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Storytelling can affect wellbeing and fitness by transmitting information and reinforcing cultural codes of conduct. Despite their potential importance, the development and timing of storytelling skills, and the transmission of story knowledge have received minimal attention in studies of subsistence societies that more often focus on food production skills. Here we examine how storytelling and patterns of information transmission among Tsimane forager-horticulturalists are predicted by the changing age profiles of storytellers’ abilities and accumulated experience. We find that storytelling skills are most developed among older adults who demonstrate superior knowledge of traditional stories and who report telling stories most. We find that the important information transmitted via storytelling typically flows from older to younger generations, and stories are primarily learned from older same-sex relatives, especially grandparents. Our findings suggest that the oral tradition provides a specialized late-life service niche for Tsimane adults who have accumulated important experience and knowledge relevant to foraging and sociality, but have lost comparative advantage in other productive domains. These findings may help extend our understanding of the evolved human life history by illustrating how changes in embodied capital predict the development of information transmission services in a forager-horticulturalist economy.


NOTICE: this is the author’s version of a work that was accepted for publication in Evolution and Human Behavior. Changes resulting from the publishing process, such as peer review, editing, corrections, structural formatting, and other quality control mechanisms may not be reflected in this document. Changes may have been made to this work since it was submitted for publication. A definitive version was subsequently published in Evolution and Human Behavior, volume 39, issue 1, in 2018.

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