Cultural area

from Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
The oldest and still most popular model for cultural areas covers North America and comes from Clark Wissler (1912) in the revision by Alfred Kroeber (1939)
Less known is the work of Melville J. Herskovits for the African continent (1945)

Cultural area (from Latin arealis "area"), cultural complex or cultural province describes in ethnology a geographically delimited area in which different ethnic groups live, which have a certain number of typologically similar or comparable cultural elements or cultural assets . The reasons for this are homologous developments through common ancestry, cultural transfer between neighboring ethnic groups and (much more controversial discussion) analogous agreements that are attributed to similar living conditions.

The non-European cultural complexes in areas of former European colonies refer generally to ideas of a recent historical distribution and way of life of "indigenous" peoples before the colonization and before the formation of the modern nation-states. The cultural areas of Europe are an exception: although they refer explicitly to historical development, they nonetheless depict realities that are still true today. The same applies, to a limited extent, to most areas of South Asia.

Many traditional ways of life and indigenous cultural elements only exist today as a substrate under the prevailing culture, so that cultural area maps for the present in many regions of the world highlight the cultural minorities. For example, the North American prairie and plains cultural area refers to the prairie Indian peoples ; they still live there, although their share of the population is only around three percent and they have not been living from traditional bison hunts since the middle of the 19th century.

Modern ethnology introduced the term cultural area after the " culture circle theory " was abandoned because it was associated with the racial ideology of the Third Reich. The concept of the culture area developed by the American ethnologists Franz Boas , Robert Lowie and Clark Wissler was later adopted by various authors.

The models of the cultural areas are based on the out-of-Africa theory as well as the genetically reconstructed human spread and the “migratory behavior” of human populations . It is assumed that small, prehistoric groups have spread over the earth due to inhospitable living conditions and / or the exhaustion of resources. Settlement took place in favorable areas and, over time, an ever better adaptation to the respective ecological conditions. This is how the oldest cultures came into being. The efficient use of the environment in turn led to a strong increase in population and thus to a star-shaped expansion and establishment of cultures within the respective large habitat . According to the theory, the essential characteristics of the cultures were retained. With the "offshoots" there was only a differentiation of details. Against this background, it is possible to define spatially delimitable cultural areas.

Outside of the ethnological and historical sciences, one speaks of cultural areas or cultural parts of the earth , which depict the current situation in the respective context of their specialist area.

Problem of demarcation

The North American cultural area "Northwest Coast" can be defined relatively easily by the typical art style
Quite different with the three oceanic cultural areas: Local variations (according to Hunter and Whitten) are so numerous that it is difficult to generalize the remote, isolated island cultures over the entire width of the Pacific

Any definition of a cultural area is based on the results of cross- cultural social research from a one-sided European perspective . While the demarcation between a few cultures is relatively easy, dividing entire continents into demarcated areas is difficult and problematic: the maps drawn by different authors at different times often do not agree with one another; they show unequal numbers, sizes and boundaries of the individual cultural areas. This is mainly due to the very arbitrary selection of those cultural elements that were and will be seen as characteristic of a certain cultural area. In addition, there is constant cultural change in many areas of the world.

The greatest difficulty in the delimitation is the determination of which cultural assets are actually specific to an area and which apply across multiple cultures. Cultural goods in this sense are, for example, language, art forms, family structures, social organization, calendars, body decorations, folklore, forms of living, modes of subsistence ; hence the ideological systems of a culture. The ecological conditions of the respective habitats also form an essential basis for continental models.

Although the definition of cultural areas is controversial today for the reasons mentioned, it offers the possibility of structuring cultural diversity and creating a basis for cross-cultural studies. The division into cultural areas is a heuristic tool, an auxiliary thought (bon à penser) in the sense of the French ethnologist Claude Lévi-Strauss .

In this sense, the correspondences between the various (historical) authors, despite the aforementioned objections, are again large enough to combine all models into a "world model of cultural areas", as D. Hunter and P. Whitten in 1976 for the "Encyclopedia of Anthropology" have formulated.

