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date: 08 December 2019

Abstract and Keywords

This chapter explores just what is, and is not, a Darwinian explanation in the archaeological context. It does this by reviewing attempts to use Darwinian explanations in the archaeological context, and showing ways in which they have been successful or otherwise. The chapter proceeds by working through historical case studies in archaeological theory, showing how these attempts to apply Darwinian ideas to archaeological data have run up against serious limitations. Typically, they have either assumed natural selection or failed to adequately specify the relevant selective environment. We then offer an alternative view of evolutionary processes—niche construction—that takes history and culture seriously. In so doing, the chapter demonstrates both Darwinism’s promise but, just as importantly, its limits as an explanatory framework in the social science context. In particular, we stress the need to show selection is in operation, rather than presuming it, and that at certain scales, and for certain purposes, Darwinian explanations may fail to capture the correct grain of analysis: Sometimes, archaeology is history, and as such, it is interested in explanations that are local, unique, and idiosyncratic to the culture concerned.

Keywords: Darwinism, Darwin, selectionist, cultural evolution, evolution, natural selection, biology, lineages

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