Cultural transmission and diversity in time-averaged assemblages
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Anthropologists have adopted methods from population genetics to study modes of cultural transmission in time-transgressive cultural data sets. However, it remains unclear to what extent methods originally developed to assess neutrality in genes sampled from a population at a single point in time are applicable to cultural variants sampled from assemblages. This report applies a suite of previously published methods to assemblages formed under unbiased cultural transmission. The results show that, even under the controlled conditions afforded by computer simulation, all but one method (the variants frequency approach) fail to identify unbiased cultural transmission in samples collected from moderately to severely time-averaged assemblages. While it is encouraging that the method that is best at identifying unbiased cultural transmission in simulated time-averaged data also is relatively robust to relative sample size, additional work is needed to determine whether even the variants frequency approach is powerful enough to identify “weakly” biased forms of cultural transmission in real-world assemblages.