Are we missing the “sweet spot” between optimality theory and niche construction theory in archaeology?

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

61 Scopus citations


Proximate decision models, such as those derived from optimal foraging theory (OFT), are important tools for predicting individual behavior and identifying contradictions to our assumptions. The models are effective for exposing anomalies because they play upon basic resource needs and costs in situations where human behavior cannot be observed directly. These decision models are not enough, however, to account for the larger processes by which repeated interactions change the nature of co-evolving species, including humans, and alterations of the conditions of selection across generations. At least two levels of mechanics and their respective temporal domains must be recognized in co-evolutionary studies. These are the primary mechanics of day-to-day decisions and actions, and the compounding mechanics of emergent phenomena that may affect the evolutionary history of populations. Local rules and goals generally govern decisions of individuals or small groups of individuals as they try to balance competing needs. Compounding rules govern emergence of larger phenomena which unfold unpredictably for generations to come. Contra some recent claims, one family of theory cannot replace the function of the other; rather they are complimentary, by speaking to very different scales of phenomena. We develop these points through a consideration of both primary and compounding dynamics in two distinct evolutionary forums: the developmental evolution of the hearth-centered residential camp in the Middle Pleistocene and the “domestic-selective” environment of a formative village at the beginning of the Holocene.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)177-184
Number of pages8
JournalJournal of Anthropological Archaeology
StatePublished - Dec 1 2016


  • Behavioral ecology
  • Co-evolution
  • Domestication
  • Fire technology
  • Human evolution
  • Niche construction
  • Optimality models
  • Paleolithic residential camps
  • Village emergence

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Human Factors and Ergonomics
  • Archaeology
  • History
  • Archaeology


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