Costly Signaling Theory in Archaeology
Type of Work
Handbook of Evolutionary Research in Archaeology
Anna M. Prentiss
Why do people engage in seemingly wasteful behaviors and invest in extravagant material displays? Since its introduction into anthropological archaeology two decades ago, costly signaling theory (CST) has been used to provide an answer to this question. With broad origins in biology and social theory, costly signaling theory seeks to provide an evolutionary explanation for why humans engage in seemingly wasteful behaviors. In this chapter, I take stock of costly signaling theory in archaeology by (1) tracing its theoretical origins and history of adoption into anthropological archaeology, (2) highlighting key issues that archaeologists have been wrestling with in order to make CST applicable to the past, (3) discussing the breadth of uses of CST in the recent archaeological literature, and (4) presenting an analytical framework that can make CST more rigorous and in the future. Despite persistent doubts about the explanatory utility of CST, the study of signaling from an evolutionary perspective remains a key aspect of evolutionary archaeology.
Quinn, Colin P., "Costly Signaling Theory in Archaeology" (2019). Hamilton Digital Commons.
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