Cultural areas of the earth: mirror image of the vegetation zones and traditional land use

The 43 “Culture Areas of the World” by Hunter and Whitten are based on the theory that culture is primarily a mechanism for mutual adaptation to different living spaces. They formulated the following definition:

“A cultural area is a definable part of the earth's surface in which more or less related groups of people live, for whom the adaptation process over millennia has led to a great variety of survival strategies; but based on a common heritage: similar ecological conditions, similar economic, social and ideological systems as well as related languages. "

- D. Hunter and P. Whitten

With a few exceptions, the areas therefore coincide with the relevant global vegetation zones (see map: The Earth's Vegetation Zones ) . In relation to the economic forms that have arisen there, the model can also be viewed as a schematic map of traditional land use on earth.

The authors explicitly point out that the borders are not specific indigenous territories, but only schematically drawn borders to mark the interfaces between the cultures that flow into one another. In this sense, only the cultural differences between the respective centers of the areas are significant, not those on either side of the borders!

Moreover, the authors admit the problems of delimitation and described the selection of the criteria used from the multitude of ethnographic records as (to a large extent) arbitrary.

The following map with the following tables of the keywords (often historical) cultural elements correspond to the description of Hunter and Whitten in the Encyclopedia of Anthropology . The authors differentiate between three levels of scale : Above the cultural areas are the "main areas", which are reminiscent of the division into " cultural parts of the earth " by the German geographer Albert Kolb or the map of the "civilizations" by Samuel P. Huntington . Some areas are further broken down into “sub-areas”.

Ozeanien Nordamerika Ozeanien Südliches Asien Nördliches Asien Afrika Naher Osten Europa Südamerika Nordamerika
The cultural areas of the world according to Hunter and Whitten (the map is clickable and leads to the respective main areas)
Color legend: economic forms
Agriculture, pastoral nomadism and long-distance trade sedentary, nomadic and semi-sedentary
Soil construction and long-distance trade sedentary
Traditional agriculture sedentary
Agriculture, horticulture and grassland farming sedentary
Land change construction sedentary
Shifting cultivation semi-sedentary
Horticulture, shifting farming, and hunting or fishing mostly semi-settled
Transhumance and soil construction Soil farming is sedentary, livestock farming is semi-sedentary
Agropastoralism sedentary, semi-sedentary or semi-nomadic
Specialized collection economy mostly semi-settled
Specialized hunting or fishing Sedentary fishing, semi-nomadic hunting
Reindeer nomadism semi-nomadic
Pastoral nomadism nomadic, partly semi-nomadic
Unspecialized hunting, fishing and foraging nomadic, fishing semi-nomadic

Main area of ​​North America

→ compare: North American cultural areas according to Wissler and Kroeber
Cultural area Habitat and (historical) similarities Ethnic groups (examples)
Arctic Tundra : semi-sedentary foragers (caribou, musk ox, seasonal fishing and marine mammals), acephalic communities , winter settlements often on the coast, common Eskimo-Aleut languages Inuit , Yupik , Kalaallit , Inupiat , Alëuten , Eskimo
Northwest coast Coastal rainforest : sedentary hunters (marine mammals) and fishermen (salmon); Chiefs with large populations, special social institutions ( slavery , potlatch - "giveaway festival"), art style Tlingit , Haida , Tsimshian , Kwakiutl , Chinook
Subarctic Northern sub-area
forest tundra u. boreal mountains: semi-nomadic hunters (caribou), fishermen and gatherers (berries); egalitarian hordes
Kutchin , Kaska , Athabascan tribes , Naskapi
Southern subarea
Taiga : nomadic hunters (elk, elk, small game), fishermen and - z. Partly semi-settled - collectors (various plants, berries, wild rice); egalitarian hordes
Cree , Anishinabe , Menominee , Algonquin , Innu
Plateau Basin California Subareal Plateau
dry plateau in the Rockys : semi-nomadic salmon fishermen, hunters and gatherers (roots, bulbous plants); Tribal societies
Ktunaxa , Spokane , Yakama , Secwepemc
Subareal Large Basin Semi
-deserts : nomadic gatherers (acorns, pinyon nuts, seeds, berries, roots) and hunters (pronghorn, small animals); egalitarian hordes
Shoshone , Paiute , Washoe
California subarea Hard deciduous
forests , dry steppe, Mediterranean forests: semi- sedentary gatherers (wild fruits, especially acorns, nuts) and hunters (small animals, sea animals); egalitarian hordes or tribal societies
Modoc , Caliph. Penuti , Yana , Pomo , Cahuilla
Wide level Grass, shrub and dry steppes : semi-nomadic, mounted hunters ( prairie bison , pronghorn ), until the 18th century often semi-sedentary horticulture; Tipi (tent), tribal societies Blackfoot , Cheyenne , Crow , Lakota , Comanche
east Subarea northeast
deciduous mixed forests : semi - sedentary slash-and - burn agriculture (maize, beans, pumpkins), also wild rice harvest and hunting; egalitarian clan confederations
Illinois , Iroquois , Abenaki , Miami , Shawnee
Subareal Southeast
Subtropical wet forests and Deciduous mixed forests: mostly sedentary, intensive farming : (maize, beans, pumpkins) and hunting; Chiefs, solid palisade-reinforced settlements
Creek , Choctaw , Natchez , Cherokee , Chickasaw
southwest Subareal Pueblo Indians
semi-deserts and arid plateaus: sedentary agriculture , e.g. T. irrigation (corn, beans, pumpkins) and small animal hunting; stratified clan confederations, relatively dense villages
Hopi , Havasupai , Tarahumara , Zuni , Yaqui
Subarea Navajo u. Apache
semi-deserts a. arid plateaus: nomadic hunters (bison, pronghorn, small animals) and gatherers ( agaves , nuts, seeds), robbery, semi-nomadic agriculture (corn, beans, pumpkins) or later sheep breeding, egalitarian hordes
Apaches , Navajo
Mesoamerica Dry and humid subtropical u. tropical biomes: various sedentary and semi- sedentary soil types (corn, beans, pumpkins) and small animal hunting; theocratic states , "cultural followers" of the historical high cultures of Central America Toltecs , Aztecs , Maya , Tarascan , Huichol

