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Niche construction and optimal foraging theory in Neotropical agricultural origins: A re-evaluation in consideration of the empirical evidence

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Abstract

The various theoretical approaches advanced over the past 50 years to explain the origins of agriculture have prompted much discussion and debate. Most recently, controversy has arisen concerning the utility of two Darwinian approaches; namely, cultural niche construction (CNC) and human behavioral ecology-derived optimal foraging theory (OFT). Recent papers advocate for the primacy of cultural niche construction, calling for optimal foraging approaches to be all but disregarded in the quest to explain how and why foragers became farmers (Smith, 2015, 2016; Zeder, 2015, 2016). In particular, it is claimed that archaeological, paleo-environmental, and paleontological evidence from the Neotropics of northern South America fail to meet predictions derived from OFT theory, while predictions said to be derived from CNC-based approaches are supported (Smith, 2015, 2016; Zeder, 2015). However, a number of misreadings of the northern South America evidence are made in those discussions, while some pertinent literature is not considered. In this paper we discuss these misreadings and provide a clear re-articulation of the original data and interpretations, finding support for OFT predictions. Our re-evaluations of OFT and CNC further suggest they can, in fact, be complimentary explanatory approaches.

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... Although evolutionary frameworks have been used to assess human behaviour for decades (see [57] as an example), their popularity has increased substantially in recent decades. More specifically, the latest explanatory approaches to the OA are either derived from Evolutionary Ecology (EE) -inclusive of Human Behavioural Ecology (HBE)- [4,[58][59][60], from Niche Construction Theory (NCT) [2,3,9,61,62], or from integrative approaches comprising EE, NCT and models of cultural transmission and gene-culture coevolution that envisage all the perspectives involved as complementary, synergetic and broadening each other [58,[63][64][65][66][67][68][69]. ...
... One of its subfields, HBE, which investigates human behaviour in relation to ecological conditions and assesses the different behavioural strategies in terms of fitness [4,70], has already made substantial contributions to OA research [71]. In this regard, particularly famous is the Diet Breadth Model (DBM), according to which human groups are supposed to have a list of all the resources in their environment ranked in descending order of net caloric return, being delayed-return strategies-such as resource management and production-only embraced when immediate-return alternatives are not productive enough [4,69,[72][73][74][75]. According to the DBM, at the dawn of agriculture, a resource depression would have forced the inclusion in the diet of previously ignored resources such as the wild ancestors of present domesticates (small to medium-sized mammals, seeds and tubers), resources otherwise falling beneath the "optimal diet" boundary of human societies world-wide [63]. ...
... Clearly, the amelioration of climates at the end of the Pleistocene acted as a trigger; however, other relevant factors such as human demography, social systems and the biological characteristics of the auditioned species were operating simultaneously in tightly interconnected networks, thus being not possible nor convenient to select just one of them as the only cause. As a consequence, current approaches revolve around broader explanatory frameworks that try to integrate both the interplay of the different factors [3,6,8] and distinct theoretical approaches such as HBE and NCT [58,65,[67][68][69]. ...
Article
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The transition to agriculture is regarded as a major turning point in human history. In the present contribution we propose to look at it through the lens of ethnographic data by means of a machine learning approach. More specifically, we analyse both the subsistence economies and the socioecological context of 1290 societies documented in the Ethnographic Atlas with a threefold purpose: (i) to better understand the variability and success of human economic choices; (ii) to assess the role of environmental settings in the configuration of the different subsistence economies; and (iii) to examine the relevance of fishing in the development of viable alternatives to cultivation. All data were extracted from the publicly available cross-cultural database D-PLACE. Our results suggest that not all subsistence combinations are viable, existing just a subset of successful economic choices that appear recurrently in specific ecological systems. The subsistence economies identified are classified as either primary or mixed economies in accordance with an information-entropy-based quantitative criterion that determines their degree of diversification. Remarkably, according to our results, mixed economies are not a marginal choice, as they constitute 25% of the cases in our data sample. In addition, fishing seems to be a key element in the configuration of mixed economies, as it is present across all of them.
... Within the last few years, niche construction theory (NCT) (70) has come under active discussion in archaeology with regard to domestication and agricultural origin research (71)(72)(73)(74)(75)(76). Ecologists and evolutionary biologists debate whether NC, "the process whereby organisms, through their metabolism, their activities and their choices, modify their own and/or each other's niches" (ref. ...
... An NCT-based emphasis on dynamic interactions and feedbacks in natural and social systems with regard to domestication and agricultural origins, termed "cultural niche construction" (CNC), is obviously well placed (e.g., refs. 8,9,[71][72][73][74][75][76]. It emphasizes the importance of human agency in addition to natural environmental change in major cultural evolutionary transitions, also taking us back to Braidwood's fundamental writings on the importance of cultural knowledge systems in agricultural origins (e.g., ref. 81). ...
... Whether, as some have argued recently (74,75), CNC is conceptually broad or powerful enough to provide an overarching explanatory framework for those origins is under active discussion (e.g., refs. 8,9,76,[82][83][84][85]. Some archaeologists also point out that CNC speaks little to why and when humans may choose to modify environments, questions that potentially complementary fields of study in human behavioral ecology, such as optimal foraging theory, may address better (e.g., refs. ...
Article
The development of agricultural societies, one of the most transformative events in human and ecological history, was made possible by plant and animal domestication. Plant domestication began 12,000-10,000 y ago in a number of major world areas, including the New World tropics, Southwest Asia, and China, during a period of profound global environmental perturbations as the Pleistocene epoch ended and transitioned into the Holocene. Domestication is at its heart an evolutionary process, and for many prehistorians evolutionary theory has been foundational in investigating agricultural origins. Similarly, geneticists working largely with modern crops and their living wild progenitors have documented some of the mechanisms that underwrote phenotypic transformations from wild to domesticated species. Ever-improving analytic methods for retrieval of empirical data from archaeological sites, together with advances in genetic, genomic, epigenetic, and experimental research on living crop plants and wild progenitors, suggest that three fields of study currently little applied to plant domestication processes may be necessary to understand these transformations across a range of species important in early prehistoric agriculture. These fields are phenotypic (developmental) plasticity, niche construction theory, and epigenetics with transgenerational epigenetic inheritance. All are central in a controversy about whether an Extended Evolutionary Synthesis is needed to reconceptualize how evolutionary change occurs. An exploration of their present and potential utility in domestication study shows that all three fields have considerable promise in elucidating important issues in plant domestication and in agricultural origin and dispersal research and should be increasingly applied to these issues.
... Studies on why foragers adopt agriculture typically cite reasons such as declines in foraging efficiency (e.g., Barlow 2002;Broughton 1999;Cannon 2000;Flannery 1973;Munro 2004;Piperno et al. 2017), the immigration of agricultural populations (e.g., Conrad 2018; Crawford 2011;Lee 2011;Smith and Yarnell 2009), and surplus production to support competative aggrandizment (e.g., Clark and Blake 1994;Hayden 2009;Twiss 2008) to name a few. Conversely, research focused on why foragers would not transition to agriculture argue for a focus on a wider range of resources, the incorporation of alternative subsistence strategies (Cannon and Burchell 2009;Greaves and Kramer 2014), and resource specialization (Broughton et al. 2010;Eriksson et al. 2008;Erlandson et al. 2008;Morgan 2014;Nagaoka 2002;Thakar 2011). ...
... However, the process of habitat modification or management is also important. Unlike agriculturalists' relationships with domesticated plants or animals, which are often built on a mutual relationship between humans and the domesticated cultigen or animal (McClure 2015;Piperno et al. 2017;Smith 2016), hunter-gatherers can have a wide range of relationships with wild resources ranging from no or low investment to a high degree of investment. Studies of traditional ecological knowledge, or the generational knowledge of the relationships between indigenous peoples and the living environment (e.g., Drew 2005), have identified a variety of methods by which coastal foragers manage fish populations, including territorial management systems (Deb 2015), which restrict where fishers are allowed access; focused harvesting of prey resilient to predation (Smith 2009); and seasonal harvest restrictions (Campbell and Butler 2010;Ruttan 1998), to name just a few. ...
Research Proposal
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National Science Foundation (NSF) Doctoral Dissertation Research Improvement Grant Proposal (funded) DDRI 2020 Archaeology, Title: Coastal Resource Stability and Human Subsistence Adaptation
... Methodological advances in identification criteria [4] and the widespread recovery of plant remains from archaeological sites [5] better clarified the timing of this process in many areas. However, a better understanding of the why and how agriculture began seems to be still elusive [6][7][8]. ...
