The adaptive nature of culture: A cross-cultural analysis of the returns of local environmental knowledge in three indigenous societies

Victoria Reyes-García, Maximilien Guèze, Isabel Díaz-Reviriego, Romain Duda, Álvaro Fernández-Llamazares, Sandrine Gallois, Lucentezza Napitupulu, Martí Orta-Martínez, Aili Pyhälä

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18 Citations (Scopus)

Abstract

© 2016 by The Wenner-Gren Foundation for Anthropological Research. All rights reserved. Researchers have argued that the behavioral adaptations that explain the success of our species are partially cultural, that is, cumulative and socially transmitted. Thus, understanding the adaptive nature of culture is crucial to understand human evolution. We use a cross- cultural framework and empirical data purposely collected to test whether culturally transmitted and individually appropriated knowledge provides individual returns in terms of hunting yields and health and, by extension, nutritional status, a proxy for individual adaptive success. Data were collected in three subsistenceoriented societies: the Tsimane’ (Amazon), the Baka (Congo Basin), and the Punan (Borneo). Results suggest that variations in individual levels of local environmental knowledge relate to individual hunting returns and self-reported health but not to nutritional status. We argue that this paradox can be explained through the prevalence of sharing: individuals achieving higher returns to their knowledge transfer them to the rest of the population, which explains the lack of association between knowledge and nutritional status. The finding is in consonance with previous research highlighting the importance of cultural traits favoring group success but pushes it forward by elucidating the mechanisms through which individual-and group-level adaptive forces interact.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)761-784
JournalCurrent Anthropology
Volume57
Issue number6
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 1 Dec 2016

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    Reyes-García, V., Guèze, M., Díaz-Reviriego, I., Duda, R., Fernández-Llamazares, Á., Gallois, S., Napitupulu, L., Orta-Martínez, M., & Pyhälä, A. (2016). The adaptive nature of culture: A cross-cultural analysis of the returns of local environmental knowledge in three indigenous societies. Current Anthropology, 57(6), 761-784. https://doi.org/10.1086/689307