This unit provides an introduction to the basic concepts which you will need in order to understand how archaeologists have been able to investigate the development of civilizations in the Americas. Two concepts fundamental to anthropological archaeology are those of adaptation to the environment through cultural means, and evolution (or change through time) in cultural adaptations. This unit introduces and discusses these basic concepts, as well as the method and theory of cultural ecology, the notion of culture as a system, and the theory of cultural materialism. If you have previously taken an anthropology or archaeology course, you may wish to treat this unit as a review; if not, read through the material carefully, and ensure that you can understand and remember it before proceeding to the next unit.
After completing this unit, you should be able to
- define “culture” in the ways used by the authors of your textbook.
- discriminate between culture as information and culture as behaviour.
- explain how Darwin’s concept of natural selection applies to both biological and cultural evolution.
- describe the advantages of transmitting evolutionary change by cultural rather than by biological means.
- define the “law of least effort,” and explain how it applies to your own life.
- define “Romer’s rule,” and provide an example.
- define “Leibig’s law,” and provide an example.
- differentiate between specific and general evolution in relation to culture.
- describe the three general trends in human cultural evolution.
- describe the three major transformations in cultural evolution in the last 12,000 years.
- compare bands, tribes, chiefdoms, and state-level societies.
- distinguish between the characteristics of civilization and the definition of civilization.
- distinguish between Folk Traditions, Great Traditions, and Little Traditions.
- explain the usefulness of the concept of “culture core” for the archaeologist.
- explain how cultures function as systems.
- describe how a culture is divided into infrastructure, structure, and superstructure.