Identification and explanation of intensified prehistoric fishing practices I

In this series of posts, I will be exploring ways to identify and explain intensified prehistoric fishing practices. Intensification refers to the input of greater amounts of labor per unit capita to procure resources. As this formal definition implies, people are working harder at subsistence activities when they intensify their way of making a living. How do we determine when people are working harder from archaeological evidence? And what factors would induce people to intensify their efforts?

A lot of theories exist to address the latter question, but the former question is the more immediate problem. We need middle-level theory (sometimes labeled middle-range theory) appropriate to the nature of the archaeological evidence. Middle-level theory links archaeological data to phenomena of interest. It allows archaeologists to say with some confidence what happened in the past, based on that evidence.

My evidence comprises collections of fish bones and other artifacts from an organic-rich trash dump at a single archaeological site. Such trash dumps are often called middens. The occupation of the site spans several hundred years. The trash dump, however, has been sufficiently undisturbed since it was deposited that it could be excavated to recover evidence representative of much shorter spans of time. The mathematical tools that I found useful as I developed appropriate middle-level theory for this evidence included regression analysis, mixture models, and maximum likelihood models. In the next post, I will begin to develop the middle-level theory in detail, talking about the blind alleys down which I went, mistakes that I made, and solutions at which I arrived. Check back soon.

© Scott Pletka and Mathematical Tools, Archaeological Problems, 2009.

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