... The analysis of this massive and relatively recent volume of data makes clear that it is now necessary to return to theory by revisiting the mechanisms allegedly involved in domestication, disentangling their connection to a diversity of trajectories [31,32], being those protracted or sudden, and identifying the weight of the social and ecological parameters. Approaches developed within human behavioural ecology [7,[33][34][35][36][37][38], such as niche construction or cultural niche construction theories, have gained momentum in this effort. These approaches emphasise "the capacity of organisms to modify natural selection in their environment and thereby act as co-directors of their own, and other species' evolution" [39]. ...
Article
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The domestication of plants and the origin of agricultural societies has been the focus of much theoretical discussion on why, how, when, and where these happened. The ‘when’ and ‘where’ have been substantially addressed by different branches of archaeology, thanks to advances in methodology and the broadening of the geographical and chronological scope of evidence. However, the ‘why’ and ‘how’ have lagged behind, holding on to relatively old models with limited explanatory power. Armed with the evidence now available, we can return to theory by revisiting the mechanisms allegedly involved, disentangling their connection to the diversity of trajectories, and identifying the weight and role of the parameters involved. We present the Human-Plant Coevolution (HPC) model, which represents the dynamics of coevolution between a human and a plant population. The model consists of an ecological positive feedback system (mutualism), which can be reinforced by positive evolutionary feedback (coevolution). The model formulation is the result of wiring together relatively simple simulation models of population ecology and evolution, through a computational implementation in R. The HPC model captures a variety of potential scenarios, though which conditions are linked to the degree and timing of population change and the intensity of selective pressures. Our results confirm that the possible trajectories leading to neolithisation are diverse and involve multiple factors. However, simulations also show how some of those factors are entangled, what are their effects on human and plant populations under different conditions, and what might be the main causes fostering agriculture and domestication.
... O modelo de amplitude de dieta tem sido um dos mais aplicados para questões de subsistência dentro da área desta pesquisa (Kipnis, 2002;Mingatos;Okumura, 2016). Esse modelo usa a energia (geralmente calorias) para medir os custos e benefícios dos alimentos (que incluem a procura e o processamento dos mesmos), assumindo que os grupos humanos teriam o objetivo em otimizar a quantidade de energia no consumo do recurso com respeito ao trabalho usado para consumi-lo (Piperno et al., 2017) Isto não tem sido um impedimento para que o modelo de amplitude de dieta tenha sido usado em estudos arqueobotânicos (Piperno, 2011;Piperno et al., 2017). ...
... O modelo de amplitude de dieta tem sido um dos mais aplicados para questões de subsistência dentro da área desta pesquisa (Kipnis, 2002;Mingatos;Okumura, 2016). Esse modelo usa a energia (geralmente calorias) para medir os custos e benefícios dos alimentos (que incluem a procura e o processamento dos mesmos), assumindo que os grupos humanos teriam o objetivo em otimizar a quantidade de energia no consumo do recurso com respeito ao trabalho usado para consumi-lo (Piperno et al., 2017) Isto não tem sido um impedimento para que o modelo de amplitude de dieta tenha sido usado em estudos arqueobotânicos (Piperno, 2011;Piperno et al., 2017). ...
Thesis
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No Brasil, as análises de microvestígios botânicos têm evidenciado a presença de plantas domesticadas em períodos cada vez mais próximos da transição Pleistoceno Holoceno e trabalhos recentes na microrregião de Lagoa Santa parecem seguir essa corrente. Para testar a presença de plantas domesticadas nesta microrregião foi feita uma análise de fitólitos nos sedimentos do sítio Lapa Grande de Taquaraçu. Este, se trata de um abrigo calcário na beira do rio de topônimo, com o registro de ocupações humanas entre 11.360 ±110 a 1.100 ±80 anos cal AP, com um hiato ocupacional entre 9.000±70 a 1.100 anos cal AP. Em paralelo às pesquisas microarqueobotânicas, foram desenvolvidos: 1) estudos morfológicos de grãos de amido e fitólitos de espécies de plantas atuais, sob a forma de coleções de referência (amidoteca, fitolitoteca) e 2) a detecção das alterações da morfologia dos grãos de amido nos diversos processos de produção de plantas tuberosas. O primeiro estudo de referência mostrou ser pioneiro na descrição de grãos de amido de algumas espécies, porém não foi possível definir tipos diagnósticos na análise de fitólitos. No segundo, foi constatada a perda de características morfológicas diagnósticas na maioria dos grãos de amido mesmo quando são expostos ao calor por pouco tempo. Na maioria dos sedimentos arqueológicos foram recuperados uma grande quantidade de fitólitos, que correspondiam predominantemente a plantas lenhosas e gramíneas. Em duas amostras o conjunto de fitólitos correspondem possivelmente a áreas de atividade não definidas. Alguns dos fitólitos são parecidos com o milho ou com feijão, mas é necessário um estudo de referência detalhado com espécies da área para afirmar a presença destas e outras plantas. O achado fortuito de uma semente de Gossypium barbadense var. brasiliense nos sedimentos do sítio é a evidência mais direta de domesticação. Porém, é necessário complementar com estúdios de ADN (os mesmos já estão sendo feitos Universidade de Warwick, U.K.) e de datação direta. A revisão das imagens dos grãos de amido, permitiu identificar um grão de Dioscorea sp, o que a converte na evidência mais antiga do uso deste gênero nas Américas.
... Smith 2009(B. Smith , 2015 and their capacity to explain agricultural origins (Smith 2016;Zeder 2012), albeit with continued debate Piperno et al. 2017), the underlying logic still provides a heuristic model against which to test empirical archaeological data to assess the apparent patterns of decision making that produced a given archaeological assemblage of plant or animal remains (e.g., Gremillion 2002;Marston 2009). Today, human behavioral ecology models find consistent use in zooarchaeological studies, especially of hunting (e.g., Elston and Zeanah 2002;Stiner et al. 2000), but relatively limited use in studies of agricultural economies (Gremillion 2014); a few notable exceptions focus on risk management (Marston 2011;VanDerwarker et al. 2013). ...
... It has been argued convincingly that niche construction by humans, especially with regard to the domestication of plants and animals, provides a key "model system" with which to test aspects of the extended evolutionary synthesis (Piperno 2017;Zeder 2017). Indeed, niche construction has received considerable attention recently as the most useful general theoretical model in explaining the origins of agriculture (e.g., B. Smith 2011(e.g., B. Smith , 2015(e.g., B. Smith , 2016Zeder 2016), or at least one among several compatible models (Piperno 2017;Piperno et al. 2017;Zeanah 2017). Of relevance here are arguments that niche construction helps explain trajectories of development and elaboration of agricultural systems within societies in which agriculture was already firmly established. ...
Article
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While agricultural origins have been recently revised in light of new genetic and archaeological evidence, parallel synthesis of subsequent developments in agricultural economies has lagged. This review summarizes recent advances in archaeological theory and method that contribute to an enhanced understanding of agricultural economies. Such advances address topics of persistent interest, including agricultural innovation, the introduction of new domesticates, risk and resilience, agricultural scaling, and the economic and environmental consequences of agricultural practices. Although points of complementarity and tension exist among varied contemporary discourses on agriculture, frameworks of resilience and entanglement offer particularly promising avenues for regional synthesis and worldwide comparison of agricultural economies.
... Over the years, agricultural societies began to discover and implement new farming practices. Around 7500-6000 BC, crop rotation was invented, which would be evidence of primitive farming practices aimed at crop planning and conservation of resources such as land (Bray et al., 2019;Piperno et al., 2017). By 3000 BC, the first civilizations made up of sedentary inhabitants emerged (Collins et al., 2018). ...
Article
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From the appearance of man to the present, food production has been a critical issue in ensuringthe survival of the human species. Over the centuries, agricultural production has evolved with the domestication of plant and animal species and the emergenceof technologies and techniques in production processes, affecting population growthand cities. The research seeks to describe the strategies for adopting innovation processes in the Department of La Guajira -Colombia agricultural production units.The results show that, in the last four decades, innovation strategies have begun to be discussed as a term that has evolved, going from incorporating new technologies to including elements related to efficiency, economic sustainability, sustainability, redesign of organizational structures, and the implementation of best practices that result in quality, quantity, safety and hygiene of agricultural activities. It is concluded that the studies on innovation strategies in agricultural productive units can be about phenomena that promote agricultural innovation, agricultural production models,and improvements in agricultural production processes, of which there is evidence of application in the Department of La Guajira.
