Explaining Prehistoric Variation in the Abundance of Large Prey: A Zooarchaeological Analysis of Deer and Rabbit Hunting Along the Pecho Coast of Central California
Postprint version. Published in Journal of Anthropological Archaeology, Volume 29, Issue 1, March 1, 2010, pages 47-61.
The definitive version is available at https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jaa.2009.10.002.
Three main hypotheses are commonly employed to explain diachronic variation in the relative abundance of remains of large terrestrial herbivores: (1) large prey populations decline as a function of anthropogenic overexploitation; (2) large prey tends to increase as a result of increasing social payoffs; and (3) proportions of large terrestrial prey are dependent on stochastic fluctuations in climate. This paper tests predictions derived from these three hypotheses through a zooarchaeological analysis of eleven temporal components from three sites on central California’s Pecho Coast. Specifically, we examine the trade-offs between hunting rabbits (Sylvilagus spp.) and deer (Odocoileus hemionus) using models derived from human behavioral ecology. The results show that foragers exploited a robust population of deer throughout most of the Holocene, only doing otherwise during periods associated with climatic trends unfavorable to larger herbivores. The most recent component (Late Prehistoric/Contact era) shows modest evidence of localized resource depression and perhaps greater social benefits from hunting larger prey; we suggest that these final changes resulted from the introduction of bow and arrow technology. Overall, results suggest that along central California’s Pecho Coast, density independent factors described as climatically-mediated prey choice best predict changes in the relative abundance of large terrestrial herbivores through the Holocene.
Social and Behavioral Sciences