Re: Applied Evolution

Anthony Todd Estes (aestes@NIU.EDU)
Sat, 23 Sep 1995 18:32:07 -0500

Nick Couduan sent the following over Anthro-l:

>Several people have recently wondered what, if any, practical value
>evolutionary thought has for anthropology, irrespective of its hotle-debated
>relevancy. (And I'm setting aside the survival of the fit issue for the
>The application of evolutionary thought which I'm most familiar with would be
>to historical anthropology, where it can help debunk the beloved template
>model of cultures.
>In northwestern Peru, for example, the template model holds that there were th
>Moche, the Chicama, the Blackware, the Chimu, etc... -- a chroological
>succession of different, individual, and *unique cultures*. A
>little application of evolutionary thought -- development, adaptation,
>mutation, etc... -- and you can see the striking likelihood that all of these
>were merely stages in the development of a single culture, not separate
>cultural entities.
>Nick Corduan "...there is as much dignity in tilling
> at a field as in writing a poem."
>( --Booker T. Washington

I read this just now as I pulled it out of my mailbox, and wanted to
ask a quick question. You say that evolutionary thought can help us see
cultures, not as discreet developments in a historical series, but as all
united in some grand development of a "single culture." I just wanted to
know if you mean that evolution unifies historical development, so that
cultures grow out of each other in some way analogous to biological
evolution. I did not seem any sense in thinking that history is necessarily
analogous to biological evolution. On the other hand, if you meant that
people of all different regions of history are in basically the same region
of biological change, and evolutionary thought will help us see that, then
what you said seems much more sensible. The problem, then that you rightly
bring out is where people see separate cultures as isolated entities, with
no connection to the myriad other factors of life, like our common
bio-evolutionary region. This is the common problem that all sciences face,
of course, the fact that no area of the world, or our inquiry, can never
honestly be isolated from another.
I believe this is probably an old-hat question for evolutionary
anthropology, but I am a young Master student, new to anthro studies. My
background is in other humanites, and philosophy, so I hope you don't mind
if I have missed the point.

Anthony Todd Estes