Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences
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Untangling cultural inheritance: language diversity and long-house architecture on the Pacific northwest coast

Published:https://doi.org/10.1098/rstb.2010.0092

    Many recent studies of cultural inheritance have focused on small-scale craft traditions practised by single individuals, which do not require coordinated participation by larger social collectives. In this paper, we address this gap in the cultural transmission literature by investigating diversity in the vernacular architecture of the Pacific northwest coast, where communities of hunter–fisher–gatherers constructed immense wooden long-houses at their main winter villages. Quantitative analyses of long-house styles along the coastline draw on a range of models and methods from the biological sciences and are employed to test hypotheses relating to basic patterns of macro-scale cultural diversification, and the degree to which the transmission of housing traits has been constrained by the region's numerous linguistic boundaries. The results indicate relatively strong branching patterns of cultural inheritance and also close associations between regional language history and housing styles, pointing to the potentially crucial role played by language boundaries in structuring large-scale patterns of cultural diversification, especially in relation to ‘collective’ cultural traditions like housing that require substantial inputs of coordinated labour.

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