Hunter-Gatherers and Neo-Darwinian Cultural Transmission

  • Robert L. Bettinger
Part of the Interdisciplinary Contributions to Archaeology book series (IDCA)


Evolutionary human ecologists frequently observe that somatic (i.e., genetic) transmission need not be assumed for Darwinian processes to operate and then drive the point home with reference to the example of Darwin, who knew nothing about genes. The more interesting implications of such an evolutionary philosophy appear to have gotten lost somewhere in the shuffle, however; the same individuals seem equally prone to insist that neo-Darwinian theory must be applied via models in which cultural transmission and evolutionary fitness are treated as simple biological analogs, that is, as though they were genetic. This chapter goes back to evolutionary fundamentals and pursues the original and less-restrictive, agenetic approach to Darwinian processes by means of models of culture in which transmission and reproduction are, to use Leslie White’s term, extrasomatic. As will become clear, this produces results at odds with traditional evolutionary ecological interpretation. This simple modification in the assumptions about the nature of the transmission/reproduction process leads to predictions about behavior that differ fundamentally from those that follow from the genetic model upon which classic evolutionary ecological analyses rest. In comparison to evolutionary ecology, however, this nonsomatic approach to transmission and reproduction in many ways better accounts for behaviors that distinguish humans from other organisms—behaviors that have from the start interested anthropologists and been the central subject matter of their theories. Among the more important of these are altruism and the tendency of humans to act cooperatively as groups rather than individuals and the value that humans assign to symbols and prestige.


Behavioral Trait Cultural Transmission Direct Bias Genetic Transmission Cultural Behavior 
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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 1991

Authors and Affiliations

  • Robert L. Bettinger
    • 1
  1. 1.University of California, DavisDavisUSA

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