Skip to main content Accessibility help

Does Size Matter? Body Size, Mass Collecting, and Their Implications for Understanding Prehistoric Foraging Behavior

  • Andrew Ugan (a1)


Zooarchaeologists regularly assume a positive relationship between body size and energetic return rates among animal taxa. Some researchers question the validity of this assumption, suggesting that small animals collected in mass can provide high returns and pose interpretive problems for methods relying on a clear correlation. A review of empirical data shows that while large fish and invertebrates can provide high returns, those for most small animals remain very low. Differences appear to result from disparities in the relative energetic value of various taxa, costs associated with mass collection, and the efficiency with which resources are handled once acquired. Mass collection is unlikely to pose an interpretive problem under most circumstances, and the low returns for mass collecting many small animals have interesting implications for interpreting changes in their relative frequencies.


Los zooarqueólogos regularmente asumen que existe una relación directa entre el tamaño y la tasa de rendimiento de energía de diferentes taxa de animales. Algunos investigadores dudan de la validez de esta suposición y sugieren que animales pequeños atrapados en grupos pueden proveer un alto rendimiento energético, provocando problemas interpretativos en los métodos basados en esta clara correlación. Una revisión de datos empíricos muestra que, aunque peces grandes e invertebrados pueden proveer altos rendimientos, los rendimientos para la mayoría de los animales pequeños se mantienen muy bajos. Aparentemente las diferencias resultan de disparidades en el valor energético relativo de varias taxa, los gastos asociados con atrapar en grupo, y la eficacia con que los recursos son manejados después de su adquisición. Es dudoso que atrapar en grupo plantee un problema interpretativo en la mayoría de los casos, y los bajos rendimientos energéticos obtenidos al atrapar en grupo muchos animales pequeños tienen implicaciones interesantes para la interpretación de cambios en sus frecuencias relativas.



