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Evolution and Diffusion

  • Leslie A. White (a1)

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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1 ‘ How the problems of American Anthropology present themselves to the English mind ’, Science, vol. iv, 1884, p. 547.

2 Morgan, , ‘ A Conjectural Solution of the Origin of the Classificatory System of Relationship ’, Proceedings of the American Academy of Arts and Sdences, vol. 7, 1865–8, p. 461. Morgan later considered each of these possibilities with regard to kinship systems at some length in Systems of Consanguinity and Affinity of the Human Family (1871), pp. 500–8.

3 Loc. cit.

4 Primitive Society (1920), p. 7.

5 Ancient Society (1877), p. 18; see also pp. vi–vii.

6 ‘ The Aims of Anthropology ’, Presidential address before American Association for the Advancement of Science, Proceedings, 1896, pp. 4, 10.

7 Op. cit., p. 441.

8 Ibid., p. 4.

9 Anthropology (1923), p. 192.

10 Radin, Paul, for example, has used it as an epigraph for The Method and Theory of Ethnology New York, 1933).

11 See the present writer’s distinction between these concepts in The Science of Culture (1949), pp. 7ff., and ‘ History, Evolutionism and Functionalism : Three Types of Interpretation of Culture ’, Southwestern Journal of Anthropology, vol. 1, pp. 221–48,1945.

12 Anthropology and Psychology ’, in The Social Sciences and Their Interrelations, Ogburn, Wm.F. and Goldenweiser, Alexander, eds. (1927), p. 104.

13 ‘ Social Anthropology ’, Encyclopaedia Britannica, 14th ed., 1929, vol. 20, p. 863.

14 ‘ Problems arising from the cultural position of the Havasupai ’, American Anthropobght, vol. 31, 1929, p. 218

15 ‘ Early Relations between Hopi and Keres ’, American Anthropologist, vol. 38,1936, p. 559.

16 The Mythology of the Bella Coola Indians: Memoirs of the American Museum of Natural History, vol. 2, 1898, p. 123.

17 Op. cit., p. 434.

18 Vide White, Leslie, ‘ Evolutionism in Cultural Anthropology : a Rejoinder ’, American Anthropologist, vol. 49 (1947).

19 ‘ Significant Parallels in the Symbolic Arts of Southern Asia and Middle America ’, Selected Papers of the XXIXth International Congress of Americanists, Sol Tax, ed., vol. I, 1951.

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  • ISSN: 0003-598X
  • EISSN: 1745-1744
  • URL: /core/journals/antiquity
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