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Behavioral Ecology and the Transition to Agriculture

Behavioral Ecology and the Transition to Agriculture

Douglas J. Kennett
Bruce Winterhalder
Copyright Date: 2006
Edition: 1
Pages: 407
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  • Book Info
    Behavioral Ecology and the Transition to Agriculture
    Book Description:

    This innovative volume is the first collective effort by archaeologists and ethnographers to use concepts and models from human behavioral ecology to explore one of the most consequential transitions in human history: the origins of agriculture. Carefully balancing theory and detailed empirical study, and drawing from a series of ethnographic and archaeological case studies from eleven locations—including North and South America, Mesoamerica, Europe, the Near East, Africa, and the Pacific—the contributors to this volume examine the transition from hunting and gathering to farming and herding using a broad set of analytical models and concepts. These include diet breadth, central place foraging, ideal free distribution, discounting, risk sensitivity, population ecology, and costly signaling. An introductory chapter both charts the basics of the theory and notes areas of rapid advance in our understanding of how human subsistence systems evolve. Two concluding chapters by senior archaeologists reflect on the potential for human behavioral ecology to explain domestication and the transition from foraging to farming.

    eISBN: 978-0-520-93245-6
    Subjects: Ecology & Evolutionary Biology

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. List of Contributors
    (pp. ix-x)
    (pp. xi-xii)
    William F. Keegan

    The evolution of human subsistence economies has always been a major topic of anthropological interest. Within this domain the transition from foraging to farming and the emergence of horticultural/agricultural economies has occupied a central place. One of the most intriguing issues concerns the relative simultaneity with which different crops were first cultivated around the world; a situation that produced the view that the adoption of agriculture was a revolution. So significant was this “Neolithic Revolution” that it came to embody the foundations of civilization.

    On closer examination, it has become clear that this revolution did not happen quickly, and that...

    (pp. xiii-xiv)
  6. 1 Behavioral Ecology and the Transition from Hunting and Gathering to Agriculture
    (pp. 1-21)
    Bruce Winterhalder and Douglas J. Kennett

    The volume before you is the first systematic, comparative attempt to use the concepts and models of behavioral ecology to address the evolutionary transition from societies relying predominantly on hunting and gathering to those dependent on food production through plant cultivation, animal husbandry, and the use of domesticated species embedded in systems of agriculture. Human behavioral ecology (HBE; Winterhalder and Smith 2000) is not new to prehistoric analysis; there is a two-decade tradition of applying models and concepts from HBE to research on prehistoric hunter-gatherer societies (Bird and O’Connell 2003). Behavioral ecology models also have been applied in the study...

  7. 2 A Future Discounting Explanation for the Persistence of a Mixed Foraging-Horticulture Strategy among the Mikea of Madagascar
    (pp. 22-40)
    Bram Tucker

    Low-investment extensive horticulture, the planting of cultigens with minimal labor investment in patches of wilderness that remain more-or-less untended until harvest time, seems a curious strategy. Payoffs tend to be low on average, for the cultigens compete with wild plants for soil and solar resources. Returns are also highly variable, for the crop is left vulnerable to pests, predators, and unpredictable climatic conditions. Extensive horticulturalists compensate for low and variable harvests by hunting and gathering wild foods, which constitute the bulk of the diet in some years. Given this heavy reliance on foraging, one may well ask why plant cultigens...

  8. 3 Central Place Foraging and Food Production on the Cumberland Plateau, Eastern Kentucky
    (pp. 41-62)
    Kristen J. Gremillion

    Between 4000 and 3000 radiocarbon years ago (cal 2600 to 1300 BC) prehistoric human foragers living on the Cumberland Escarpment of eastern Kentucky began cultivating seed crops (Cowan 1985b; Cowan et al. 1981; Gremillion 1993c, 1994, 1996b, 1998; Smith and Cowan 1987). People of this region frequently stored their seed harvests, as well as other foods, in dry rock shelters situated on the high cliffs above stream valleys. The occurrence of hearths and other cultural features in these shelters, along with the density of habitation refuse, indicate that they were also used as habitation sites (Cowan 1985a; Gremillion 1995). People...

