A Network Theory of Hunter-Gatherer Population Distribution

A Network Theory of Hunter-Gatherer Population Distribution



We develop a network theory of population distribution among mobile hunter-gatherers. This theory proposes that, due to the heterogeneity of resources in space and time, foragers create networks of habitats that they access through residential cycling and shared knowledge. The degree of cycling that individuals exhibit in creating networks of habitats, encoded through social relationships, depends on the relative scarcity of resources and fluctuations in those resources. Using a dynamic model of hunter-gatherer population distribution, we illustrate that increases in population density, coupled with shocks to a biophysical or social system, creates a selective environment that favors habitat partitioning and investments in social mechanisms that control the residential cycling of foragers on a landscape. The archaeological record of the Texas Coastal Plain (TCP) provides a starting point to ground our theory. A preliminary analysis of the long-term energy consumption patterns and investments in burials and grave goods on the TCP conforms to the model's predictions. Our work extends the Ideal Free Distribution the workhorse population distribution model in human behavioral ecology and illustrates a general variance reduction, safe-operating space tradeo among mobile human foragers that drives social change.

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Published October 19, 2018

Jacob Freeman, Utah State University

John M. Anderies, Arizona State University

Raymond P. Mauldin, University of Texas at San Antonio

Robert J. Hard, University of Texas at San Antonio