The Nature of Culture: an eight-grade model for the evolution and expansion of cultural capacities in hominins and other animals

Miriam Haidle, Michael Bolus, Mark Collard, Nicholas Conard, Duilio Garofoli, Marlize Lombard, April Nowell, Claudio Tennie, Andrew Whiten

Research output: Contribution to journalReview article

41 Citations (Scopus)
310 Downloads (Pure)


Tracing the evolution of human culture through time is arguably one of the most controversial and complex scholarly endeavors, and a broad evolutionary analysis of how symbolic, linguistic, and cultural capacities emerged and developed in our species is lacking. Here we present a model that, in broad terms, aims to explain the evolution and portray the expansion of human cultural capacities (the EECC model), that can be used as a point of departure for further multidisciplinary discussion and more detailed investigation, paleoanthropological, genetic or evolutionary psychology/behavioral analyses and discoveries. Our proposed concept of cultural behavior differentiates between empirically traceable behavioral performances and behavioral capacities that are theoretical constructs. Based largely on archaeological data (the ‘black box’ that most directly opens up hominin cultural evolution), and on the extension of observable problem-solution distances, we identify eight grades of cultural capacity. Each of these grades is considered within evolutionary-
biological and historical-social trajectories. Importantly, the model does not imply an inevitable progression, but focuses on expansion of cultural capacities based on the integration of earlier achievements. We conclude that there is not a single cultural capacity or a single set of abilities that enabled human culture; rather, several grades of cultural capacity in animals and hominins expanded during our evolution to shape who we are today.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)43-70
JournalJournal of Anthropological Sciences
Publication statusPublished - 2015


  • Cultural capacity
  • Cultural performance
  • Cultural evolution
  • Human culture
  • Animal culture


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