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Dissertation/Thesis Abstract

Technological Plasticity and Cultural Evolution along the Central Coast of California
by Stevens, Nathan E., Ph.D., University of California, Davis, 2012, 221; 3511879
Abstract (Summary)

How much does behavior have to change before it is archaeologically detectable as a change in technology? Employing ideas and methods from human behavioral ecology, cultural evolution, and studies of technological organization, this research investigates the behavioral correlates of incremental technological change among prehistoric hunter-gatherers by exploring the costs and benefits of technological plasticity, or the amount of flexibility in a given technological system. The nature and tempo of technological change is hypothesized to be linked to differing adaptive strategies emphasizing either flexibility or efficiency.

Throughout the Holocene along the central coast of California, long-term trends towards specialization are evident, including increased gender division of foraging labor, more complex settlement systems, and intensified subsistence practices. Paralleling these trends are increases in technological specialization and in the number of tool types employed.

Understanding which tools are optimal in various contexts requires addressing which behaviors are prevalent, which technologies are present, and how changes in one can affect the other. A formal model is presented that explores the costs and benefits of generalized vs. specialized tools. The implications of this model are then explored to generate expectations of the archaeological record. Different scales of inquiry, ranging from use-wear analysis of individual artifacts, to plotting of aggregate regional patterns are employed to test these expectations.

The model suggests specialized tools win out when tasks they are designed for are performed often enough, or occur with enough certainty, to make their added cost worthwhile. An examination of regional archaeological data suggests Early Holocene adaptations involved more generalized/flexible resource exploitation and used more multifunctional tools, while the more specialized/intensive resource use typifying Late Holocene adaptations was accompanied by more efficient specialized tools.

These results suggest that as tools change from generalized to specialized, it influences both human behavior and the ability of archaeologists to perceive behavioral change. A generalized, multifunctional toolkit may permit a wide latitude of behavioral change with minimal or no tool morphological change, while with more complex and specialized technologies, tools track behavior more closely and more rapid cultural change may be possible. [Appendices incl. as supplemental files]

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Indexing (document details)
Advisor: Eerkens, Jelmer W.
Commitee: Bettinger, Robert L., McElreath, Richard
School: University of California, Davis
Department: Anthropology
School Location: United States -- California
Source: DAI-A 73/10(E), Dissertation Abstracts International
Subjects: Archaeology
Keywords: California, Cultural evolution, Human behavioral ecology, Hunter-gatherers, Lithic technology, Resource intensification
Publication Number: 3511879
ISBN: 978-1-267-40109-0
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