Behavioral Ecology and the Archaeological Consequences of Central Place Foraging among the Meriam



Archaeology is ultimately concerned with explaining variability in the patterns of past human behavior. This chapter illustrates how archaeologically falsifiable hypotheses derived from the neo-Darwinian framework of behavioral ecology can serve this goal. Most archaeological applications of this approach have focused on explaining differences in the material consequences of subsistence practices with reference to the general predictions of the encounter contingent prey-choice model. I examine how testing hypotheses grounded in this model illuminate its relevant assumptions and direct our attention toward new questions about human subsistence strategies, especially where patterns in subsistence remains are likely to be influenced by the processing and transport decisions of central place foragers. The argument developed here is that the same neo-Darwinian logic that provides predictions about prey choice also provides appropriate tools for generating testable explanations of variability in central place foraging strategies, resource transport, and patch choice. I illustrate the advantages of this approach with an analysis of shellfishing efficiency and shell deposition among contemporary Meriam shellfishers in the Torres Strait Islands. The results of this investigation demonstrate that Meriam processing decisions and the archaeological products of intertidal gathering are consistent with an hypothesized goal of maximizing resource delivery rate. This finding has ramifications well beyond the context of shellfishing, with implications for arguments about early hominid subsistence and settlement patterns drawn from interpretations of variability in large mammal remains.