Tales of Tools and Trees: Phylogenetic analysis and explanation in evolutionary archaeology

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Houkes, Wybo
conference paper description
In this paper, I study the application of phylogenetic analysis in evolutionary archaeology. I show how transfer of this apparently general analytic tool is affected by salient differences in disciplinary context. One is that archaeologists, unlike many biologists, do not regard cladistics as a tool for classification, but are primarily interested in explanation. The other is that explanation is traditionally sought in terms of individual-level rather than population-level mechanisms. The latter disciplinary difference creates an ambiguity in the application and interpretation of phylogenetic analyses. Moreover, I argue that, while archaeologists have claimed that “cladistics is useful for reconstructing artefact phylogenies” (O’Brien et al. 2001), these reconstructions only contribute minimally to the explanatory research agenda of evolutionary archaeology.