Cumulative culture and complex cultural traditions

Mind and Language 37 (3):284-303 (2022)
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Cumulative cultural evolution is often claimed to be distinctive of human culture. Such claims are typically supported with examples of complex and historically late-appearing technologies. Yet by taking these as paradigm cases, researchers unhelpfully lump together different ways that culture accumulates. This article has two aims: (a) to distinguish four types of cultural accumulation: adaptiveness, complexity, efficiency, and disparity and (b) to highlight the epistemic implications of taking complex hominin technologies as paradigmatic instances of cumulative culture. Addressing these issues both clarifies the cumulative culture concept and demonstrates the importance of further cumulative culture research into non-human animals and ancestral hominins.



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Andrew Buskell
Georgia Institute of Technology