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Changing Images of Primate Societies

Author(s): LindaM.Fedigan and ShirleyC.Strum

Source: Current Anthropology, Vol. 38, No. 4 (August/October 1997), pp. 677-681
Published by: The University of Chicago Press on behalf of Wenner-Gren Foundation for
Anthropological Research

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A New Look at Culture and

Trade on the Azanian Coast1
f e l i x a. c h a m i a nd p a u l j. m s e mw a
Archaeology Unit, University of Dar-es-Salaam/
Village Museum, Dar-es-Salaam, Tanzania. 30 i 97
Recent archaeological survey and excavation on the
central coast of East Africa have provided valuable new
information on the culture of the early-1st-millennium
inhabitants of this region, known to the ancient Greeks
and Romans as Azania. According to the Periplus of the
Erythrean Sea (a.d. 4070), Ptolemy (2d3d centuries
a.d.), and Indicopleustes (6th century a.d.), the settlements of this region obtained iron objects and glassware
from northern traders in exchange for ivory, tortoise
shell, and spices. The region is alleged to have been under the control of the Homeritae of Arabia Felix (Casson
1989) and to have been visited by Indonesians (Miller
1969). Pliny reports that the Indonesians brought spices
from South and East Asia to be ferried to the Mediterranean through the Horn or the interior and, if they survived the five-year return journey, carried back glassware and bronzework, clothing, brooches, armlets, and
necklaces (Miller 1969:156). The documents mention
Rhapta, located on a promontory and a bay of the same
name, as the regions major emporium and the Roman
Empires southernmost market. Scholars have pointed
to various possible locations for Rhapta, among them
the Rufiji Delta, the Dar-es-Salaam Bay, and the mouth
of the Pangani River (for discussion see Datoo 1970, Kirwan 1986, Casson 1989); Horton (1990:9899) has recently placed it in the Lamu Archipelago or the area
north of the Zanzibar Channel.
Evidence to supplement the information in the Greek
and Roman literature has come from the discovery of
ancient coins in various parts of East Africaall, however, from nonarchaeological contexts. From Kimoni,
north of Tanga, there are two Roman coins, one from
the reign of Carus (a.d. 282283) and one from that of
Constans (minted a.d. 335337), and one Byzantine
one, from the reign of Heraclius (a.d. 610641) (Chittick 1966:15657). A coin from the reign of Ptolemy
Soter (116 b.c. to a.d. 108) was sold to a German merchant in Dar-es-Salaam in 1901. The Zanzibar Museum
has a collection of Persian coins of unknown provenience dating to the 1st to 3d centuries a.d.; others from
1. 1997 by The Wenner-Gren Foundation for Anthropological Research. All rights reserved 0011-3204/97/3804-0007$1.00.

other parts of Middle East range in time from the 2d

century b.c. to the 14th century a.d.
Archaeological evidence for early-1st-millenniuma.d. settlement has until recently been lacking. Chittick (1975:189) summed up the situation in the mid1970s as follows: Archaeologically speaking, there are
no settlements known on the coast which antedate for
certain the ninth or tenth century, nor any which were
not already importing goods directly or indirectly from
the Islamic world. Except around such major monumental sites as Kilwa and Manda, few areas had been
surveyed for sites. As a consequence, discussions of the
history of Azania have long been essentially confined to
the interpretation of the ancient documents (Miller
1969, Chittick 1975, Sheriff 1981, Casson 1989).
The inhabitants of Azania, described in the Periplus
as big-bodied, have generally been considered to have
been southern Cushites (see Casson 1989), and Horton
(1990:9697) has suggested that their material remains
are affiliated with the Pastoral-Neolithic tradition of
the interior Rift Valley of Kenya and northern Tanzania
(see also Allen 1993). Chami (1994) has challenged this
view, and elsewhere he (199495), Haaland (199495),
and Schmidt (199495) have argued on archaeological
evidence that farmers representing the Kwale Early Iron
Working tradition living on the coast in the early 1st
millennium a.d. established the foundations for the
coastal Swahili tradition that had emerged by the end of
that millennium. Sutton (199495:231) disagrees: The
date is probably just a little too early for the appearance
of the makers of Kwale ware in the immediate hinterland, who as the normal argument runs would have
been the first Bantu hereabouts. The Azanians could
therefore have been Cushitic-speakers or they could
have had trade connections with mobile groups inland
who supplied ivory and other valued products. The preliminary findings from survey and excavation on the
coast in the past two years shed light on this controversy.
the archaeological data
Since 1986, archaeologists working on the central coast
of Tanzania (fig. 1) have uncovered concrete evidence
dating to the 1st6th centuries a.d. Sites with typical
Early Iron Working period pottery are listed with their
C 14 dates in table 1.
Kwale, about 30 km southwest of Mombasa, was first
excavated by Soper (1967) and yielded local pottery of
the Early Iron Working tradition that was designated
the Kwale variant (Soper 1971). The site has been dated
to the 3d century a.d.
Limbo, a site apparently earlier than Kwale (dated to
the beginning of our era) 20 km inland and 75 km south

