Dean R. Snow
Scientific archaeology depends on a suite of well-defined, fundamental concepts, as does anthropological science, the larger discipline in which it is embedded. Among the most fundamental of those concepts is that of the basic unit of selection in evolution. I argue here that the individual human being is that basic unit in cultural evolution, just as the individual organism is the basic unit in biological evolution. This is consistent with usage by scholars such as Boyd and Richerson (1985:7). However, long-standing practice, recent debates, and inconsistent usages by other scholars all indicate that this is by no means an obvious choice.
An individual is defined here as a single human being, as contrasted with a social group, institution, or culture. The individual is thus also an indivisible entity that cannot be separated into parts without altering the character and significance of the parts. Larger entities such as social groups or cultures are aggregates of individuals. These are populations, as defined and used in this and other chapters in this volume. By implication, perceived changes in the populations can be described in terms of the addition, subtraction, or metamorphosis of the constituent individuals.
I argue that for individuals to form a population they must either derive from some reproductive process carried out by older individuals of like type, whether or not the older individuals are still alive and part of the population, or they must be capable of transforming themselves such that they can join a population of which they were not previously a part. Although there are exceptions in human cultural populations, it is usually the