... Over the years, agricultural societies began to discover and implement new farming practices. Around 7500-6000 BC, crop rotation was invented, which would be evidence of primitive farming practices aimed at crop planning and conservation of resources such as land (Bray et al., 2019;Piperno et al., 2017). By 3000 BC, the first civilizations made up of sedentary inhabitants emerged (Collins et al., 2018). ...
Article
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Desde la aparición del hombre hasta la actualidad, la producción de alimentos ha sido un asunto crítico para asegurar la supervivencia de la especie humana. En el trasegar de los siglos, la producción agropecuaria ha evolucionado con la domesticación de especies de plantas y animales, el surgimiento de tecnologías y técnicas en los procesos productivos, incidiendo en el crecimiento de la población y las ciudades. La presente investigación pretendió describir las estrategias para la adopción de procesos de innovación en unidades productivas agropecuarias del Departamento de La Guajira – Colombia. Los resultados muestran que, en las últimas cuatro décadas, se ha empezado a hablar sobre estrategias de innovación como un término que ha evolucionado, pasando de incorporar nuevas tecnologías hacia la inclusión de elementos relacionados con la eficiencia, sostenibilidad económica, sustentabilidad, rediseño de las estructuras organizacionales, y la puesta en marcha de mejores prácticas que redunden en calidad, cantidad, inocuidad e higiene de las actividades agropecuarias. Se concluye que los estudios sobre las estrategias de innovación en unidades productivas agropecuarias pueden ser sobre fenómenos que promueven la innovación agropecuaria, los modelos de producción agropecuaria y mejoras en procesos de producción agropecuaria, de los que se encuentran evidencias de aplicación en el Departamento de La Guajira.
... The origin and development of plant-based economies have dominated evolutionary models of economic intensification in pre-Columbian South America, and influenced attempts to explain changes in the social organization, population growth and emergence of social complexity across most of the continent during the Late Holocene [1][2][3][4] . Agriculture, in particular, is often regarded as the prime mover of major cultural and demographic changes in the pre-Columbian era [5][6][7] . ...
Article
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The emergence of plant-based economies have dominated evolutionary models of Middle and Late Holocene pre-Columbian societies in South America. Comparatively, the use of aquatic resources and the circumstances for intensifying their exploitation have received little attention. Here we reviewed the stable carbon and nitrogen isotope composition of 390 human individuals from Middle and Late Holocene coastal sambaquis, a long-lasting shell mound culture that flourished for nearly 7000 years along the Atlantic Forest coast of Brazil. Using a newly generated faunal isotopic baseline and Bayesian Isotope Mixing Models we quantified the relative contribution of marine resources to the diet of some of these groups. Through the analysis of more than 400 radiocarbon dates we show that fishing sustained large and resilient populations during most of the Late Holocene. A sharp decline was observed in the frequency of sambaqui sites and radiocarbon dates from ca. 2200 years ago, possibly reflecting the dissolution of several nucleated groups into smaller social units, coinciding with substantial changes in coastal environments. The spread of ceramics from ca. 1200 years ago is marked by innovation and intensification of fishing practices, in a context of increasing social and ecological instability in the Late Holocene.
... The contradictions between the Laland (Laland et al., 2000(Laland et al., , 2001Laland & O'Brien, 2010; and the Smith (2007), Smith, 2011, Smith, 2012, Smith, 2015Smith & Zeder, 2013) application of NCT has set in motion a heated debate, which has, oddly, pitted NCT in opposition to optimal foraging theory (Mohlenhoff & Codding, 2017;Mohlenhoff et al., 2015;Piperno et al., 2017;Smith, 2012Smith, , 2015Zeder, 2015bZeder, , 2018Wallach, 2016). I see no merit in perpetuating this debate here but encourage interested scholars to read the cited references. ...
Article
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Over the past decade, niche construction theory (NCT) has been one of the fastest-growing theories or scholarly approaches in the social sciences, especially within archaeology. It was proposed in the biological sciences 25 years ago and is often referred to as a neglected evolutionary mechanism. Given its rapid acceptance by the archaeological community, it is important that scholars consider how it is being applied and look for discrepancies between applications of the concept. Many critical discussions of NCT have already been published, but most of them are in biology journals and may be overlooked by scholars in the social sciences. In this manuscript, my goal is to synthesis the criticisms of NCT, better allowing archaeologists to independently evaluate its usefulness. I focus on the claims of novelty and differences between NCT and other approaches to conceptualizing anthropogenic ecosystem impacts and culture-evolution feedbacks. I argue that the diverse concepts currently included in the wide-reaching purview of NCT are not new, but the terminology is and may be useful to some scholars. If proponents of the concept are able to unify their ideas, it may serve a descriptive function, but given that lack of a testable explanatory mechanism, it does not have a clear heuristic function.
... In any of these cases, their response could modify selection pressures, and therefore set niche construction (the process which is the focus of formal theory in NCT) into motion. This is why practitioners of HBE in archeology, while generally not disputing the existence of niche construction as an evolutionary process, maintain that HBE models, including foraging theory, are well-suited to investigating when and why people engage in behaviors that lead to niche construction 39,40,42,[57][58][59][60] : because HBE and formal NCT are theories of different things. In fact, many HBE models are models of niche construction as a behavior: for instance, models of mobility and of investments in technology explicitly consider when and why people decide to modify their relationship to resources in their environment. ...
Article
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We examine the relationship between niche construction theory (NCT) and human behavioral ecology (HBE), two branches of evolutionary science that are important sources of theory in archeology. We distinguish between formal models of niche construction as an evolutionary process, and uses of niche construction to refer to a kind of human behavior. Formal models from NCT examine how environmental modification can change the selection pressures that organisms face. In contrast, formal models from HBE predict behavior assuming people behave adaptively in their local setting, and can be used to predict when and why people engage in niche construction. We emphasize that HBE as a field is much broader than foraging theory and can incorporate social and cultural influences on decision-making. We demonstrate how these approaches can be formally incorporated in a multi-inheritance framework for evolutionary research, and argue that archeologists can best contribute to evolutionary theory by building and testing models that flexibly incorporate HBE and NCT elements.
... The process of domestication has emerged as a critical issue in the debate over the acceptance of EES concepts in the biocultural evolutionary process (8,15). NCT (126) has become central to an EES understanding of the domestication process (8,(15)(16)(17)(127)(128)(129)(130). Zeder (130) outlines three critical theoretical constructs underlying the niche construction process. ...
Article
The study of cultural evolution now includes multiple theoretical frameworks. Despite common influence from Darwinian evolutionary theory, there is considerable diversity. Thus, we recognize those most influenced by the tenets of the Modern Synthesis (evolutionary archaeology, cultural transmission theory, and human behavioral ecology) and those most aligned more closely with concepts emerging in the Extended Evolutionary Synthesis (cultural macroevolution and evolutionary cognitive archaeology). There has been substantial debate between adherents of these schools of thought as to their appropriateness and priority for addressing the fundamentals of cultural evolution. I argue that theoretical diversity is necessary to address research questions arising from a complex archaeological record. Concepts associated with the Extended Evolutionary Synthesis may offer unique insights into the cultural evolutionary process.
... Swidden is often the focus of theoretical debates in archaeology, human evolution, and humanenvironment interactions. For example, it has been cited as a prototypical example of the early evolution of agriculture (Piperno et al. 2017), human niche-construction (Laland et al. 2000), socio-ecological complexity and emergence (Bliege Bird 2015), and resilience (Downey 2010). However, despite this significant body of research, how specific social and spatial dynamics relate to ecological features such as carrying capacities and stock effects 1 remain poorly specified and relatively unexplored. ...
Article
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We investigated the coupled social and ecological dynamics of swidden agriculture through a common property resource field experiment framed as a game with realistic social norms and ecological dynamics. We tested the hypothesis that community social norms related to labor reciprocity and graduated sanctioning may encourage sustainable swidden cultivation. We played the game with 150 people from two Q’eqchi’ Maya villages in southern Belize where swidden agriculture is common. We found that when the game mimics local social norms related to agricultural labor exchange, clearing requests decrease and a statistical analysis indicates that players sanctioned one another in order to decrease resource use and increase sustainability. We validated our results using qualitative methods, post-game surveys, and interviews, and we conclude that cultural and social norms related to labor exchange improve the sustainability of swidden agriculture.
