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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.

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Lewis R. Binford 1978a Dimensional Analysis of Behavior and Site Structure : Learning from an Eskimo Hunting Stand. American Antiquity 43 : 330361.

Lewis R. Binford 1979 Organization and Formation Processes : Looking at Curated Technologies. Journal of Anthropological Research 35(3) : 255273.

Eric L. Charnov 1976 Optimal Foraging : Attack Strategy of a Mantid. American Naturalist 110 : 141151.

Raymond B. Hames 1979 A Comparison of the Efficiencies of the Shotgun and the Bow in Neotropical Forest Hunting. Human Ecology 7(3) : 219245.

Ian Hodder 1982 Theoretical Archaeology : A Reactionary View. In Symbolic and Structural Archaeology, edited by I. Hodder , pp. 116. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge.

Michael Jochim 1983 Optimization Models in Context. In Archaeological Hammers and Theories, edited by J. Moore and A. Keene , pp. 157172. Academic Press, New York.

Arthur Keene 1983 Biology, Behavior and Borrowing, A Critical Examination of Optimal Foraging Theory in Archaeology. In Archaeological Hammers and Theories, edited by J. Moore and A. Keene , pp. 137155. Academic Press, New York.

J. Maynard Smith 1978 Optimization Theory in Evolution. Annual Reviews in Ecology and Systematics. 9 : 3156.

Marek Zvelebil 1984 Clues to Recent Human Evolution from Specialized Technologies. Nature 307(26) : 314315.

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American Antiquity
  • ISSN: 0002-7316
  • EISSN: 2325-5064
  • URL: /core/journals/american-antiquity
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