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Main area South America

→ compare: Indigenous cultural areas according to Münzel
Cultural area Habitat and (historical) similarities Ethnic groups (examples)
Caribbean Tropical savannas and wet forests : semi-sedentary hunting (small animals), fishing, horticulture (papaya, guava, avocado) and slash-and-burn agriculture (cassava); often chiefdoms Arawak , Caribs
Chibcha Tropical lowland u. Mountain rainforests: mostly sedentary farming (corn, beans, pumpkins, cassava, potatoes); often chiefdoms, influences from high civilizations in the north and south Chibcha , Kuna , Embera , Paez , Ika , Wiwa , Kogi
To the Andean highland steppes: sedentary crop rotation - agriculture and irrigation terraces (potatoes, as well as enormous crop diversity); theocratic states inca tradition Quechua , Aymara , Kolla , Huanca , Atacameño , Inca ,
Amazonia Tropical rainforests : mostly semi-sedentary horticulture (papaya, guava, avocado), shifting cultivation (manioc), hunting and fishing; egalitarian groups or chiefdoms, frequent conflicts with neighboring groups Huaorani , Shuar , Yanomami , Ticuna , Munduruku
Brazilian highlands Tropical savannas: semi-sedentary slash-and-burn farming (cassava), hunting and fishing; Tribal societies Xavante , Xerente , Karajá , Guaraní
Chaco Tropical dry forests: semi-sedentary fruit collectors, later horse warriors, fishing, little shifting cultivation ; egalitarian groups or tribal societies Wichí , Guaycurú , Toba , Chiriguano , Ayoreo
Araucania temperate deciduous and coniferous forests: semi-sedentary farming (maize, beans, potatoes), gathering ( araucarias ) and hunting, cavalry warriors; egalitarian hordes Mapuche , Picunche , Huilliche
Patagonia dry, temperate open landscapes: semi-nomadic hunters (guanaco and rhea, later cattle and horses, marine mammals) and gatherers (seafood), cavalry warriors, local agriculture (wheat, potatoes); egalitarian hordes Tehuelche , Het , Puelche
fire land temperate coastal rainforests, Magellanic tundra : nomadic hunters (guanaco, crested rat), fishermen (sea creatures) and gatherers (roots, mushrooms, berries), minimal horticulture; egalitarian hordes Selk'nam , Yámana , Chonos

