengthened by oblique transmission, and that teaching can increase the speed of cultural evolution.

Finally, we show that the evolution of cooperation is strengthened by homophily, in which cooperative individuals prefer to partner with other cooperators, and that strong transmission of cooperative norms can support the evolution of costly sharing practices through cultural niche construction.


Cooperation Cultural niche construction Teaching 


  1. Ambrose SH (2001) Paleolithic technology and human evolution. Science 291:1748–1753CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Aoki K (1986) A stochastic model of gene-culture coevolution suggested by the “culture historical hypothesis” for the evolution of adult lactose absorption in humans. Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A 83:2929–2933CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Aoki K, Feldman M (1987) Toward a theory for the evolution of cultural communication: coevolution of signal transmission and reception. Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A 84:7164–7168CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Apicella CL, Marlowe F, Fowler J, Christakis N (2012) Social networks and cooperation in hunter-gatherers. Nature 481:497–501CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Bowles S, Gintis H (2002) The origins of human cooperation. In: Hammerstein P (ed) The genetic and cultural origins of cooperation. MIT Press, Cambridge, pp 1–17Google Scholar
  6. Caro T, Hauser M (1992) Is there teaching in non-human animals? Quart Rev Biol 67:151–174CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Churchill S (2008) Weapon technology, prey size selection, and hunting methods in modern hunter-gatherers: implications for hunting in the Palaeolithic and Mesolithic. Archeol Papers Am Anthropol Assoc 4(1):11–24CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Connor R (1986) Pseudo-reciprocity: investing in mutualism. Anim Behav 34:1562–1566CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Creanza N, Fogarty L, Feldman MW (2012) Models of cultural niche construction with selection and assortative mating. PLoS One 7(8):e42744CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Csibra G, Gergely G (2011) Natural pedagogy as evolutionary adaptation. Philos Trans R Soc Lond B Biol Sci 366(1567):1149–1157CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Dean LG, Kendal R, Schapiro SJ, Thierry B, Laland KN (2012) Identification of the social and cognitive processes underlying human cumulative culture. Science 335(6072):1114–1118CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Durham WH (1991) Coevolution: genes, culture and human diversity. Stanford University Press, Palo AltoGoogle Scholar
  13. Eshel I, Cavalli-Sforza L (1982) Assortment of encounters and evolution of cooperativeness. Proc Natl Acad Sci USA 79(4):1331–1335CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Feldman M, Cavalli-Sforza L, Peck J (1985) Gene-culture coevolution: models for the evolution of altruism with cultural transmission. Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A 82:5814–5818CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Feldman MW, Cavalli-Sforza LL (1989) On the theory of evolution under genetic and cultural transmission with application to the lactose absorption problem. pp. 145–173. In Feldman MW (Ed.) Mathematical Evolutionary Theory. Princeton University PressGoogle Scholar
  16. Fogarty L, Strimling P, Laland KN (2011) The evolution of teaching. Evolution 65:2760–2770CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Gilligan I (2007) Neanderthal extinction and modern human behaviour: the role of climate change and clothing. World Archeol 39(4):499–514CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Gurven M, Allen-Arave W, Hill K, Hurtado AM (2001) Reservation food sharing among the ache of paraguay. Hum Nat 12(4):273–297CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Hamilton W (1964) The genetical evolution of social behaviour. J Theor Biol 7(1):1–16CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Harris J (1998) The nurture assumption: why children turn out the way they do. Free, New YorkGoogle Scholar
  21. Henrich J, Boyd R, Bowles S, Camerer C (2001) In search of homo economicus: behavioral experiments in 15 small-scale societies. Am Econ Rev 91(2):73–78Google Scholar
