Today there is growing interest in material culture studies among a wide range of social and biological scientists. Researchers recognize that some concepts drawn from biology can be useful in understanding aspects of material culture evolution. Indeed, recent research has demonstrated that material culture can evolve in a branching manner (vertical transmission) similar to that of biological species. However, there are many complicating factors as well, particularly the human penchant for borrowing and resurrecting old ideas resulting in extensive blending and hybridization (lateral transmission). But blending and hybridization occurs in biology as well depending upon the nature and scale of interacting organisms. There is far more lateral information transfer between populations within species than between species (although there are always exceptions). History can also be expected to play a role in the degree to which evolution is affected by vertical versus lateral transmission processes. All things equal, we should expect branching to be most important early in the history of a cultural system since blending could not become significant without the early development of distinct lineages. This is different from most biological systems in the sense that the development of distinct lineages would significantly reduce (or prevent) opportunities for blending. We explore these ideas with an analysis of skateboard decks spanning the history of professional skateboards since 1963. We apply cladistic and networking models in order to develop an understanding of the degree by which skateboard evolution was affected by branching and blending/hybridization processes. The study is enhanced by a historical record that provides significant insight into the actual innovation and borrowing processes associated with skateboard evolution. Results confirm that both branching and blending played important roles and that branching was most critical early in professional skateboard history. The study offers the important implication that while cultural systems will typically incorporate far more horizontal transmission in the evolutionary process (particularly in later stages) than many biological systems, general principles governing early stage branching and disparity may apply to both.
- Cladistic analysis
- Cultural transmission