from month 01/2016

The scope and flavours of cultural attraction theory

Empirical tests of theories of cultural evolution are (relatively) rare. Those using rigorous archeological datasets, even rarer. These reasons alone suffice to make The Origins of Monsters a must-read for anyone interested in exploring the interface between cognition, societal infrastructures, and ...

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The tale of the three-headed snail

David Wengrow opens his fascinating book with a conjecture that he attributes to cultural epidemiologists (not without good reasons): composite animals are “minimally counter-intuitive” and thus, some monsters enjoy a supplement of cultural success by virtue of being composites (and not because ...

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Can cultural epidemiology explain the cultural evolution of monsters?

I would like to thank the ICCI team for inviting me to take part in the symposium about David Wengrow’s book The Origins of Monsters (hereafter referred to as TOM), which I read with great pleasure. This book deals with a fascinating topic and, despite its modest size, the scope of archeological ...

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An important contribution – but not an amendment – to cultural epidemiology

In his excellent book, Wengrow argues that animal composites spread because of both cognitive and social-historical factors. The cognitive factors include human preferences for minimally counterintuitive images, and the way in which these composite images are especially well fit to the mode of ...

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Your very own monster creation kit

In The Origins of Monsters, David Wengrow tackles a very interesting historical phenomenon: a sudden surge in images of fantastic animals accompanies the rise of urban life in Mesopotamia. In contrast, such images are excessively rare in pre-urban, prehistoric art. Wengrow contends that the reasons ...

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The Stamped, Sealed and Delivered Riddle of the Sphinx

In the perspective of a deep media history, one of the most exciting points in David Wengrow's great book about the genealogy of composite monsters is the evidence of a link between mechanical reproduction, long chains of external trade, and what has recently been called "certification" by the ...

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Chimaeras as attractors: Epidemiology and cultural variation

David Wengrow’s brilliant Origins of Monsters is a rare example of an archaeological study that addresses an important "middle-level" causal question (in this case, Why the proliferation of chimerical images in the Bronze Age?) from the standpoint of a scientifically sophisticated model of ...

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The Speculative Origins of Monsters

A researcher in the field of cultural evolution - whom I never met in person and who would be probably very surprised of this wildly out-of-context mention - twitted, few weeks ago, that “Implementation is the hard part, not the idea. […] I have five ideas in the shower every morning. That's ...

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Comment on David Wengrow’s The Origins of Monsters

The attempt to engage with recent developments in evolutionary psychology and neuropsychology has been one of the more distinctive theoretical trends in recent histories and archaeologies of art, increasingly dissatisfied with purely cultural modes of interpretation, whether derived from the German ...

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A comment on The Origins of Monsters

The beauty of the epidemiological approach came from its theoretical strength. Its weakness came from the difficulty of demonstrating occurrence in actual, non-historically trivial cases. David Wengrow’s book is a serious attempt to do this, it is probably the only such serious attempt. Whether ...

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The Origins of Monsters: A Précis

The origins of The Origins of Monsters lie in an interview I conducted more than a decade ago with Maurice Bloch (Wengrow 2003). We were talking about the work of Dan Sperber and Pascal Boyer, and more specifically the problem of how to explain striking recurrences in the content of human culture, ...

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Two panels on naturalistic anthropology at ASA and EASA

This year, two calls for contributions have been issued for panels related to naturalistic anthropology, one for the European Association of Social Anthropologists, the other for the Association of Social Anthropologists meeting[READMORE]: • Cognitive anthropology and cultural transm...

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