JOURNAL ARTICLE

Two issues in archaeological phylogenetics: taxon construction and outgroup selection

Michael J O'Brien, R Lee Lyman, Youssef Saab, Elias Saab, John Darwent, Daniel S Glover
Journal of Theoretical Biology 2002 March 21, 215 (2): 133-50
12051970
Cladistics is widely used in biology and paleobiology to construct phylogenetic hypotheses, but rarely has it been applied outside those disciplines. There is, however, no reason to suppose that cladistics is not applicable to anything that evolves by cladogenesis and produces a nested hierarchy of taxa. This includes cultural phenomena such as languages and tools recovered from archaeological contexts. Two methodological issues assume primacy in attempts to extend cladistics to archaeological materials: the construction of analytical taxa and the selection of appropriate outgroups. In biology the species is the primary taxonomic unit used, irrespective of the debates that have arisen in phylogenetic theory over the nature of species. Also in biology the phylogenetic history of a group of taxa usually is well enough known that an appropriate taxon can be selected as an outgroup. No analytical unit parallel to the species exists in archaeology, and thus taxa have to be constructed specifically for phylogenetic analysis. One method of constructing taxa is paradigmatic classification, which defines classes (taxa) on the basis of co-occurring, unweighted character states. Once classes have been created, a form of occurrence seriation-an archaeological method based on the theory of cultural transmission and heritability-offers an objective basis for selecting an outgroup.

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