Cultural hitchhiking on the wave of advance of beneficial technologies

Graeme J. Ackland, Markus Signitzer, Kevin Stratford, Morrel H. Cohen

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

72 Scopus citations


The wave-of-advance model was introduced to describe the spread of advantageous genes in a population. It can be adapted to model the uptake of any advantageous technology through a population, such as the arrival of neolithic farmers in Europe, the domestication of the horse, and the development of the wheel, iron tools, political organization, or advanced weaponry. Any trait that preexists alongside the advantageous one could be carried along with it, such as genetics or language, regardless of any intrinsic superiority. Decoupling of the advantageous trait from other "hitchhiking" traits depends on its adoption by the preexisting population. Here, we adopt a similar wave-of-advance model based on food production on a heterogeneous landscape with multiple populations. Two key results arise from geographic inhomogeneity: the "subsistence boundary," land so poor that the wave of advance is halted, and the temporary "diffusion boundary" where the wave cannot move into poorer areas until its gradient becomes sufficiently large. At diffusion boundaries, farming technology may pass to indigenous people already in those poorer lands, allowing their population to grow and resist encroachment by farmers. Ultimately, this adoption of technology leads to the halt in spread of the hitchhiking trait and establishment of a permanent "cultural boundary" between distinct cultures with equivalent technology.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)8714-8719
Number of pages6
JournalProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America
Issue number21
StatePublished - May 22 2007

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • General


  • Farming
  • Neolithic
  • Population


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