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      Children and innovation: play, play objects and object play in cultural evolution

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          Abstract

          Abstract

          Cultural evolutionary theory conceptualises culture as an information-transmission system whose dynamics take on evolutionary properties. Within this framework, however, innovation has been likened to random mutations, reducing its occurrence to chance or fortuitous transmission error. In introducing the special collection on children and innovation, we here place object play and play objects – especially functional miniatures – from carefully chosen archaeological contexts in a niche construction perspective. Given that play, including object play, is ubiquitous in human societies, we suggest that plaything construction, provisioning and use have, over evolutionary timescales, paid substantial selective dividends via ontogenetic niche modification. Combining findings from cognitive science, ethology and ethnography with insights into hominin early developmental life-history, we show how play objects and object play probably had decisive roles in the emergence of innovative capabilities. Importantly, we argue that closer attention to play objects can go some way towards addressing changes in innovation rates that occurred throughout human biocultural evolution and why innovations are observable within certain technological domains but not others.

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          Cognitive culture: theoretical and empirical insights into social learning strategies.

          Research into social learning (learning from others) has expanded significantly in recent years, not least because of productive interactions between theoretical and empirical approaches. This has been coupled with a new emphasis on learning strategies, which places social learning within a cognitive decision-making framework. Understanding when, how and why individuals learn from others is a significant challenge, but one that is critical to numerous fields in multiple academic disciplines, including the study of social cognition. Copyright © 2010 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.
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            Ecological consequences of human niche construction: Examining long-term anthropogenic shaping of global species distributions

            The exhibition of increasingly intensive and complex niche construction behaviors through time is a key feature of human evolution, culminating in the advanced capacity for ecosystem engineering exhibited by Homo sapiens . A crucial outcome of such behaviors has been the dramatic reshaping of the global biosphere, a transformation whose early origins are increasingly apparent from cumulative archaeological and paleoecological datasets. Such data suggest that, by the Late Pleistocene, humans had begun to engage in activities that have led to alterations in the distributions of a vast array of species across most, if not all, taxonomic groups. Changes to biodiversity have included extinctions, extirpations, and shifts in species composition, diversity, and community structure. We outline key examples of these changes, highlighting findings from the study of new datasets, like ancient DNA (aDNA), stable isotopes, and microfossils, as well as the application of new statistical and computational methods to datasets that have accumulated significantly in recent decades. We focus on four major phases that witnessed broad anthropogenic alterations to biodiversity—the Late Pleistocene global human expansion, the Neolithic spread of agriculture, the era of island colonization, and the emergence of early urbanized societies and commercial networks. Archaeological evidence documents millennia of anthropogenic transformations that have created novel ecosystems around the world. This record has implications for ecological and evolutionary research, conservation strategies, and the maintenance of ecosystem services, pointing to a significant need for broader cross-disciplinary engagement between archaeology and the biological and environmental sciences.
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              Archaeology as Anthropology

              It is argued that archaeology has made few contributions to the general field of anthropology with regard to explaining cultural similarities and differences. One major factor contributing to this lack is asserted to be the tendency to treat artifacts as equal and comparable traits which can be explained within a single model of culture change and modification. It is suggested that “material culture” can and does represent the structure of the total cultural system, and that explanations of differences and similarities between certain classes of material culture are inappropriate and inadequate as explanations for such observations within other classes of items. Similarly, change in the total cultural system must be viewed in an adaptive context both social and environmental, not whimsically viewed as the result of “influences,” “stimuli,” or even “migrations” between and among geographically defined units.
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                Author and article information

                Journal
                Evol Hum Sci
                Evol Hum Sci
                EHS
                Evolutionary Human Sciences
                Cambridge University Press (Cambridge, UK )
                2513-843X
                2021
                05 February 2021
                : 3
                : e11
                Affiliations
                [1 ]Department of Archaeology and Heritage Studies, Aarhus University , Moesgård Allé 20, 8270 Højbjerg, Denmark
                [2 ]Interacting Minds Centre, Aarhus University , 8000 Aarhus C, Denmark
                [3 ]Department of Ethnography, Numismatics, Classical Archaeology and University History , Museum of Cultural History, University of Oslo , 0164 Oslo, Norway
                [4 ]Department of Anthropology, University of Victoria , Victoria, British Columbia, Canada
                [5 ]Australian Research Centre for Human Evolution, Griffith University , Brisbane, Australia
                [6 ]Forensics and Archaeology, School of Environment and Science, Griffith University , Brisbane, Australia
                Author notes
                [* ]Corresponding author. E-mail: f.riede@ 123456cas.au.dk
                Author information
                https://orcid.org/0000-0002-4879-7157
                https://orcid.org/0000-0002-1103-2919
                https://orcid.org/0000-0002-0299-5561
                Article
                S2513843X21000074
                10.1017/ehs.2021.7
                10427281
                1c67783a-9530-4cd4-a5f0-cfe5cfb73eb4
                © The Author(s) 2021

                This is an Open Access article, distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution licence ( http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/), which permits unrestricted re-use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.

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                Page count
                Figures: 5, References: 168, Pages: 19
                Categories
                Review

                playthings,pedagogy,cultural evolution,human evolution,niche construction

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