... Broad-spectrum plant and animal-based economies were likely well in place in the late Paleoindian period in CA [101], much like they were in SA [62,102]. Comparative data from Chiapas in southern Mexico suggest flaked stone tools of late Paleoindian age were used for plant and wood processing [103] similar to proposed diversified plant-based economies in lower CA [101,104] and SA [105]. ...
Article
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From the perspective of Central and South America, the peopling of the New World was a complex process lasting thousands of years and involving multiple waves of Pleistocene and early Holocene period immigrants entering into the neotropics. These Paleoindian colonists initially brought with them technologies developed for adaptation to environments and resources found in North America. As the ice age ended across the New World people adapted more generalized stone tools to exploit changing environments and resources. In the neotropics these changes would have been pronounced as patchy forests and grasslands gave way to broadleaf tropical forests. We document a late Pleistocene/early Holocene stone tool tradition from Belize, located in southern Mesoamerica. This represents the first endogenous Paleoindian stone tool technocomplex recovered from well dated stratigraphic contexts for Mesoamerica. Previously designated Lowe, these artifacts share multiple features with contemporary North and South American Paleoindian tool types. Once hafted, these bifaces appear to have served multiple functions for cutting, hooking, thrusting, or throwing. The tools were developed at a time of technological regionalization reflecting the diverse demands of a period of pronounced environmental change and population movement. Combined stratigraphic, technological, and population paleogenetic data suggests that there were strong ties between lowland neotropic regions at the onset of the Holocene.
... The Llanos de Moxos of southwestern Amazonia (section S1) was one of the regions that experienced more extensive landscape transformation as a series of agricultural societies built widespread networks of habitation and ceremonial mounds, hundreds of kilome ters of causeways, and thousands of hectares of raised fields starting after 2500 calibrated years before present (cal B.P.) (Fig. 1A) (6)(7)(8). Biogeographic and genetic studies have also identified southwestern Amazonia as one of the likely hotspots where economically important cultigens such as manioc, sweet potatoes, wild rice, chili peppers, and peanuts were initially domesticated (9)(10)(11)(12)(13). Nevertheless, because of the taphonomic and methodological challenges involved in conduct ing research within a tropical environment with poor organic pres ervation and devoid of raw material sources for stonebased material culture, we know very little about the foraging societies that domes ticated these plants and preceded the development of early food production before 2500 cal B.P. (section S2) (14)(15)(16)(17)(18). ...
Article
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The Amazon witnessed the emergence of complex societies after 2500 years ago that altered tropical landscapes through intensive agriculture and managed aquatic systems. However, very little is known about the context and conditions that preceded these social and environmental transformations. Here, we demonstrate that forest islands in the Llanos de Moxos of southwestern Amazonia contain human burials and represent the earliest settlements in the region between 10,600 and 4000 years ago. These archaeological sites and their contents represent the earliest evidence of communities that experienced conditions conducive to engaging with food production such as environmental stability, resource disturbance, and increased territoriality in the Amazonian tropical lowlands.
... Although the Flona vegetation is becoming denser, it cannot be restored to the same conditions observed before the human occupation. Human prehistoric populations certainly have changed the structure and composition of the Cerrado ecosystems, and influenced the selective pressures on species for thousands of years (Bueno et al., 2013;Galetti, 2004;Piperno et al., 2017;Villagran et al., 2017). We believe this kind of preservationist discourse from scientific academy may influence the discourses and the attitudes of the environmental managers who typically tend to adopt management strategies which usually requires removal of local residents and their land management practices (see Law and McSweeney, 2013). ...
... Archaeobotanical data published over the past 30 years have positioned Colombia as an independent center for the origin of plant use and domestication (Piperno and Pearsall, 1998: 165;Piperno, 2011;Piperno et al., 2017). Several species have been suggested as being brought under domestication in this part of the world including arrowroot, cocoyam, leren and sweet potato, among others. ...
... Archaeobotanical data published over the past 30 years have positioned Colombia as an independent center for the origin of plant use and domestication (Piperno and Pearsall, 1998: 165;Piperno, 2011;Piperno et al., 2017). Several species have been suggested as being brought under domestication in this part of the world including arrowroot, cocoyam, leren and sweet potato, among others. ...
Article
This paper concentrates on archaeobotanical evidence for the adoption of plant cultivation in the forests in seven regions of Colombia. We present a synthesis and explanation of the evidence we currently have for the process that involved the adoption of plant cultivation and the development of food production in this area. The use of locally available plant foods in these forests is evident by the Pleistocene/Holocene transition. By the Middle Holocene, exogenous plant domesticates were added, including maize, manioc, and possibly common beans. We further explore available data on other proxies to discuss models to explain the transition from hunting and gathering to horticulture.
... Is this regional focus changing, and if so, how? Finally, the relationship between foraging theory and niche construction in the literature is not merely one of conflict; indeed, as several of the articles cited earlier in this discussion show, many authors find these to be compatible approaches (e.g., Broughton et al. 2010;Piperno et al. 2017;Stiner and Kuhn 2016). Historical ecology, resilience, and sustainability, similarly, are non-optimality-based approaches used by researchers who also use foraging theory (see discussions in Giovas 2016;Redman 2005;Reitz 2004;Reitz et al. 2009). ...
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p>The use of optimal foraging theory in archaeology has been criticized for focusing heavily on “negative” human-environmental interactions, particularly anthropogenic resource depression, in which prey populations are reduced by foragers’ own foraging activities. In addition, some researchers have suggested the focus on resource depression is more common in the zooarchaeological literature than in the archaeobotanical literature, indicating fundamental differences in the ways zooarchaeologists and archaeobotanists approach the archaeological record. In this paper, we assess these critiques through a review of the literature between 1997 and 2017. We find that studies identifying resource depression occur at similar rates in the archaeobotanical and zooarchaeological literature. In addition, while earlier archaeological applications of optimal foraging theory did focus heavily on the identification of resource depression, the literature published between 2013 and 2017 shows a wider variety of approaches.</p
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The hunting of wild animals for their meat has been a crucial activity in the evolution of humans. It continues to be an essential source of food and a generator of income for millions of Indigenous and rural communities worldwide. Conservationists rightly fear that excessive hunting of many animal species will cause their demise, as has already happened throughout the Anthropocene. Many species of large mammals and birds have been decimated or annihilated due to overhunting by humans. If such pressures continue, many other species will meet the same fate. Equally, if the use of wildlife resources is to continue by those who depend on it, sustainable practices must be implemented. These communities need to remain or become custodians of the wildlife resources within their lands, for their own well-being as well as for biodiversity in general. This title is also available via Open Access on Cambridge Core.
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The domestication of plants and the origin of agricultural societies has been the focus of much theoretical discussion on why, how, when, and where these happened. The 'when' and 'where' have been substantially addressed by bioarchaeology, thanks to advances in methodology and the broadening of the geographical and chronological scope of evidence. However, the 'why' and 'how' have lagged behind, holding on to relatively old models with limited explanatory power. Armed with the evidence now available, we can return to theory by revisiting the mechanisms allegedly involved, disentangling their connection to the diversity of trajectories, and identifying the weight and role of the parameters involved. We present the Human-Plant Coevolution (HPC) model, which represents the dynamics of coevolution between a human and a plant population. The model consists of an ecological positive feedback system (mutualism), which can be reinforced by positive evolutionary feedback (coevolution). The model formulation is the result of wiring together relatively simple simulation models of population ecology and evolution, through a computational implementation in R. The HPC model captures a variety of potential scenarios, though which conditions are linked to the degree and timing of population change and the intensity of selective pressures. Our results confirm that the possible trajectories leading to neolithisation are diverse and involve multiple factors. However, simulations also show how some of those factors are entangled, what are their effects on human and plant populations under different conditions, and what might be the main causes fostering agriculture and domestication.
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The emergence of plant-based economies have dominated evolutionary models of Middle and Late Holocene pre-Columbian societies. Comparatively, the use of aquatic resources and the circumstances for intensifying their exploitation, have received little attention. Here we reviewed the stable carbon and nitrogen isotope composition of 390 human individuals from Middle and Late Holocene coastal sambaquis , a long-lasting shell mound culture that flourished for nearly 7000 years along the Atlantic Forest coast of Brazil. Using a newly generated faunal isotopic baseline and Bayesian Isotope Mixing Models we quantified the relative contribution of marine resources to the diet of some of these groups. Through the analysis of more than 400 radiocarbon dates we show that fishing sustained large and resilient populations during most of the Late Holocene. A sharp decline was observed in the chronology of non-ceramic sites from ca. 2200 years ago, possibly reflecting the dissolution of several nucleated groups into smaller social units, coinciding with substantial changes in coastal environments. The adoption of ceramics from ca. 1200 years ago is marked by innovation and intensification of fishing practices, in a context of increasing social and ecological instability in the Late Holocene.
