2006 Student Research Conference:
19th Annual Student Research Conference

Interdisciplinary

An Application of Phylogenetic Methods to Ethnographic Data
Sharon E. Knobbe
Dr. Anton Weisstein and Mr. Pamela J. Ryan, Faculty Mentors

In biology, phylogenetics is the study of evolutionary relationships among organisms based on morphological features or molecular data such as protein or DNA sequences. Phylogenetic trees can convey information such as the timing of speciation events and the amount of change in individual lineages. Phylogenetics can also be applied to anthropological questions--specifically, to infer cultural phylogenies from ethnographic data—but this application is new and controversial. Phylogenetic analysis includes the assumption that the traits under study are vertically transmitted; however, cultural traits combine vertical and horizontal transmission. As a result, the applicability of phylogenetic techniques to cultural data remains questionable. In this study, a data set of 175 characters from 30 African tribes was chosen from the Standard Cross-Cultural Sample. The software package PAUP* was used to construct phylogenetic trees based on maximum parsimony and neighbor-joining methods, and to assess the suitability of phylogenetic methods for analyzing ethnographic data.

Keywords: phylogenetics, ethnographic data

Topic(s):Interdisciplinary

Presentation Type: Oral Paper

Session: 30-3
Location: OP 2115
Time: 10:15

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