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The Hunter-gatherer Complexity: the Complex and Simple Hunter-gatherers

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In this Article, Author starts his discussion with discourses about Background of Hunter-Gatherer Complexity. I summarize first section’s important sentences in the below; Archaeologists separate hunter-gatherers into two camps ‘simple’ and ‘complex.’ Recently there has been heated discourse as to the ‘nature’ of complex hunter-gatherer societies. Insights into ancient hunter-gatherer societies show that the prevalent hunter-gatherer societies in the past may not fit the mold of a nomadic, egalitarian society. These societies have often been termed ‘complex hunter-gatherers’ marked by formal lealership, reorganization of labor, and a more sedentary lifestyle (Pric. and Brown 1985). One of the most significant aspects of complex hunter gatherers is their increase in intensification of foodstuffs, meaning an increase in productivity and production due to technological advances, food storage, and the diversification of resources exploited (Kelly 1995 :303). Increasing complexity has been associated with a variety of factors including, environment, resource availability, subsistence, sedentasism, technology, storage, population, exchange, conflict, and cooperation (Price and Brown 1985). Price and Brown (1985) separate these factors into three categories: the preconditions that foster complex hunter-gatherer societies, the consequences and characteristics of greater complexity, and the causes of this complexity. Perhaps by focusing on two hunter-gatherer societies living in two distinct environments and studied by different archaeologist’s it will be possible to determine a more congruent explanation of hunter-gatherer complexity.

Author continues his argument with talking about Preconditions of Hunter-Gatherer Complexity; The preconditions for hunter-gatherer complexity suggested by Price and Brown focus on environmental and demographic factors. In fact, Hayden argues that hierarchical groups are rarely tolerated when resources are stable but limited, fluctuating, or vulnerable to overexploitation (Hayden 1994:226). It can also be argued that only after hunter-gatherers begin to intensify are they able to support a greater population, and therefore, population growth would be a consequence rather than a precondition of hunter-gather complexity.

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In other section of this article, Author clarify the Consequences and Characteristics of Hunter-Gatherer Complexity; As for characteristics of complex hunter-gatherer, archaeologists point to evidence of growing intensification in the archaeological record. Marquardt’s argument for a need to find a middle ground may be just what we need in establishing a more sound explanation in the causal analysis of complex hunter-gatherer-societies.

Hunter-Gatherer Complexity at Keatley Creek; Hayden conducted an excavation in the Middle Fraser Canyon in western Canada, which is adjacent to one of the greatest remaining salmon river runs in the world. Like most complex hunter-gatherer societies, population size was estimated to be relatively high. As for the cause of social complexity at Keatley Creek, Hayden describes machiavellian type of individuals, who he calls ‘aggrandizers,’ who used food for their own personal gain and who excelled at developing schemes to use other people’s surplus to increase their own wealth. He argues the although these ‘aggrandizers’ existed throughout human behavior, it wasn’t until resources became abundant, and the means to store these resources developed, that allowed for the essential condition for complexity (Hayden 1997: 111).

Hayden contends that evidence of this comes from the indication of large feasts having taken place at Keatley Creek that suggests control of surplus food or wealth could be demanded under the guise of needing them for special events such as these feasts (1997: 117). Whereas Hayden focuses on a single occupation of Keatley Creek, Henry explains change through time from the simpler hunter-gatherer groups the Kebaran and Mushabian to the more complex Natufians. Likewise, as opposed to Hayden who focused on the sociopolitical struggle that manifested from the abundance of resources, Henry solely focuses on environmental changes and their impact. Henry writes that this growing complexity appears to have been related to the intensive exploitation wild cereals (emmer, wheat, and barley), and nuts (acorns, almonds and pistachious).

Henry’s conclusion that hunter-gatherer complexity was an outcome of change in the environment due to the end of the Pleistocene ignores the fact that hunter-gatherer complexity crosses temporal and spatial boundaries. For example, evidence of hunter-gatherer complexity at Keatley Creek occurs some 7,000-9,000 years after the close of the Pleistocene. Likewise, huntergatherer complexity crosses environmental zones from the temperate zone of the Natufians to the semi-arctic conditions at Keatley Creek. Nor, does he mention evidence of an increase in boundary defense. If we are to better understand cultural complexity it is imperative that we understand the progression of social complexity.


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