Hide All
Anonymous 1884 Early Experiences of Lorenzo D. Young. Ms. Of interview conducted for Hubert, H. Bancroft. Bancroft Library, University of California, Berkeley.
Barlow, K. Renee, and Metcalfe, Duncan 1996 Plant Utility Indices: Two Great Basin Examples. Journal of Archaeological Science 23:351371.
Bayham, Frank 1979 Factors Influencing the Archaic Pattern of Animal Exploitation. Kiva 44:219235.
Bettinger, Robert 1993 Doing Great Basin Archaeology Recently: Coping With Variability. Journal of Archaeological Research 1:4366.
Blurton, Jones, G., Nicholas, Hawkes, Kristen, and O’Connell, James F. 1997 Hadza Women's Time Allocation, Offspring Provisioning and the Evolution of Long Postmenopausal Life Spans. Current Anthropology 38:551577.
Bright, Jason, Ugan, Andrew, and Hunsaker, Lori 2002 The Effect of Handling Time on Subsistence Technology. World Archaeology 34:164181.
Broughton, Jack M. 2002 Prey Spatial Structure and Behavior Affect Archaeological Tests of Optimal Foraging Models: Examples from the Emeryville Shellmound Vertebrate Fauna. World Archaeology 34:6083.
Broughton, Jack M. 1997 Widening Diet Breadth, Declining Foraging Efficiency, and Prehistoric Harvest Pressure: Ichthyofaunal Evidence from the Emeryville Shellmound, California. Antiquity 71:845862.
Broughton, Jack M. 1995 Resource De Pression and Intensification During the Late Holocene, San Francisco Bay: Evidence from the Emeryville Shellmound Vertebrate Fauna. Unpublished Ph. D. dissertation, Dept of Anthropology, University of Washington, Seattle.
Broughton, Jack M. 1994a Late Holocene Resource Intensification in the Sacramento Valley, California: The Vertebrate Evidence. Journal of Archaeological Science 21:501514.
Broughton, Jack M. 1994b Declines in Mammalian Foraging Efficiency During the Late Holocene, San Francisco Bay, California. Journal of Anthropological Archaeology 13:371-401.
Broughton, Jack M., and Bayham, Frank 2003 Showing Off, Foraging Models, and the Ascendance of Large-Game Hunting in the California Middle Archaic. American Antiquity 68:783789.
Broughton, Jack M, and O’Connell, James F. 1999 On Evolutionary Ecology, Selectionist Archaeology, and Behavioral Ecology. American Antiquity 64:153165.
Bryant, Edwin 1967 What I Saw in California. Lewis Osborne, Palo Alto, California.
Butler, Virginia L. 1996 Tui Chub Taphonomy and the Importance of Marsh Resources in the Western Great Basin of North America. American Antiquity 61:699717.
Butler, Virginia L. 2000 Resource De Pression on the Northwest Coast of North America. Antiquity 74:649661.
Butler, Virginia L. 2001 Changing Fish Use on Mangaia, Southern Cook Islands: Resource De Pression and the. Prey Choice Model. International Journal of Osteoarchaeology 11:88100.
Byers, David, and Broughton, Jack M. 2004 Holocene Environmental Change, Artiodactyls Abundances, and Human Hunting Strategies in the Great Basin. American Antiquity 69:235255.
Cannon, Michael D. 2000 Large Mammal Relative Abundance in Pithouse and Pueblo Period Archaeofaunas from Southwestern New Mexico: Resource De Pression Among the Mimbres- Mogollon? Journal of Anthropological Archaeology 19:317347.
Cannon, Michael D. 2003 A Model of Central Place Forager Prey Choice and an Application to Faunal Remains from the Mimbres Valley, New Mexico. Journal of Anthropological Archaeology 22:125.
Charnov, Eric, Orians, Gordon H., and Hyatt, Kim 1976 Ecological Implications of Resource De Pression. The American Naturalist 110:247259.
Davidson, John W. 1976 The Expedition of Capt. J. W. Davidson from Fort Tejon to the Owens Valley in 1859, edited by Philip, J. Wilke and Harry, W. Lawton. Ballena Press, Socorro, New Mexico.
Davies, Nicholas B. 1977 Prey Selection and the Search Strategy of the Spotted Flycatcher (Muscicapa striata): a Field Study of Optimal Foraging. Animal Behavior 25:10161033.
Elston, Robert G., and Zeanah, David W. 2002 Thinking Outside the Box: A New Perspective on Diet Breadth and Sexual Division of Labor in the Prearchaic Great Basin. World Archaeology 34:103130.
