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4567 - Paleoindian Cultural Transmission in Eastern North America

Since their initial discovery in association with remains of extinct megafauna in the early twentieth century, fluted bifaces have been considered diagnostic tools of the earliest inhabitants of North America. However, it remains unclear how various fluted-point forms relate to each other; whether the continent-wide occurrence of the earliest fluted-point forms represents a singular cultural expression; and if differences in point shape represent adaptations to regional environments. In eastern North America, although there is considerably more morphological variation among fluted points than there is in the Plains and Southwest, there is a concordant lack of chronological information pertaining to the evolution of fluted points. In creating sequences of projectile-point forms for the Paleoindian period, researchers have relied on chronological data from other regions and on models of stylistic evolution of projectile points. One means of circumventing this problem is to use morphometric and phylogenetic analysis to evaluate fluted-point forms from eastern North America. Preliminary results suggest that there is both temporal and spatial patterning of fluted-point classes and that much of the variation has to do with modifications to hafting elements. 

Beyond chronology, careful quantification of changes in projectile-point form should be useful in sorting out processes of cultural transmission in the Paleoindian East and the transmission biases that led to formal differences. For example, in a fast-moving and fast-growing population subject to the widespread environmental changes of the North American late Pleistocene landscape, conformist bias would have been a highly effective strategy for social learning because under circumstances where ecological conditions change is, say, on a generational scale, the mean trait value is often optimal, leading to frequency-dependent bias, or conformism. However, if ecological conditions change faster, evolution might favor individual trial-and-error learning.

Keywords: Cultural transmission; morphometrics, Paleoindian, phylogeny

Author: O'Brien, Mike (University of Missouri, Ud States of Am / USA)

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