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Durham University

Department of Anthropology

Academic Staff

Publication details for Dr Jamie Tehrani

Tehrani, J. (2011). Missing links: species, artefacts and the cladistic reconstruction of prehistory. In Evolutionary and Interpretive Archaeologies - A Dialogue. Cochrane, E. & Gardner, A. Walnut Creek, California: Left Coast Press. 245 - 263.

Author(s) from Durham


Early anthropologists and archaeologists believed that a direct analogy could be made between processes of cultural and biological evolution. Thus, like species, artefact assemblages and languages were seen as products of ‘descent with modification’, whose relationships to one another could be traced back to common ancestral ‘root forms’. Echoing these ideas, a growing number of evolutionary-minded archaeologists have come to recognise that many of the challenges faced in reconstructing cultural history are similar to those involved in recovering species phylogenies. In both cases, researchers are confronted with a patchy record of the past and must differentiate between true family resemblances and other types of similarity. Biologists have developed a number of methods to deal with these problems, such as cladistic techniques of phylogenetic analysis. Empirical case studies demonstrate the rich potential of importing such methods, and bring the similarities and differences between cultural and biological evolution into a clearer focus.