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Main area in Europe

→ compare: Historical regions of Europe according to Christian Giordano
Cultural area Habitat and (historical) similarities Ethnic groups (examples)
Northwest Europe Atlantic moist deciduous and coniferous forests of the temperate latitudes : sedentary agriculture (grain), horticulture (fruit, vegetables) and grassland farming (cattle, pigs); Nation states , "culture follower" of medieval feudal states , origin of industrial society England , France , Germany , Sweden
Eastern Europe continental dry deciduous, mixed and coniferous forests of the temperate latitudes: sedentary agriculture (grain); Nation-states, shaped by the unsteady migration period , agricultural states Poland , Hungary , Romania , Russia , Ukraine
Southern Europe Mediterranean hard-leaf vegetation: sedentary agriculture (grain), permanent cultivation (olives, tropical fruits) and semi- sedentary long-distance trade (Mediterranean); Nation states, "cultural followers" of ancient high cultures Portugal , Spain , Italy , Serbia , Greece
Caucasia subtropical and temperate mountain forests: semi-sedentary transhumance (sheep, cattle, horses) and soil structure (grain); Nation states, “melting pots” with a great variety of languages ​​and cultures Georgia , Azerbaijan , Armenia

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Main area in the Middle East

Cultural area Habitat and (historical) similarities Ethnic groups (examples)
Southwest Asia hot deserts and semi-deserts, fertile valleys: sedentary agriculture (wheat), nomadic shepherds (camels, sheep, goats, horses) and semi- sedentary long-distance trade (Mediterranean, trade caravans ); Islamic caliphates , “symbiosis” of farmers, traders and Bedouins Turkey , Persians , Kurds , Arabs ( Iraq , Saudi Arabia , Egypt )
North Africa Subareal Mediterranean coast Hard foliage
vegetation and Semi-deserts: sedentary agriculture (grain), permanent cultivation (olives, tropical fruits) and semi-sedentary long-distance trade (Mediterranean); Caliphates, "cultural followers" of ancient high cultures
Arabs ( Moroccans , Tunisians , Libyans ) and Berbers
Subareal inland
hot semi-deserts and deserts: semi-nomadic transhumance (sheep, goats, cattle) and soil cultivation (grain, dates); Tribal societies
Berber , Sanūsīya
Sahara hot deserts and semi-deserts: nomadic shepherds (camels, horses, goats), caravan trade, e.g. T. oasis culture (dates); Tribal societies Tuareg , Tubu , Mauritanians
Horn of Africa tropical savannahs and highland steppes: semi-sedentary or nomadic agropastoralism ( teff , sorghum , ensete / cattle), e.g. T. sedentary agriculture (grain); Clan systems in states, great influence of Southwest Asia Somalis , Oromo , Amharen , Tigray

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Main area in Africa

Cultural area Habitat and (historical) similarities Ethnic groups (examples)
West Sudan Dry , thorn shrub u. Moist savannahs : sedentary land change (sorghum, sweet potato ) with cattle pastoralism ; "Cultural followers" of the pre-colonial kingdoms, chiefdoms Fulbe , Songhai , Fur , Hausa , Yoruba , Kanuri
Guinea Tropical rainforests and wet forests: permanent sedentary farming (cassava, yams , taro , permanent crops), trade and fishing; "Cultural followers" of the pre-colonial kingdoms, chiefdoms Yoruba , Ewe , Fon , Ashanti , Akan , Edo , Igbo
Congo Bantu sub-area
tropical forests and Savannas: semi-sedentary shifting cultivation (cassava, taro , sorghum), hunting, fishing, collecting, pig or cattle farming; Chiefdoms or tribal societies
Azande , Mongo , Baluba , Lunda , Bemba
Pygmy subarea
Tropical rainforest: nomadic hunters (mammals, birds) and gatherers (mushrooms, honey, larvae, fruits); egalitarian hordes
Mbuti, Mbenga, Efe, Cwa, Gieli, Twa , Baka
Eastern highlands Tropical savannahs: semi-nomadic transhumance (especially cattle as well as sheep, goats), sedentary land change (sorghum, sweet potato), hunting, gathering and fishing; Tribal societies Dinka , Nuer , Massai , Samburu , Luo , Turkana
South plateau Miombowald , savannah u. Steppe: sedentary, semi-sedentary or nomadic agropastoralism (sorghum, cattle); Chieftains, tribes, or royalty Ovambo , Herero , Ovimbundu , Xhosa , Zulu
South West Africa Khoikhoi -Subareal
Hot semi-deserts: semi- sedentary or nomadic agropastoralism (sorghum, cattle, sheep), hunting and gathering; Clan system
Nama , Orlam
San -Subareal
hot deserts and semi-deserts, thorn savannahs : nomadic hunters (mammals, birds, reptiles) and gatherers (nuts, roots, berries); egalitarian hordes
Ju|'hoansi, !Kung , Damara

