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Ritual Evolution in Pama-Nyungan Australia

LEARMOUTH, DUNCAN (2021) Ritual Evolution in Pama-Nyungan Australia. Doctoral thesis, Durham University.

PDF (Thesis) - Accepted Version
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Ritual is present in all societies and plays a pivotal role in many. Its universality and importance, together with uncertain benefits, means it has long been a subject of interest to anthropologists. This study contributes to this field through a comparative examination of ritual variation in Pama-Nyungan Australia using phylogenetic methods. The documented language expansion of these societies, and the role ritual may have played in this, make them a particularly relevant case study for analysis. 90 ritual traits were recorded across around 100 Pama-Nyungan societies focusing on three ritual forms important in Australian life: adolescent initiation, mortuary practice and rock motifs. Analysis was in three parts: a broad examination of ritual variation by form, a higher resolution analysis of individual traits, and a comparison with ecological and sociological influences.
The key findings were, firstly, cultural inheritance had a significant influence on initiation and rock motif variation, but less effect on mortuary practice. Secondly, costly initiation rites were particularly associated with linguistic diversity, suggesting they may have played a role in Pama-Nyungan language expansion. Thirdly, there was a clear association between such rites and the occupation of desert habitats. Whilst these may have facilitated closer within-group alliances (theorised by a number of authors) contextual analysis did not indicate that collective practices such food sharing or warfare were particularly different in these societies. What did appear different was the presence of a greater volume and complexity of mythical-geographic knowledge. Such knowledge is particularly important to those inhabiting the Australian desert, providing information on routes between water sources and productive foraging grounds. Traumatic rites may result in prolonged ritual exegesis and it is possible that accumulating this knowledge was the primary impetus for developing costly rites in Australia.

Item Type:Thesis (Doctoral)
Award:Doctor of Philosophy
Keywords:cultural evolution; ritual; ceremony; initiation; costly rites; mortuary ritual; rock motifs; warfare; language expansion and diversification; Australia; Pama-Nyungan; hunter-gatherers; phylogenetics; autologistic; Bayesian; networks; adaptation; diffusion
Faculty and Department:Faculty of Social Sciences and Health > Anthropology, Department of
Thesis Date:2021
Copyright:Copyright of this thesis is held by the author
Deposited On:10 May 2021 10:49

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