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      Traditional craftspeople are not copycats: Potter idiosyncrasies in vessel morphogenesis

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          Abstract

          Ceramics are quintessential indicators of human culture and its evolution across generations of social learners. Cultural transmission and evolution theory frequently emphasizes apprentices’ need for accurate imitation (high-fidelity copying) of their mentors’ actions. However, the ensuing prediction of standardized fashioning patterns within communities of practice has not been directly addressed in handicraft traditions such as pottery throwing. To fill this gap, we analysed variation in vessel morphogenesis amongst and within traditional potters from culturally different workshops producing for the same market. We demonstrate that, for each vessel type studied, individual potters reliably followed distinctive routes through morphological space towards a much-less-variable common final shape. Our results indicate that mastering the pottery handicraft does not result from accurately reproducing a particular model behaviour specific to the community’s cultural tradition. We provide evidence that, at the level of the elementary clay-deforming gestures, individual learning rather than simple imitation is required for the acquisition of a complex motor skill such as throwing pottery.

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          Most cited references35

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          The cultural niche: why social learning is essential for human adaptation.

          In the last 60,000 y humans have expanded across the globe and now occupy a wider range than any other terrestrial species. Our ability to successfully adapt to such a diverse range of habitats is often explained in terms of our cognitive ability. Humans have relatively bigger brains and more computing power than other animals, and this allows us to figure out how to live in a wide range of environments. Here we argue that humans may be smarter than other creatures, but none of us is nearly smart enough to acquire all of the information necessary to survive in any single habitat. In even the simplest foraging societies, people depend on a vast array of tools, detailed bodies of local knowledge, and complex social arrangements and often do not understand why these tools, beliefs, and behaviors are adaptive. We owe our success to our uniquely developed ability to learn from others. This capacity enables humans to gradually accumulate information across generations and develop well-adapted tools, beliefs, and practices that are too complex for any single individual to invent during their lifetime.
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            Ratcheting up the ratchet: on the evolution of cumulative culture.

            Some researchers have claimed that chimpanzee and human culture rest on homologous cognitive and learning mechanisms. While clearly there are some homologous mechanisms, we argue here that there are some different mechanisms at work as well. Chimpanzee cultural traditions represent behavioural biases of different populations, all within the species' existing cognitive repertoire (what we call the 'zone of latent solutions') that are generated by founder effects, individual learning and mostly product-oriented (rather than process-oriented) copying. Human culture, in contrast, has the distinctive characteristic that it accumulates modifications over time (what we call the 'ratchet effect'). This difference results from the facts that (i) human social learning is more oriented towards process than product and (ii) unique forms of human cooperation lead to active teaching, social motivations for conformity and normative sanctions against non-conformity. Together, these unique processes of social learning and cooperation lead to humans' unique form of cumulative cultural evolution.
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              Firsthand learning through intent participation.

              This article examines how people learn by actively observing and "listening-in" on ongoing activities as they participate in shared endeavors. Keen observation and listening-in are especially valued and used in some cultural communities in which children are part of mature community activities. This intent participation also occurs in some settings (such as early language learning in the family) in communities that routinely segregate children from the full range of adult activities. However, in the past century some industrial societies have relied on a specialized form of instruction that seems to accompany segregation of children from adult settings, in which adults "transmit" information to children. We contrast these two traditions of organizing learning in terms of their participation structure, the roles of more- and less-experienced people, distinctions in motivation and purpose, sources of learning (observation in ongoing activity versus lessons), forms of communication, and the role of assessment.
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                Author and article information

                Contributors
                Role: ConceptualizationRole: Formal analysisRole: Funding acquisitionRole: InvestigationRole: MethodologyRole: Project administrationRole: SupervisionRole: Writing – review & editing
                Role: Formal analysisRole: MethodologyRole: SoftwareRole: VisualizationRole: Writing – review & editing
                Role: Formal analysisRole: MethodologyRole: Writing – review & editing
                Role: MethodologyRole: ResourcesRole: Writing – review & editing
                Role: ConceptualizationRole: Formal analysisRole: MethodologyRole: SupervisionRole: VisualizationRole: Writing – review & editing
                Role: Editor
                Journal
                PLoS One
                PLoS ONE
                plos
                plosone
                PLoS ONE
                Public Library of Science (San Francisco, CA USA )
                1932-6203
                22 September 2020
                2020
                : 15
                : 9
                : e0239362
                Affiliations
                [1 ] Institute of Archaeology, University College London, London, United Kingdom
                [2 ] Graduate School of Human Development and Environment, Kobe University, Kobe, Japan
                [3 ] Centre for Integrative Ecology, School of Life & Environmental Sciences, Deakin University, Waurn Ponds, Australia
                [4 ] Institut des Sciences du Mouvement, Aix Marseille Université, CNRS, Marseille, France
                University of Queensland, AUSTRALIA
                Author notes

                Competing Interests: The authors have declared that there are no competing interests.

                Author information
                http://orcid.org/0000-0002-7201-2815
                http://orcid.org/0000-0002-7557-7627
                http://orcid.org/0000-0002-3719-7586
                Article
                PONE-D-20-11504
                10.1371/journal.pone.0239362
                7508384
                32960905
                7ecc6b97-6812-410c-82e4-71fcf7293b43
                © 2020 Gandon et al

                This is an open access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original author and source are credited.

                History
                : 21 April 2020
                : 6 September 2020
                Page count
                Figures: 4, Tables: 3, Pages: 18
                Funding
                Funded by: funder-id http://dx.doi.org/10.13039/100010665, H2020 Marie Skłodowska-Curie Actions;
                Award ID: 793451
                Award Recipient :
                This project has received funding from the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation program under the Marie Sklodowska-Curie grant agreement No 793451 awarded to E.G.. The funders had no role in study design, data collection and analysis, decision to publish or preparation of the manuscript.
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