Archaeological Perspectives on the Evolution of Forager Cooperation

Part of: Society for American Archaeology 82nd Annual Meeting, Vancouver, BC (2017)

Habitual cooperation among non-kin is biologically unusual and yet a defining behavior of the human species. Understanding how such altruistic behavior emerges and persists among human populations remains an active and heavily debated area of anthropological and ecological research. While ethnographic forager studies have played a particularly prominent role in the discourse, contributions from prehistoric forager studies remain sparse due to the inherent challenges of studying past populations who left few, taphonomically vulnerable material traces. Nonetheless, because prehistoric foragers were the very individuals who catalyzed and maintained human cooperation for thousands of millennia, the insights to be gained may be particularly salient in advancing evolutionary theories of cooperation. This symposium seeks to identify the diverse ways that archaeological forager research can contribute to the study of human cooperation and to inspire new analytical directions at the intersections of theory, method, and data.

Resources Inside This Collection (Viewing 1-13 of 13)

  • Documents (13)

  • Communal Hunting and Teasing Out Signs of Cooperation in the Past (2017)
    DOCUMENT Citation Only Matthew O'Brien. Danny N. Walker.

    Communal hunting represents an intensification on particular prey species requiring significant cooperation and coordination, but identifying the social organization of this extinct mode of terrestrial hunting in North America leaves inquiries relegated to evidence derived from archaeology and ethnohistory. One tangible line of evidence used to identify social interaction between participants in hunting activity has been meat sharing. Yet observing meat sharing in the archaeological record has...

  • Communal Hunting Facilities as a Record of Human Cooperation (2017)
    DOCUMENT Citation Only Spencer Pelton.

    Communal hunting facilities such as drive walls, hunting pits, and other features, are one of archaeologists’ most direct proxies for past human cooperation. At the least, communal hunting facilities are unambiguous evidence for past cooperative effort. They are also informative of the nature of that cooperation, since variation in facility size and configuration should reflect variation in cooperative behavior. In this study, I present a model designed to understand variation in communal...

  • Cooperation and Order among Communal Bison Hunters (2017)
    DOCUMENT Citation Only Maria Nieves Zedeño.

    This paper discusses the trajectories and intersections of cooperative practices and ordering strategies among prehistoric communal bison hunters. Utilizing the vast and ancient record of bison hunting in the region and particularly in Montana, the paper specifically focuses on the rise of large-scale bison harvests in the northwestern Plains of North America, and the effect of hunting technology on social cooperation at various scales (kin, band, supra-band). As well, the paper delves on the...

  • Cooperation and Violence in Prehistoric California: A Brief Inter-Regional Evaluation (2017)
    DOCUMENT Citation Only Terry Jones. Al Schwitalla.

    Inter-group cooperation in prehistoric California has traditionally been evaluated via the relative intensity of exchange--tracked archaeologically with shell beads and obsidian. Transported great distances (most commonly via down-the-line exchange) trade items in abundance imply amiable inter-group relations, if not actual cooperation. Violence, on the other hand, as represented in the ethnographic and bio-archaeological records, is generally assumed to represent hostile interactions between...

  • Cooperation or Competition? The Underwater Archaeology of Communal Hunting Structures (2017)
    DOCUMENT Citation Only Ashley Lemke. John O'Shea.

    Forager cooperation can be difficult to detect in archaeological contexts. One approach is to focus on built structures, such as drive lanes or fishing weirs, which required the participation of multiple persons. Yet such features are ephemeral and vulnerable to disturbance and destruction. One way to circumvent these challenges is to target areas with excellent preservation, such as underwater contexts. For example, the cold, fresh water of the Great Lakes preserved 9,000 year old stone built...

  • The Emergence of Cultural Consensus in Hunter-Gatherers: Towards a Computer Model of Ethnogenesis in the Past (2017)
    DOCUMENT Citation Only Juan Barcelo. Florencia Del Castillo Bernal.

    In this contribution we present the results of a computer simulation of an "artificial society", implemented to understand how cultural identities and cultural standardization may have emerged in a prehistoric hunter-gatherer society as a consequence of restricted cooperation. The aim of the model is to explain how diversity and self-identification may have emerged in the small-scale societies of our prehistoric past. The computer model explores some possible consequences of theoretical...

