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Modeling the Dynamics of Cultural Diversification

Tutorial 5: Cultural Phylogenies

This supplemental tutuorial examines the concepts and methods behind the use of phylogenetic approaches. It shows users the types of questions addressable using phylogenies, explains how phylogenies are constructed, and contrasts this approach to diversifcation rate analysis. Empirically, we demonstrate some phylogenetic analyses on a dataset of Austronesia languages (Gray, Drummond and Greenhill 2009).

Google Colaboratory Environment. These tutorials are built in the Google Colaboratory Environment. To access these tutorials, you must be logged in to a Google account with Google Colaboratory (Colab) installed. Colab is a free resource linked to Google accounts that runs Python notebooks on the cloud and attaches to your Google Drive. If you do not have Colab installed, it can be found here: https://gsuite.google.com/marketplace/app/colaboratory/1014160490159. When you open a Colab notebook, Google creates a virtual machine for you with Python and the most relevant scientific packages preinstalled. Because it is a complete virtual machine, you can also install your own Python packages, download software from Github, link files from your Google Drive, run command line programs, and use a GPU/TPU. We make use of some of these features throughout the tutorials. If you are new to Colab, an introduction, overview, and list of resources are available here: Welcome to Colaboratory.

How to start this tutorial

To learn more about how the units of cultural inheritance impact phylogenies, watch this short video presented by Dr. Erik Gjesfjeld:

Key Takeaways

  • Phylogenies are a valuable tool to inferring patterns of cultural macroevolution, especially when used with linguistic data.
  • Phylogenies can be used in a comparative approach and help to disentangle whether two or more cultural groups share cultural traits, languages, or material culture due to their common ancestry.
  • Phylogenies may be unreliable when applied to certain kinds of data, such as material culture. An alternative approach is to focus more directly on modeling changes in diversity through time using the temporal occurrences of cultural objects.


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