The Role of Theory and Ethnographic Analogies in Understanding Paleoindian Mobility in the Great Basin

Author(s): David Zeanah

Year: 2019


This is an abstract from the "Archaeology on the Edge(s): Transitions, Boundaries, Changes, and Causes" session, at the 84th annual meeting of the Society for American Archaeology.

Great Basin hunter-gatherers procured obsidian from more distant sources during the Pleistocene-Holocene Transition (PHT) than did their Holocene successors, suggesting a more mobile subsistence adaptation. However, this requires annual rounds and logistic forays beyond the scale of ethnographic, pedestrian foragers, and fails to explain evidence of broad-spectrum foraging that would not have required such extreme mobility to procure. Alternative explanations hold that social exchange, rather than subsistence needs, shaped obsidian conveyance, and argue that the PHT adaptation can best be understood by direct analogy with ethnographic Great Basin foragers. But Paleoindians lived in climatic circumstances and at population densities utterly unlike ethnographic groups of the region. I argue that these contending interpretations rely on a questionable assumption that hunter-gatherer "bands" are organized as closely related households. An alternative approach informed by behavioral ecology and recent archaeogenetic and ethnographic evidence suggests that the Paleoindian pattern can be better understood in terms of high individual mobility, flexible group composition, and long-distance mating networks in a resource landscape of extremely low population density. Such an approach should be founded on the expectation that both social and subsistence incentives play critical but non-contradictory roles in structuring the mobility of low population density hunter-gatherers.

Cite this Record

The Role of Theory and Ethnographic Analogies in Understanding Paleoindian Mobility in the Great Basin. David Zeanah. Presented at The 84th Annual Meeting of the Society for American Archaeology, Albuquerque, NM. 2019 ( tDAR id: 450487)

Spatial Coverage

min long: -124.189; min lat: 31.803 ; max long: -105.469; max lat: 43.58 ;

Record Identifiers

Abstract Id(s): 23874