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674 c u r r e n t an t hr o p o l o g y

F i g. 1. The central coast of East Africa, showing

possible ancient cultural and trade network. 1,
Kwale; 2, Kiwangwa; 3, Mpiji; 4, Unguja Ukuu; 5,
Limbo; 6, Misasa; 7, Kwale Island; 8, Koma Island; 9,
Kivinja; 10, Mafia Island; 11, Kilwa.

of Dar-es-Salaam, has yielded many sherds of the Early

Iron Working tradition, several tonnes of slag, and tuyere fragments. Study of these smelting materials indicates that the site was an industrial one, producing iron
for a wider area. Several pieces of pointed iron objects
were also recovered (Chami 1992).
Kwale Island, Koma Island, and Mafia Island, 4 km,
10 km, and 20 km from the mainland respectively, all

have sites with Early Iron Working pottery. Only the

Kwale Island site, the first Kwale-variant site to be
found on the off-shore islands, has been excavated. It
has proved to be a multicomponent site, with Early Iron
Working materials at the bottom, 7090 cm below the
surface and dated to the 3d and 4th centuries a.d. Associated with potsherds from this period were animal and
fish bones, marine shells, and an iron object (Chami and
Msemwa 1997).
Kivinja is located approximately 20 km north of the
Rufiji Delta at the mouth of a small river. At high tide
the river carries a large amount of silt and mud from the
delta; wells dug in the vicinity by salt makers show that
the deposits here are more than 1 m thick. Areas with
such thick deposits are quickly overgrown by mangroves, which the salt makers use heavily for fuel. Salt
is produced mainly during the dry season by people
from as far inland as Kibiti, some 30 km away, and is
exchanged for agricultural products and/or for cash. A
survey in December 1994 revealed abundant Kwale
Early Iron Working potsherds on the surface in an area
extending some 3 km along the shore and 1 km inland;
many sherds were observed on eroded footpaths and at
the edge of the site cut by the present shoreline.
Excavation of the site produced, in addition to Early
Iron Working pottery, a fair amount of pottery of a later
tradition identified elsewhere as Triangular Incised
Ware. This was the first time Triangular Incised Ware
materials had been found clearly overlying Early Iron
Working materials. Since then another such occurrence
has been found at a site near the Rufiji Delta (Chami
and Mapunda, research in progress). These discoveries
lay to rest the speculation (Horton 1990) that the Triangular Incised Ware tradition was earlier than the Early
Iron Working. Associated materials in the Triangular
Incised Ware horizon included iron slag, iron hooks, and
lead objects. Both horizons contained the remains of
imported ceramics and glassware. The glassware is
comparable to wares observed at the Greco-Roman site

table 1
Key Sites with Early Iron Working Cultural Materials
Kwale Island

Koma Island
Mafia Island


Lab. No.

C14Date (calib.)

