University of Southampton OCS (beta), CAA 2012

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Why Hunter and Gatherers did not die more often? Simulating prehistoric decision making
Florencia del Castillo, Juan A. Barcelo

Last modified: 2011-12-16


We have created a computer model of economic and social cooperation among hunter-gatherers that simulates how prehistoric people arrived to survive. This is an agent-based model in which agents simulating households move through a territory for resources irregularly distributed. The probabilities of their survival not only depends on the availability of resources (plants, animals, raw material) but on the probability to establish cooperation links with other agents in such a way that the quantity of labor is enhanced and the probability of success in hunting increases (although the absolute volume of meat per household may be less than hunting isolated).

In this preliminary and simplified model we are exploring the consequences that labor exchange and territorial mobility in an artificial unconstrained world has on identity formation and negotiation. To test the existence and magnitude of social effects on ethnogenesis, we have imagined a world without topographical barriers, where resources are irregularly distributed across geographical space, and with a founding population having a single homogenous identity, with a constant, but random internal change rate. We explore the consequences of full random movement, when all agents move randomly, randomly find new areas with new resources, and all area have the same probability of producing enough surplus –but not necessary in the quantities the agent needs-. In such conditions we expect to be able to discern if survival is conditioned by social decisions only, or if it is the result of the constraints on mobility generated by geography and the irregular distribution of resources, both in space and time.

Our preliminary simulation is restricted to the case of a single original population (founding population) with a common identity. Agents all have a similar identity vector, and they begin working at nearby places. The greatest the geographical distance, the less the probability of renewing contacts and maintaining cultural consensus.

In such conditions, the model allows us to suggest some theoretical considerations about the factors explaining survival at different regions when the economy was characterized by the low development of means of production, constant territorial mobility, and the inability to interfere with natural productivity rates. Such hypotheses are being tested with ethnographical data from Patagonian Hunter and gatherers.


Simulation, Hunter Gatherers, Ethnicity