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Evolutionary History of
the “Cultured Ape”
Patterns and Implications
What Do We Mean By “Culture”?
Wilson: Culture is socially-learned complex
Pinker: Culture is learned behaviors and beliefs;
shared arbitrary practices, conventions, symbols,
meanings; “accumulated technological and social
Boesch: Culture is socially-transmitted, learned
behavior; distinctive collective practice; shared
symbolic system or system of meaning.
Human Culture: A Minimal Checklist
Technology-dependent adaptations;
 Home bases;
 Advance planning (facilitated by language);
 Social divisions of labor;
 Cognitive “domain-crossing.”
Use of artificial, created identities that don’t exist in nature,
represented by material objects;
 Burial of the dead;
 Distinctive art/iconography reflecting esoteric beliefs.
Why Bother with Cultured Ape Origins?
• Gain Enlightenment:
“Deep History” of
• Evaluate claims of
Psychology & Other
“sciences of human
• Most important:
Detect BS:
“Culture War”
assertions about
human nature.
Concepts of Evolutionary History to Reject:
The March [or Ladder] of Progress
Why the Image Persists:
Complicity of Scholars and Publishers…
…and Popular Culture…
…and the Advertising Industry
…and Social Commentators and
Darwin’s Tree
Darwin’s Theory of
“Struggle” for Survival
Natural Selection (of “Fittest”)
Inheritance of Favorable Variations
Change (“Descent with Modification”)
Diversification and Decimation
Major Themes in Human
Biocultural Evolution
Diversification: Multiple, co-existing species
and trajectories.
Decimation: Extinction.
Contingency: Historical circumstances
Brevity: Modern humans are a very young
Co-evolution: Biology and culture interact
with each other.
Where We Find Fossils Today
Olduvai Gorge
Lake Turkana
These environments are largely irrelevant
to the story…
…as are the environments of contemporary African hunting
and gathering peoples.
Ancestral Environment:
“Environment of Evolutionary Adaptedness”
Environment of Evolutionary Adaptedness
The EEA is not a specific time or place. Rather, it is a
composite reconstruction, based on real data, about
the total set of natural selection pressures faced by an
organism’s ancestors: pressures related to food
acquisition, predator avoidance, mating requirements,
offspring care, and other survival challenges.
Evolutionary psychology proposes that a majority of
human psychological mechanisms are adapted to
survival challenges frequently encountered in the EEA.
Behavioral Correlates of the EEA
Low Population Density
Small, Nomadic, Kin-based groups
Simple technology
Gatherer/Scavenger/”Hunter” Subsistence
“Altricial” young (parent dependent)
High infant mortality
Vulnerability to predators, disease
Evolutionary Psychology seeks
to understand how natural
selection in the ancestral EEA,
working on a generalized forest
ape population, shaped the
“epigenetic rules” that continue
to constrain (not determine!)
human behavior.