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Main area of ​​Northern Asia

Cultural area Habitat and (historical) similarities Ethnic groups (examples)
Siberia Northern sub-area
tundra , forest tundra, etc. Taiga : nomadic reindeer pastoralism , hunters (land and marine mammals, fish) and gathering (berries); egalitarian groups
Seeds , Nenets , Chanting , Evenks , Evens ,
Southern subarea
forest steppe , temperate deciduous forests u. Taiga: sedentary or semi-sedentary cattle breeding (horses, cattle, sheep, reindeer) and some soil cultivation (hay, grain); Khanates , estates
Buryats , Yakuts , Khakass , Altaians , Tuvins
Paleo Siberia Tundra u. Forest tundra: sedentary or semi-sedentary hunters (reindeer, marine mammals, fish); egalitarian groups Chukchi , Koryaks , Jukagirs , Itelmens
Eurasian steppe Northern subarea
Wald- u. Grass steppes: sedentary grassland farming (cattle, horses, pigs) and arable farming (grain); Khanates, estates, tribal confederations
Tatars , Bashkirs
Southern subarea
steppes, winter-cold semi-desert and Desert: Shepherd nomads (horses, cattle, sheep, camels); Khanates, estates, tribal confederations
Kalmyks , Kazakhs , Uzbeks , Mongols

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Main area South Asia

Cultural area Habitat and (historical) similarities Ethnic groups (examples)
South Central Asia Subareal Indian west coast
semi-deserts, dry savannahs, etc. tropical wet forests: sedentary agriculture (rice, millet, wheat), dairy farming and long-distance trade; Nation- state with caste system , "cultural follower" of the Indus culture
Punjabis , Gujarati , Bev. Western Ghats u. Rajputs
Subareal Gulf of Bengal
Dry u. humid tropical u. subtropical forests and Savannah: sedentary agriculture ( wet rice , sweet potato); Caste nation state , Chinese influence
Tamils , Bev. Central u. East India, Burmese
Subarea "Tribal Peoples"
Dry u. humid tropical u. subtropical forests and Savannas: semi-sedentary shifting cultivation (rice, millet, vegetables), hunting (mammals, birds) and collecting (wild fruits); egalitarian groups or chiefdoms
Vedda , Adivasi , Derung , Andaman , Mlabri
Subareal Himalaya u. Tibet
highland steppes a. -deserts, high mountain vegetation: shepherd nomads (yaks, horses, goats, donkeys), soil cultivation in the valleys (barley, vegetables, fruit); Buddhist theocracy, social order
Tajiks , Tibetans , Nepalese , Lepcha , Lhoba
North China Temperate forests, steppes and deserts: sedentary agriculture ( buckwheat , millet, soy) and livestock (pigs, cattle, sheep); Nation-state, "cultural successor" of the historical empires Han Chinese , Hui Chinese , Manchu
South china Subtropical u. tropical wet forests, mountain forests, savannas: soil cultivation (wet rice, millet, soy, yams, taro) horticulture (vegetables, citrus fruits, coconuts) and cattle breeding (pigs, chickens); Nation states, "cultural successors" of the historical empires South Chinese ethnic groups , Vietnamese , Khmer
Korea and Japan Younger Subareal
Moderate u. subtropical forests, mountain forests: agriculture (rice, taro) and fishing (seafood); Nation states, "cultural followers" of historical empires
Koreans , Japanese
Older sub-area
moderates u. boreal deciduous a. Coniferous forests: sedentary fishermen (seafood), hunters (birds, small animals) and gatherers (wild plants); egalitarian groups
Indonesia Younger subarea
Tropical rainforests, savannas, etc. Dry forests: sedentary or semi-sedentary horticulture ( sago , banana), shifting cultivation (wet rice, taro, sweet potato), hunting and fishing; autonomous ranking societies in states
Malay , Javanese , Dusun , Filipino , Malagasy
Older subarea
Tropical rainforests: nomadic hunters (mammals, birds), fishermen and gatherers (wild plants, roots, sago); egalitarian clan societies
Semang , Senoi , Aeta , Penan

