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Keywords:

  • bow;
  • social complexity;
  • social coercion;
  • atlatl;
  • Neolithic;
  • North America;
  • theory of history

This paper has several interconnected goals. First and most generally, we will review the project represented by the papers in this dedicated issue and the SAA Symposium (2012) on Social Complexity and the Bow. This project centers on the ever-stronger and broader theory testing now becoming feasible in archeology and anthropology, in this case exploiting the unique natural laboratory represented by what we refer to as the North American Neolithic transitions. Second, we will strive to synopsize the papers in this issue as opportunities to falsify two general theories of the cause of increases in social complexity associated with the North American Neolithic: warfare and social coercion theories.1 We argue that, though much work remains to be done, the current evidence supports one of the central predictions of both these theories, that the local arrival of elite bow technology was a central driver of local transitions to increased social complexity. This conclusion, if ultimately verified, has profound implications for the possibility of general theories of history. Third, we will argue that several important details of this evidence falsify warfare theory and support (fail to falsify) social coercion theory (the authors' favored perspective). Moreover, several potential falsifications of social coercion theory are amenable to alternative interpretations, leading to new falsifiable predictions. Finally, we discuss how interactions with our colleagues in this project produced new insights into several details of the predictions of social coercion theory, improving our interpretative capacity.