  9. 4 Aspects of Optimization and Risk During the Early Agricultural Period in Southeastern Arizona
    (pp. 63-86)
    Michael W. Diehl and Jennifer A. Waters

    The adoption of crops in the American Southwest is a subject of perennial interest in southwestern U.S. archaeology and of general interest among scholars who study the spread of cultigens worldwide. In this paper we summarize the osteofaunal and paleobotanical remains from San Pedro phase (1200–800 BC), Early Cienega phase (800–400 BC) and Late Cienega phase (400 BC–AD 150) sites in southern Arizona. These intervals collectively make up the last two-thirds of the Early Agricultural period (1700 BC–AD 150). We are interested in assessing the accuracy of claims that the Early Agricultural period subsistence economy was...

  10. 5 A Formal Model for Predicting Agriculture among the Fremont
    (pp. 87-102)
    K. Renee Barlow

    Found primarily in Utah north of the Colorado River, Fremont archaeological sites include pithouse villages and rancherías, adobewalled granaries and pueblos, masonry structures, and distinctive regional styles of pottery, rock art, ground stone, and projectile points. Figure 5.1 shows the approximate locations of several dozen excavated sites which have played important roles in interpretations of Fremont lifeways. Most assemblages date to between AD 600 and 1400 (Aikens 1966; Jennings 1978; Madsen 1989; Marwitt 1986; Massimino and Metcalfe 1999; Talbot and Wilde 1989). The people who produced these assemblages cultivated maize and were contemporary with Basketmaker and Puebloan farming cultures in...

  11. 6 An Ecological Model for the Origins of Maize-Based Food Production on the Pacific Coast of Southern Mexico
    (pp. 103-136)
    Douglas J. Kennett, Barbara Voorhies and Dean Martorana

    The emergence of food production is inarguably one of the most significant developments in the environmental history of our planet (Redman 1999; Roberts 1998; Dincauze 2000) and a fundamental turning point in human history (Childe 1951; Cohen 1977; Cowan and Watson 1992; Flannery 1973, 1986a; Gebauer and Price 1992a; Gremillion 1996a; Harris 1996b; Hayden 1990; Henry 1989; O’Brien and Wilson 1988; Price 2000a; Price and Gebauer 1995a; Rindos 1980, 1984; Smith 1998, 2001a; Watson 1989; 1995; Zeder 1995; Zohary and Hopf 2000). Originally characterized as a “revolution” (Childe 1951), and more recently as a transition (Price and Gebauer 1995b), true...

  12. 7 The Origins of Plant Cultivation and Domestication in the Neotropics: A BEHAVIORAL ECOLOGICAL PERSPECTIVE
    (pp. 137-166)
    Dolores R. Piperno

    Seasonal tropical forests, those that receive a prolonged period every year during which little to no rain falls, do not carry the distinction enjoyed by their rainforest relatives, despite the fact that they have been of far more use to humans for a longer period of time. It is in these forests that the highest biomass of comestible plants and animals and the most fertile soils for agriculture occur, and before they were cut for agriculture or converted into pasture, seasonally dry forests occupied large areas of the Central and South American landmasses (Figures 7.1a and b). Molecular biological and...

  13. 8 Costly Signaling, the Sexual Division of Labor, and Animal Domestication in the Andean Highlands
    (pp. 167-196)
    Mark Aldenderfer

    Although our understanding of the empirical outlines of the process of plant domestication in the Andean highlands has improved substantially over the past 30 years, it remains the case that models of the domestication process for the region are few. Most research conducted on the topic has been focused upon the identification of potential cultigens and their domestication status, dating their contexts accurately, and identifying general patterns in the distribution of wild, cultivated or domesticated species across the highlands as well as into other adjacent ecological zones (Castro and Tarrago 1992; J. Hawkes 1989, 1990; Pearsall 1992, 1995). Compared to...

