Population size does not explain past changes in cultural complexity

Krist Vaesen, Mark Collard, Richard Cosgrove, Wil Roebroeks

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

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Abstract

Demography is increasingly being invoked to account for features of the archaeological record, such as the technological conservatism of the Lower and Middle Pleistocene, the Middle to Upper Paleolithic transition, and cultural loss in Holocene Tasmania. Such explanations are commonly justified in relation to population dynamic models developed by Henrich [Henrich J (2004) Am Antiq 69:197–214] and Powell et al. [Powell A, et al. (2009) Science 324(5932):1298–1301], which appear to demonstrate that population size is the crucial determinant of cultural complexity. Here, we show that these models fail in two important respects. First, they only support a relationship between demography and culture in implausible conditions. Second, their predictions conflict with the available archaeological and ethnographic evidence. We conclude that new theoretical and empirical research is required to identify the factors that drove the changes in cultural complexity that are documented by the archaeological record.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)E2241-E2247
Number of pages7
JournalPNAS
Volume113
Issue number16
Early online date4 Apr 2016
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 19 Apr 2016

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demography
conservatism
population development
empirical research
determinants
evidence

Keywords

  • cultural evolution
  • demography
  • Upper Paleolithic transition
  • Tasmania
  • cultural complexity

Cite this

Vaesen, K., Collard, M., Cosgrove, R., & Roebroeks, W. (2016). Population size does not explain past changes in cultural complexity. PNAS, 113(16), E2241-E2247. https://doi.org/10.1073/pnas.1520288113

Population size does not explain past changes in cultural complexity. / Vaesen, Krist; Collard, Mark; Cosgrove, Richard; Roebroeks, Wil.

In: PNAS, Vol. 113, No. 16, 19.04.2016, p. E2241-E2247.

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

Vaesen, K, Collard, M, Cosgrove, R & Roebroeks, W 2016, 'Population size does not explain past changes in cultural complexity', PNAS, vol. 113, no. 16, pp. E2241-E2247. https://doi.org/10.1073/pnas.1520288113
Vaesen K, Collard M, Cosgrove R, Roebroeks W. Population size does not explain past changes in cultural complexity. PNAS. 2016 Apr 19;113(16):E2241-E2247. https://doi.org/10.1073/pnas.1520288113
Vaesen, Krist ; Collard, Mark ; Cosgrove, Richard ; Roebroeks, Wil. / Population size does not explain past changes in cultural complexity. In: PNAS. 2016 ; Vol. 113, No. 16. pp. E2241-E2247.
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