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Social Adaptation to Food Stress

A Prehistoric Southwestern Example

Combining anthropology, archeology, and evolutionary theory, Paul E. Minnis develops a model of how tribal societies deal with severe food shortages. While focusing on the prehistory of the Rio Mimbres region of New Mexico, he provides comparative data from the Fringe Enga of New Guinea, the Tikopia of Tikopia Island, and the Gwembe Tonga of South Africa.

Minnis proposes that, faced with the threat of food shortages, nonstratified societies survive by employing a series of responses that are increasingly effective but also are increasingly costly and demand increasingly larger cooperative efforts. The model Minnis develops allows him to infer, from evidence of such factors as population size, resource productivity, and climate change, the occurrence of food crises in the past. Using the Classic Mimbres society as a test case, he summarizes the regional archeological sequence and analyzes the effects of environmental fluctuations on economic and social organization. He concludes that the responses of the Mimbres people to their burgeoning population were inadequate to prevent the collapse of the society in the late twelfth century.

In its illumination of the general issue of responses to food shortages, Social Adaptation to Food Stress will interest not only archeologists but also those concerned with current food shortages in the Third World. Cultural ecologists and human geographers will be able to derive a wealth of ideas, methods, and data from Minnis’s work.

250 pages | 6.00 x 9.00 | © 1985

Prehistoric Archeology and Ecology series


Table of Contents

Series Editors’ Foreword
1. Introduction
Dimensions of Food Stress
Research Limitations
Traditional Economies and Food Stress
Previous Anthropological Research on Food Stress
2. A Model of Economic and Organizational Responses to Food Stress
Human Adaptation
The Model
Ethnographic Examples of Responses to Food Stress
A Catalog of Some Common Responses to Food Shortages
3. Archeology of the Rio Mimbres Region
Research by the Mimbres Foundation
Culture History Outline
4. The Natural Environment of the Rio Mimbres Region
General Topography
Climatic Fluctuations
Documented Prehistoric Environmental Change
Documented Historic Environmental Change
Environmental Reconstruction
5. Estimating Food Stress in the Study Area
Prehistoric Mimbres Subsistence Economy
Modeling Subsistence Failure
6. Responses to Food Stress in the Study Area
Sociopolitical Integration
7. Conclusions
Summary of Research
Archeological Study of Food Stress
Food Stress and Southwestern Prehistory
Food Stress and Culture Change
Appendix: Plant Names
References Cited

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