How are cultural similarities in non-contiguous regions to be explained? This has been an important question in ethnology for many years and still remains so to this day. E. B. Tylor termed it the ‘ great problem, the solution of which will alone bring the study of civilization into its full development as a science’. It has been important for two reasons : first because it involves a theory of, or attitude towards, culture in general; culture is thought of as having one kind of nature if these similarities are explained in one way, but having a different nature if explained in another. Secondly, the question is important because we wish to know in the case of particular instances whether similarities are due to independent or to a common origin; quite apart from general theory we wish to know, and feel that it is important to know, whether, for example, the practice of mummification in aboriginal Peru originated indigenously or whether it had its origin, as some have believed, in ancient Egypt.
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