The article refers to a paper appearing in an upcoming issue of the Journal of Economic Behaviour & Organization, a journal I must confess I have never read before or even heard of. In the paper, Jason Shogren and his colleagues contend that trade and specialization helped early modern humans (their oxymoron, not mine) "overcome potential biological deficiencies." Shogren cites the discovery of complex living quarters--suggesting specialization--and imported materials in early Homo sapiens settlements as evidence.
The paper is provocative because, as its authors note, "Our paper shows explicitly how culture may be a part of evolutionary and extinction processes." It also makes the interesting point that specialization is observed in other animals, such as the extreme examples of specialization in insects like ants, termites, and bees. While this specialization may confer little advantage to the survival of the indivdual worker bee or soldier ant, the success of the collective--and therefore of the specialist's genetically identical sibs--is promoted. The analogy to early humans is that by contributing to his tribe's success, the specialist reaps an evolutionary advantage because his genetic material is propagated by relations in his tribe.
Unfortunately, I could find links to the full-text of neither the Economist article, nor the JEBO article. But the links to the abstracts of these articles are enclosed below:
- "Homo economicus?", the Economist, April 9, 2005
- "How trade saved humanity from biological exclusion: an economic theory of Neanderthal extinction", the Journal of Economic Behaviour & Organization, in press
I have located a draft version of this paper posted online at Michigan State University's site, the institution where co-author Richard Horan teaches.
Here's a great post on the topic at Tech Central Station. And a blurb from the New Scientist.