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Main area of ​​Oceania

→ compare: Aboriginal cultural areas according to Nicolas Peterson
Cultural area Habitat and (historical) similarities Ethnic groups (examples)
Micronesia Tropical island vegetation: fishing, long-distance trade, horticulture (coconut, taro, yams, bananas) and livestock (pigs, chickens); Chiefdoms Micronesians : u. a. Palauer , Yap Islander
Melanesia Younger subarea
Tropical rainforests: semi- sedentary horticulture ( sago , banana, pandanus fruits ), shifting agriculture (yams, taro, sweet potatoes), cattle breeding (pigs, chickens) and fishing; egalitarian groups
Papuan peoples , Melanesians : u. a. Tolai , Solomon
Older subarea
Tropical mountain rainforests: semi-nomadic hunters (mammals, birds), horticulturists (sago, banana, pandanus) and gatherers (wild plants, roots, honey); egalitarian groups
Korowai , Meakambut
Polynesia Tropical, subtropical u. temperate island vegetation: sedentary soil cultivation (taro, sweet potato, breadfruit ), cattle breeding (pigs) and fishing; pre-state chiefdoms Polynesians , etc. a. Maori , Hawaiians, Easter Islanders
Australia Subtropical u. tropical dry rooms, e.g. T. Forests: nomadic hunters (marsupials, birds, reptiles) and gatherers (wild plants); egalitarian hordes Aborigines : u. a. Arrernte , Yolngu , Warlpiri , Tiwi , Tasmanians

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See also


  • David E. Hunter, Phillip Whitten (Eds.): Encyclopedia of Anthropology. Harper and Row, New York et al. 1976, ISBN 0-06-047094-1 , keywords: “Culture Area” p. 104, “Culture Areas of the World” p. 104–111.
  • Dieter Haller : Dtv-Atlas Ethnologie. 2nd, completely revised and corrected edition. dtv, Munich 2010, ISBN 978-3-423-03259-9 .
  • Egon Renner: On the origin, development and function of the term “culture area”. In: Magazine for American Studies. No. 1, Publishing House for American Studies, Wyk auf Foehr 1998.

Web links

  • Elke Mader: The “culture area approach” (Latin America). In: latein Cultural and Social Anthropology of Latin America - An Introduction. Latin America Studies Online, February 2012, accessed on April 9, 2014 (the author is a lecturer at the Institute for Ethnology, Cultural and Social Anthropology, University of Vienna).


  1. Unclear or missing assignments were supplemented in comparison with the Vegetationszonen.png map and the TaschenAtlas Völker und Sprachen by Willi Stegner (Ed.), Klett-Perthes, Gotha 2006.
  2. Sparse information from Hunter et al. Whitten adds, after Wolfgang Lindig and Mark Münzel: The Indians. Volume 2: Central and South America. 3. Edition. dtv Wissenschaft, Munich 1985.

Individual evidence

  1. Michel Panoff, Michel Perrin (ed.): Pocket dictionary of ethnology. Introductory terms and definitions. 3rd, revised edition. Reimer, Berlin 2000, ISBN 3-496-02668-5 , pp. 144-145 (French original: Dictionnaire de l'ethnologie ).
  2. ^ Christian Giordano: Interdependent diversity: The historical regions of Europe. In: Karl Kaser u. a. (Ed.): Europe and the borders in the head. Wieser-Verlag, Klagenfurt 2003, pp. 113-134.
  3. cultural area. In: Brockhaus - Encyclopedia in 30 volumes. 21st edition. In: Munzinger Online . 2013 (updated with articles from the Brockhaus editorial team; view subject to registration , retrieved from Wuppertal City Library on September 17, 2013).
  4. ^ Thomas K. Schippers: The Fractal Nature of Borders and its Methodological Consequences for European Ethnologists. In: Acta Ethnologica Danubiana. Volume 2–3, Forum Minority Research Institute, Lilium Aurum, Dunajská Streda 2000–2001, pp. 173–179, here p. 175 (English; PDF file; 435 kB, 10 pages ( Memento from December 3, 2013 on the Internet Archives ) in ).
  5. see literature: Encyclopedia of Anthropology.