A cross-cultural analysis of the impact of diet breadth on subsistence toolkit richness and complexity

Author(s): Mark Collard

Year: 2015


Identifying the causes of spatiotemporal variation in technological richness and complexity is an important task for archaeology. James O’Connell has proposed that diet breadth can be expected to affect investment in subsistence technology and therefore the number and intricacy of subsistence tools. Narrower diets, he suggests, will be associated with lower investment and therefore fewer and/or less complex tools, while broader diets will be associated with higher investment and therefore more tools and/or tools of greater complexity. This relationship can be expected to exist, according to O’Connell, because technology affects the time devoted to capture and processing, and investment in reducing capture and processing time should be low when diet is narrow and only increase if return rates fall and diet becomes broader. Here, I report the first empirical test of O’Connell’s diet-breadth hypothesis. I used data for a large sample of historically-documented nonindustrial populations to examine the relationship between diet breadth and food-getting toolkit richness and complexity. I did so while controlling for several factors that have been found to affect toolkit structure in previous studies. The results I obtained indicate that we need to be cautious when invoking the hypothesis to explain patterns in the archaeological record.

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A cross-cultural analysis of the impact of diet breadth on subsistence toolkit richness and complexity. Mark Collard. Presented at The 80th Annual Meeting of the Society for American Archaeology, San Francisco, California. 2015 ( tDAR id: 394839)