Bristol Anthropology and Archaeology Research Seminar: Dan Smith

21 November 2018, 1.00 PM - 21 November 2018, 3.00 PM

Dan Smith, University of Bristol

G.10 Lecture Room, 43 Woodland Road

Cooperation and the Evolution of Hunter-Gatherer Storytelling

Storytelling is a human universal. From gathering around the camp-fire telling tales of ancestors to watching the latest television box-set, humans are inveterate producers and consumers of stories.

Despite its ubiquity, little attention has been given to understanding the function and evolution of storytelling. Here I explore the impact of storytelling on hunter-gatherer cooperative behaviour and the individual-level fitness benefits to being a skilled storyteller.

Stories told by the Agta, a Filipino hunter-gatherer population, convey messages relevant to coordinating behaviour in a foraging ecology, such as cooperation, sex equality and egalitarianism. These themes are present in narratives from other foraging societies.

I also show that the presence of good storytellers is associated with increased cooperation. In return, skilled storytellers are preferred social partners and have greater reproductive success, providing a pathway by which individually-costly but group-beneficial behaviours, such as storytelling, can evolve.

I conclude that one of the adaptive functions of storytelling among hunter gatherers may be to organise cooperation.

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