lat. 4 11 S
long. 39 35 E
lat. 7 28 S
long. 39 23 E
lat. 7 28 S
long. 39 25 E


a.d. 270 6 115

a.d. 260 6 115
a.d. 425 6 55
a.d. 241 6 60
b.c. 90 6 60
b.c. 93 6 60
a.d. 233 6 60
b.c. 167 6 90
a.d. 431 6 70
a.d. 598 6 70

lat. 7 28 S
long. 39 15 E
lat. 7 33 S
long. 39 23 E
lat. 7 40 S
long. 39 40 E

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Volume 38, Number 4, AugustOctober 1997 675

of Fayum in Egypt, and the pottery is a milky-white

paste glazed with alkaline green and blue that was produced from the 3d century b.c. in the Middle East (Lane
1947:89; Pope 1939). From this evidence it is tempting
to infer that when the site was open to the sea and the
river it was a port. Kivinja is the first Early Iron Working site on the coast of East Africa to yield such elaborate ceramic information and the first to produce evidence of early-1st-millennium transoceanic trade links.
The glass objects imported into East Africa reported in
the Periplus and in Pliny can now be verified archaeologically. An alkaline glass bead has recently been
found in another site near the Rufiji Delta associated
with Limbo-type Early Iron Working cultural materials
(Chami and Mapunda, research in progress).
The finds just described strongly suggest that early1st-millennium Azania was inhabited by iron-producing agricultural communities. Additional discoveries
suggest that at the beginning of the 6th century a.d. the
communities of this region were playing a major role in
transoceanic trade. These communities are archaeologically identified by the pottery tradition know as
Triangular Incised Ware. The site of Unguja Ukuu, on
Zanzibar Island, is particularly important for an understanding of this period. First, the presence in its earliest
cultural horizon of Early Iron Working pottery indicates
that people had reached this island, along with Koma,
Kwale, and Mafia, before the development of the more
sophisticated Triangular Incised Ware tradition. Second, it has yielded a wide variety of imports from India,
the Middle East, and the Roman world, all dated to the
5th to 7th century a.d. (Juma 1996), including pottery,
glassware, beads, alabaster, and various kinds of metals.
The site of Misasa, seaward of Limbo on the coast,
has yielded crucial information on littoral-interior links
in the 5th and 6th centuries a.d. Its cultural materials
are very similar to those from Unguja Ukuu, suggesting
that the latter was an emporium from which traders
crossed the channel to mainland settlements (Chami
Typical Early Iron Working and Triangular Incised
Ware materials have also been found on Kilwa Island,
separated from the mainland by a channel some 2 km
wide. This site is better known for its Triangular Incised Ware component, which close examination reveals should be placed in the early phase of that tradition (Chittick 1974).
Kiwangwa, in the Bagamoyo hinterland 45 km north
of Dar-es-Salaam, has yielded early-phase Triangular Incised Ware materials with fragments of imported glass
and green/blue ware. Dated to the 7th century, the finds
suggest that trade connections in ancient times had
reached far into the interior (Chami 1994).
Eastern and Southern African Early Iron Working communities have been strongly associated with Bantuspeaking people (Phillipson 1985, Soper 1971). The
surviving remnants of the ancient coastal language in-

dicate that the language was Bantu (Chami 1996), and

according to Arabic documents dated to the 9th century
a.d. the Kenya and Tanzania coasts were Bantu-speaking (Trimingham 1975). Now that Early Iron Working
sites have been found in the interior, on the coast, and
on the off-shore islands, it can be argued that the Azanians were ironworking farmers and were probably Negroid rather than Cushites. Limbo, in the heart of the
central coast, has three C 14 dates strongly suggesting
that the early farmers and iron smelters were probably
on the coast by the end of the last century b.c., and
these are the people who probably initiated the transoceanic trade. It was been suggested that C 14 dates are
being taken uncritically to support a particular position
with regard to cultural origins (see Sutton 199495:
231), but we see no reason that several consistent dates
should not be used to argue for a Bantu-speaking presence. Again, if Early Iron Working pottery is accepted
as associated with Bantu-speaking farmers, we see no
reason that finds of this pottery on the central coast
should not be used to suggest the presence of Bantuspeaking farmers in the area.
Despite the original view that they were pirates (Sutton 1990, Horton 1990), Sheriff (1981:555) interprets the
report in the Periplus that the people of Rhapta had
sewn boats to mean that they had dug-out canoes and
small sewn boats, but not apparently deep-sea dhows.
Drawing support from Al-Idris, who wrote in the 12th
century a.d. that the Zanj had no ships to voyage in but
used vessels from Oman and other countries (Freeman-Grenville 1975:19), Sheriff advanced the idea that
the Azanians were characterized by a low level of technology. It is apparent from our work, however, that the
Azanians had iron technology; they could have made
tools to construct seagoing vessels. Moreover, it is now
certain that the Azanians of the Early Iron Working culture were probably the first occupants of all the major
islands of East Africa, and they must have had vessels
better than sewn boats. The little sewn boats were probably used for fishing and crossing narrow channels, and
given the nascent nature of the ancient economy these
would have been the boats most visible to visitors.
Our own sailing experiments between the port of Kisiju and the islands of Kwale, Koma, and Mafia strongly
suggest that unless the ancient seas were less turbulent
few sailors would have dared to venture 10 km on the
ocean in simple canoes or sewn boats (mitepe). Our informants confirmed that only the very courageous
would dare to cross by canoe from Kisiju to Koma, a distance of about 10 km. Currently only dhows cross between Kisiju and the islands. We sailed in one from Mafia to Kisiju in seven hours before a very strong wind.
The sailors indicated that no outrigger canoe would survive the force of the wind and the waves that we were
experiencing. This means that, if ancient conditions
were like those seen today, the Azanians must have had
bigger vessels on the model of our modern dhows to be
able to cross from the mainland to Mafia and Koma.
At this juncture it is difficult to tell how far north and
south these local sailing activities extended. Since the

