Jessica Munson (Ph.D. Arizona, 2012) and Jonathan Scholnick (Ph.D. Arizona, 2010) are co-PIs on a new three-year $829,086 project supported by the Interdisciplinary Behavioral and Social Sciences program at NSF. The collaborative project, titled “Cultural Evolution of Human Communication Systems: Investigating Linguistic Diversity and Social Change with Maya Hieroglyphic Writing,” focuses on the impacts of linguistic variation and social factors in the evolution of Classic Maya scribal traditions. The interdisciplinary team is composed of a linguist (Martha Macri, UC Davis), two archaeologists (Munson and Scholnick, postdoctoral fellows, Simon Fraser University), an art historian (Matthew Looper, CSU Chico), and an evolutionary anthropologist (Mark Collard, Simon Fraser University). Together, they will address a set of fundamental questions related to key dimensions of ancient scripts: (1) the relationships between language evolution and the development of written communication systems, (2) the technological production of texts and the organization of scribal communities, and (3) the social and historical contexts of ancient writing traditions. Within each of these topics, they will evaluate a set of competing hypotheses by applying new analytical techniques from the social sciences and evolutionary biology to the Maya Hieroglyphic Database, a unique and comprehensive record of Classic Maya writing. The project is expected to produce important new insights into the relationships between cultural and linguistic diversity, population dynamics, and the development of complex human communication networks. More information on the project, including an abstract, can be found here.
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