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O presente trabalho trata a respeito das ocupações humanas mais antigas evidenciadas na calha do alto rio Madeira, estado de Rondônia, Brasil. O alvo principal do estudo é o Sítio Teotônio, localizado às margens da cachoeira homônima, e que vem sendo estudado pela equipe do Projeto Alto Madeira desde 2011. Como ferramenta principal de análise da cultura material destas populações do Holoceno Inicial e Médio, utilizei o material lítico das culturas Massangana e Girau, demonstrando uma continuidade de longa duração no que diz respeito a esta tecnologia específica. Ao final, foi possível demonstrar que há duas ocupações representadas por estas culturas arqueológicas, que habitaram a região desde 9.440 anos antes do presente, e que no Holoceno Médio intensificaram as formas de relação com o meio ambiente e geraram as Terras Pretas mais antigas da bacia Amazônica, ao redor de 6500 AP.
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Recently, researchers investigating the origins of domestication have debated the significance of resource intensification in the shift from foraging to food production. In eastern North America, one of several independent centers of domestication, this question remains open. To determine whether initial domestication may have been preceded by intensification in eastern North America at approximately 5000 cal BP, I evaluated the archaeofaunal assemblages from six sites in the middle Tennessee River valley. Analyses of these data suggest that overall foraging efficiency gradually declined prior to initial domestication, but patch-specific declines in foraging efficiency occurred in wetland habitats and not terrestrial ones. Climatic warming and drying during the Middle Holocene, growing human populations, and oak-hickory forest expansion were the likely drivers of these changes in foraging efficiency. These results support the hypothesis that initial domestication in eastern North America was an outcome of intensification driven by environmental change and human population increases. Finally, while the debate concerning the relationship of intensification to domestication has been framed in terms of a conflict between niche construction theory and optimal foraging theory, these perspectives are compatible and should be integrated to understand domestication more fully. Preprint available at: https://osf.io/2gub7/
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Narratives of societal collapse typically point to environmental degradation as an outcome of population increase or political breakdown. Here we present a case study from Gordion, central Anatolia, spanning the Chalcolithic to Ottoman period (c. 7000 yrs). We use a cultural version of Niche Construction Theory to interpret the timing and nature of landscape change. Recent work in the Gordion region by us and others demonstrates that major environmental change is only weakly connected to standard measures of agricultural intensification. Using detailed stream histories, coupled with survey-based settlement data, we show that the largest environmental changes predate significant settlement in small watersheds, while the largest regional-scale changes postdate high intensity settlement. By integrating multiple lines of land use evidence, we identify and date both environmental perturbations and possible counteractive niche construction strategies associated with political centralization. Here we suggest that counteractive strategies were critical in shaping the nonlinear patterns of environmental degradation.
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Neste trabalho tratamos sobre a fase cerâmica Bacabal, que foi criada por Eurico Miller no começo dos anos 90 para classificar os vestígios cerâmicos encontrados em nas áreas inundáveis do médio rio Guaporé, estado de Rondônia. A cronologia de sua ocorrência recua até o Holoceno médio, desde ca. 2000 a.C. até 800 d.C. Buscamos nesta tese descrever os vestígios cerâmicos desta fase e discutir as hipóteses previamente estabelecidas sobre as suas correlações com outras fases encontradas na Amazônia e afora.
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This work presents and discusses some characteristics of the deep indigenous history of Monte Castelo, a southwestern Amazonian shellmound site, in the light of recent research on that site and the archaeology of shellmounds throughout the region. The data obtained at Monte Castelo confirm that the oldest and most persistent ceramic assemblages in the Americas are located in shellmounds, in contexts where the construction of the landscapes has lasted for millennia, marking periods of intensification in the human occupation of the Amazon Basin. Material culture, stratigraphy and chronology are presented in order to characterize the fundamental traits relating to the origin and development of ceramic technology and landscape management in the lowlands of South America. Human intervention in the landscape has long provided for the reoccupation of many of the earliest known archaeological sites. Parallel to this, several paleoenvironmental markers in the southern Amazon have evidenced variations in the climate that accompany human occupations since, at least, the Early Holocene. In the Guaporé river basin, the chronology of the sites seems to accompany trends of increased water availability and forest expansion, in a period marked by the emergence of more numerous communities and complex artifacts throughout the Middle Holocene. There, the feedback between human interventions and climate change has created a privileged place for settlements, whose striking relative continuity has given rise to some of the most important cultural and landscape changes that have spread widely throughout the Amazon and beyond for thousands of years. Seeking to bring the notion of meaningful places to the archaeology of the Amazonian shellmounds, this work proposes a way to understand them through an inclusive notion of ancestry that may be useful for contemporary indigenous peoples to recover their traditional territories.
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These annual review essays focus on what we as archaeologists are doing year by year. Many themes continue on from review to review, waxing and waning, not unlike the bell curves of a traditional pottery seriation. Each year, themes are highlighted and presented in varied ways according to the orientation and aims of the reviewer. All do a masterful job of curating the vast range of what archaeologists were, in each annual period, currently producing. My review follows in the footsteps of its predecessors, summarizing an array of new and exciting research, and describing how agendas presented in 2017 cluster around sets of related questions and aims. It will also look at the growing literature that asks, in one way or another, fundamental questions about what archaeology really is and why we pursue it. In this time when the value of academic pursuits and scientific perspectives are being highly scrutinized in politics and popular culture, archaeologists are faced with the uncomfortable question of “What is it, really, that we should be doing?” [archaeology, current issues, public archaeology, digital archaeology].
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Boivin et al.’s (1) article profoundly deepens scientific understanding of anthropogenic global ecological change from Pleistocene to present by offering robust new evidence of early human transformation of the biosphere that should influence discussions on Anthropocene formalization (2, 3). As ecologists and evolutionary theorists, we applaud this work. However, we are also concerned that this paper represents a missed opportunity to bring archaeology, …
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The Anthropocene colloquially refers to a global regime of human-caused environmental modification of earth systems associated with profound changes in patterns of human mobility, as well as settlement and resource use compared with prior eras. Some have argued that the processes generating the Anthropocene are mainly associated with population growth and technological innovation, and thus began only in the late Holocene under conditions of dense sedentism and industrial agriculture.1 However, it now seems clear that the roots of the Anthropocene lie in complex processes of intensification that significantly predate transitions to agriculture.2,3 What intensification is remains less clear. For some it is increasing economic productivity that increases carrying capacity, the drivers of which may be too diverse and too local to generalize.4,5 For others using Boserup's ideas about agrarian intensification, increasing density in hunter-gatherer populations can produce declines in subsistence efficiency that increase incentives for investing labor to boost yield per unit area, which then elevates Malthusian limits on carrying capacity.6–8 As Morgan9 demonstrates in a comprehensive review, the legacy of such Boserupian intensification is alive, well, and controversial in hunter-gatherer archeology. This is a result of its potential for illuminating processes involved in transformations of forager socio-political and economic systems, including those dominated by harvesting more immediate-return resources and high residential mobility as well as those characterized by more delayed-return material economies with reduced residential mobility, a broader spectrum of resources, degrees of storage, and greater social stratification. Here we detail hypotheses about the processes involved in such transitions and explore the way that anthropogenic disturbance of ecosystems, especially the use of landscape fire, could be fundamentally entangled with many broad-spectrum revolutions associated with intensified foraging systems.
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The initial domestication of plants and animals and the subsequent emergence of agricultural economies, which began independently more than 10,000 years ago in a number of different world regions, represent a major evolutionary transition in earth history. It is these domesticates, and the agricultural economies based on them, that have formed the lever with which humans have substantially modified the earth’s terrestrial ecosystems over the past ten millennia. General explanations for this transition from hunting and gathering to food production economies formulated over the past 40 years have been based on standard evolutionary theory (SET) and employ the assumption of unidirectional adaptation—that environments change and species adapt. Here I compare these proposed SET—based externalist explanations for domestication with a recently formulated alternative developed from niche construction theory (NCT). Archaeological and paleoenvironmental records from two independent centers of domestication in the Americas—eastern North America and the Neotropics of northern South America, are found to support the NCT-based explanatory approach but not the SET explanations, underscoring the limitations of externalist SET approaches and the need for broader conceptualization of the processes that direct evolutionary change in order to gain a better general understanding of initial domestication as well as other major evolutionary transitions.
