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Evolution of the Okvik/Old Bering Sea culture of the Bering Strait as a major transition

New publication by Prentiss, Anna M., Cheyenne Laue, Erik Gjesfjeld, Matthew J. Walsh, Megan Denis, Thomas A. Foor


Great transitions are thought to embody major shifts in locus of selection, labour diversification and communication systems. Such expectations are relevant for biological and cultural systems as decades of research has demonstrated similar dynamics within the evolution of culture. The evolution of the Neo-Inuit cultural tradition in the Bering Strait provides an ideal context for examination of cultural transitions. The Okvik/Old Bering Sea (Okvik/OBS) culture of Bering Strait is the first representative of the Neo-Inuit tradition. Archaeological evidence drawn for settlement and subsistence data, technological traditions and mortuary contexts suggests that Okvik/OBS fits the definition of a major transition given change in the nature of group membership (from families to political groups with social ranking), task organization (emergent labour specialization) and communication (advent of complex art forms conveying social and ideological information). This permits us to develop a number of implications about the evolutionary process recognizing that transitions may occur on three scales: (1) ephemeral variants, as for example, simple technological entities; (2) integrated systems, spanning modular technology to socio-economic strategies; and (3) simultaneous change across all scales with emergent properties. This article is part of the theme issue ‘Human socio-cultural evolution in light of evolutionary transitions’.