Ecology, Territoriality, and the Emergence of Acorn and Maize Economies in Western North America


Ethnographic populations throughout Western North American sometimes relied on strategies and institutions to protect resources, patches, and territories for exclusive use. But explaining why and identifying when these exclusionary practices emerged (and dissolved) in the past remains difficult. Based on predictions from ecological and evolutionary theory, individuals should only engage in territorial behavior when the benefits of exclusive use, such as subsistence gains, are worth the costs of exclusionary tactics. We hypothesize this is likely to be the case when relatively dense populations shift toward intensified economies focused on abundant, storable, but relatively low profitability resources. If this is true, then demographic and economic shifts should occur coincident with changes in settlement patterns reflecting population infilling and stable clustering around key resources patches. Drawing on theoretical models from behavioral ecology and statistical models examining spatially explicit time series data, here we evaluate this hypothesis using two case studies: the emergence of acorn economies in central California, and the onset of maize agriculture in the eastern Great Basin and Colorado Plateau. If supported, this theoretical approach could help explain the origins of social institutions governing property rights, and this methodological approach could help identify such cases throughout prehistory.

Cite this Record

Ecology, Territoriality, and the Emergence of Acorn and Maize Economies in Western North America. Brian Codding, Erick Robinson, Nathan Stevens, Terry Jones, Robert Kelly. Presented at The 81st Annual Meeting of the Society for American Archaeology, Vancouver, British Columbia. 2017 ( tDAR id: 430888)

Record Identifiers

Abstract Id(s): 14746