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Cultural Transmission and Stochastic Network Growth

  • R. Alexander Bentley (a1) and Stephen J. Shennan (a1)

Archaeological theory has traditionally presupposed the existence of “battleship curves” in stylistic evolution, with little understanding about what governs the width (variant frequency) or length (variant lifespan) of these curves. In terms of these variables, we propose that there is a testable difference between independent decisions, unbiased transmission, and biased transmission in cultural evolution. We expect independent decision making to be represented by an exponential distribution of variant prevalence in the population. In contrast, unbiased transmission tends to be characterized by a power law or log-normal distribution of prevalence, while biased transmission should deviate significantly from the unbiased case. The difference between these categories may be fundamental to how cultural traits spread and persist. In order to make analytical predictions for unbiased transmission, we adapt a model of stochastic network growth that, by quantitatively demonstrating the inherent nonlinearity in unbiased transmission, can explain why a few highly popular styles can be expected to emerge in the course of cultural evolution. For the most part, this model predicts the frequencies of pottery decorations remarkably well over a 400-year span of Linearbandkeramik settlement in the Merzbach valley. Because the highest frequencies of actual motifs are somewhat less than predicted by our unbiased transmission model, we identify an anti-conformist, or pro-novelty, bias in the later phases of the Neolithic Merzbach Valley.


La teoría arqueológica ha presupuesto tradicionalmente la existencia de las “battleship curves” en la evolución estilística, con poca comprensión sobre qué dicta la anchura (variable frecuencia) o la longitud (variable lapso de vida) de estas curvas. Con estas variables, proponemos que hay una diferencia comprobable entre decisiones independientes, transmisión no sesgada y transmisión sesgada en la evolución cultural. Encontramos que la toma de decisión independiente es representada por una distribución exponential del predominio variable en la población. En contraste, la transmisión no sesgada tiende para ser caracterizada por una distribución power-law o una distribución log-normal del predominio, mientras que el caso de transmisión sesgada se diferencia del caso de transmisión no-sesgada. La diferencia entre estas categorí as puede ser fundamental para la evolución cultural. Para hacer las predicciones de la transmisión no-sesgada, adaptamos un modelo de la red de crecimiento en el que, demostrando cuantitativamente la no-linealidad inherente en la transmisión no-sesgada, pueda explicar como se puede esperar que algunos estilos altamente populares emerjan en el curso de la evolución cultural. Este modelo predice notablemente bien las frecuencias de las decoraciones de la cerámica durante 400 años de la era Neolitica en el valle de Merzbach. Porque nuestro modelo predice más estilos de la cerámica con alta frecuencia de los que hay realmente, identificamos un sesgo anticonformista, o favorable a la novedad en las fases mas tardías del valle Neolitico de Merzbach.

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