Sociopolitical Complexity and the Bow and Arrow in the American Southwest


  • Todd L. Vanpool,

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    • Todd L. VanPool is Associate Professor of Anthropology at the University of Missouri, Columbia. His research focuses on applying evolutionary theory in the context of Southwestern archeology and stone artifact analysis. His field research focuses on excavations of Casas Grandes settlements in southern New Mexico and northwestern Mexico. Email:

  • Michael J. O'Brien

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    • Michael J. O'Brien is Professor of Anthropology and Dean of the College of Arts and Science at the University of Missouri. His research focuses on understanding various aspects of human evolution and behavior, including the spread of early populations through North America.


The evolution of sociopolitical complexity, including heightened relations of cooperation and competition among large nonkin groups, has long been a central focus of anthropological research.[1, 2] Anthropologists suggest any number of variables that affect the waxing and waning of complexity and define the precise trajectories that groups take, including population density, subsistence strategies, warfare, the distribution of resources, and trade relationships.[3, 4] Changes in weaponry, here the introduction of the bow and arrow, can have profound implications for population aggregation and density, subsistence and settlement strategies, and access to resources, trade, and warfare.[5]Bingham and Souza provide a general conceptual model for the relationship between complexity and the bow and arrow, arguing that this compound weapon system, whereby smaller projectiles travel at higher speed and are capable of hitting targets more accurately and at greater distances than hand-thrown darts, fundamentally favors the formation of larger groups because it allows for cost-effective means of dealing with conflicts of interest through social coercion, thereby dramatically transforming kin-based social relations.[6] Here we consider the impacts the introduction of the bow and arrow had on sociopolitical complexity in the North American Southwest.