Cultural Virus Theory and the Eusocial Pottery Assemblage

  • Ben R. S. Cullen
Part of the Interdisciplinary Contributions to Archaeology book series (IDCA)


Cultural virus theory (CVT) is one of three distinct positions which are emerging within what has been termed Darwinian Culture Theory (Durham 1990:190, 1991:183–185) and Cultural Selectionism (Rindos 1986:315). The other two bodies of literature are that of the Meme position (Dawkins 1976, 1982, 1989, 1993; Ball 1984; Delius 1989, 1991; Moritz 1990; Heylighen 1992a,b) and that of the Inclusive Phenotype position (Dunnell 1980, 1989; Boyd and Richerson 1985; Leonard and Jones 1987, and see also this volume; Braun 1990; Durham 1990, 1991; O’Brien and Holland 1990, 1992; Cavalli-Sforza 1991; Neff 1992, 1993). The three positions have much in common, and are, of course, cultural phenomena themselves; each approach would advocate a Darwinian explanation for both its own emergence and that of its nearest philosophical relatives. CVT, for example, would characterize the recent proliferation and diversification of neo-Darwinian approaches as a cultural equivalent of the process whereby the first amphibious vertebrates colonized dry land; other phenomena, such as insects, were already there, but often not in direct competition. Selective metaphysics has colonized a new set of cultural niches, where no neo-Darwinian approaches existed before, namely, the cogni tive landscape of cultural and psychological fields of inquiry. They have spread so rapidly and so widely in modern academia, that, like butter spread over too much bread, the processes of founder effect, quasi-isolation, drift, and adaptive radiation have produced amazing symbolic diversity from very recent common cultural ancestors. In keeping with the principles of punctuated equilibria advanced by Eldredge and Gould (1972), small populations of ideas erratically distributed throughout the individual minds of partially isolated academic communities allow new concepts to become fixed in local traditions more easily. Such diversity is good. It allows the discovery of a wider range of interpretations, creating a pool of cultural selectionist ideas from which a clearer picture can emerge.


Archaeological Record Cultural Phenomenon Artifact Assemblage Hereditary Material Ecological Assemblage 
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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 1996

Authors and Affiliations

  • Ben R. S. Cullen
    • 1
  1. 1.Sherwood HouseCardigan, West WalesUK

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