Cultural Evolution Society 2017 conference, Jena, Germany

It’s been a week since the end of the inaugural CES conference in Jena, part-hosted by the Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History. It was great to be at a conference where everyone was playing with the same rules: evolution is a general framework used to explain human and animal behavioural and artefact variation. I’m not sue how much CES differs from the Human Behaviour and Evolution Society meetings (HBES).

Ethan talking about evolution and agriculture

I gave a talk with my co-author Fiona Jordan that was well-received. We use Bayesian phylogentic analyses to examine the evolution of agricultural traits in the Pacific. Major conclusion thus far: new environments encountered in Polynesia explain the radiation of diverse techniques.

Ethan Cochrane, Joe Brewer, and Jamie Tehrani talking shop.

A highlight of the conference was seeing old colleagues and meeting new ones. The excellent German beer and food didn’t hurt.

Next year’s conference will be in Tempe, Arizona, at ASU. I encourage more archaeologists to attend, especially those interested in macroevolutionary studies, as these were somewhat lacking in Jena.

Land and Agriculture in Samoa

Here’s the 100 word summary of my recent grant submisstion:

“Despite being the archetype of socially stratified and hierarchical ancient cultures, we do not know how the Polynesian chiefdoms arose from less complex societies. The untested orthodox theory proposes that innovations in land tenure and agriculture lead to chiefly control of populations. Our international team will test this theory through new drone-based mapping and innovative soil analyses that track changes in land boundaries and agricultural productivity. Our research will discover the origins of the Polynesian chiefdoms with significant results for explanations of Polynesia prehistory, the functioning of stratified societies, and the global rise of persistent, institutionalized inequality.”

Falefa viewed from Lemafa pass.

This is very much a LKFS type of project where we will try to determine the chronology of agriculture and different types of land use in Falefa Valley, ‘Upolu, Samoa. My grant collaborators are Seth Quintus and Matthew Prebble.

Evolution and the Colonization of the Pacific

Giving a talk at UCL on Monday, and also at the University of Bristol on Wednesday, has forced me to think a lot about relevant evolutionary and ecological processes that explain “mass” human movements: proximate triggers such as climate change, selection and the cost of migration, and other issues. All very relevant today.


South American Demography Study

A new study in Nature by Goldberg et al. ( examines demographic patterns after initial colonization of South America. They rely on radiocarbon dates (summed probability distributions) and site distributions. I wonder if a similar procedure could be used for Lapita colonization of Remote Ocean and later East Polynesia. We do not have enough “clean” radiocarbon dates however (

However, the explanation of the South American pattern is interesting: rapid dispersal and low impact on the enviroment through hunting/gathering and low level food production. Later agriculture increases and population growth turns exponential–sounds like Oceanic colonization to me…