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Missing links : species, artefacts and the cladistic reconstruction of prehistory.

Tehrani, J. (2011) 'Missing links : species, artefacts and the cladistic reconstruction of prehistory.', in Evolutionary and interpretive archaeologies : a dialogue. Walnut Creek, California: Left Coast Press, pp. 245-263. University College London Institute of Archaeology publications.


Early anthropologists and archaeologists believed that a direct analogy could be made between processes of cultural and biological evolution. Thus, like species, artefact assemblages and languages were seen as products of ‘descent with modification’, whose relationships to one another could be traced back to common ancestral ‘root forms’. Echoing these ideas, a growing number of evolutionary-minded archaeologists have come to recognise that many of the challenges faced in reconstructing cultural history are similar to those involved in recovering species phylogenies. In both cases, researchers are confronted with a patchy record of the past and must differentiate between true family resemblances and other types of similarity. Biologists have developed a number of methods to deal with these problems, such as cladistic techniques of phylogenetic analysis. Empirical case studies demonstrate the rich potential of importing such methods, and bring the similarities and differences between cultural and biological evolution into a clearer focus.

Item Type:Book chapter
Full text:Publisher-imposed embargo
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Record Created:30 Aug 2011 11:05
Last Modified:25 Apr 2014 12:01

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