Style, Function, Transmission

Evolutionary Archaeological Perspectives

Darwin's theory of evolutionary descent with modification rests in part on the notion that there is heritable continuity affected by transmission between ancestor and descendant. It is precisely this continuity that allows one to trace hylogenetic histories between fossil taxa of various ages and recent taxa. Darwin was clear that were an analyst to attempt such tracings, then the anatomical characters of choice are those least influenced by natural selection, or what are today referred to as adaptively neutral traits. The transmission of these traits is influenced solely by such mechanisms as drift and not by natural selection.

The application of Darwin's theory to archaeological phenomena requires that the theory be retooled to accommodate artifacts. One aspect that has undergone this retooling concerns cultural transmission, the mechanism that affects heritable continuity between cultural phenomena. Archaeologists have long traced what is readily interpreted as heritable continuity between artifacts, but the theory underpinning their tracings is seldom explicit. Thus what have been referred to as artifacts styles underpin such tracings because styles are adaptively neutral. Other traits are referred to as functional.

In their introduction to Style, Function, Transmission, Michael O’Brien and R. Lee Lyman outline in detail the interrelations of a theory of cultural descent with modification and the concepts of drift, style, and function. The chapters in the volume specifically address the issues of selection and drift and their relation to style and function. In non-polemic presentations, contributors specify empirical implications of aspects of cultural transmission for evolutionary lineages of artifacts and then present archaeological data for those implications.

Michael J. O’Brien is associate dean and professor of anthropology at the University of Missouri, Columbia.

R. Lee Lyman is professor of anthropology at the University of Missouri, Columbia.

Table of Contents:

Style, Function, Transmission: An Introduction - Michael J. O’Brien and R. Lee Lyman
Style, Function, and Cultural Evolutionary Processes - Robert L. Bettinger, Robert Boyd, and Peter J. Richerson
Stylistic Variation in Evolutionary Perspective: Inferences from Decorative Diversity and Interassemblage Distance in Illinois Woodland Ceramic Assemblages - Fraser D. Neiman
Population Structure, Cultural Transmission, and Frequency Seriation - Carl P. Lipo, Mark E. Madsen, Robert C. Dunnell, and Tim Hunt
Point Typologies, Cultural Transmission, and the Spread of Bow-and-Arrow Technology in the Prehistoric Great Basin - Robert L. Bettinger and Jelmer Eerkens
Style and Function in East Polynesian Fishhooks - Melinda S. Allen
A Study of Style and Function in a Class of Tools - David J. Meltzer
Functional Analysis and the Differential Persistence of Great Basin Dart Forms - Charlotte Beck
A Ceramic Perspective on the Formative to Classic Transition in Southern Veracruz, Mexico - Christopher A. Pool and Georgia M. Britt
Evolutionary Implications of Design and Performance Characteristics of Prehistoric Pottery - Michael J. O’Brien, Thomas D. Holland, Robert J. Hoard, and Gregory L. Fox
Late Woodland Manifestations of the Malden Plain, Southeast Missouri - Robert C. Dunnell and James K. Feathers
Methodology of Comparison in Evolutionary Archaeology - Hector Neff and Daniel O. Larson
Measuring and Explaining Change in Artifact Variation with Clade-Diversity Diagrams - R. Lee Lyman and Michael J. O’Brien


Praise and Reviews:

"An excellent contribution."—Robert Leonard, University of New Mexico