Published October 1, 2020 | Version v1
Journal article Open

Assessing the influence of culture on craft skills: a quantitative study with expert Nepalese potters

  • 1. Graduate School of Human Development and Environment, Kobe University, Japan
  • 2. Department of Statistical Science, University College London, London, United Kingdom
  • 3. Center for Integrative Ecology, School of Life & Environmental Sciences, Deakin University, Australia.


Studies have documented that traditional motor skills (i.e. motor habits) are part of the cultural
way of life that characterises each society. Yet, it is still unclear to what extent motor
skills are inherited through culture. Drawing on ethnology and motor behaviour, we
addressed this issue through a detailed description of traditional pottery skills. Our goal was
to quantify the influence of three kinds of constraints: the transcultural constraints of wheelthrowing,
the cultural constraints induced via cultural transmission, and the potters’ individual
constraints. Five expert Nepalese potters were invited to produce three familiar pottery
types, each in five specimens. A total of 31 different fashioning hand positions were identified.
Most of them (14) were cross-cultural, ten positions were cultural, five positions were
individual, and two positions were unique. Statistical tests indicated that the subset of positions
used by the participants in this study were distinct from those of other cultural groups.
Behaviours described in terms of fashioning duration, number of gestures, and hand position
repertoires size highlighted both individual and cross-cultural traits. We also analysed
the time series of the successive hand positions used throughout the fashioning of each vessel.
Results showed, for each pottery type, strong reproducible sequences at the individual
level and a clearly higher level of variability between potters. Overall, our findings confirm
the existence of a cultural transmission in craft skills but also demonstrated that the skill is
not fully determined by a cultural marking. We conclude that the influence of culture on craft
skills should not be overstated, even if its role is significant given the fact that it reflects the
socially transmitted part of the skill. Such research offers insights into archaeological problems
in providing a representative view of how cultural constraints influence the motor skills
implied in artefact manufacturing.


Gandon & al 2020 Assessing the influence of culture on craft skills A quantitative study with expert Nepalese potters.pdf

Additional details


SKILL – Individual Variations and Cultural Evolution: The pottery wheel-throwing skill as a case study 793451
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