The Homeric epics are among the greatest masterpieces of literature, but when they were produced is not known with certainty. Here we apply evolutionary-linguistic phylogenetic statistical methods to differences in Homeric, Modern Greek and ancient Hittite vocabulary items to estimate a date of approximately 710–760 BCE for these great works. Our analysis compared a common set of vocabulary items among the three pairs of languages, recording for each item whether the words in the two languages were cognate – derived from (...) a shared ancestral word – or not. We then used a likelihood-based Markov chain Monte Carlo procedure to estimate the most probable times in years separating these languages given the percentage of words they shared, combined with knowledge of the rates at which different words change. Our date for the epics is in close agreement with historians' and classicists' beliefs derived from historical and archaeological sources. (shrink)
The study of culture from an evolutionary perspective has been slowed by resistance from some quarters of anthropology, a poor appreciation of the fidelity of cultural transmission, and misunderstandings about human intentionality. (Published Online November 9 2006).
We suggest there is somewhat more potential than Christiansen & Chater (C&C) allow for genetic adaptations specific to language. Our uniquely cooperative social system requires sophisticated language skills. Learning and performance of some culturally transmitted elements in animals is genetically based, and we give examples of features of human language that evolve slowly enough that genetic adaptations to them may arise.