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Douglas Bamforth's recent paper in American Antiquity, "Evidence and Metaphor in Evolutionary Archaeology," charges that Darwinism has little to offer archaeology except in a metaphorical sense. Specifically, Bamforth claims that arguments that allegedly link evolutionary processes to the archaeological record are unsustainable. Given Bamforth's narrow view of evolution: that it must be defined strictly in terms of changes in gene frequency: he is correct. But no biologist or paleontologist would agree with Bamforth's claim that evolution is a process that must be viewed fundamentally at the microlevel. Evolutionary archaeology has argued that materials in the archaeological record are phenotypic in the same way that hard parts of organisms are. Thus changes in the frequencies of archaeological variants can be used to monitor the effects of selection and drift on the makers and users of those materials. Bamforth views this extension of the human phenotype as metaphorical because to him artifacts are not somatic features, meaning their production and use are not entirely controlled by genetic transmission. He misses the critical point that in terms of evolution, culture is as significant a transmission system as genes are. There is nothing metaphorical about viewing cultural transmission from a Darwinian point of view.

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American Antiquity






© 2003 Cambridge University Press. Original published version available at

O'Brien M.J., Lyman R.L., Leonard R.D.. 2003. What is evolution? A response to bamforth. Cambridge University Press.

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