The 82nd Annual Meeting of the American Association of Physical Anthropologists (2013)

Culture-Genetic models of information exchange among Pleistocene human populations


Anthropology, University of Wisconsin-Madison

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Homo sapiens have a significantly larger census population size than any of the other hominoids and thus should show a greater level of genetic variation. Yet this is not the case, as ape species possess much more diversity than humans do at genetic loci (Charlesworth 2009). Here, I test models which explain this lack of genetic diversity as a result of a significantly low amount of gene flow between small regional populations of early humans during the Pleistocene (i.e. Premo and Hublin 2009). I derive predictions from these models by computer simulations and compare the results to the physical variability of fossil humans and Middle Paleolithic lithic traditions. This method utilizes a new application of Information Theory to allow for the comparison of paleoanthropological data and genetic models. By building a database of both fossil data and cultural material from archaeological sites in Europe, assumptions about an increase in the amount of information concomitant with the introduction of a new human group to Europe during the Middle Pleistocene are tested. Results fail to falsify the null hypothesis that there is no change in the amount of information throughout the Middle Pleistocene, suggesting that many of these models are faulty. I argue that effective population size may be partially explained by patterns of human culture, but that we need to take into account other aspects. In fact, low effective population size may not be a good indicator of census size in the Pleistocene.

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