Niche Construction and Cultural Complexity in Small-Scale Societies

Author(s): Mark Collard

Year: 2019


This is an abstract from the "The Extended Evolutionary Synthesis and Human Origins: Archaeological Perspectives" session, at the 84th annual meeting of the Society for American Archaeology.

Identifying the factors that influence variation in cultural complexity among groups is an important task for archaeologists. In this paper, I argue that niche construction may be one of these factors. I begin by showing that empirical work on the drivers of technological complexity in small-scale societies suggests that there is a marked difference between hunter-gatherers and food-producers. For hunter-gatherers the primary driver of technological variation appears to be environmental risk, whereas for food-producers the primary driver seems to be population size. In the second part of the paper, I suggest that this pattern makes sense if cultural complexity in small-scale societies is affected by both environmental risk and population size but their relative importance is dependent on the amount of niche construction the members of a society engage in. When niche construction is limited, environmental risk dominates, whereas when niche construction is extensive, population size dominates. In this part of the paper, I also show that the results of recent modelling work suggest that this hypothesis is plausible. In the final section of the paper, I discuss the implications of the niche construction hypothesis for the interpretation of the archaeological record.

Cite this Record

Niche Construction and Cultural Complexity in Small-Scale Societies. Mark Collard. Presented at The 84th Annual Meeting of the Society for American Archaeology, Albuquerque, NM. 2019 ( tDAR id: 450878)

Record Identifiers

Abstract Id(s): 25187