  14. 9 Human Behavioral Ecology, Domestic Animals, and Land Use during the Transition to Agriculture in Valencia, Eastern Spain
    (pp. 197-216)
    Sarah B. McClure, Michael A. Jochim and C. Michael Barton

    In recent years, ecological approaches to the origin of and transition to agriculture have been popular, especially in research conducted outside of Europe (e.g., Cowan and Watson 1992; Harris and Hillman 1989; Price and Gebauer 1995a; Smith 2002). These include studies founded in Human Behavioral Ecology (HBE), focusing on co-evolutionary processes, risk minimization strategies, resource selection, or a combination of these as explanatory or exploratory models for understanding the adoption of domesticates into prehistoric subsistence practices (e.g., Barlow 2002; Blumler et al. 1991; Gremillion 1996a; Hawkes and O’Connell 1992; Layton et al. 1991; Piperno and Pearsall 1998; Rindos 1980, 1984;...

  15. 10 Breaking the Rain Barrier and the Tropical Spread of Near Eastern Agriculture into Southern Arabia
    (pp. 217-236)
    Joy McCorriston

    Greeks and Romans called southern Arabia “Arabia Felix” for its plant life and great wealth in plant products, yet Yemen’s prehistoric peoples adopted food production late and incrementally between the middle sixth and third millennium BC. Why did foraging persist through the first half of the Holocene in a land that, thereafter, gave rise to great civilizations built upon agricultural surpluses and a far-flung trade in spices, incense, and plant balms? Were early South Arabians simply unaware of plant domesticates from adjacent regions, or did the continued pursuit of wild resources outweigh the benefits of food production? The juxtaposition of...

  16. 11 The Emergence of Agriculture in New Guinea: A MODEL OF CONTINUITY FROM PRE-EXISTING FORAGING PRACTICES
    (pp. 237-264)
    Tim Denham and Huw Barton

    We propose that hunter-gatherers were able to subsist permanently in the rain forests of Highland New Guinea, and that agriculture emerged gradually and not as a revolution, from pre-existing subsistence practices. Hunter-gatherers during the terminal Pleistocene and early Holocene in Highland New Guinea employed two strategies to increase the productivity and reliability of key foraging patches. Firstly, there is palaeoecological evidence for considerable environmental manipulation through the clearance and burning of vegetation. Secondly, archaeological evidence indicates the movement of plant and animal species by people during the terminal Pleistocene and early Holocene in the Melanesian region. In this paper, the...

  17. 12 The Ideal Free Distribution, Food Production, and the Colonization of Oceania
    (pp. 265-288)
    Douglas Kennett, Atholl Anderson and Bruce Winterhalder

    The processes involved in the development of food production worldwide during the last 10,000 years were complex and spatially variable. At a minimum, they involved some combination of the following set of factors: (1) the expansion of diet-breadth during the late Pleistocene and early Holocene, leading to the development of co-evolutionary relationships between humans and potential domesticates (Richards et al. 2001; Rindos 1984; Stiner et al. 1999, 2000; Winterhalder and Goland 1997); (2) intensified exploitation of wild plants and animals by some prehistoric foragers (Henry 1989); (3) translocation of wild plants and animals by foraging groups and the management or...

  18. 13 Human Behavioral Ecology and the Transition to Food Production
    (pp. 289-303)
    Bruce D. Smith

    Human behavioral ecology and foraging theory offer frameworks for considering and characterizing variation and change in human subsistence patterns, both across a range of environmental gradients and through time (Winterhalder and Smith 2000). Given that the initial domestication of plants and animals and the subsequent development and spread of agricultural economies and landscapes constitutes one of the earth’s most significant environmental transformations, it is not surprising that there has been interest in exploring the utility of these theories and models for opening up new approaches and gaining a better perspective on this major transition in human history. This chapter offers...

  19. 14 Agriculture, Archaeology, and Human Behavioral Ecology
    (pp. 304-322)
    Robert L. Bettinger

    This volume marks a turning point in the development of human behavioral ecology (HBE), whose past efforts have spoken to a research agenda largely crafted in the biological sciences by individuals interested in non-human species. The thrust of most HBE contributions has been to show that humans play by the same rules as other species, or at least to illuminate certain aspects of human behavior with reference to the behavior of other species. As a consequence, the HBE research agenda has historically targeted behaviors that theorists working with non-human species think are important (e.g., foraging behavior, habitat choice, etc.; Pyke,...

    (pp. 323-380)
  21. INDEX
    (pp. 381-394)