2012 Student Research Conference:
25th Annual Student Research Conference

Investigating the Challenges of Applying Phylogenetic Methods to Cultural Data Sets
Ben R. Weger
Mr. Pamela J. Ryan and Dr. Anton Weisstein, Faculty Mentors

Recently, cultural anthropologists have begun adopting phylogenetic methods originally devised for reconstructing biological evolutionary history. Multiple published studies point out specific differences between cultural and DNA sequence data; for example, horizontal transmission from one group to another is much likelier to occur in the former case. Beyond these fundamental differences, however, phylogenetic techniques show several nonintuitive behaviors that may lead new users to draw inappropriate inferences. Most such methods will, if applied naïvely, infer spurious historical relationships, yield substantially different results depending on exact parameter values, and under certain conditions consistently home in on the wrong phylogenetic tree. Our project explored the justification for why caution should be taken when interpreting phylogenetic trees. We subjected our cultural data set from Africa to tests on individual character effects (ordering/weighting characters) and input the data set into a simulation to examine the dynamics of vertical and horizontal transmission in our observed data.

Keywords: phylogenetic methods, ethnogenesis, cultural transmission

Topic(s):Interdisciplinary
Anthropology
Biology

Presentation Type: Oral Paper

Session: 211-5
Location: MG 1098
Time: 10:30

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