Fowler, Don D., and Fowler, Catherine S. 1971 Anthropology of the Numa: John Wesley Powell's Manuscripts on the Numic People of Western North America, 1868-1880. Contributions to Anthropology No. 14, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D. C.
Gadd, B. 1995 Handbook of the Canadian Rockies, 2nd Edition. Corax Press, Jasper, Alberta.
Grayson, Donald K 2001 The Archaeological Record of Human Impacts on Animal Populations. Journal of World Prehistory 15:168.
Grayson, Donald K 1991 Alpine Faunas from the White Mountains, California: Adaptive Change in the Late Prehistoric Great Basin? Journal of Archaeological Science 18:483506.
Grayson, Donald K., and Cannon, Michael 1999 Human Paleoecology and Foraging Theory in the Great Basin. In Models for the Millennium: Great Basin Anthropology Today, edited by Beck, C., pp. 141151. The University of Utah Press, Salt Lake City.
Hara, Hiroko Sue 1980 The Hare Indians and Their World. Canadian Ethnology Service Paper, No. 63. National Museums of Canada, Ottawa.
Harvey, Patrick 1998 Evidence for Resource Stress Among the Evans Mound Vertebrate Faunas. Paper presented at the 26th Meeting of the Great Basin Anthropological Conference, Bend, Oregon.
Harvey, Patrick, and Broughton, Jack M. 1996 Variations in Hunting Efficiency During the Fremont: Zooarchaeological Evidence from the Evans Mound, Southwestern Utah. Paper presented at the 25th Meeting of the Great Basin Anthropological Conference, Kings Beach, California.
Hawkes, Kristen, O’Connell, James F., and Blurton Jones, Nicholas G. 1991 Hunting Income Patterns Among the Hadza: Big Game, Common Goods, Foraging Goals, and the Evolution of the Human Diet. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society of London, Series B 334:243251.
Hawkes, Kristen, O’Connell, James F., and Blurton Jones, Nicholas G. 2003 Human Life Histories: Primate Tradeoffs, Grand-mothering Socioecology, and the Fossil Record. In Primate Life Histories and Socioecology, edited by Kappeler, P. and Pereira, M., pp. 204227. University of Chicago Press, Chicago.
Hawkes, Kristen, O’Connell, James F., Blurton Jones, Nicholas G., Charnov, Eric L., and Alvarez, Helen 2000 The Grandmother Hypothesis and Human Evolution. In Human Behavior and Adaptation: An Anthropological Perspective, edited by Cronk, L., Chagnon, N., and Irons, W., pp. 237258. Aldine de Grutyer, Hawthorne, New York.
Hildebrandt, William R., and Jones, Terry L. 1992 Evolution of Marine Mammal Hunting: A View from the California and Oregon Coasts. Journal of Anthropological Archaeology 11:360401.
Janetski, Joel 1997 Fremont Hunting and Resource Intensification in the Eastern Great Basin. Journal of Archaeological Science 24:10751088.
Jones, Emily Lena 2003 Dietary Evenness, Prey Choice, and Human-Environment Interactions. Journal of Archaeological Science 31:307317.
Jones, Kevin, and Madsen, David 1991 Further Experiments in Native Food Procurement. Utah Archaeology 4:6877.
Kelly, Robert 1995 The Foraging Spectrum: Diversity in Hunter-Gatherer Lifeways. Smithsonian Institution Press, Washington, D. C.
Krebs, John R., Erickson, Jonathan T., Webber, Michael I., and Charnov, Eric L. 1977 Optimal Prey Selection by the Great Tit (Parus major). Animal Behavior 25:3038.
Lambert, Patricia M. 1993 Health in Prehistoric Populations of the Santa Barbara Channel Islands. American Antiquity 58:509522.
Lambert, Patricia M. 1994 War and Peace on the Western Front: A Study of Violent Conflict and its Correlates in Prehistoric Hunter-Gatherer Societies of Coastal Southern California. Unpublished Ph. D. dissertation, Department of Anthropology, University of California, Santa Barbara.
Lambert, Patricia M., and Walker, Phillip L. 1991 Physical Anthropological Evidence for the Evolution of Social Complexity in Coastal Southern California. Antiquity 65:963973.
Lindstrom, Susan 1996 Great Basin Fisherfolk: Optimal Diet Breadth Modeling the Truckee River Aboriginal Subsistence Fishery. In Prehistoric Hunter-Gatherer Fishing Strategies, edited by Plew, Mark G., pp. 114179. Boise State University Printing Services, Boise.
