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Cultural evolution in the Age of Athens: drift and selection in Greek figure-painted pottery

Schauer, P.M.; (2009) Cultural evolution in the Age of Athens: drift and selection in Greek figure-painted pottery. Doctoral thesis, UCL (University College London). Green open access

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Abstract

Variation in Greek figure-painted pottery has previously been unsystematically described as the result of social, political and art historical influences. In this study we propose that variation arises from the process of copying itself. The neutral model states that if there are no other forces at work, at time t the frequency of a variant in a population of variants will be in proportion to its frequency at time t-1, modified by the probability that new variants might be invented and old ones might fail to be copied each time there is a copying event, a process known as drift. We test the degree to which variation in figure- painted pottery can be explained by this model using evolutionary approaches to archaeology and culture change (Neiman 1995, Bentley et. al. 2004, Bentley et. al. 2007). We develop and expand these approaches through computer simulation. Using data from the Beazley archive, we created a new database containing a sample of 38,707 Attic figure-painted vases dating from 650 to 300 BC. Within this sample we explore the diversity, distribution and turnover rate of motifs over time, between shapes and across different decorative techniques. We also explore correlations between shape and motif, and examin the variant frequencies underlying the emergence of the red- figured technique. We show that much of the variation in motifs on figure-painted pottery can be explained as being the result of random copying. Where the neutral model is not sufficient as an explanation of observed variation, we show whether selection is due to bias towards novelty or conformity. These results show that an evolutionary approach to cultural change provides us with a powerful tool for assessing previous research and allows us to identify areas in which further research is required.

Type:Thesis (Doctoral)
Title:Cultural evolution in the Age of Athens: drift and selection in Greek figure-painted pottery
Open access status:An open access version is available from UCL Discovery
Language:English
UCL classification:UCL > School of Arts and Social Sciences > Faculty of Social and Historical Sciences > Institute of Archaeology

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