Innovation and Evolution

  • Laura Basell (Organiser)
  • Hannah Fluck (Organiser)
  • Natalie Uomini (Organiser)
  • Katherine MacDonald (Organiser)

Activity: Participating in or organising an event typesParticipation in conference


This meeting was funded by the Galton Institute

Premise: Innovation plays a key role in human evolution, both as a symptom of and a trigger for behavioural and material change. Insights can be gained through the study of the archaeological record in conjunction with interdisciplinary discussion. The focus of the Workshop was the role that innovation plays in the emergence, development and transmission of cultural behaviours in extant primates and extinct hominins.

The inspiration for this meeting arose from conversations with colleagues in other fields (psychology, primatology, cognitive science, anthropology) who were also grappling with the question of how objects figure in the transmission of skills and knowledge. These disciplines have the advantage of being able to study living individuals in interaction with their material world. Archaeology approaches similar questions from the level of the objects themselves, attempting to infer individual behaviours from them. As archaeologists, we are interested in the possibilities of reconstructing prehistoric learning contexts. Of particular relevance are child and adult learning, the ontogeny of object manipulation, inter- and intra-group relationships, and the role of material culture in these interactions. A key question in evolutionary archaeology is the extent to which the changes we observe in material culture through time can be explained by innovative processes. We wished to focus on innovation and interactions that are grounded in the material world.

We encouraged colleagues from a range of disciplines to come and share their approaches, works in progress, findings and ideas on the theme of innovation with a strong emphasis on its material manifestations. We wanted to explore some of the problems experienced by each discipline in the hope that solutions may be found in the contributions of others. Through this workshop we tried to facilitate discussion between colleagues from what may have been traditionally unconnected fields. Focussed discussions addressed the following questions:
• How can we best define continuity, change and innovation?
• How do continuity, change and innovation manifest themselves?
• What is the role of objects in the transmission of knowledge and skills, both within and between groups?
• How can the study of the archaeological record be incorporated into an understanding of these questions?

Visitors came from countries throughout Europe, including Spain, France, the Netherlands, Sweden, Germany, Poland, Switzerland, and from such distinguished institutions as Cambridge University, the British Museum, UCL, Royal Holloway, and the Max-Planck Institute. UK participants came from Southampton, Winchester, and Portsmouth, as well as London, Exeter, Keele, Leicester, Reading, and Durham. Participants came from the diverse fields of archaeology, psychology, primatology, and neuropsychology. The mix of local and foreign participants made the event truly international and the unique combination of fields promoted cross-disciplinary dialogue during the discussions.
Period27 Apr 200728 Apr 2007
Event typeConference
LocationSouthampton, United KingdomShow on map
Degree of RecognitionInternational