Cultural evolution seen in polynesian canoes

Despite the popularity of cultural evolution as an idea, with cultures as organisms and memes as genes, the actual science has lagged.

But by applying the tools of population genetics to Polynesian boat designs, researchers show that cultural evolution might be studied as rigorously as the beaks of finches.

“Evolution is a logical way of looking at change over time,” said Deborah Rogers, a Stanford University evolutionary biologist. “There’s nothing inherently biological about it. The logic can be applied to cultural change. Biology was just the first place that people ran with it.”

Working with fellow Stanford researchers Marcus Feldman and Paul Ehrlich, Rogers converted archaeological records of Polynesian canoes, the design of which varied between islands and tribes, into standardized descriptions.

The structure of that dataset was described in a paper published last year in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. In the latest study, published in the November Proceedings of the Royal Society B, the researchers ran their data through a program of the sort typically used to analyze genetic information, inferring trees of relationships from patterns of inherited biological difference.

Read full story and compare pictures at the original post on Wired Science.


Bombardment of Anthro News

July has been busy and I’ve been storing them up, so here goes:

In 2007, thai police officers had to start wearing Hello Kitty armbands if they were caught doing something against the law. I want to know if they’re still forced to do that (my suspicion is no). Anyone with the answer to that gets a brownie (point)!

Mexican mummies were stressed out too; ulcer bacteria found in mummy tummies.

90% of people can sing, really, according to this study.

If there are more male lemurs than female lemurs in a troop, female lemurs have a better chance of being the dominant leader of the whole group.

An interesting study of normal, middle-class people who live frugally, including by dumpster diving.

Archaeologists in Jerusalem and Korea have both found sites that have the tuberculosis bacterium and hope to use this ancient specimen (thousands of years old, we’re talking) to help fight modern TB.

And finally, just for kicks, a study has found that guys’ fertility drops off at a certain age, not just in women, so men too could be susceptible to a biological clock.


George Washington’s boyhood home found

I didn’t even know it was missing, but apparently they found it (“they” being a collection of archaeologists and historians). The biggest let down: no cherry tree. They were also [for some bizarre reason] surprised that the house wasn’t more rustic; from what they can deduce, it had up to 8 rooms including separate bed/storage rooms upstairs, rather quite nice for that time’s standards and much more appropriate for a gentryman [again, duh!].