Scaling of Hunter-Gatherer Camp Size and Human Sociality

Current Anthropology Vol/Iss. 63(1) University of Chicago Press Chicago Published In Pages: 68-94
By Lobo, José, Whitelaw, Todd, Bettencourt, Luís M. A., Wiessner, Polly, Smith, Michael E., Ortman, Scott


In cases where storable resources and storage technology provide a sustainable energetic return and sociocultural institutions reduce the social stress between neighbors, the scaling exponent will decrease and approach the value of two-thirds.


This hypothesis is informed by the idea that it is largely proximity costs (e.g., desire for privacy, avoidance of disease, avoidance of conflict, resource stress and demands for food-sharing caused by a large number of people in the same location) that cause hunter-gatherer camps to decrease in density as they grow larger. The authors suggest that should these proximity costs be alleviated through the ability to store food and social institutions that reduce the social stresses of people living in close proximity to one another, settlements will be constructed more in the interest of reducing movement costs and therefore will become denser. This is tested by creating ordinary least-squares models of settlement size versus settlement population for the San, which have a high rate of resource stress and demands for food sharing, as well as for semi-sedentary coastal populations of California, the Northwest North American Coast, and Extended Northwest North America which the authors judge to be more socially complex and less subject to resource stress. The authors find that the scaling coefficient exponent is almost 2 for the San, but ranges from .744 to 1.12 among the aforementioned American populations.


Test NameSupportSignificanceCoefficientTail
Ordinary Least SquaresSupport ClaimedUNKNOWNR^2 = .52, .54, .59, .71UNKNOWN


Variable NameVariable Type OCM Term(s)
Settlement SizeDependentSettlement Patterns
Population of SettlementIndependentCommunity Structure