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676 c u r r e n t an t hr o p o l o g y

transoceanic trade points to the north, it can be deduced

that the northern coast of Tanzania and Kenya were
fully involved. To the south, however, further research
is required to clear the fog. Research on the coast of Mozambique indicates that it has Early Iron Working sites,
but no trade goods have been found in them (Sinclair et
al. 1993).
For the Comores and Madagascar, archaeological research has not revealed any cultural horizon earlier
than the 8th century a.d. (Wright 1992; Verin 1975,
1986). It is now established that the earliest ancestors
of the present-day Malagasy people may have reached
the island in the 10th century or thereafter. Although
the report that ancient Indonesians visited the Azanian
coast, combined with the occurrence of certain cultural
elements in both places, has led scholars (Oliver 1966,
Jones 1971) to speculate, for instance, that the presentday Malagasy are descended from them, to date there
is no archaeological indication of this alleged visit. The
outrigger canoes and sewn boats that occur both in Indonesia and on the East African coast as far south as
Kilwa can best be explained as independent adaptations
to sailing in calm waters; the ocean south of Kilwa is
too rough for simple boats. If the outrigger canoe was
indeed an Indonesian invention introduced to East Africa, the sailing of such vessels must have taken place
at a time of year when the ocean was calm. Pliny, however, describes the Indonesians as setting out on rafts
during the time of winter solstice, when the east
winds are blowing their hardest (Miller 1969:156).
This means that they faced rough seas requiring human courage,and Pliny says that many of them perished.
The evidence from Early Iron Working sites suggests
that, as early as the beginning of the 1st century a.d.,
the coast of East Africa was settled by Negroid ironworking farmers. By a.d. 200 exchange between the
coast and the islands had been firmly established, and
by the 7th century many sites found all over the interior, the coast, and the islands indicate the existence of
a network of exchange of goods and ideas (Chami 1994
95; Msemwa 1994:1365). The social relations implied
by these connections would have contributed to the development of similar cultural traditions over a wide
area the elements of which can be observed in archaeological sites. More archaeological evidence will be required to confirm the alleged colonization of Azania by
the Homeritae of Arabia.
It is now certain that both local and transoceanic
trade date to the earliest 1st millennium a.d. An industrial site such as Limbo would have supplied the demands for iron of settlements on the coast and the offshore islands, where iron ore is scarce. The inhabitants
of the coralline islands of Kwale and Koma might well
have provided others with deep-water marine resources
in exchange for mainland products such as grain and
iron much as they exchange fish for grain and finished

goods today. Koma and Mafia have very good soil for
coconuts, their main stock in trade with the mainland
today. Coastal Kivinja would have traded fish and salt
with interior settlements producing iron and grains.
The transoceanic trade would have contributed to the
development of a central place attracting vessels bringing foreign goods. It is apparent that the central coast of
Tanzania, near or in the Rufiji Delta, should be considered among the likely locations of such an early emporium. All the indicators mentioned in the Periplus
(promontory, sewn boats, archaic fishing methods, imported goods) are found there, and in the immediate hinterland there are good soils for cultivation, red lateritic
soils for iron smelting, and wildlife for ivory. The ancient alkaline bead recently found in a Limbo-type site
20 km inland from the delta confirms this trade link.
By the beginning of the 7th century trade with India,
Mesopotamia, and the Mediterranean had penetrated
farther into the interior, and at this point Unguja Ukuu
was probably the trade center. By now, as Horton (1987)
has pointed out, Azanian sailors may themselves have
been venturing into North Indian waters.

