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Niche Construction and Subsistence Shifts: Modelling coevolutionary dynamics between hunter-gatherers and vegetation communities (NICOSS)
Start date: Dec 15, 2014, End date: Dec 14, 2016 PROJECT  FINISHED 

This project seeks to explore, model, and understand the generative process behind radical cultural transitions in human societies. It will address the question of how mechanisms of cultural transmission are structured prior to major shifts in cultural systems and how this is driven by the feedback process of niche construction. Ultimately it will seek to identify conditions and variables that promote different type of equilibria, including episodes of cultural reversions, where a system returns to previously adopted set of behaviours, and instances where two or more systems coexists in the same geographic area. These questions are part of a transdisciplinary research agenda that aims to understand how culture, defined as transmittable information capable to modify the behaviour of individuals, relates to human biology and the environment. The project will have a broad spectrum of interest, but the focus will be on the ecological feedback between human and plant communities. The objectives of this project will be achieved by generating several computer simulation models that will formalise existing biological and anthropological theories. The output will serve as an heuristic device to explore the implications of the niche construction process, and to test specific hypothesis suggested by the archaeological data from prehistoric hunter-gatherers in Gujarat (India) and Tohoku (Japan). The research will be conducted within the framework of a transdisciplinary project (SimulPast), which is investigating some of the themes proposed here through an active collaboration between archaeologists, anthropologists, computer scientists, and physicists.
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