SFU Canada Research Chairs Seminar Series: "Investigating the Origin and Evolution of Culture with Phylogenetic Techniques"

Thursday, November 12, 2009
11:30 - 12:30

Dr. Mark Collard, Canada Research Chair in Human Evolutionary Studies
Department of Archeology


My undergraduate training was in archaeology. Subsequently, I gained a PhD in hominin palaeontology. Over the last 10 years, I have attempted to bridge these two disciplines by addressing questions regarding culture with techniques that are used by hominin palaeontologists to reconstruct the descent or `phylogenetic' relationships among our fossil relatives. In this talk, I will review a number of these studies. I will begin by describing a group of studies in which my colleagues and I have used the cladistic method of phylogenetic reconstruction to assess competing claims about the existence of culture in the chimpanzee (Pan troglodytes). I will then outline a group of studies in which my colleagues and I have used a range of datasets and phylogenetic techniques to investigate the processes that give rise to cultural similarities and differences among human populations. These two groups of studies suggest that some long-standing archaeological assumptions about culture may not be correct. More importantly, they show that culture is amenable to scientific study.

About the Speaker

Prof. Collard joined the SFU Department of Archaeology in July 2007 as an Associate Professor and Canada Research Chair in Human Evolutionary Studies. He is also a principal investigator of the Centre for the Evolution of Cultural Diversity at University College London, which is funded by the UK's Arts and Humanities Research Council. He carries out research on a number of topics in biological anthropology. Among these are the identification of species in the hominin fossil record, the reconstruction of fossil hominin and non-human primate evolutionary relationships, and the estimation of body mass, stature and age from skeletal material. In addition, he uses methods and theory from biology to address question about the evolution of culture.