The Role of Adaptation in Archaeological Explanation

Michael J. O'Brien, Thomas D. Holland
1992 American Antiquity  
Adaptation, a venerable icon in archaeology, often is afforded the vacuous role of being an ex-post-facto argument used to "explain" the appearance and persistence of traits among prehistoric groups—a position that has seriously impeded development of a selectionist perspective in archaeology. Biological and philosophical definitions of adaptation—and by extension, definitions of adaptedness—vary considerably, but all are far removed from those usually employed in archaeology. The prevailing
more » ... w in biology is that adaptations are features that were shaped by natural selection and that increase the adaptedness of an organism. Thus adaptations are separated from other features that may contribute to adaptedness but are products of other evolutionary processes. Analysis of adaptation comprises two stages: showing that a feature was under selection and how the feature functioned relative to the potential adaptedness of its bearers. The archaeological record contains a wealth of information pertinent to examining the adaptedness of prehistoric groups, but attempts to use it will prove successful only if a clear understanding exists of what adaptation is and is not.
doi:10.2307/2694834 fatcat:2mk35ezc7zd3phae4btkra6ncu