news archive
What is the CECD? 
The CECD is an AHRC funded research group dedicated to examining the evolutionary underpinnings of human cultural behaviour, past and present. more>

Page Title - projects
Phase 1: Cultural innovation and transmission: Project 010
Does technological evolution occur on smooth or rugged fitness landscapes?
Click to enlarge

SUPERVISOR: - Mark Lake and Stephen Shennan

Alex Bentley (Department of Archaeology & Anthropology, Bristol University)
Mark Lake (Institute of Archaeology, University College London)


The title of this project refers not to geography but to the variety of different strategies (horizontal landscape) an individual agent can pursue toward bettering his/her situation or fitness (represented as peaks and troughs). This landscape is constantly changing if the actions of the agents of the system also depend on other agents. In this case, instead of all agents reacting only to the environment, each agent reacts to the actions of the other agents in its communication network. Optimal strategies in the present moment may not be what they were before, because they depend on the previous actions of other agents. Agents are forced to keep evolving (i.e., searching the landscape) towards higher fitness peaks just to stay competitive. As more and more agents interact with a variety of strategies, models quickly become mathematically unsolvable, and must be run as “agent-based” computer models.

This project has begun with simple simulations to test how several parameters interact to favour particular modes of specialisation, exchange and wealth inequality within a simplified network of economic agents who trade with one another. Gradually adding complexity into this simple base model, we will make inferences on the evolution and persistence of mutually beneficial economic specialities. The model is programmed in Java as a RePast simulation, involving a network of agents who consume, produce and trade two different commodities. The model is already showing surprising, possibly general effects of the interaction between network structure, wealth inequality, and economic specialization, and the first in a series of publications on the model should be submitted by late summer 2003.