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Archaeology and the Origins of Human Cumulative Culture: A Case Study from the Earliest Oldowan at Gona, Ethiopia


Stout, Dietrich; Rogers, Michael J; Jaeggi, Adrian V; Semaw, Sileshi (2019). Archaeology and the Origins of Human Cumulative Culture: A Case Study from the Earliest Oldowan at Gona, Ethiopia. Current Anthropology, 60(3):309-340.

Abstract

The capacity of Homo sapiens for the intergenerational accumulation of complex technologies, practices, and beliefs is central to contemporary accounts of human distinctiveness. However, the actual antiquity and evolutionary origins of cumulative culture are not known. Here we propose and exemplify a research program for studying the origins of cumulative culture using archaeological evidence. Our stepwise approach disentangles assessment of the observed fidelity of behavior reproduction from inferences regarding required learning mechanisms (e.g., teaching, imitation) and the explanation of larger-scale patterns of change. It is empirically grounded in technological analysis of artifact assemblages using well-validated experimental models. We demonstrate with a case study using a toolmaking replication experiment to assess evidence of behavior copying across three 2.6 Ma Oldowan sites from Gona, Ethiopia. Results fail to reveal any effects of raw material size, shape, quality, or reduction intensity that could explain the observed details of intersite technological variation in terms of individual learning across different local conditions. This supports the view that relatively detailed copying of toolmaking methods was already a feature of Oldowan technological reproduction at ca. 2.6 Ma. We conclude with a discussion of prospects and implications for further research on the evolution of human cumulative culture.

Abstract

The capacity of Homo sapiens for the intergenerational accumulation of complex technologies, practices, and beliefs is central to contemporary accounts of human distinctiveness. However, the actual antiquity and evolutionary origins of cumulative culture are not known. Here we propose and exemplify a research program for studying the origins of cumulative culture using archaeological evidence. Our stepwise approach disentangles assessment of the observed fidelity of behavior reproduction from inferences regarding required learning mechanisms (e.g., teaching, imitation) and the explanation of larger-scale patterns of change. It is empirically grounded in technological analysis of artifact assemblages using well-validated experimental models. We demonstrate with a case study using a toolmaking replication experiment to assess evidence of behavior copying across three 2.6 Ma Oldowan sites from Gona, Ethiopia. Results fail to reveal any effects of raw material size, shape, quality, or reduction intensity that could explain the observed details of intersite technological variation in terms of individual learning across different local conditions. This supports the view that relatively detailed copying of toolmaking methods was already a feature of Oldowan technological reproduction at ca. 2.6 Ma. We conclude with a discussion of prospects and implications for further research on the evolution of human cumulative culture.

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Additional indexing

Item Type:Journal Article, refereed, original work
Communities & Collections:04 Faculty of Medicine > Institute of Evolutionary Medicine
Dewey Decimal Classification:610 Medicine & health
Scopus Subject Areas:Social Sciences & Humanities > Archeology (arts and humanities)
Social Sciences & Humanities > Anthropology
Social Sciences & Humanities > Archeology
Uncontrolled Keywords:Archaeology, Archaeology, Anthropology
Language:English
Date:1 June 2019
Deposited On:16 May 2019 09:13
Last Modified:21 Jul 2024 01:39
Publisher:University of Chicago Press
ISSN:0011-3204
OA Status:Green
Free access at:Publisher DOI. An embargo period may apply.
Publisher DOI:https://doi.org/10.1086/703173
  • Content: Published Version
  • Language: English