  • The Evolution of Cooperative Labor within a Long-lived Housepit at the Bridge River site in British Columbia (2017)
    DOCUMENT Citation Only Ashley Hampton. Anna Marie Prentiss. Thomas A. Foor.

    At the Bridge River site, British Columbia, evidence for intra-household cooperation appears to center within a time of village growth during late Bridge River 2 (ca.1500-1300 cal. BP) before collapsing into familial-based competitive behavior during Bridge River 3 (ca. 1300-1100 cal. BP). This shift from cooperation to competition occurs in tandem with a rise in inequality as the community experienced a Malthusian ceiling. Building on previous multivariate statistical approaches, further...

  • The Original (Affluent) Cooperative: Property Rights and the Foraging Mode of Production (2017)
    DOCUMENT Citation Only George Crothers.

    Property-rights require fundamental forms of cooperation. On a global scale, foragers maintained open-access property regimes, in which no one is excluded from using resources. In the most basic form, foragers cooperate simply by avoiding conflict—agreeing to share. These conditions will hold as long as the cost of excluding others from a resource exceeds the benefits derived from that resource and because cooperation increases reproductive success under conditions of low population density—in...

  • A Road to Forager Cooperation (2017)
    DOCUMENT Citation Only Steven Kuhn. Mary Stiner.

    Humans have a unique capacity among primates for cooperation. Recent foragers routinely cooperate in economic activities, and a range of social mechanisms help maintain that cooperation. We argue on the basis of hunting practices and weapon systems that some of these social mechanisms emerged comparatively late in hominin evolutionary history. Large game hunting by Early and Middle Pleistocene hominins involved simple, short range weapons and depended on participation of multiple individuals....

  • Shell Mound Architecture and Cooperative Mass Oyster Collection on the Central Gulf Coast of Florida, USA (2017)
    DOCUMENT Citation Only Isabelle Lulewicz. Victor Thompson. Thomas Pluckhahn.

    Coastal fisher-gather-hunters often have a deep connection among their ritual practices, economic systems, and the built environment. Emerging trends and traditions of cooperation within forager communities can have lasting impacts on group social organization and can be instrumental in the development of early villages. The Crystal River region of the Gulf Coast of Florida, U.S.A provides an interesting locale to explore the intersection between shell mound architecture and cooperative mass...

  • The Signaling and Inheritance of Cooperation: Artificial Cranial Modification among Altiplano Foragers (2017)
    DOCUMENT Citation Only Randy Haas. James Watson. Carlos Viviano. Mark Aldenderfer.

    We report on the recent archaeological discovery of a 7000-year-old population of hunter-gatherer burials and discuss the key insights they offer into how hunter-gatherer societies may have maintained cooperative structure against evolutionary odds. Sixteen human burials interred at the site of Soro Mik'aya Patjxa in the Andean Altiplano of Peru consistently exhibit intentional artificial cranial modification (ACM)—the irreversible shaping of human crania during infancy. Our analysis of cranial...

  • Stable Isotope Perspectives on Intra-Community Sharing (2017)
    DOCUMENT Citation Only Jelmer Eerkens.

    Stable isotope analyses of human skeletal tissues provide estimates of paleodiet at the scale of the individual. This paper explores intra- and inter-community variation in stable nitrogen, carbon, and sulfur isotopes in human bone and teeth as insight into the prevalence of food sharing in several ancient hunter-gatherer burial populations in California. The goal, in particular, is to trace intra-community variation over time to examine how cooperative foraging and food-sharing strategies...

  • The Warfare Paradox, or All Quiet on the Western Tennessee Valley Archaic (2017)
    DOCUMENT Citation Only D. Shane Miller.

    The complex hunter-gatherers of the Middle and Late Archaic periods in the Tennessee River Valley of the American Southeast are well-known for displaying evidence of intergroup violence, including scalping and trophy taking. On the other hand, these time periods are also known for the emergence of exchange networks centered on items including bone pins and bifaces. I argue that the co-occurrence of exchange networks and intergroup violence was likely the result of iterated "live and let live" or...