How Culture Evolved: A Conversation between evolutionary geneticist Professor Mark Thomas and writer Gaylene Gould

Chauvet Cave, Ardeche, France. Dated to: 30,000 to 28,000 BC

As part of Dreamed Native Ancestry (DNA), Mark Thomas, professor of evolutionary genetics at UCL, and writer Gaylene Gould discuss the relationship between migration and cultural accumulation.

While some researchers think that the explosions of artistic material culture and technology in our distant past were the result of leaps in human intellect, Professor Mark Thomas believes that they were a consequence of migration and increases in population density. Using computer simulations and archaeological records, Thomas and colleagues at UCL showed that larger populations with more migration make more cultural progress (and, conversely, smaller and more isolated populations can actually lose culture). Population densities were similar in sub-Saharan Africa, Europe and the Middle East when radical jumps in technological and cultural complexity took place. It seems that our complex modern culture stems far more from the shared knowledge that we construct in groups than from individual genius. 


The conversation will be followed by a performance by sound artists Dubmorphology (Trevor Mathison and Gary Stewart) from approximately 4pm, in which the artists will remix sound samples of migrant stories and wisdom donated to the Dreamed Native Ancestry (DNA) database.
You are welcome to come to either or both the conversation and the performance, or - as well - come at any time from midday and contribute your ancestry stories or memories of migration. 
The event is free and open to all, but we recommend reserving a place for the conversation here
The event forms part of Dreamed Native Ancestry (DNA), an installation and programme by artist group Mission//Misplaced Memory (Dubmorphology and Zaynab Bunsie), critically addressing and re-thinking contemporary issues around race, migration, biopolitics and culture, through an Afrofuturist science fiction narrative and deep history perspective.
Performance by Dubmorphology
Professor Mark Thomas 
Mark Thomas is Professor of Evolutionary Genetics at University College London and works mainly on biological and cultural aspects of human evolution. He uses computer simulation and statistical modelling to make inferences from genetic data – including ancient DNA – and archaeological information, on processes such as past migrations and dispersals, natural selection – particularly in response to changes in diet and infectious disease loads – and how demography shapes cultural evolution. 
Gaylene Gould
Gaylene Gould is a writer, coach, critic and the founder of WriteTalkListen. Her short stories have been published in several anthologies and she has also written for performance and radio. Gaylene is Head of Cinemas and Events at BFI Southbank.