Cambridge Archaeological Journal

Demography and Cultural Innovation: a Model and its Implications for the Emergence of Modern Human Culture

Stephen  Shennan  a1
a1 Institute of Archaeology, University College London, 31–34 Gordon Square, London, WC1H 0PY, UK;


In recent years there has been a major growth of interest in exploring the analogies between the genetic transmission of information from one generation to the next and the processes of cultural transmission, in an attempt to obtain a greater understanding of how culture change occurs. This article uses computer simulation to explore the implications of a specific model of the relationship between demography and innovation within an evolutionary framework. The consequences of innovation appear far more successful in larger populations than in smaller ones. In conclusion, it is suggested that the model has major implications for the origins of modern human culture in the last 50,000 years, which may be seen not as the result of genetic mutations leading to improved cognitive capacities of individuals, but as a population consequence of the demographic growth and increased contact range which are evident at this time. It is also proposed that the model may be of general relevance for understanding the process of cultural evolution in modern and pre-modern humans.

(Received November 10 1999)
(Revised March 24 2000)

Key Words: cultural innovation; modern human culture; demography and computer simulation; cultural transmission.