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Phase 2: Continuing CEACB projects (phase 1): Project 005
Explaining hunter-gatherer tool-kit complexity

Mark Collard (Department of Archaeology, Simon Fraser University)
Briggs Buchanan (Postdoctoral Research Fellow, Department of Archaeology, Simon Fraser University)
Jesse Morin (PhD student, Department of Anthropology, University of British Columbia)
Andre Costopoulos (Assistant Professor, Department of Anthropology, McGill University)

PROJECT FUNDING: Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada $122,982

Archaeological research involves documenting patterns in the material remains of past societies and then inferring the processes that gave rise to the patterns. An effective way of tackling the latter challenge is to use comparative data from contemporary and/or historically documented populations to develop cross-culturally applicable models that relate material culture variation to potential causal factors. The proposed project will use this approach to shed light on one of the most frequently encountered and important patterns in the archaeological record, namely change in the number, and degree of specialization, of the tools used to obtain food resources.

Remarkably, given the ubiquity and significance of changes in subsistence-related technology in the course of prehistory, archaeologists have devoted relatively little attention to this topic. In fact, less than a dozen studies have focused on the factors that influence non-industrial peoples’ decisions regarding the structure of their toolkits. Equally importantly, the results of the studies that have addressed the issue are less than satisfactory because the datasets they have used are small and unrepresentative. The aim of this project is to go some way towards rectifying this state of affairs by investigating the factors that influenced recent hunter-gatherers’ decisions regarding the diversity and complexity of their toolkits prior to the widespread adoption of guns and other Western technologies.

The proposed project builds on the work of the anthropologist Wendall H. Oswalt, who in the early 1970s developed a method for quantifying toolkit diversity and complexity and used it to generate a dataset containing information on the toolkits of 20 hunter-gatherer populations. Oswalt’s method will be applied to published descriptions, diagrams and photographs of hunter-gatherer tools in order to increase the size and improve the representativeness of his dataset. The latter contains data for 20 populations and is strongly biased towards northern latitudes and coastal environments. The proposed project will increase the number of populations to 80 and improve the representation of populations from low latitudes and/or mid-continental settings. Subsequently, the toolkit dataset will be combined with a dataset containing literature-derived values for several socioecological variables that have been hypothesized to influence hunter-gatherer’s decisions regarding the diversity and complexity of their toolkits. These variables include diet composition, frequency of and distances covered during residential moves, proxies for the risk of resource failure, and population size. The dataset will also include proxies for population pressure, foraging return rate and the impact of imperialism/globalization since there is reason to think that these factors may also have affected the structure of the toolkits of ethnohistorically recorded hunter-gatherers. Lastly, the combined technological/socioecological dataset will be subjected to two forms of causal modeling—stepwise multiple regression analysis and path analysis—with a view to determining which of the socioecological variables had the most significant impact on the diversity and complexity of the populations’ toolkits. Phylogenetic comparative methods from evolutionary biology will be employed in the analyses in order to control for what is widely referred to in anthropology as ‘Galton’s problem’, the confounding effects of the descent relationships among the populations.

Final Report Not Received

Collard, M., M.D. Kemery and S.J. Banks (2005).
Causes of toolkit variation among hunter/gatherers. Canadian Journal of Archaeology. Vol 29:1-19.