The papers in this special issue of Human Biology, which derive from a conference sponsored by the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) Center for the Evolution of Cultural Diversity, lay some of the foundations for an empirical macroevolutionary analysis of cultural dynamics. Our premise here is that cultural dynamics—including the stability of traditions and the rate of origination of new variants—are influenced by independently occurring demographic processes (population size, structure, and distribution as these vary over time as a result of changes in rates of fertility, mortality, and migration). The contributors focus on three sets of problems relevant to empirical studies of cultural macroevolution: large-scale reconstruction of past population dynamics from archaeological and genetic data; juxtaposition of models and evidence of cultural dynamics using large-scale archaeological and historical data sets; and juxtaposition of models and evidence of cultural dynamics from large-scale linguistic data sets. In this introduction we outline some of the theoretical and methodological issues and briefly summarize the individual contributions.
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Vol. 81 • No. 3