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Changing Images of Primate

l i n d a m. f e d i g a n a n d s h i r l e y c. s tr u m
Department of Anthropology, University of Alberta,
Edmonton, Alberta, Canada T6G 2H4/Department of
Anthropology, University of California at San Diego,
La Jolla, Calif. 92093-0532, U.S.A. 3 iii 97
Women scientists are widely considered to have played
a major role in the historical shifts that have taken
1. 1997 by The Wenner-Gren Foundation for Anthropological Research. All rights reserved 0011-3204/97/3804-0008$1.00. The
conference participants, their affiliations, and (where appropriate)
their paper titles were as follows: Pamela Asquith (Department of
Anthropology, University of Alberta), Japanese Constructs of Primate Societies; Richard Byrne (Department of Psychology, University of St. Andrews), The Role of Imitation in Primate Cognition; Linda Fedigan (Department of Anthropology, University of
Alberta), co-organizer, Theory, Method, and Gender: What
Changed Our Views of Primate Society?; Stephen Glickman (Department of Psychology, University of California at Berkeley),

place in our interpretations of primate society. Primatology is a young science, having fully emerged only
since the end of World War II, and during this short period, interpretations of primate behavior and society
have changed considerably (see Strum and Fedigan n.d.).
To some observers, primatology appears to be an excellent example of a science that has been feminized.
But to what extent is the prevalent popular image of the
woman primatologist in the field a recent creation of
the American media? And what are the relative contributions of variables other than gender to shifts in perceptions about primate society, among them changes in
theory and methods, changing societal concerns, and
the interaction of science and society? How might we
bring empirical evidence to bear on these issues? Have
analogous shifts in the interpretation of social life occurred in related disciplines (sociocultural anthropology
and archaeology, psychology, ethology and animal behavior) and in other national traditions of primatology
(Japanese, Brazilian, British)? It was to begin to address
these questions that Shirley Strum and Linda Fedigan
Disciplines, Subdisciplines, and Cultural Influences: A View from
Comparative Psychology; Donna Haraway (History of Consciousness, University of California at Santa Cruz), Morphing in the
Order: Flexible Strategies, Feminist Science Studies, and Primate
Revisions; Robert A. Hinde (St. Johns College, Cambridge), Primatology Had Multiple Sources; Sarah Blaffer Hrdy of California
at Davis), Raising Darwins Consciousness: Female Sexuality and
the Prehominid Origins of Patriarchy; Alison Jolly (Department
of Ecology, Princeton University), The Bad Old Days of Primatology; Evelyn Fox Keller (Science, Technology, and Sociology, Massachusetts Institute of Technology), Women, Gender, and Science: Some Parallels between Primatology and Developmental
Biology; Hans Kummer (Switzerland), Lost Topics in Primate Research (in absentia); Bruno Latour (Centre de Sociologie de lInnovation, Ecole des Mines), Primate Relativity: Reflections of a Fellow-Traveler; Gregg A. Mitman (Department of History of
Science, University of Oklahoma),Life in the Field: The Nature of
Popular Culture in 1950s America; Brian Noble (Department of
Anthropology, University of Alberta), Leaky Visions of Gender,
Nature, and Apes in 1995: The Persistence of Fosseys Mist; Naomi Quinn (Department of Cultural Anthropology, Duke University), Women Theorizing Gender: The Case of Cultural Anthropology; Thelma Rowell (West Chapel House, Chapel-le-Dale,
Ingleton via Carnforth, England), A Few Peculiar Primates; Craig
Stanford (Department of Anthropology, University of Southern
California at Los Angeles); Chimpanzees, Bonobos, and Human
Origins: Empirical Evidence and Shifting Assumptions; Karen
Strier (Department of Anthropology, University of Wisconsin),
Diversity, Demography, and Population Variability; Shirley
Strum (Department of Anthropology, University of California at
San Diego), co-organizer, Theory, Method, and Gender: What
Changed Our Views of Primate Society?; Robert Sussman (Department of Anthropology, Washington University), Piltdown Man:
The Father of American Field Primatology; Hiroyuki Takasaki
(Laboratory of Anthropology, Okayama University of Science),
Traditions of the Kyoto School of Field Primatology in Japan; Zuleyma Tang-Martinez (Department of Biology, University of Missouri), Expensive Eggs, Cheap Sperm, and Sexually Passive Females: A Paradigm in Transition; Alison Wylie (Department of
Philosophy, University of Western Ontario), The Engendering of
Archaeology: Reconfiguring Feminist Science Studies; Maria Emilia Yamamoto (Universidade Federal do Rio Grande do Norte),
Brazilian Primatology: The Last Ten Years. Representing the
Wenner-Gren Foundation were Sydel Silverman (President), Laurie
Obbink (Conference Program Associate), and Mara Drogan (Program Administrator)

