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Diversification and Extinction Processes in Cultural Evolution

Zhang, Hanzhi; (2022) Diversification and Extinction Processes in Cultural Evolution. Doctoral thesis (Ph.D), UCL (University College London).

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The unprecedented scale of cultural extinctions, greatly exceeding the rate of creation of new cultures, is widely appreciated in evolutionary human sciences; yet few studies examined the phenomena with empirical data. Many aspects of culture leave no trace in history, making it difficult to measure and assess how cultural diversity changed over time. Cultural traits have functional significance and hence a behavioural ecological approach can help us understand their prevalence and loss. This thesis aims to examine cultural diversification and extinction processes empirically, using phylogenetic comparative methods at the macro-evolutionary level and applying the behavioural ecology framework at the micro-evolutionary level. Chapter 2 reviews phylogenetic comparative methods, their applications, recent developments, and potential pitfalls. Chapter 3 and 4 reconstruct the macro-evolution of Sino-Tibetan cultures and their kinship systems, with discussions on evolutionary processes of language dispersal and diversification of gender-biased dispersal norms. Chapter 5 presents the macro-evolutionary study of historical Islamic sects, using cultural phylogenetics to examine the evolutionary relationship between afterlife beliefs and intergroup conflicts and whether cultural traits may accelerate or delay the extinction of religious groups. Chapter 6 examines whether the processes governing speciation events in cultural macroevolution are analogous to forces driving biological speciation which is driven by rare stochastic events, by examining waiting times between cultural speciation events (measured by internal branch lengths) and whether they conform to a distribution density expected with multiple drivers of speciation or individual causes. Chapter 7 and 8 presents a micro-evolutionary study of cultural extinction in the reindeer-herding Evenk in Northern China. Chapter 7 outlines the ethnographic background of this critically endangered culture and discusses the many facets of cultural extinction that could not be captured in quantitative analyses – some of which unique to Evenki in China, others echo the experience of marginalized hunter-gatherer groups in different parts of the world. Chapter 8 uses the comprehensive demographic record of the reindeer-herding Evenki over the past 70 years to formally tests the causes of unnatural deaths among Evenki and how changing kinship networks, excess deaths, and intermarriages may have facilitated subsistence transitions away from the traditional reindeer-herding lifestyle, using time-varying event history analyses. Lastly, Chapter 9 summarises findings from all studies and discuss the general implications

Type: Thesis (Doctoral)
Qualification: Ph.D
Title: Diversification and Extinction Processes in Cultural Evolution
Language: English
Additional information: Copyright © The Author 2021. Original content in this thesis is licensed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International (CC BY-NC 4.0) Licence (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc/4.0/). Any third-party copyright material present remains the property of its respective owner(s) and is licensed under its existing terms. Access may initially be restricted at the author’s request.
UCL classification: 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
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > UCL SLASH
URI: https://discovery.ucl.ac.uk/id/eprint/10144659
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