Modeling work suggests that population size affects cultural evolution such that larger populations can be expected to have richer and more complex cultural repertoires than smaller populations. Empirical tests of this hypothesis, however, have yielded conflicting results. Here, we report a study in which we investigated whether the subsistence toolkits of small-scale food-producers are influenced by population size in the manner the hypothesis predicts. We applied simple linear and standard multiple regression analysis to data from 40 nonindustrial farming and pastoralist groups to test the hypothesis. Results were consistent with predictions of the hypothesis: both the richness and the complexity of the toolkits of the food-producers were positively and significantly influenced by population size in the simple linear regression analyses. The multiple regression analyses demonstrated that these relationships are independent of the effects of risk of resource failure, which is the other main factor that has been found to influence toolkit richness and complexity in nonindustrial groups. Thus, our study strongly suggests that population size influences cultural evolution in nonindustrial food-producing populations.
Recent work suggests that global variation in toolkit structure among hunter-gatherers is driven by risk of resource failure such that as risk of resource failure increases, toolkits become more diverse and complex. Here we report a study in which we investigated whether the toolkits of small-scale farmers and herders are influenced by risk of resource failure in the same way. In the study, we applied simple linear and multiple regression analysis to data from 45 small-scale food-producing groups to test the risk hypothesis. Our results were not consistent with the hypothesis; none of the risk variables we examined had a significant impact on toolkit diversity or on toolkit complexity. It appears, therefore, that the drivers of toolkit structure differ between hunter-gatherers and small-scale food-producers.
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