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678 c u r r e n t an t hr o p o l o g y

co-organized a conference sponsored by the WennerGren Foundation for Anthropological Research and attended by 23 scholars from eight countries.2 The workshop, entitled Changing Images of Primate Societies:
The Role of Theory, Method, and Gender, was held
June 1523, 1996, in Teresopolis, Brazil. It represented
the first major attempt to bring primatologists of a variety of ages, nationalities, and schools of thought together with scientists in related behavioral disciplines
and with scholars in feminist, science, and popular culture studies. Particularly noteworthy is that this was
the first sustained encounter, at least in the North
American context, between scientists and those who
study them.
To facilitate a collaborative examination of the issues
just identified, we first circulated a position paper on
changing ideas in North American primatology from
1920 to the present. Focusing on primate field studies
and on evolutionary interpretations of behavior and society, primarily by American scientists, we asked the
primatologist participants to address aspects of the history of the discipline emphasizing either a particular
stage or an issue that had changed through time.
Primatology occupies a unique position in the history
of science, having developed from traditions within at
least three different academic disciplines (anthropology,
psychology, and zoology) and having flourished within
several different national/cultural settings, including
those of North America, Britain, continental Europe,
Brazil, and Japan. We tried to put North American primatology in context by asking whether shifts in our interpretations of primate society are unique or part of
larger trends that can be documented elsewhere. Thus,
experts from other fields and cultures were asked to describe developments in related disciplines and in other
national traditions over the same period.
It is also important to place changing ideas in primatology within a larger context of science and society.
We called on a variety of analytic expertise for an examination of the scientific process and how knowledge is
constructed, an assessment of the impact of the womens movement and the role of women scientists, and
insights about the interaction of popular and scientific
cultures, especially the role of the media. We asked the
experts in science, feminist, and popular culture studies
to address questions such as the relationship between
changing ideas in science and changing facts, the effects
of the womans movement and the presence of women
practitioners on the nature of various sciences, and the
role of the media in creating images of women, of scientists, and of nature.
The discussions were divided into three parts: (1)
Changing Factors within PrimatologyMethod, Theory, and Gender, (2) The Comparative Perspective, and
(3) The Larger Context. We had understood our guiding
questions to be multifactorial, but in the early days of
the conference we came to realize that the issues were
even more complex than we had previously thought.
Each of the major factors that we had identified
method, theory, and genderturned out on closer in-