  22. Hewlett B, Cavalli-Sforza L (1986) Cultural transmission among Aka pygmies. Am Anthropol 88(4):922–934CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Hewlett BS, Fouts HN, Boyette AH, Hewlett BL (2011) Social learning among Congo Basin hunter-gatherers. Philos Trans R Soc Lond B Biol Sci 366(1567):1168–1178CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. Hill K (2002) Altruistic cooperation during foraging by the ache, and the evolved human predisposition to cooperate. Hum Nat 13(1):105–128CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Hill K, Hurtado AM (1996) Ache life history: the ecology and demography of a foraging people. Aldine deGruyter, New YorkGoogle Scholar
  26. Hoppitt WJE, Brown GR, Kendal R, Rendell LE, Thornton A, Webster MW, Laland KN (2008) Lessons from animal teaching. Trend Ecol Evol 23(9):486–493CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Ihara Y, Feldman M (2004) Cultural niche construction and the evolution of small family size. Theor Popu Biol 65(1):105–111CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. Klein R (2008) Out of africa and the evolution of human behavior. Evol Anthropol 17:267–281CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. Kurland J, Beckerman S (1985) Optimal foraging and hominid evolution: labor and reciprocity. Am Anthropol 87:73–93CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. Kylafis G, Loreau M (2008) Ecological and evolutionary consequences of niche construction for its agent. Ecol Lett 11:1072–1081CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. Laland KN, Odling-Smee J, Feldman M (1996) On the evolutionary consequences of niche construction. J Evol Biol 9:293–316CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. Laland K, Odling-Smee J, Feldman MW (1999) Evolutionary consequences of niche construction and their implications for ecology. Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A 96:10242–10247CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. Laland KN, Odling-Smee J, Feldman MW (2000) Niche construction, biological evolution, and cultural change. Behav Brain Sci 23(1):131–146, discussion 146–75CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  34. Laland KN, Odling-Smee J, Myles S (2010) How culture shaped the human genome: bringing genetics and the human sciences together. Nat Rev Genet 11(2):137–148CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  35. Lancy D (1996) Playing on the motherground: cultural routines for children’s development. Guildford, New YorkGoogle Scholar
  36. Lewontin R (1983) Gene, organism, and environment. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, pp 273–285Google Scholar
  37. Nowak MA (2006) Five rules for the evolution of cooperation. Science 314(5805):1560–1563CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  38. Odling-Smee J, Laland KN, Feldman M (2003) Niche construction – the neglected process in evolution. Princeton University Press, PrincetonGoogle Scholar
  39. Roche H, Delagnes A, Brugal JP, Feibel C, Kibunjia M, Mourre V, Texier PJ (1999) Early hominid stone tool production and technical skill 2.34 myr ago in West Turkana, Kenya. Nature 399:57–60CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  40. Simoons F (1970) Primary adult lactose intolerance and the milking habit: a problem in biological and cultural interrelations ii. a culture historical hypothesis. Digest Dis Sci 15(8):695–710CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  41. Stiner MC, Barkai R, Gopher A (2009) Cooperative hunting and meat sharing 400–200 kya at Qesem Cave, Israel. Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A 106(32):13207–13212CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  42. Stout D (2002) Skill and cognition in stone tool production: an ethnographic case study from irian jaya. Curr Anthropol 43:693–722CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  43. Traulsen A, Nowak MA (2006) Evolution of cooperation by multilevel selection. Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A 103(29):10952–10955CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  44. Whiten A, Horner V, Marshall-Pescini S (2003) Cultural panthropology. Evol Anthropol Issues News Rev 2(2):92–105CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  45. Winterhalder B (1986) Diet choice, risk and food sharing in a stochastic environment. J Anthropol Archaeol 5(4):369–392CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  46. Wood B, Richmond BG (2000) Human evolution: taxonomy and paleobiology. J Anatomy 196:19–60CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Japan 2013

Authors and Affiliations

  • Nicole Creanza
    • 1
    Email author
  • Laurel Fogarty
    • 1
  • Marcus W. Feldman
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of BiologyStanford UniversityStanfordUSA

Personalised recommendations