The Origins and Evolution of Culture (Genes, Mind, & Culture), co-instructed with Joe Henrich




Humans are a cultural species. Unlike other species, we are heavily reliant on learning from others to acquire many important aspects of our behavior, and this capacity for cultural transmission has given rise to a second system of inheritance that not only explains much of our contemporary behavior but has driven our species’ genetic evolution over hundreds of thousands or even millions of years. Humans are products of culture-gene coevolution. In addition to having shaped our species’ anatomy and physiology, cultural evolution has important implications for understanding human nature, and for tackling basic problems and questions in psychology, economics and anthropology. In this class, we will focus on the origins and evolution of human culture using evidence from archaeology, human evolutionary biology, physical anthropology, and related fields.  We will investigate how our hominin ancestors acquired and passed down a wealth of accumulated knowledge, such as technologies for hunting and collecting foodstuffs, the medicinal uses of plants, the control and manipulation of fire, and how to identify a distant group member. How did the accumulation of such information change over time and within different hominin groups (such as Neanderthals)? And how can we use the archaeological record and inferences made from human evolutionary biology to answer these questions?