Building a framework for the study of cultural evolution (Visiting Scholar)
I am a comparative anthropologist. I let models of evolution, ecology and development generate hypotheses about historical processes, which I test with comparative analyses of indigenous human cultures. Cultural traits are behaviors that vary among social groups or populations. They are found in many social animals, from the leaf-tool-making New Caledonian crows and the sponge-tool-making Bottlenose dolphins, to the termite-fishing chimpanzees and the large-scale manufacturing hominins. Humans are unique among social animals in their large developmental allocation to brain growth, in having particularly large social groups, and in maintaining interconnected links among groups. Ironically, the behavioral plasticity responsible for human cultural diversity is also responsible for globalization and cultural extinctions. My current research focuses on the unique features of human habitats that led to the diversity of cultural practices seen before the globalization of culture, and the genetic, cultural, historical and environmental reasons for the halting of cultural group-level selection.