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Behavioral Ecology and the Transition to Agriculture

Douglas J. Kennett

Publication Year: 2006

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.

Published by: University of California Press

Series: Origins of Human Behavior and Culture

Title Page, Copyright

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pp. 2-7


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pp. vii-viii

List of Contributors

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pp. ix-x

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pp. xi-xii

The evolution of human subsistence economies has always been a major topic of anthropological interest. Within this domain the transition from foraging to farming and the emergence of horticultural/ agricultural economies has occupied a central place. ...

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pp. xiii-xiv

For twenty-five years human behavioral ecology (HBE) has provided a general conceptual framework for the analysis and interpretation of hunter-gatherer subsistence behavior in living and prehistoric societies. Similar micro-economic models have received preliminary application in the study of pastoral and agroecological adaptations. ...

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1. Behavioral Ecology and the Transition from Hunting and Gathering to Agriculture

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pp. 1-21

The volume before you is the first systematic, comparative attempt to use the concepts and models of behavioral ecology to address the evolutionary transition from societies relying predominantly on hunting and gathering to those dependent on food production through plant cultivation, animal husbandry, ...

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2. A Future Discounting Explanation for the Persistence of a Mixed Foraging-Horticulture Strategy among the Mikea of Madagascar

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pp. 22-40

This chapter pursues dual goals. The first goal is to argue in favor of the use of future-discounting concepts when modeling choices among subsistence activities with dissimilar delay to reward, such as the choice to practice foraging versus farming. While foraging theory makes the value of all options commensurate by expressing them as a rate of gain per unit time, ...

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3. Central Place Foraging and Food Production on the Cumberland Plateau, Eastern Kentucky

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pp. 41-62

Forager-farmers of the eastern Kentucky uplands had to decide where to locate their garden plots relative to the cliff shelters in which food was stored for winter use. This decision often involved a tradeoff between distant, but fertile, alluvial soils and nearby erosion-prone hillsides of relatively low fertility. ...

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4. Aspects of Optimization and Risk During the Early Agricultural Period in Southeastern Arizona

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pp. 63-86

Recent excavations of Early Agricultural period (1700 BC–AD 150) sites in southeastern Arizona show that the adoption of agriculture was a complicated and prolonged process. The application of a diet breadth model from optimal foraging theory suggests that the use of domesticated plants and irrigation to increase crop yields ...

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5. A Formal Model for Predicting Agriculture among the Fremont

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pp. 87-102

People living in the Fremont region (eastern Great Basin and northern Colorado Plateau) cultivated maize for more than 700 years, from AD 600 to 1300. In many respects, Fremont material culture is similar to other Southwestern archaeological traditions. However, the people who produced Fremont assemblages continued to rely on hunting ...

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6. An Ecological Model for the Origins of Maize-Based Food Production on the Pacific Coast of Southern Mexico

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pp. 103-136

Maize-based food production was well-established on the Pacific coast of southwestern Mexico by 2600 B.P.1, the beginning of the Late Formative Period. Biogeographical and genetic studies indicate that this cultigen was originally domesticated in Central Mexico by 9200 B.P., and microbotanical studies suggest that it was widely dispersed ...

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7. The Origins of Plant Cultivation and Domestication in the Neotropics: A Behavioral Ecological Perspective

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pp. 137-166

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 ...

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8. Costly Signaling, the Sexual Division of Labor, and Animal Domestication in the Andean Highlands

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pp. 167-196

Relatively little is known of the emergence of animal husbandry in the Andean highlands. In this chapter, I explore the use of diet breadth models, costly signaling theory, and other models derived from human behavioral ecology to examine how animal husbandry appeared around 4400 years ago in the Rio Asana valley of far southern Peru. ...

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9. Human Behavioral Ecology, Domestic Animals, and Land Use during the Transition to Agriculture in Valencia, Eastern Spain

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pp. 197-216

Most applications of Human Behavioral Ecology (HBE) to questions of agricultural origins have focused on plant domestication in archaeological contexts in the New World, where domestic animals were generally less important in early agricultural societies. In contrast, domestic animals play an important part in subsistence strategies ...

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10. Breaking the Rain Barrier and the Tropical Spread of Near Eastern Agriculture into Southern Arabia

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pp. 217-236

Farming came late to Arabia, about 5000 years ago, long after the beginnings of agriculture in the Levant 10,000 years ago. The adoption of domesticates in Arabia occurred piecemeal as Arabian foragers and herders adopted specific animal and crop components over a period perhaps as long as four millennia, beginning well after a Levantine agrohusbandry package was in place. ...

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11. The Emergence of Agriculture in New Guinea: A Model Of Continuity from Pre-Existing Foraging Practices

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pp. 237-264

In this paper, foraging theory is used to explore how agriculture arose from pre-existing subsistence practices in the Highlands of New Guinea. In the first half of this paper several key lines of evidence for prehistoric subsistence practices from the early to mid Holocene are reviewed. ...

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12. The Ideal Free Distribution, Food Production, and the Colonization of Oceania

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pp. 265-288

Islands in Oceania were some of the last habitable land masses on earth to be colonized by humans. Current archaeological evidence suggests that these islands were colonized episodically rather than continuously, and that bursts of migration were followed by longer periods of sedentism and population growth. ...

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13. Human Behavioral Ecology and the Transition to Food Production

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pp. 289-303

Human behavioral ecology and foraging theory offer frameworks for considering and characterizing variation and change in human subsistence patterns, both across a range of environmental gradients and through time (Winterhalder and Smith 2000). ...

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14. Agriculture, Archaeology, and Human Behavioral Ecology

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pp. 304-322

This volume marks a turning point in the development of human behavioral ecology (HBE), whose past efforts have spoken to a research agenda largely crafted in the biological sciences by individuals interested in non-human species. The thrust of most HBE contributions has been to show that humans play by the same rules as other species, ...


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pp. 323-380


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pp. 381-394

E-ISBN-13: 9780520932456
Print-ISBN-13: 9780520246478

Page Count: 407
Publication Year: 2006

Series Title: Origins of Human Behavior and Culture