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Niche Construction Theory (NCT) provides a powerful conceptual framework for understanding how and why humans and target species entered into domesticatory relationships that have transformed Earth’s biota, landforms, and atmosphere, and shaped the trajectory of human cultural development. NCT provides fresh perspective on how niche-constructing behaviors of humans and plants and animals promote co-evolutionary interactions that alter selection pressures and foster genetic responses in domesticates. It illuminates the role of niche-altering activities in bequeathing an ecological inheritance that perpetuates the co-evolutionary relationships leading to domestication, especially as it pertains to traditional ecological knowledge and the transmission of learned behaviors aimed at enhancing returns from local environments. NCT also provides insights into the contexts and mechanisms that promote cooperative interactions in both humans and target species needed to sustain niche-constructing activities, ensuring that these activities produce an ecological inheritance in which domesticates play an increasing role. A NCT perspective contributes to on-going debates in the social sciences over explanatory frameworks for domestication, in particular as they pertain to issues of reciprocal causation, co-evolution, and the role of human intentionality. Reciprocally, domestication provides a model system for evaluating on-going debates in evolutionary biology concerning the impact of niche construction, phenotypic plasticity, extra-genetic inheritance, and developmental bias in shaping the direction and tempo of evolutionary change.
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Niche Construction Theory (NCT) has been gaining acceptance as an explanatory framework for processes in biological and human evolution. Human cultural niche construction, in particular, is suggested as a basis for understanding many phenomena that involve human genetic and cultural evolution. Herein I assess the ability of the cultural niche construction framework to meet this explanatory role by looking into several NCT-inspired accounts that have been offered for two important episodes of human evolution, and by examining the contribution of NCT to the elucidation of two “primary examples” mentioned often in the NCT literature. The result, I claim, is rather disappointing: While NCT may serve as a descriptive framework for these phenomena, it cannot be said to explain them in any substantive sense. Especially disturbing is NCT’s failure to account for differing developments in very similar situations, and to facilitate evaluation and discrimination between divergent and contradictory causal accounts of particular phenomena. I argue that these problems are inherent, and they render NCT unsuitable to serve as an explanatory framework for human phenomena. NCT’s value, at least as related to human phenomena, is therefore descriptive and heuristic rather than explanatory. In conclusion, I discuss and reject comparisons made between NCT and the theory of natural selection, and examine several potential sources of NCT’s explanatory weakness.
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The evolution of agricultural economies requires two processes: 1) the domestication of plants and 2) specialization in agricultural practices at the expense of alternative subsistence pursuits. Yet, in the literature, domestication receives the lion's share of attention while theories of specialization lag behind. In this paper, we integrate ideas from human behavioral ecology (HBE) with tools from dynamical systems theory to study the effects of ecological inheritance on levels of investment in foraging and farming. Ecological inheritance is an outcome of niche construction and our study provides a formal link between foraging theory and niche construction. Our analysis of a dynamic model of foraging and farming illustrates that the optimal allocation of effort to foraging and farming can lead to the emergence of multiple stable states. The consequence of this is that low-level farming optimizes subsistence (e.g., minimizing the effort required to meet a subsistence goal) in a forager-resource system over a few years, but makes the whole system vulnerable to punctuated change over decades due to rare events. We use the insights of our model to propose a general ecological framework to explain the evolution and diversity of transitions from foraging to farming. Link to Final: http://authors.elsevier.com/a/1RS9W-JVbUUYA
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In a recent paper, Zeder (1) outlines core archaeological questions in domestication research, highlighting the importance of defining the process, when it happened, and why it happened in various global contexts. Importantly, she emphasizes the utility of separating initial domestication from intensive agricultural practices, pointing out that often, origins of agriculture studies actually deal with initial domestication. Zeder’s explicit separation of these two economic behaviors, as well as identification of various markers that indicate initial domestication, makes this an extremely valuable contribution.
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The initial domestication of plants and animals and the subsequent emergence of agricultural economies in different world regions represent a major evolutionary transition in human history. Here, two alternative and antithetical explanatory frameworks for initial domestication are compared—one based on diet breadth modeling and the other on niche construction theory. This side-by-side comparison of these two alternative explanations follows them through the basic sequence of stages involved in the scientific method: hypothesis formulation, plausibility consideration, and actual testing of the two hypothetical explanations by measuring their relative strengths with the available archaeological and paleoenvironmental data from two independent centers of domestication in the Americas—eastern North America and the Neotropics. Although focused on the question of initial domestication, this comparative analysis also addresses the broader issues of the appropriate role of theory in the development of hypotheses of past human behavior and the proper use of the scientific method in archaeological inference. Explanations based on diet breadth modeling are found to have a number of conceptual, theoretical, and methodological flaws; approaches based on niche construction theory are far better supported by the available evidence in the two regions considered.
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Significance Domestication of plants and animals marks a major transition in human history that represents a vibrant area of interdisciplinary scientific inquiry. Consideration of three central questions about domestication—what it is, what it does, and why it happened—provide a unifying framework for diverse research on the topic. Domestication is defined in terms of a coevolutionary mutualism between domesticator and domesticate and is distinguished from related but ultimately different processes of management and agriculture. Domestication results in a range of genotypic, phenotypic, plastic, and contextual impacts that can be used as markers of evolving domesticatory relationships. A consideration of causal scenarios finds greater empirical support for explanatory frameworks grounded in niche-construction theory over those derived from optimal foraging theory.
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Archaeological research over the past two decades in the Middle Cauca region of central Colombia has documented numerous preceramic sites dating from the terminal Pleistocene to middle Holocene, along with substantial artifactual and archaeobotanical evidence for early plant use and food production. We present a radiocarbon chronology of 26 sites, including dates previously available only in unpublished reports, and 36 new AMS dates from 11 sites. This chronology solidly establishes the preceramic (before 3600 14C BP) human occupation in the Middle Cauca. The earliest date clearly associated with cultural evidence of occupation is 10,619 ± 66 14C BP at the site of Cuba. Four sites show occupation before 10,000 14C BP, but between 10,000 and 9000 14C BP, this number increases to eleven sites. Thereafter, despite evidence of episodic volcanic activity, there is a relatively constant and continuous sequence of human occupation in the region, although small localized population movements may have occurred. The fertility of periodically renewed andisols likely attracted settlement and continued occupation of the region by people practicing early plant cultivation, based on the archaeobotanical evidence for the early adoption and use of domesticates.
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Because of differences in craniofacial morphology and dentition between the earliest American skeletons and modern Native Americans, separate origins have been postulated for them, despite genetic evidence to the contrary. We describe a near-complete human skeleton with an intact cranium and preserved DNA found with extinct fauna in a submerged cave on Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula. This skeleton dates to between 13,000 and 12,000 calendar years ago and has Paleoamerican craniofacial characteristics and a Beringian-derived mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) haplogroup (D1). Thus, the differences between Paleoamericans and Native Americans probably resulted from in situ evolution rather than separate ancestry.
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It is difficult to overstate the cultural and biological impacts that the domestication of plants and animals has had on our species. Fundamental questions regarding where, when, and how many times domestication took place have been of primary interest within a wide range of academic disciplines. Within the last two decades, the advent of new archaeological and genetic techniques has revolutionized our understanding of the pattern and process of domestication and agricultural origins that led to our modern way of life. In the spring of 2011, 25 scholars with a central interest in domestication representing the fields of genetics, archaeobotany, zooarchaeology, geoarchaeology, and archaeology met at the National Evolutionary Synthesis Center to discuss recent domestication research progress and identify challenges for the future. In this introduction to the resulting Special Feature, we present the state of the art in the field by discussing what is known about the spatial and temporal patterns of domestication, and controversies surrounding the speed, intentionality, and evolutionary aspects of the domestication process. We then highlight three key challenges for future research. We conclude by arguing that although recent progress has been impressive, the next decade will yield even more substantial insights not only into how domestication took place, but also when and where it did, and where and why it did not.
