The origins of human cumulative culture: from the foraging niche to collective intelligence.

Bibliographic Collection: 
Publication Type: Journal Article
Authors: Migliano, Andrea Bamberg; Vinicius, Lucio
Year of Publication: 2022
Journal: Philos Trans R Soc Lond B Biol Sci
Volume: 377
Issue: 1843
Pagination: 20200317
Date Published: 2022 Jan 31
Publication Language: eng
ISSN: 1471-2970
Keywords: Animals, Archaeology, Biological Evolution, Cultural Evolution, Hominidae, Humans, Intelligence, Social Behavior

Various studies have investigated cognitive mechanisms underlying culture in humans and other great apes. However, the adaptive reasons for the evolution of uniquely sophisticated cumulative culture in our species remain unclear. We propose that the cultural capabilities of humans are the evolutionary result of a stepwise transition from the ape-like lifestyle of earlier hominins to the foraging niche still observed in extant hunter-gatherers. Recent ethnographic, archaeological and genetic studies have provided compelling evidence that the components of the foraging niche (social egalitarianism, sexual and social division of labour, extensive co-residence and cooperation with unrelated individuals, multilocality, fluid sociality and high between-camp mobility) engendered a unique multilevel social structure where the cognitive mechanisms underlying cultural evolution (high-fidelity transmission, innovation, teaching, recombination, ratcheting) evolved as adaptations. Therefore, multilevel sociality underlies a 'social ratchet' or irreversible task specialization splitting the burden of cultural knowledge across individuals, which may explain why human collective intelligence is uniquely able to produce sophisticated cumulative culture. The foraging niche perspective may explain why a complex gene-culture dual inheritance system evolved uniquely in humans and interprets the cultural, morphological and genetic origins of as a process of recombination of innovations appearing in differentiated but interconnected populations. This article is part of a discussion meeting issue 'The emergence of collective knowledge and cumulative culture in animals, humans and machines'.

DOI: 10.1098/rstb.2020.0317
Alternate Journal: Philos Trans R Soc Lond B Biol Sci