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Journal Article

Panpipes as units of cultural analysis and dispersal


Blasi,  Damián E.
Linguistic and Cultural Evolution, Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History, Max Planck Society;

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Aguirre-Fernández, G., Blasi, D. E., & Sánchez-Villagra, M. R. (2020). Panpipes as units of cultural analysis and dispersal. Evolutionary Human Sciences, 2: e17. doi:10.1017/ehs.2020.15.

Cite as: https://hdl.handle.net/21.11116/0000-0007-5A0C-8
The panpipe is a musical instrument composed of end-blown tubes of different lengths tied together. They can be traced back to the Neolithic, and they have been found at prehistoric sites in China, Europe and South America. Panpipes display substantial variation in space and time across functional and aesthetic dimensions. Finding similarities in panpipes that belong to distant human groups poses a challenge to cultural evolution: while some have claimed that their relative simplicity speaks for independent inventions, others argue that strong similarities of specific features in panpipes from Asia, Oceania and South America suggest long-distance diffusion events. We examined 20 features of a worldwide sample of 401 panpipes and analysed statistically whether instrument features can successfully be used to determine provenance. The model predictions suggest that panpipes are reliable provenance markers, but we found an unusual classification error in which Melanesian panpipes are predicted as originating in South America. Although this pattern may be signalling a diffusion event, other factors such as convergence and preservation biases may play a role. Our analyses show the potential of cultural evolution research on music that incorporates material evidence, which in this study includes both archaeological and ethnographic samples preserved in museum collections.