Lowie, Robert 1924 Notes on Shoshonean Ethnography. Anthropological Papers of The American Museum of Natural History 20(3). American Museum Press, New York.
Lowie, Robert 1936 Ethnographic Notes on the Washoe. University of California Publications in American Archaeology and Ethnography 36:301352.
Lupo, Karen D., and Schmitt, David 2002 Upper Paleolithic Net-hunting, Small Prey Exploitation, and Women's Work Effort: A View from the Ethnographic and Ethnoarchaeological Record of the Congo Basin. Journal of Archaeological Method and Theory 9:147179.
Lyman, R. Lee 2003 Pinniped Behavior, Foraging Theory, and the De Pression of Metapopulations and Nonde Pression of a Local Population on the Southern Northwest Coast of North America. Journal of Anthropological Archaeology 22:376388.
Madsen, David B., and Kirkman, James E. 1988 Hunting Hoppers. American Antiquity 53:593604.
Madsen, David. B. and Schmitt, David 1998 Mass Collecting and the Diet Breadth Model: A Great Basin Example. Journal of Archaeological Science 25:445455.
Miller, Janette B., James, Keith W, and Maggiore, Patricia M. A. 1993 Tables of Composition of Australian Aboriginal Foods. Aboriginal Studies Press, Canberra.
Nagaoka, Lisa 2001 Using Diversity Indices to Measure Changes in Prey Choice at the Shag River Mouth Site, Southern New Zealand. International Journal of Osteoarchaeology 11:101111.
Nagaoka, Lisa 2002a The Effects of Resource De Pression on Foraging Efficiency, Diet Breadth, and Patch Use in Southern New Zealand. Journal of Anthropological Archaeology 21:419442.
Nagaoka, Lisa 2002b Explaining Subsistence Change in Southern New Zealand Using Foraging Theory Models. World Archaeology 34:84102.
Nelson, Ben A., and Le Blanc, Steven A. 1986 Short-term Sedentism in the American Southwest: The Mimbres Valley Salado. University of New Mexico Press, Albuquerque.
Noss, Andrew 1997 The Economic Importance of Communal Net Hunting among the Ba Aka of the Central African Republic. Human Ecology 25:7189.
O’Connell, James E, and Hawkes, Kristen 1981 Alyawara Plant Use and Optimal Foraging Theory. In Hunter-Gatherer Foraging Strategies: Ethnographic and Archaeological Analyses, edited by Bruce, Winterhalder and Eric, Alden Smith, pp. 99125. University of Chicago Press, Chicago.
O’Connell, James E, Hawkes, Kristen, and Blurton Jones, Nicholas G. 1999 Grandmothering and the Evolution of Homo Erectus. Journal of Human Evolution 36:461-485.
O’Connell, James F, and Marshall, Brendan 1989 Analysis of Kangaroo Body Part Transport among the Alyawara of Central Australia. Journal of Archaeological Science 16:393405.
Palmer, Theodore S. 1896 The Jackrabbits of The United States. U.S. Dept. of Agriculture, Division of Ornithology and Mammology, Bulletin No. 8.
Raven, Michelle 1990 The Point of No Diminishing Returns: Hunting and Resource Decline on Boiju Island, Torres Strait. Ph. D. Dissertation. UC, Davis.
Raymond, Anan W., and Sobel, Elizabeth 1990 The Use of Tui Chub as Food by Indians of the Western Great Basin. Journal of California and Great Basin Anthropology 12:218.
Richerson, Peter J., Boyd, Robert, and Bettinger, Robert L. 2001 Was Agriculture Impossible during the Pleistocene but Mandatory during the Holocene? A Climate Change Hypothesis. American Antiquity 66:387-411.
Sanchez, Julia 1996 A Re-evaluation of Mimbres Faunal Subsistence. Kiva 61:295307.
Satterthwaite, Leonn 1987 Socioeconomic Implications of Australian Aboriginal Net Hunting. Man (N. S.) 22:613636.
Shaffer, Brian S., and Schick, Christopher 1995 Environment and Animal Procurement by the Mogollon of the Southwest. North American Archaeologist 16:117132.
Schoener, Thomas W. 1971 Theory of Feeding Strategies. Annual Review of Ecology and Systematics 2:369-404.
Simms, Steven R. 1987 Behavioral Ecology and Hunter Gatherer Foraging: An Example from the Great Basin. BAR International Series No. 381. British Archaeological Reports, Oxford.
