Russell Gray's Research Lab

Gray Lab Publications:

Untangling Our Past: Languages, Trees, Splits and Networks

Bryant, D., Filimon, F. and Gray, R. (2005) Untangling our past: Languages, Trees, Splits and Networks. In: The Evolution of Cultural Diversity: Phylogenetic Approaches. Editors: R. Mace, C. Holden, S. Shennan. Publisher: UCL Press, pp. 69-85.

Keywords: indo-european, russell gray, language evolution, phylogenetics, network methods, neighbornet,


In Act 1 of The Importance of Being Earnest, Algernon quips to Jack that "The truth is rarely pure and never simple". The idea that much of recent human history might reflect pure trees of phylogenetic descent is appealing simple. It has stimulated numerous researchers to investigate the extent to which genes, languages and cultures are bound together in co-diverging trees of evolutionary history (eg Cavalli-Sforza et al 1994; see Cavalli-Sforza and Feldman 2003 for a recent review). Increasingly, studies have used explicit phylogenetic methods to make inferences about linguistic history and the evolution of cultural traits (Warnow and Ringe 1997; Gray and Jordan 2000 ; Pagel 2000; Holden 2002; O’Brien et al 2002; Jordan and Shennan 2003; Holden and Mace 2003; Rexova et al 2003). However, a persistent criticism of this approach is that human population history is far from tree-like (Moore 1994; Terrell 1988; Terrell et al 2001). Not only might patterns of genetic, linguistic and cultural diversity reflect different histories (Bateman et al 1990), each of these histories might be strikingly reticulate. As one participant at a recent symposium on phylogenetic methods in archaeology growled: "This is not history. This is history put in nested boxes!".

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