Genes, Memes and Human History: Darwinian Archaeology and Cultural Evolution

Overview

Today, many scholars show more interest in unscientific attempts to empathize with ancient peoples than in obtaining valid knowledge about the past. Archaeologists have become failed ethnographers, forever regretting the demise of the people they would like to talk to. Genes, Memes and Human History offers an ambitious blueprint for a new approach to archaeology, based on the application of the latest neo-Darwinian evolutionary ideas. What is the history of human populations? How are cultural traditions ...
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Overview

Today, many scholars show more interest in unscientific attempts to empathize with ancient peoples than in obtaining valid knowledge about the past. Archaeologists have become failed ethnographers, forever regretting the demise of the people they would like to talk to. Genes, Memes and Human History offers an ambitious blueprint for a new approach to archaeology, based on the application of the latest neo-Darwinian evolutionary ideas. What is the history of human populations? How are cultural traditions maintained and changed over time? Why did people destroy their environments in the past and were they ever conservationists? What led to the emergence of marked social inequalities? These are some of the important questions that evolutionary archaeology can answer.

Stephen Shennan opens with the study of animal behavior, as acted upon by natural selection, and goes on to demonstrate that the same ideas can be applied to human societies, not just through the genes but through what Richard Dawkins has called "memes," units of cultural information that are passed on in our second inheritance system, culture. Shennan then looks in detail at cultural traditions, population history, methods of subsistence, male-female relations, social evolution, and competition and warfare. Fascinating insights emerge. For example, the unique time-depth of archaeology can be used to show that human populations have expanded and then crashed far more frequently in the past than has hitherto been realized. Similarly, during the Bronze Age increasing control of women by men as indicated by chained leg rings and other evidence runs parallel with growing hierarchical and social divisions in society. Ranging from life history theory to game theory, and from the origins of farming to the collapse of societies, Genes, Memes and Human History takes us on a thrilling intellectual journey.

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Editorial Reviews

Andrew Sherratt
An excellent book: timely,intelligent,and well written....An original contribution to the theory of culture.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780500051184
  • Publisher: Thames & Hudson
  • Publication date: 3/28/2003
  • Pages: 304
  • Product dimensions: 6.50 (w) x 9.50 (h) x 1.50 (d)

Table of Contents

Preface 7
1 Introduction: Why Darwinian Archaeology 9
2 Behavioural Ecology: The Evolutionary Study of Behaviour 22
3 Culture as an Evolutionary System 35
4 The Evolutionary Archaeology of Cultural Traditions 66
5 Human Life Histories and their Population Consequences 100
6 The Archaeology of Getting a Living: Long-Term Patterns in the Human Exploitation of Resources 138
7 Male-Female Relations in Evolutionary Perspective: The Role of Sexual Selection 177
8 The History of Social Contracts and the Evolution of Property 206
9 Competition, Cooperation and Warfare: The Role of Group Selection 239
10 History, Adaptation and Self-Organization 262
Notes 272
Bibliography 284
Acknowledgments 299
Sources of Illustrations 299
Index 300
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