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

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Phase 2: Continuing CEACB projects (phase 1): Project 024
Cultural adaptation and transmission in the Pacific: A comparative phylogenetic approach.


Fiona Jordan (Evolutionary Processes in Language and Culture, Max Planck Institute for Psycholinguistics PB310)
Ruth Mace (Department of Anthropology, University College London)

PROJECT FUNDING: PHD Cards Against Humanity
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In anthropology, the problem of shared ancestry - "Galton's problem" - has long been recognised but few techniques developed to deal with it. Now however, by using languages to create a family tree of relatedness, plotting cultural traits and environments of interest on the branches, one can use comparative methods to determine if traits are co-evolving. We control for the spurious overcounting of non-independent data points that may indicate an adaptive relationship when none is present - or obscure one that is. Phylogenetic techniques also include methods to determine the ancestral states of traits and identify instances of hybridisation between groups.

Jordan is using a GIS approach to explore broad patterns in data from the Pacific cultures of Murdock's (1967) Ethnographic Atlas. The data are layered onto a basemap of the Pacific area, and include a composite of ecological variables, the geographical position of each the cultural groups in the EA, the geographical extent of the primary linguistic group of the culture, and the distribution of each of ~200 cultural traits. In previous research with Dr Russell Gray (University of Auckland), Jordan applied phylogenetic methods to the Austronesian language family to (a) test migration hypotheses about the colonisation of the Pacific and (b) investigate reticulation and borrowing between Micronesian and Polynesian cultures. The successful use of these methods indicates their potential fruitfulness in evolutionary approaches to culture. Jordan has constructed formal phylogenies of 77 Austronesian (AN) languages. While only 37 of these ethnolinguistic groups appear in Murdock's Ethnographic Atlas, other databases of relevant language groups do exist, and these can be combined with the AN phylogeny using consensus tree methods in order to increase the sample size.

Using these phylogenies of Austronesian languages, I will use comparative methods to (a) test hypotheses about cultural adaptation and (b) reconstruct ancestral character states of cultural traits. For these, I'll be using Mark Pagel's programs (a) Discrete and (b) MultiState. Both use maximum likelihood algorithms. Discrete tests for correlated evolution (i.e. adaptation) in binary characters, while MultiState reconstructs the ancestral states of characters with more than two states, given information about present-day characters. One hypothesis to be tested concerns post-marital residence patterns.

Final Report Not Received

Jordan, F and Mace, R (2007).
Changes In Post-Marital Residence Precede Changes In Descent Systems In Austronesian Societies. EHBES 2007 Conference. London.