Hunter-Gatherers in Theory and Archaeology

By Holly, Donald H., Jr. | Southeastern Archaeology, Summer 2005 | Go to article overview

Hunter-Gatherers in Theory and Archaeology


Holly, Donald H., Jr., Southeastern Archaeology


Hunter-Gatherers in Theory and Archaeology. GEORGE CROTHERS (ed.). Center for Archaeological Investigations Occasional Paper, Number 31. Center for Archaeological Investigations, Southern Illinois University, Carbondale, 2004. xii + 492 pp. $43.00 (paper), ISBN 0-88104-087-8.

Reviewed by Donald H. Holly, Jr.

In the opening chapter of Hunter-Gatherers in Theory and Archaeology, George Crothers suggests that the essays within the book "reflect a cross section of research and theoretical discussion, as was current in 2000-2001." I agree; Crothers has found the pulse of contemporary archaeological research and theory on hunters and gatherers. It is a pulse that apparently beats from the gut rather than the heart and soul of the hunter-forager.

Hunter-gatherer archaeology and theory continues to be concerned with subsistence strategies and settlement patterns, the latter invariably a reflection of the former. Indeed, this is the focus of much of my own research, and it appears to dominate most hunter-gatherer archaeology research today. The conference that spurred this book captures this trend. This is not to suggest that the authors represent a unified front, but that most of articles are variations on theme. Some modify prevailing subsistence and settlement models, others raise methodological concerns with these models, and still others assert cultural and historical explanations for settlement and subsistence practices. However, nearly all feel the need to address the nature of hunter-gatherer subsistence and settlement strategies or to critique prevailing views on such matters.

It is, of course, difficult to deny the importance of subsistence pursuits or the value of settlement analysis for understanding hunter-gatherer prehistory. My point is not to deride this focus so much as to simply state the obvious: as with all conference proceedings, this volume is an artifact of the times, and by reading this document it is clear that the great majority of archaeological research and interest on hunters and gatherers today-as in the recent past-continues to focus on subsistence and settlement issues.

All of the chapters in the book are of excellent quality. Often, edited volumes are peppered with a few pieces that would be rejected by most journals; this is certainly not the case here. I suspect that many of the chapters will find their way into cited circles in years to come. The articles are also organized in a thoughtful manner, with thematically related pieces clustered together. For example, after a short introduction, the first three chapters center on Paleoindian adaptations, the following four on social organization and settlement patterns, the next two on food sharing, then three on subsistence strategies, two on subsistence and political economy, another two on settlement patterns, and the last two on other issues-"ethnophysics" and "actor-network-theory," respectively. The final chapter, written by Robert Bettinger and Peter Rowley-Conwy, reflects on the previous eighteen chapters.

Together the chapters span most of modern hunters and gatherers' tenure on the planet, from the Late Pleistocene to the twentieth century, and a good portion of the globe. As expected, given the location of the conference (Carbondale, Illinois), many of the articles are written by North American-based archaeologists and focus on North America. Crothers has done a fine job, however, in soliciting contributions that address the archaeological records of other regions, too-Western Europe, central and East Africa, southern South America, and Australia. Finally, a fairly diverse range of huntergatherer societies are represented in the volume. While a chapter on the Calusa, Jomon, Chumash, Northwest Coast Indians, or equivalent would have been welcome, some of the chapters deal with less extreme variations of delayed-return or complex foragers. I was especially intrigued by Dale, Marshall, and Pilgrim's chapter on the Okiek and late stone age Kansyore hunters and gatherers of East Africa. …

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