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Toward a General Theory of Hunter-Gatherer Macroecology by Dr. Marcus J. Hamilton, University of New Mexico

Thursday, March 15, 2012
12:00 AM
Ruthven Museums Building Room 2009

One of the goals of 21st century anthropological science is to develop general theories of human ecology, evolution, and diversity, which will be essential not only to understanding the development of human societies in the past, but also predicting the potential trajectories of human societies in the future. Hunter-gatherer studies are central to this goal as foraging was the socioeconomic framework for the vast majority of human evolutionary history. In this talk I discuss how recent theoretical developments in macroecology (the study of energy and information flows in complex ecological systems) make strong quantitative predictions about many aspects of hunter-gatherer ecology. This is because hunter-gatherers are integrally embedded within complex ecologies, and so biogeographic patterning across foraging societies, such as variation in space use, mobility, and social structure, should be predictable from overarching ecological theory. Using a combination of ethnographic, archaeological, and ecological data I show that many of these predictions are well-supported empirically. This macroecological approach provides fundamental insights into the ways in which humans are on the one hand a predictable biological species, but on the other, entirely unique in Earth history. Moreover, these results suggest that much of the the basic structure of the contemporary human world has deep roots in our hunter-gatherer past.