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Handbook of Culture and Memory$
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Brady Wagoner

Print publication date: 2017

Print ISBN-13: 9780190230814

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: October 2017

DOI: 10.1093/oso/9780190230814.001.0001

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The Evolutionary Origins of Human Cultural Memory

The Evolutionary Origins of Human Cultural Memory

(p.19) 1 The Evolutionary Origins of Human Cultural Memory
Handbook of Culture and Memory

Merlin Donald

Oxford University Press

The term cultural memory describes a group’s shared experience, skill, and knowledge that is retained and updated through time. Individual memory has its social roots in this system. Although resources are distributed across different minds in the network, they must all obey the standards of thought and behavior imposed by belonging to it. As such, no single person can carry the burden of the system alone and thus has only modest possibilities of changing it. Cultural memory has evolved in relation to embodied, narrative, and institutional modes of representation. Humans became skilled before they became articulate: The prime driver of early evolution of mind and memory was tool master rather than language. This embodied mode of cultural memory still persists (e.g., in ritual, craft, and the arts) but has been transformed with the emergence of narrative mode and later the theoretical or institutional mode, which is dominant today.

Keywords:   cultural memory, evolution, distributed cognition, material artifacts, modes of representation, networks

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