spection to be heterogeneous, interdependent, and controversial. There was disputation among the participants over how to define these factors, how to measure
their influence, and even what words to use to talk
about them. We had deliberately invited representatives
of many schools of thought and had expected several opposing forces (e.g., pro- and antisociobiology, pro- and
antifeminism), but we had not fully anticipated that the
scientists and those who study them would hold such
different views of what science is. Apparently representatives of the two groups had never been brought face
to face to discuss science with enough participants to
create two critical masses. As a result, the two sides
were initially suspicious of each other, and this barrier
to communication only slowly dissolved.
The opening session of the first part of the conference
was intended to be a discussion of the impact of methods on the way we think about primate society. Instead,
it was greatly taken up with issues of communication
as participants from different disciplines struggled to
find common linguistic and epistemological ground.
Some time was spent trying to sort out the differences
between methods, methodology, and techniques and to
determine whether it is possible to separate method
from theory in any general sense. For example, methods
may, on the one hand, be driven and constrained by the
theory that frames the study, while on the other hand
they may be envisioned as expanded through the inclusion of instrumental factors such as the antimalarial
drugs and rapid air travel that greatly changed the practices of primatologists. In addition to communication
and definitional issues, substantive methodological
matters were discussed, among them the benefits of experimental versus observational techniques, the lack of
methods for dealing with stochastic processes, and the
potential of new noninvasive techniques for collecting
biological samples. There was much discussion of
whether the observational work of Japanese primatologists was truly method-free. We began to realize that
methods are inevitably situated in cultural, disciplinary, and historical contexts and therefore questions
about the impact of methods on primatology are best
answered when so situated.
The second session, on the influence of theory on primatology, generated less heat over the meanings and
uses of terms across disciplines, but even here there
were disputes. By the end of the session participants had
used the term theory in at least 13 different ways, and
it became obvious that, as with methods, theory must
also be situated in time, space, and context. For example, sociobiology, ethology, group selection, and behavioral ecology had different histories and connotations
for primatologists from different national/cultural traditions and even for primatologists from different institutions within North America. How and when does a
theory such as sociobiology travel across disciplinary
and cultural boundaries, and what makes it transportable? Is it the criterion of testability or the perception that it is useful and productive in advancing research in a localized setting? One factor that surfaced

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Volume 38, Number 4, AugustOctober 1997 679

repeatedly in our discussions was the overriding importance of institutional location in determining how a
theory or a researchers work is received, tested, communicated, and transformed.
We had another set of definitional and conceptual issues to address in the session on the impact on primatology of gender, namely, the meanings of gender,
female, woman, and feminism for participants
from different backgrounds. Keller presented a helpful
distinction between three types of analyses of women,
gender, and science: (1) the study of women in science
(historical, biographical projects), (2) the science of gender (studies of how science has contributed to myths of
gender), and (3) gender in science (study of the symbolic
role of gender in science itselfthe way in which dominant views of gender shape our expectations and inform
science). One point raised in this session was whether
some of the scientists present were making the mistake
of essentializing gender to mean sex (i.e., biologically
female). Gender, all finally agreed, is a cultural construct not identical to woman or female. Several of the
feminist scholars pointed out that gender has proved
surprisingly unstable in time and space. Whereas the
science scholars argued that gender is not a permanent
property of an individual but rather varies across contexts and cultures, several of the scientists continued to
insist that it is, and must be, possible to measure and
generalize about gender within a given culture and time
frame. Otherwise we are just talking about an infinitely
variable phenomenon with no reference point. The
deeper issue in this discussion was finding widely acceptable ways to talk about, study, and understand science.
The second part of the conference dealt with comparisons across related disciplines. The three subdisciplines
of anthropology that were compared (sociocultural, archaeology, primatology) seemed to have had, for example, quite different histories with regard to womens issues. Quinn argued that in sociocultural anthropology
(unlike primatology) the feminism of the 1960s and
1970s was displaced by postmodernism in the 1980s.
Wylie noted that gender issues entered archaeology
much later (in the 1980s) than in sociocultural anthropology or primatology. Silverman noted that the different subdisciplines have differed in the extent and timing of the inclusion of women in their ranks.
Discussion in this session also touched on why primatology has had so little influence on the other subdisciplines of anthropology and whether it is correctly located in the larger discipline. Although, as noted by
Sussman, primatologists bring an important component
to the study of human variability and universals, they
are not well accepted by their anthropological colleagues, in Striers view, once they adopt biological
methods and theory.
Interestingly, there seemed to be more similarities
between primatology and psychology or primatology
and animal behavior than among the subdisciplines of
anthropology. For example, according to Glickman, the
history of sexual behavior studies in rats parallels some

