Effects of the Bow on Social Organization in Western North America


  • Robert L. Bettinger

    Search for more papers by this author
    • Robert L. Bettinger is Professor of Anthropology at the University of California-Davis. His research interests are cultural ecology, hunter-gatherers, early food-producing societies, adaptation in arid lands, and quantitative methods. Email: rlbettin@gmail.com

Email: rlbettin@gmail.com


The bow more than doubled, likely tripled, the success of individuals bent on killing animal or human targets (Box 1). The advent of this revolutionary technology generated different responses in western North America depending on subsistence and sociopolitical organization at the time of its arrival, roughly 2300 - 1300 B.P.[1] Its effect was substantial in California and the Great Basin, particularly on group size, which in many places diminished as a consequence of the bow's reliability. The counter-intuitive result was to increase within group-relatedness enough to encourage intensification of plant resources, previously considered too costly. The bow rose to greatest direct economic importance with the arrival of the horse, and was put to most effective use by former Great Basin groups who maintained the family band system that had developed around intensive Great Basin plant procurement, adapting the same organization to a lifestyle centered on the equestrian pursuit of buffalo and warfare.