Hunter-Gatherer Fission-Fusion in Ethnographic and Archaeological Records: From the Mbuti to Paleoindians

Author(s): Michael Shott

Year: 2019


This is an abstract from the "Ephemeral Aggregated Settlements: Fluidity, Failure or Resilience?" session, at the 84th annual meeting of the Society for American Archaeology.

Archaeology views hunter-gatherers as nature’s children or launching pads to complex society. Ethnographic hunter-gatherers exhibit fission-fusion cycles that we explain variously, including modular organization of group sizes (e.g., "scalar-stress"). However well models explain ethnographic pattern, archaeological tests pose challenges when we approach remote hunter-gatherers using what the Mbuti teach us. We believe that Paleoindians practiced fission-fusion, based partly on sites considered aggregations because they are unusually large and possibly organized as collections of smaller modules. Precisely because of the flexibility that encompasses fission-fusion, however, large sites can be one-time aggregations or accumulations from repeated occupations. Seeking ethnographic pattern in material data requires archaeological measures of group size and occupation span. Duh. Assemblage size and composition reflect size and behavior, but also span (itself parsed as aggregate or per capita) in ways not always appreciated. Surovell’s models of hunter-gatherer assemblage accumulation and methods to estimate span may distinguish synchronic aggregation from diachronic accumulation in eastern North American Paleoindian data, corroborating or confounding ethnographic patterns applied to the past. Whether nature’s children or autocrats-in-waiting, prehistoric hunter-gatherers can be understood only knowing how their material records formed.

Cite this Record

Hunter-Gatherer Fission-Fusion in Ethnographic and Archaeological Records: From the Mbuti to Paleoindians. Michael Shott. Presented at The 84th Annual Meeting of the Society for American Archaeology, Albuquerque, NM. 2019 ( tDAR id: 450699)

Spatial Coverage

min long: -103.975; min lat: 36.598 ; max long: -80.42; max lat: 48.922 ;

Record Identifiers

Abstract Id(s): 23494