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BioAnth Courses: B12 – Culture Evolves

b12B12 – Culture Evolves

This paper examines how evolutionary theory can be explained to understand cultural change.

Does cultural change constitute a form of evolutionary process that share fundamental similarities to genetic evolution? What are the key differences and what are their implications? This paper provides a comprehensive survey of the field of cultural evolutionary studies, which studies human and non-human cultural change using methods and concepts based on evolutionary theory. In this framework, cultural change is seen as changes over time in the frequency of cultural variants expressed in a population. This could be the result of factors such as natural selection, drift, or migration, but also innovation and different forms of transmission biases. Selected topics include theoretical models of social learning, the application of phylogenetic methods to cultural data, inferential tools for analysing fashion cycles, and key concepts such as cumulative cultural evolution and cultural group selection. The paper also introduces practical skills for creating computer simulations of human behaviour and phylogenetic analysis of cultural data.


It may be taken as an option by:

  • students doing the Biological Anthropology Track in Part IIB of the Archaeology Tripos
  • students doing the Biological Anthropology/Archaeology Joint Track as Part IIB of the Archaeology Tripos
  • students who have completed Part IB MVST, NST, PBS or Part IIA HSPS and are doing a one-year Part II in Biological Anthropology as part of the Archaeology Tripos
  • students doing Part II PBS and NST or Part IIB Archaeology
  • NST Part II Biological and Biomedical Sciences students as part of a Major in Human Evolution, Ecology and Behaviour


Paper Coordinator: Dr Enrico Crema

Lent Term: 10 lectures, 2 seminars, 4 Lab Sessions