The Evolution of an Ancient Technology


31 May 2017

Christopher D. Buckley Eric Boudot

Publisher: Royal Society

Language: English

PDF: 22 pages

We investigate pattern and process in the transmission of traditional weaving cultures in East and Southeast Asia. Our investigation covers a range of scales, from the experiences of individual weavers (‘micro’) to the broad-scale patterns of loom technologies across the region (‘macro’). Using published sources, we build an empirical model of cultural transmission (encompassing individual weavers, the household and the community), focussing on where cultural information resides and how it is replicated and how transmission errors are detected and eliminated. We compare this model with macro-level outcomes in the form of a new dataset of weaving loom technologies across a broad area of East and Southeast Asia. The lineages of technologies that we have uncovered display evidence for branching, hybridization (reticulation), stasis in some lineages, rapid change in others and the coexistence of both simple and complex forms. There are some striking parallels with biological evolution and information theory. There is sufficient detail and resolution in our findings to enable us to begin to critique theoretical models and assumptions that have been produced during the last few decades to describe the evolution of culture.