Anthropologists have long recognized knowledge of hunter-gatherer subsistence and settlement strategies and patterns of social organization are relevant to developing our understanding of the human past. Until very recently it has been common to select individual cases of hunter-gatherers as exemplars in an interpretation of the past. However, Binford?s (2001) environmental and ethnographic data sets provide us with new tools to ask new kinds of questions. His data document the global variation among 339 ethnographically documented hunter-gatherers societies and place these societies in the context of rich environmental variation. The data sets Binford developed allow us to take advantage of our knowledge of variation among hunter-gatherers in the context of their environments to develop and test theory about ecological and evolutionary processes that structure variation in human adaptations. They also provide a way to model a hypothetical set of initial conditions for expanding exploration of evolutionary trajectories using additional ethnographic data for horticultural and pastoral societies. This macroecological approach to asking anthropological questions promises to promote synthesis of knowledge and theory from ecology, biology, and anthropology through the rigorous analysis of ethnographic data informed by knowledge of the importance of ecological context to understanding evolutionary process.


Amber L Johnson Department of Society & Environment Professor of Anthropology

Synthesis of Ecology, Biology and Ethnographic Data e-session