Research ArticleANTHROPOLOGY

Hunter-gatherer multilevel sociality accelerates cumulative cultural evolution

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Science Advances  28 Feb 2020:
Vol. 6, no. 9, eaax5913
DOI: 10.1126/sciadv.aax5913

Abstract

Although multilevel sociality is a universal feature of human social organization, its functional relevance remains unclear. Here, we investigated the effect of multilevel sociality on cumulative cultural evolution by using wireless sensing technology to map inter- and intraband social networks among Agta hunter-gatherers. By simulating the accumulation of cultural innovations over the real Agta multicamp networks, we demonstrate that multilevel sociality accelerates cultural differentiation and cumulative cultural evolution. Our results suggest that hunter-gatherer social structures [based on (i) clustering of families within camps and camps within regions, (ii) cultural transmission within kinship networks, and (iii) high intercamp mobility] may have allowed past and present hunter-gatherers to maintain cumulative cultural adaptation despite low population density, a feature that may have been critical in facilitating the global expansion of Homo sapiens.

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