Skip to main content
    • Aa
    • Aa

The Optimal Design of Hunting Weapons: Maintainability or Reliability

  • Peter Bleed (a1)

Design engineers share archaeologists' interest in material culture, but unlike archaeologists, engineers have developed concepts for determining the suitability of technical systems to perform specific tasks. Given the difficulty archaeologists face in developing theories of material culture, I suggest that guiding principles of engineering design offer potentially useful insights.

In this article I discuss two design alternatives for optimizing the availability of any technical system - reliability and maintainability. Reliable systems are made so that they can be counted on to work when needed. Maintainable ones can easily be made to function if they are broken or not appropriate to the task at hand. Because these design alternatives have markedly different optimal applications and observably different physical characteristics, archaeologists can link the design of prehistoric weapons to environmental constraints and to specific hunting strategies. Ethnographic examples indicate that primitive hunters do use both reliable and maintainable systems in optimal situations.

Hide All
BalikciAsen 1970 The Netsilik Eskimo. Natural History Press, New York.
BinfordLewis R. 1977 Forty-seven Trips : A Case Study in the Character of Archaeological Formation Processes. In Stone Tools as Cultural Markers, edited by SR. V. Wright, pp. 2436. Humanities Press, New Jersey.
BinfordLewis R. 1978a Dimensional Analysis of Behavior and Site Structure : Learning from an Eskimo Hunting Stand. American Antiquity 43 : 330361.
BinfordLewis R. 1978b Nunamiut Ethnoarchaeology. Academic Press, New York.
BinfordLewis R. 1979 Organization and Formation Processes : Looking at Curated Technologies. Journal of Anthropological Research 35(3) : 255273.
BinfordLewis R. 1980 Willow Smoke and Dog's Tails. Hunter-Gatherer Settlement Systems and Archaeological Site Formation. American Antiquity 45 : 420.
Birket-SmithKaj 1945 Ethnographical Collections from the Northwest Passage. Report of the Fifth Thule Expedition 1921-24, vol. VI, No. 2. Glydendalske Boghandel, Nordisk Forlag, Copenhagen.
BoasFranz 1964 The Central Eskimo. University of Nebraska Press, Lincoln.
CharnovEric L. 1976 Optimal Foraging : Attack Strategy of a Mantid. American Naturalist 110 : 141151.
HamesRaymond B. 1979 A Comparison of the Efficiencies of the Shotgun and the Bow in Neotropical Forest Hunting. Human Ecology 7(3) : 219245.
HodderIan 1982 Theoretical Archaeology : A Reactionary View. In Symbolic and Structural Archaeology, edited by HodderI., pp. 116. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge.
JochimMichael 1983 Optimization Models in Context. In Archaeological Hammers and Theories, edited by MooreJ. and KeeneA., pp. 157172. Academic Press, New York.
KeeneArthur 1981 Prehistoric Foraging in a Temperate Forest : A Linear Program Model. Academic Press, New York.
KeeneArthur 1983 Biology, Behavior and Borrowing, A Critical Examination of Optimal Foraging Theory in Archaeology. In Archaeological Hammers and Theories, edited by MooreJ. and KeeneA., pp. 137155. Academic Press, New York.
KleindienstMaxine R., and KellerCharles M. 1976 Toward a Functional Analysis of Handaxes and Cleavers : The Evidence from Eastern Africa. MAN 2 : 176187.
KonzStephan 1979 Work Design. Grid, Columbus, Ohio.
LaughlinWilliams S. 1966 Hunting : An Integrating Biobehavior System and Its Evolutionary Importance. In Man the Hunter, edited by LeeR. and DeVoreI., pp. 304320. Aldine, Chicago.
LeeRichard B. 1979 The IKung San. Cambridge University Press, New York.
MathiassenTherkel. 1928 Material Culture of the Iglukik Eskimos. Report of the Fifth Thule Expedition 1921-24, vol. VI, No. 1. Gyldendalske Boghandel, Nordisk Forlag, Copenhagen.
MiddendorfWilliam 1969 Engineering Design. Allyn and Bacon, Boston.
OstrofskyBenjamin 1977 Design, Planning, and Development Methodology. Prentice Hall, Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey.
OswaltWendel H. 1979 An Anthropological Analysis of Food Getting Technology. Willey-Interscience, New York.
PyeDavid 1978 The Nature and Aesthetics of Design. Van Nostrand Reinhold, New York.
RasmussenKnud 1931 The Netsilik Eskimo. Report of the Fifth Thule Expedition 1921-24, vol. III. No. 1-2. Gyldendalske Boghandel, Nordisk Forlag, Copenhagen.
ReidheadA. 1980 The Economics of Subsistence Change : A Test of an Optimization Model. In Modelling Change in Prehistoric Subsistence Economics, edited by EarleT. and ChristensenA., pp. 141186. Academic Press, New York.
SmithJ. Maynard 1978 Optimization Theory in Evolution. Annual Reviews in Ecology and Systematics. 9 : 3156.
TaylorKenneth I. 1974 Sanuma Fauna : Prohibition and Classification. Mongraphia No. 18, Fundacion La Salle de Ciencias Naturales, Instituto Caribe de Anthropologia y Sociologia, Caracas.
TorrenceRobin 1983 Time Budgeting and Hunter-Gatherer Technology. In Hunter-Gatherer Economy in Prehistory : A European Perspective, edited by BaileyG., pp. 1122. Cambridge University Press, New York.
WilliamsNancy 1981 Resource Managers : North American and Australian Hunter-Gatherers. Westview Press, Boulder, Colorado.
ZvelebilMarek 1984 Clues to Recent Human Evolution from Specialized Technologies. Nature 307(26) : 314315.
Recommend this journal

Email your librarian or administrator to recommend adding this journal to your organisation's collection.

American Antiquity
  • ISSN: 0002-7316
  • EISSN: 2325-5064
  • URL: /core/journals/american-antiquity
Please enter your name
Please enter a valid email address
Who would you like to send this to? *


Full text views

Total number of HTML views: 0
Total number of PDF views: 3 *
Loading metrics...

Abstract views

Total abstract views: 246 *
Loading metrics...

* Views captured on Cambridge Core between 20th January 2017 - 19th October 2017. This data will be updated every 24 hours.