Local Diversification

Group Definition, Fission and Maintenance in Australia and New Guinea

Most of our other themes look at the results of human cultural evolution – distinct languages, archaeological sites, different assemblages of anthropological features.

But to really understand how evolution works we need to document change and diversification in progress, and this topic focusses on that issue for two areas where the relevant forces can still be observed thanks to the maintenance of cultural and linguistic dynamics in relatively traditional forms: Southern New Guinea, and Arnhem Land. The causal drivers of these dynamics are both complex and interactive. These include the uses of language differentiation to index and maintain social differences, such as between clans and larger aggregates, the role of multilingualism as a vector of both divergence and convergence, the uses of material culture (such as different styles of manufacturing stone tools, or different conventions in painting or music) to index social group membership. These drivers interact with different patterns of social organisation, kinship, group affiliation, language affiliation and population genetic profiles. Important too are the various forms of feedback between group and intergroup dynamics, and the development of linguistic and material-culture differentiation.

Research area lead: Nick Evans

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