Cultural inheritance can be considered as a mechanism of adaptation made possible by communication, which has reached its greatest development in humans and can allow long-term conservation or rapid change of culturally transmissible traits depending on circumstances and needs. Conservativeness/flexibility is largely modulated by mechanisms of sociocultural transmission. An analysis was carried out by testing the fit of three models to 47 cultural traits (classified in six groups) in 277 African societies. Model A (demic diffusion) is conservation over generations, as shown by correlations of cultural traits with language, used as a measure of historical connection. Model B (environmental adaptation) is measured by correlation to the natural environment. Model C (cultural diffusion) is the spread to neighbors by social contact in an epidemic-like fashion and was tested by measuring the tightness of geographic clustering of the traits. Most traits examined, in particular those affecting family structure and kinship, showed great conservation over generations, as shown by the fit of model A. They are most probably transmitted by family members. This is in agreement with the theoretical demonstration that cultural transmission in the family (vertical) is the most conservative one. Some traits show environmental effects, indicating the importance of adaptation to physical environment. Only a few of the 47 traits showed tight geographic clustering indicating that their spread to nearest neighbors follows model C, as is usually the case for transmission among unrelated people (called horizontal transmission).