Origins of Cumulative Culture

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Science  02 Mar 2012:
Vol. 335, Issue 6072, pp. 1056-1057
DOI: 10.1126/science.1219232

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Representations in the minds of 21st-century Londoners include concepts—derivatives trading, personal computer, suicide bomber—that could not have been entertained by their 11th-century counterparts; in contrast, we can reasonably guess that the concepts in the minds of chimpanzees and capuchins separated by centuries, or even millennia, are not very different from one another. What is it about our species that allows for the gradual accumulation of knowledge (see the figure)? On page 1114 of this issue, Dean et al. (1) take an important step toward understanding the psychological underpinnings of human cumulative culture.