We hear from the ECLT network

"The epidemiology of rock-art: testing a mathematical model against a global dataset of rock art sites and climate-based estimates of ancient population densities"

Richard Walker

ECLT Fellow

Senior scientist, Blue Brain Project, EPFL, Switzerland

31 July 2020, 3 p.m.

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Abstract

Why has homo sapiens been so successful? Many anthropologists believe that the key factor distinguishing us from other species is our ability for cultural evolution. But why do key cultural innovations appear in some locales and historical periods and not in others? In recent years, several authors have proposed models assigning a key role to population. Unfortunately, however, such models have weak empirical support. In the work I will describe in this talk, I use a global dataset of rock art sites and climate and genetics-based estimates of ancient population densities to test a new "epidemiological" model. The analysis shows that rock art only becomes a stable part of a population’s cultural repertoire when population density exceeds a critical threshold. Methods similar to those I will describe can be used to test the model for other classes of archaeological artefact and to compare it against other models.

Bio sketch

Richard Walker is a scientist and science communicator who worked from 2010-2018 at the Blue Brain Project – a large scale neuroscience project, hosted by EPFL Switzerland. Originally trained as an economist, he has been actively involved in research in artificial intelligence and artificial life and more recently in epidemiological modelling and its application to human cultural evolution. Recently, Richard resumed resumed his collaboration with Blue Brain on COVID-related themes, leading an epidemiological modeling collaboration between Blue Brain, Ateneo de Manila, where he is an invited lecturer, and FIND, an NGO providing advice to decision-makers in Low and Middle Income Countries on the deployment of modern diagnostics to combat endemic and epidemic disease.