Monday, February 18, 2008

Human Culture Subject To Natural Selection, Study Shows
The process of natural selection can act on human culture as well as on genes, a new study finds. Scientists at Stanford University have shown for the first time that cultural traits affecting survival and reproduction evolve at a different rate than other cultural attributes. Speeded or slowed rates of evolution typically indicate the action of natural selection in analyses of the human genome.

This study of cultural evolution compares the rates of change for structural and decorative Polynesian canoe-design traits.

"Biological evolution of inherited traits is the essential organizing principle of biology, but does evolution play a corresponding role in human culture?" said Jared Diamond, a professor of geography at the University of California-Los Angeles and author of Guns, Germs and Steel. "This paper makes a decisive advance in this controversial field."

This is definitely one I'm going to look at closely. There's not much detail in the article and, unfortunately, the latter half is little more than a political screed ("If everyone just thought like we do, the world would be a better place!"). The devil will be in the details; how are the "functional" traits defined, is there a well-defined link between said traits to actual selection, etc.

UPDATE: Here are a few links to articles and papers on evolutionary archaeology:
Evolutionary Archeology: Current Status and Future Prospects by MICHAEL J. O’BRIEN AND R. LEE LYMAN Evolutionary Anthropology 11:26–36 (2002)


Critique by Boone et al.

Dunnell's The Concept of Waste in an Evolutionary Archaeology

And Carl Lipo has some of his papers on this and other topics on his web site.