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Durham University

Department of Anthropology

Academic Staff

Publication details for Dr Jamie Tehrani

Tehrani, J. (2011). Patterns of evolution in Iranian tribal textiles. Evolution: Education and Outreach 4(3): 390-396.

Author(s) from Durham


Ever since the publication of The Origin of Species, anthropologists and archaeologists have been in turns enchanted and repulsed by the idea that cultural diversity can be explained by a Darwinian model of descent with modification. Over the last decade, this debate has intensified following the publication of a number of studies that have sought to reconstruct cultural histories using modern computational methods of phylogenetic analysis imported from biology. In this paper, I focus on evolution of tribal textile assemblages in Iran and Central Asia. Using cladistic phylogenetic analysis, I show that similarities and differences among the assemblages can be largely explained in terms of descent with modification from ancestral assemblages. Interestingly, the phylogenetic signal in design characters is just as strong (if not stronger) than the signal in technical characters. This may seem surprising given that techniques, like genes, are transmitted “vertically” from mothers to daughters whereas designs are frequently transmitted “horizontally” among peers. However, a closer examination reveals that the transmission of designs between weavers mainly occurs within, rather than between groups, and that, as in many cultures past and present, there are important constraints on the latter. This highlights that differences in the ways in which genes and cultural traits are transmitted among individuals should not be assumed to lead to differences in macro-level patterns of evolution, as many archaeologists and anthropologists have supposed.