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The Behavioral Ecology of Holocene Hunting in Western North America

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November 3, 2011
Jack Broughton

University of Utah, Department of Anthropology

Models from behavioral ecology are linked with archaeological and paleontological data to reconstruct and explain variation in hunting behavior (especially artiodactyls—deer, sheep, elk, and pronghorn) across the Holocene in western North America. In many settings, unfavorable early and middle Holocene climate (e.g., extreme seasonality, reduced summer precipitation) resulted in low population densities of artiodactyls and human foragers experienced low foraging efficiencies and had wide diet breadths. The transition to the late Holocene with generally more equable temperature, higher overall moisture, and a favorable seasonal pattern of precipitation, caused artiodactyl densities to increase and drove an ascendance of large game hunting and higher foraging efficiencies. During the late Holocene in certain settings characterized by high human population densities (especially central California), intensive hunting led to the depression of a wide range of economically attractive vertebrate prey. These patterns are theoretically linked and correlated with declining human health and stature and many other changes in human behavior. The results also have implications for historical ecology and modern conservation biology.