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The introduction of new analytic methods and expansion of research into previously untapped regions have greatly increased the scale and resolution of data relevant to the origins of agriculture (OA). As a result, the recognition of varied historical pathways to agriculture and the continuum of management strategies have complicated the search for general explanations for the transition to food production. In this environment, higher-level theoretical frameworks are sometimes rejected on the grounds that they force conclusions that are incompatible with real-world variability. Some of those who take this position argue instead that OA should be explained in terms of local and historically contingent factors. This retreat from theory in favor of particularism is based on the faulty beliefs that complex phenomena such as agricultural origins demand equally complex explanations and that explanation is possible in the absence of theoretically based assumptions. The same scholars who are suspicious of generalization are reluctant to embrace evolutionary approaches to human behavior on the grounds that they are ahistorical, overly simplistic, and dismissive of agency and intent. We argue that these criticisms are misplaced and explain why a coherent theory of human behavior that acknowledges its evolutionary history is essential to advancing understanding of OA. Continued progress depends on the integration of human behavior and culture into the emerging synthesis of evolutionary developmental biology that informs contemporary research into plant and animal domestication.
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Niche construction refers to the activities of organisms that bring about changes in their environments, many of which are evolutionarily and ecologically consequential. Advocates of niche construction theory (NCT) believe that standard evolutionary theory fails to recognize the full importance of niche construction, and consequently propose a novel view of evolution, in which niche construction and its legacy over time (ecological inheritance) are described as evolutionary processes, equivalent in importance to natural selection. Here, we subject NCT to critical evaluation, in the form of a collaboration between one prominent advocate of NCT, and a team of skeptics. We discuss whether niche construction is an evolutionary process, whether NCT obscures or clarifies how natural selection leads to organismal adaptation, and whether niche construction and natural selection are of equivalent explanatory importance. We also consider whether the literature that promotes NCT overstates the significance of niche construction, whether it is internally coherent, and whether it accurately portrays standard evolutionary theory. Our disagreements reflect a wider dispute within evolutionary theory over whether the neo-Darwinian synthesis is in need of reformulation, as well as different usages of some key terms (e.g. evolutionary process). This article is protected by copyright. All rights reserved.
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The northwestern corner of South America, represented by the current territory of Colombia, is a key region to assess some relevant issues linked with the initial human peopling of the area, including population dispersals, cultural diversity, and early adaptations to the changing environmental conditions experienced by lowland and highland north-Andean Neotropical ecosystems at the Pleistocene/Holocene transition. The aim of this paper is to present a synthesis of the archaeological research about early peopling carried out in Northwest South America during the last four decades. Specifically, it will focus on the adaptive strategies and the cultural diversity patterns exhibited by the early hunter-gatherer groups that entered the region since late Pleistocene times. The classic ideas about the time of arrival of the first settlers, the dispersal routes, the incidence of the climate change in on the rate of dispersal and colonization of different habitats, and the role of the megafauna in the subsistence will be reviewed, prior to the formulation of new hypotheses about the meaning of the apparent intraregional diversity of the archaeological record and the evolution of economic strategies over time.
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Hunter-gatherer populations lived in wildly different geographic settings in the Americas and, not surprisingly, developed a wide range of subsistence, settlement and organizational patterns over time. This variability is evident even looking only at a restricted geographic area - Northwest South America and lower Central America. Distinctive cultural trajectories are already documented at the end of the Pleistocene in some localities, while others remain unexplored at this early period. This article summarizes these regional differences and attempts to account for them in terms of the environmental settings, changing climatic conditions, arrival of new populations and landscape domestication.
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Evolutionary ecology is a theoretical framework that has been widely applied to problems in human evolution and prehistory. Because the approach often focuses on how behavioral adjustments to changing socio-ecological conditions create novel selective pressures that in turn drive other changes in morphology and behavior, it draws on the same evolutionary logic that underlies niche construction theory. We illustrate here the important role that niche construction has played in archaeological applications of evolutionary ecology with two detailed case studies: one from Late Holocene hunter-gatherer populations in Central California and one from Mimbres-Mogollon agriculturalists in New Mexico. These examples illustrate that evolutionary ecology-based approaches, with an emphasis on formal predictive modeling, allow for the incorporation of niche construction as it affects model parameters with reference to specific problems involving past behavior. Further modeling and empirical applications will expand the synergies between these complementary approaches and advance our understanding of the human past. KeywordsEvolutionary ecology-Niche construction theory-Resource depression-Human behavioral ecology
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South America lost more genera in the Quaternary megafaunal extinction than any other continent, but how it fits into the worldwide extinction has been unclear largely due to the lack of chronological resolution. This work evaluated 138 published radiocarbon dates for megafauna and 402 published dates for early (>8000 BP) South American archaeological sites. A total of 93 megafauna dates for 15 genera, and 110 archaeological dates on early human appearance, are robust enough to assess correspondence between last-appearance records of megafauna, first-appearance records of humans, and the Younger Dryas to Holocene climatic transition in six different regions of South America.
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This chapter presents a review of the evidence for human occupation and modification of the lowland neotropical forest during the pre-Columbian era. It examines some of the most important factors relating to the occupation and use of tropical landscapes by prehistoric human societies and updates the information presented in the 2006 edition of this book. Late Pleistocene through early and Middle Holocene temporal frames (c. 16 to 5 kcal yr bp) were covered most extensively in the first edition, as these were the periods during which humans colonized both hemispheres of the Americas and agricultural societies emerged and spread throughout the lowland tropical forest.
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During the past 20 years, evolutionary biologists have broadened the study of Darwinian processes by drawing on elements from the ecological and behavioral sciences, and asking questions relating to why as well as to how. As a result, flexible decision making by animals, local ecological circumstances, and rapid, phenotypic-level adjustments are viewed as fundamental to evolutionary change. The transition from foraging to farming is, at its heart, an evolutionary transformation, but to avoid a serious paradigm lag with modern biological principles and ensure that our theories can accommodate complex and learned human actions, archaeologists must incorporate these now-standard approaches to adaptive change in biology. This paper uses behavioral ecology, specifically optimal foraging theory (OFT), to examine the origins of plant cultivation and domestication in the American tropics. It reviews the present empirical evidence for early food production in the Neotropical forest, and evaluates four main questions relating to the why and how of agricultural origins, as seen from the perspective of human behavioral ecology (HBE). Using two important genera of American plant domesticates, Cucurbita and Lagenaria, the paper also compares and contrasts the major tenets of HBE with those of other evolutionary programs in archaeology, such as co-evolution, and examines how well the assumptions and predictions of each approach are met by archaeological data. Lastly, it is argued that HBE can be used to explore nomothetic explanations for food production origins because it, alone among the existing generalizing theories, can be applied across cultural and environmental boundaries.
Article
Evidence of early occupations by hunter-gatherers in diverse tropical forests is increasing the world over (e.g. Gorman 1971; Pavlides & Gosden 1994), even in America (Roosevelt et al. 1996). This paper reports them in northern South America. Several lines of evidence suggest that many kinds of forests, some or all without modern analogues, existed in the American tropics during glacial times and remained there, with changing composition, until the present. According to evidence presented here, human beings adapted to those forests in northern South America since, at least, the end of the Pleistocene.
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This innovative volume is the first collective effort by archaeologists and ethnographers to use concepts and models from human behavioral ecology to explore one of the most consequential transitions in human history: the origins of agriculture. Carefully balancing theory and detailed empirical study, and drawing from a series of ethnographic and archaeological case studies from eleven locations-including North and South America, Mesoamerica, Europe, the Near East, Africa, and the Pacific-the contributors to this volume examine the transition from hunting and gathering to farming and herding using a broad set of analytical models and concepts. These include diet breadth, central place foraging, ideal free distribution, discounting, risk sensitivity, population ecology, and costly signaling. An introductory chapter both charts the basics of the theory and notes areas of rapid advance in our understanding of how human subsistence systems evolve. Two concluding chapters by senior archaeologists reflect on the potential for human behavioral ecology to explain domestication and the transition from foraging to farming.
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This paper presents a synthesis on the existing of the role of plants on the adaptive strategies of human groups that settled in Northwest South America since the Pleistocene/Holocene transition. To contextualize the analysis, a brief description of the Colombian Pleistocene sites is presented. The paper presents a broad description of the lithic technology, archaeobotanical record and radiocarbon dates. Plant resources played a key role in the settling of human groups in the forests of the Neotropics. Furthermore, it is suggested that for some areas there is evidence of cultivation as a strategy to increase the carrying capacity of the surrounding environment.