Smith, Eric Alden 1991 Inujjuamiut Foraging Strategies: Evolutionary Ecology of an Arctic Hunting Economy. Aldine de Gruyter, New York.
Speck, Frank G., and Schaeffer, Claude E. 1950 The Deer and the Rabbit Hunting Drive in Virginia and the Southeast. Southern Indian Studies 2:3-20.
Speck, Frank G., Royal, B. Hassrick, and Edmund, S. Carpenter 1946 Rappahannock Taking Devices: Traps, Hunting, and Fishing. Joint Publications of the Museum of the University of Pennsylvania and The Philadelphia Anthropological Society No. 1. University Museum, Philadelphia.
Stafford, Craig Russell, Richards, Ronald L., and Anslinger, C. Michael 2000 The Bluegrass Fauna and Changes in Middle Holocene Hunter-Gatherer Foraging in the Southern Midwest. American Antiquity 65:317336.
Steele, D. Gentry, and W. Baker, Barry 1993 Multiple Predation: A Definitive Human Hunting Strategy. In From Bones to Behavior: Ethnoarchaeological and Experimental Contributions to the Interpretation of Faunal Remains, edited by Jean, Hudson, pp. 937. Center for Archaeological Investigations, Carbondale, Illinois.
Stephens, David W, and Krebs, John R. 1986 Foraging Theory. Princeton University Press, Princeton.
Steward, Julian 1974 Paiute Indians III: Northern Paiute Indians. Garland, New York.
Stiner, Mary C, and Munro, Natalie 2002 Approaches to Prehistoric Diet Breadth, Demography, and Prey Ranking Systems in Time and Space. Journal of Archaeological Method and Theory 9:181214.
Szuter, Catherine R., and Bayham, Frank E. 1989 Sedentism and Prehistoric Animal Procurement Among Desert Horticulturalists of the North American Southwest. In Farmers as Hunters: The Implications of Sedentism, edited by Cambridge, S. Kent, pp. 8095. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge.
Tanno, Tadashi 1976 The Mbuti Net Hunters in the Ituri Forest, Eastern Zaire—Their Hunting Activities and Band Composition. Kyoto University African Studies 10:101135.
Ugan, Andrew S., and Bright, Jason 2001 Measuring Foraging Efficiency with Archaeological Faunas: The Relationship between Relative Abundance Indices and Foraging Returns. Journal of Archaeological Science 28:13091321.
U. S. Department of Agriculture 1989 Composition of Foods: Lamb, Veal, and Game Products. Human Nutrition Information Service. Agriculture Handbook No. 8-17.
Walker, Phillip L. 1989 Cranial Injuries as Evidence of Violence in Prehistoric Southern California. American Journal of Physical Anthropology 80:313323.
Wilkie, David S., and Curran, Bryan 1991 Why Do Mbuti Hunters Use Nets? Ungulate Hunting Efficiency of Archers and Net Hunters in the Ituri Rainforest. American Anthropologist 93:680689.
Wilmsen, Edward N., and Durham, D. 1988 Food as a Function of Seasonal Environment and Social History. In Coping with Uncertainty in Food Supply, edited by de Garine, I. and Harrison, G. A., pp. 5287. Clarendon Press, Oxford.
Winterhalder, Bruce 1981 Foraging Strategies in the Boreal Forest: An Analysis of Cree Hunting and Gathering. In Hunter-Gatherer Foraging Strategies: Ethnographic and Archaeological Analyses, edited by Winterhalder, B. and A, E. Smith, pp. 6698. University of Chicago Press, Chicago.
Winterhalder, Bruce 1983a History and Ecology of the Boreal Zone in Canada. In Boreal Forest Adaptations: The Northern Algonquians, edited by Steegmann, A. Theodore Jr., , pp. 954. Plenum Press, New York.
Winterhalder, Bruce 1983b Boreal Foraging Strategies. In Boreal Forest Adaptations: The Northern Algonquians, edited by Steegmann, A. Theodore Jr., , pp. 201241. Plenum Press, New York.
Zeanah, David 2004 Sexual Division of Labor and Central Place Foraging: A Model for the Carson Desert of Western Nevada. Journal of Anthropological Archaeology 23:1-32.


Full text views

Total number of HTML views: 0
Total number of PDF views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

Abstract views

Total abstract views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

* Views captured on Cambridge Core between <date>. This data will be updated every 24 hours.

Usage data cannot currently be displayed