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Cultural transmission of lithic artefact traditions : an experimental approach

Experimental methods for exploring the idea that cultural variation can be explained as part of a process analogous to that of biological evolution have been used in psychology to examine how human copying error effects the transmission of simple artefact form. Applying these methods in an archaeological framework, this study is the first of its kind to develop a programme of transmission chain experiments exploring different aspects of skill, social interaction and copying error and their effect on the evolution of artefact form in two different Palaeolithic technologies: blade production and Acheulean handaxe manufacture. In the blade replication experiment, form trajectories produced by two different levels of skill could be distinguished, with the more skilled knappers choosing to pass on the best match for blade length, in preference to shape or ridge pattern. In the Acheulean experiments, in conditions where loss of refinement features was expected, a surprising result was the consistent survival of planform symmetry. Where maintaining refinement was the focus of the teaching condition, thinning was achieved to a high level, without loss of size, but paradoxically, symmetry survived less well. It was concluded that the level of knapping skill, in all transmission scenarios, was a key factor in the formation of attribute variation. Difficulty experienced when aligning results from experimentally produced transmission biases with archaeological assemblages, demonstrated that in reality, cultural transmission was likely a fluid process where differing biases occurred at different times within the lifecycle of each Palaeolithic group. The specific signal provided by archaeological assemblages is likely to reflect the skill level and position of the knappers within that cycle, rather than the existence of a singular type of transmission bias. This approach provides new and enhanced ideas on the nature of cultural transmission in the Middle Pleistocene groups of Homo heidelbergensis, reinforcing the importance of teaching in the culture evolutionary process.
Date January 2014
CreatorsPage, S. N.
PublisherUniversity College London (University of London)
Source SetsEthos UK
Detected LanguageEnglish
TypeElectronic Thesis or Dissertation

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