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This paper presents the latest results of research done in the Colombian Andean region known as Middle Cauca River Basin, an important location for the study of the origins of plant use and the dispersal of domesticates throughout the Americas due to its geographical position in northwest South America. We discuss human–environment interactions during Pleistocene/Holocene transition to middle Holocene (ca 10,000–4000 BP), specifically human–plant interaction and environmental factors that led to the adoption of horticultural practices. Three lines of evidence are analyzed: archaeological stratigraphy, lithic technology, and microbotanical remains. Our results suggest that early Holocene environmental stability allowed Middle Cauca settlers to use the diverse local resources for several millennia, altering the local vegetation, and leading to the development of horticultural practices that included the use of both local and foreign plants. These results inform the ongoing debate about the antiquity and nature of plant domestication and dispersals in the Americas.
Article
The New World tropical forest is now considered to be an early and independent cradle of agriculture. As in other areas of the world, our understanding of this issue has been significantly advanced by a steady stream of archaeobotanical, paleoecological, and molecular/genetic data. Also importantly, a renewed focus on formulating testable theories and explanations for the transition from foraging to food production has led to applications from subdisciplines of ecology, economy, and evolution not previously applied to agricultural origins. Most recently, the integration of formerly separated disciplines, such as developmental and evolutionary biology, is causing reconsiderations of how novel phenotypes, including domesticated species, originate and the influence of artificial selection on the domestication process. It is becoming clear that the more interesting question may be the origins of plant cultivation rather than the origins of agriculture. This paper reviews this body of evidence and assesses current views about how and why domestication and plant food production arose.
Article
A human presence in Central America, Colombia and Venezuela (outside ‘Amazonia’) before the Late Glacial Stage (≈14,000–10,000BP) requires substantiation. In Venezuela, hunter-foragers who used elongate, thick bifacial projectile points preyed upon megamammals (e.g. gomphotheres) before the onset of a (≈12,000–11,000BP) warming stage, particularly visible in highland Colombia (Guantiva Interstadial). Some archaeologists argue for a distinct pre-12,000BP population centered on the Sabana de Bogotá (Colombia, ≈2500m). Their ‘Abriense’ stone tool kit lacked bifacial reduction, and continued to be used well into the Holocene. In Central America, no human cultural remains yet pre-date the widespread, but poorly documented ‘Palaeoindian’ horizon. This coincides chronologically with the ≈11,000–10,000BP cold stage equivalent to the Younger Dryas (in Colombia, ‘El Abra Stadial’). Makers of lanceolate (‘Clovis’) and stemmed (‘Fish-Tail’) fluted points, carefully trimmed scrapers, burins and perforators, ‘Paleoindians’ have also been identified in northwest South America. Palaeoenvironmental data suggest that they moved around in many different vegetation types. In general, these were unlike modern potential vegetation because temperatures and annual rainfall were still lower than those of today. Human material culture at the onset of the Holocene (10,500±700BP depending on region) does not seem not to have changed as rapidly as climate and vegetation. But the disappearance of fluted projectile points and the Late Pleistocene megafauna may be causally related. Presently, it is difficult to distinguish widespread and short-lived diachronic changes in human culture, from culturally diverse populations living synchronously in different geographic areas. Some archaeologists argue that early Holocene forest expansion and foraging territory contraction were responsible for socioeconomic diversification and a gradual shift from mobile hunting and gathering to a more sylvan way of life. This emphasized the intensive collection and incipient domestication of forest products (e.g. palms and root crops), and the hunting of deer and rodents.
Article
Two sedimentary cores with pollen, charcoal and radiocarbon data are presented. These records document the Late-glacial and Holocene dry forest vegetation, fire and environmental history of the southern Cauca Valley in Colombia (1020 m). Core Quilichao-1 (640 cm; 3° 6′N, 76° 31′W) represents the periods of 13 150–7720 14C yr BP and, following a hiatus, from 2880 14C yr BP to modern. Core La Teta-2 (250 cm; 3° 5′N, 76° 32′W) provides a continuous record from 8700 14C yr BP to modern. Around 13 150 14C yr BP core Quilichao-1 shows an active Late-glacial drainage system and presence of dry forest. From 11 465 to 10 520 14C yr BP dry forest consists mainly of Crotalaria, Moraceae/Urticaceae, Melastomataceae/Combretaceae, Piper and low stature trees, such as Acalypha, Alchornea, Cecropia and Celtis. At higher elevation Andean forest comprising Alnus, Hedyosmum, Quercus and Myrica was common. After 10 520 14C yr BP the floral composition of dry forest changed, with extensive open grass vegetation indicative of dry climatic conditions. This event may coincide with the change to cool and dry conditions in the second part of the El Abra stadial, an equivalent to the Younger Dryas. From 8850 14C yr BP the record from La Teta indicates dry climatic conditions relative to the present, these prevailing up to 2880 14C yr BP at Quilichao and to 2720 14C yr BP at La Teta. Severe dryness reached maxima at 7500 14C yr BP and 4300 14C yr BP, when dry forest reached maximum expansion. Dry forest was gradually replaced by grassy vegetation, reaching maximum expansion around 2300 14C yr BP. After 2300 14C yr BP grassy vegetation remains abundant. Presence of crop taxa (a.o. Zea mays), disturbance indicators (Cecropia) and an increase in charcoal point to the presence of pre-Columbian people since 2300 14C yr BP. After 950 14C yr BP, expansion of secondary forest taxa may indicate depopulation and abandonment of previously cultivated land. After 400 14C yr BP, possibly related to the Spanish conquest, secondary forest expanded and charcoal concentrations increased, possibly indicating further reduction of cultivated land. During the past century, Heliotropium and Didymopanax became abundant in an increasingly degraded landscape. Copyright
Article
The corpus of historical data from lake sediments relating to the climate, vegetation, and human land use of the lowland Central American tropical forest between ca. 20,000 BP and the time of European contact is reviewed. Pollen, phytolith, and charcoal records identify the distribution and composition of tropical vegetation and fire patterns during the late Pleistocene, when they were significantly altered from today's, and earliest Holocene, when plant communities reassembled and interglacial representatives began to coalesce on the landscape. The significance of the environmental perturbations that occurred during the transition from the Pleistocene to the Holocene for human occupation of the lowland tropical forest and the geography and chronology of agricultural origins is discussed. Fire was employed by hunters and gatherers and farmers alike during the past 11,000 years as a primary tool of forest modification. The profound effects of an ancient pre-Columbian development of plant food production and, subsequently, slash and burn agriculture between ca. 10,000 BP and 4000 BP can be seen on lowland forests from Mexico to the Amazon Basin.
Chapter
Venezuela comprises a 91,205 km2 territory in northernmost South America, sharing borders with northern Brazil, Guiana and Colombia. Its location was strategic in ancient times (as today) for interaction with the Caribbean islands, Amazonian lowlands, and the Andes. Venezuela’s biodiversity encompasses a contrastive variety of environments, which are, from north to south: the Caribbean coast, the coastal mountain chain, the northernmost Andes, the llanos, the Orinoquia, and the tropical forest (Figure 23.1). This landscape, marked by tropical seasonality, promoted regional cultural development and diversity and complex economic and sociopolitical interaction networks (Arroyo et al. 1999; Cruxent and Rouse 1982). Instead of understanding local developments in their own terms, early scholarship (e.g., Nomland 1935; Osgood and Howard 1943) viewed Venezuela as a pathway to fill out holes between key cultural cores in western and eastern South America. The “H theory” represented Venezuela as a horizontal barrier to as well as a conduit for movements connecting Mesoamerica to the Andes, and the Amazon to the Caribbean. The Valencian and Middle Orinoquian cultures were considered genuine Venezuelan examples of this cultural confluence, combining and diffusing highland and lowland traits (Kidder 1944; Osgood and Howard 1943).
Article
Ecological reductionism has been the dominant position in the archaeology of neotropical hunter-gatherers. Traditional conceptions of the early colonists of the Americas stress their role as exploiters of the environment, highly limited by the temporal and spatial structure of resources. Yet, new ideas (and their associated “evidence”) suggest that early hunter-gatherers were already impacting the environment in the neotropics through forest clearing, burning, and cultural selection of key vegetal resources; further, territoriality seems to have developed by Late Pleistocene times, well before it has been admitted. This paper discusses and supports these ideas using recent paleobotanical and archaeological data from tropical forests of northern South America. These arguments are brought to bear in the issue of the early peopling of tropical America.
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Excavation at Taima-taima in 1976 recovered artifacts of the El Jobo complex in direct association with the butchered remains of a juvenile mastodon. Radiocarbon dates on associated wood twigs indicate a minimum age of 13,000 years before the present for the mastodon kill, a dating significantly older than that of the Clovis complex in North America. The El Jobo complex must have evolved independently in northern South America.
A re-appraisal of the edge-trimmed tool tradition
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