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The evolutionary ecology of human groups

Currie, T.E.; (2009) The evolutionary ecology of human groups. Doctoral thesis, UCL (University College London).

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Abstract

I argue that thinking about human cultures as similar to biological species is a productive way to investigate human cultural diversity. I apply theory and methods from evolutionary biology to tackle questions about the evolution of human political organisation and the diversity of ethnolinguistic groups. Phylogenetic comparative methods developed in biology have been applied to cultural systems. The use of such methods has been criticized because of the ability of cultural traits to be transmitted horizontally. I conducted simulations that revealed that under realistic scenarios horizontal transmission does not increase the chances of inferring false relationships between cultural traits in phylogenetic co-evolutionary analyses. Debates rage as to whether or not there have been regularities across cultures in the pattern and process of the evolution of human political organization. I used linguistic and ethnographic data from a sample of Austronesian-speaking societies and employed a phylogenetic comparative method to test different models of the evolution of political complexity. The data support the hypothesis that societies pass through stages of political organization in a particular order in the direction of increasing complexity. Decreases in complexity are also possible but may not follow a regular sequence. There is no evidence that the increase in political complexity over time in Austronesian societies is the result of a driving force. I also used phylogenetic comparative methods to investigate the coevolution of intensive agriculture and political organization. I found that in Austronesian societies changes to complex chiefdoms and states are less likely unless agriculture has first been intensified. As with biological species there is a latitudinal gradient in the diversity human ethnolinguistic groups. I constructed a database that integrates language, ethnographic, and environmental data to test various hypotheses concerning the present day distribution of ethnolinguistic groups. Political complexity was found to be an important predictor of the area a language covers.

Type:Thesis (Doctoral)
Title:The evolutionary ecology of human groups
Language:English
Additional information:Authorisation for digitisation not received
UCL classification:UCL > School of Arts and Social Sciences > Faculty of Social and Historical Sciences > Anthropology

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