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Cultural extinction in evolutionary perspective

Zhang, H; Mace, R; (2021) Cultural extinction in evolutionary perspective. Evolutionary Human Sciences , 3 , Article e30. 10.1017/ehs.2021.25. Green open access

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Cultural diversity is disappearing quickly. Whilst a phylogenetic approach makes explicit the continuous extinction of cultures, and the generation of new ones, cultural evolutionary changes such as the rise of agriculture or more recently colonisation can cause periods of mass cultural extinction. At the current rate, 90% of languages will become extinct or moribund by the end of this century. Unlike biological extinction, cultural extinction does not necessarily involve genetic extinction or even deaths, but results from the disintegration of a social entity and discontinuation of culture-specific behaviours. Here we propose an analytical framework to examine the phenomenon of cultural extinction. When examined over millennia, extinctions of cultural traits or institutions can be studied in a phylogenetic comparative framework that incorporates archaeological data on ancestral states. Over decades or centuries, cultural extinction can be studied in a behavioural ecology framework to investigate how the fitness consequences of cultural behaviours and population dynamics shift individual behaviours away from the traditional norms. Frequency-dependent costs and benefits are key to understanding both the origin and the loss of cultural diversity. We review recent evolutionary studies that have informed cultural extinction processes and discuss avenues of future studies.

Type: Article
Title: Cultural extinction in evolutionary perspective
Open access status: An open access version is available from UCL Discovery
DOI: 10.1017/ehs.2021.25
Publisher version: https://doi.org/10.1017/ehs.2021.25
Language: English
Additional information: © The Author(s), 2021. Published by Cambridge University Press. This is an Open Access article, distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution licence (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/), which permits unrestricted re-use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.
Keywords: Cultural extinction, phylogenetic comparative method, cultural diversity, frequency-dependent selection, human behavioural ecology
UCL classification: UCL
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > UCL SLASH
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > UCL SLASH > Faculty of S&HS
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > UCL SLASH > Faculty of S&HS > Dept of Anthropology
URI: https://discovery.ucl.ac.uk/id/eprint/10133780
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