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Archaeology and cultural evolution theory both predict that environmental variation and population size drive the likelihood of inventions (via individual learning) and their conversion to population-wide innovations (via social uptake). We use the case study of the adoption of the bow and arrow in the Great Basin to infer how patterns of cultural variation, invention, and innovation affect investment in new technologies over time and the conditions under which we could predict cultural innovation to occur. Using an agent-based simulation to investigate the conditions that manifest in the innovation of technology, we find the following: (1) increasing ecological variation results in a greater reliance on individual learning, even when this decreases average fitness due to the costs of learning; (2) decreasing population size increases variability in the types of learning strategies that individuals use; among smaller populations drift-like processes may contribute to randomization in interpopulation cultural diffusion; (3) increasing the mutation rate affects the variability in learning patterns at different rates of environmental variation; and (4) increasing selection pressure increases the reliance on social learning. We provide an open-source R script for the model and encourage others to use it to test additional hypotheses.

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Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-Share Alike 4.0 International License.

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