This introductory chapter outlines the general aims of the book, contextualizes its general approach within older streams of research, and identifies the key debates and questions it will address. It starts from first principles, by examining the unique nature of human social learning and the ways in which it underpins the maintenance of cumulative cultural traditions. It then examines how cultural-transmission theory-which draws broad analogies between processes of cultural and genetic inheritance-can now be applied to empirical research, providing a general framework of descent with modification for understanding the factors that structure the social propagation of material-culture traditions. The book generates insights that link back into long-standing anthropological and archaeological debates about the primary causes of local variability and long-term change in human technological traditions.
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