of the developments in sexual behavior research in primates, and the history of hyena field studies exhibits
some similarities to that of primate field studies. Further, according to Tang-Martinez, the changing view of
the female mammal (especially the female ground
squirrel) in animal behavior studies is similar to the
changing view of the female primate. Both have involved a move from passive to active females, from socially unimportant females to female-bonded societies,
and from asymmetrical terms such as harems to
terms that recognize the central significance of females
in their societies.
The third part of the conference opened with a session examining different national traditions of primatology. Hinde, Rowell, and Kummer argued that British
and continental European primatology grew directly
out of classical ethological research, even though the
earliest practitioners in Britain worked and trained students in departments of anatomy, psychology, and anthropology. Unlike the Washburn school of primatology
in North America, British primatology did not grow out
of a desire to use primates as models for human evolution. However, Byrne suggested that Hinde and Rowell
were presenting the view from Madingley and that
British primatologists from other institutions would
present a different history. He argued that all primatologists are fundamentally interested in learning more
about humans. Brazilian primatology, according to Yamamoto, was at first focused on establishing and maintaining captive colonies of primates for biomedical use,
but in the past 20 years conservation has been the major
impetus for field studies of primates and most young
Brazilian scientists studying primates are trained as
conservationists. Brazilian primatologists do not yet
have the impact that they desire on an international
front, and in some respects their concerns (marginalization, difficulties in publishing and being cited) parallel
the womens issues in North American and European
science. Asquith argued that just as gender and
woman are categories that are heterogeneous and do
not stand still, so Japanese primatology is not a monolithic, static enterprise. She noted that many vital insights into primate society in Japanese publications
were missed by Western scientists because these findings were couched in terms that we regard as anthropomorphic and overly descriptive. Takasaki described the
Kyoto schools approach to primatology with highly
evocative metaphorsthey do primatography rather
than primatology; their way of doing science produces
both gems and pebbles; they regard the Western insistence on the primacy of theory in science as extracting
the nutrients from food and eating them as pills.
The session on popular culture focused on the medias role in creating and disseminating both scientific
ideas and cultural images of primates and of women
studying animals. Mitman argued that scientists need
to take the media very seriously because much is at
stake, including funding and the transformation of field
sites into tourist sites. Haraway described primatology
as a zone of implosion where multiple factors con-

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680 c u r r e n t an t hr o p o l o g y

verge and entangle, resulting in a rich, thick complexity. Noble analyzed the representation of Goodall in
National Geographic articles and Fossey in the film Gorillas in the Mist as images of women primatologists
that influence the public and the next generation of students. Stanford described the making of the television
documentary The New Chimpanzees, in which he participated, as an example of the way in which the
producer/editor and not the scientist controls the message and the final product. Jolly argued that the threat
of extinction of primates is changing primatology and
described the positive role of the media in creating this
shift. What we learned from this session is that we ignore the public realm at our peril and that we have social responsibilities as scientists to communicate with
the public through the media. Participants concluded
that because there will always be a powerful incentive
to use science as represented in the media to reinforce
cultural values rather than attempting to control the
media after the fact it is best to include journalists and
filmmakers from the start.
In the science studies session, we examined the production of knowledge in relation to different models of
science with a particular focus on what happens during
scientific practice rather than on the normative aspects.
The resulting discussion was about how science really
works, how to delineate good and bad science, whether
there really is a scientific method and how important
it is, whether scientific knowledge is cumulative, and
whether there is a difference between what scientists
do and what science is. Latour presented a model of science with five articulated horizons that demonstrated
why the practice of science cannot and should not be
viewed as isolated from the rest of the world, and participants discussed and suggested modifications to it. Mitman described the methods that historians of science
use to understand how a given science has changed over
time. Sussman discussed the problem of determining
when we have enough data to support a theory and
whether a question is answerable. Haraway helped
those unfamiliar with science studies to understand the
variety of work encompassed by the field by presenting
three different ethnographic approaches to the study of
science. There was particular interest in her presentation because her Primate Visions was the first and most
extensive analysis of primatology from a science studies
perspective. Participants concluded that the production
and dissemination of scientific knowledge is a dynamic
process that requires theories, methods, inscription devices, colleagues, allies, and public relations just to get
started. We often assume that popularization of science
is a form of dissemination and that scientists can or
should control the medias reports of their work, but
this diffusionist model and the scientists assumptions
about it may not be correct.
In a deliberate effort to return once more to the concrete, the penultimate sessions began with a roundrobin question to participants: Had their ideas ever
changed, and why? Many of the accounts were conversion tales in which a scientist began with a received

truth or a definite, clear idea and the behavior of the

subjects themselves changed the scientists mind, and
many of the examples occurred early in the scientists
The goal of this conference was to combine our diverse expertise to come to a better understanding of
how and why our perceptions of primate societies have
changed. We hoped to learn from the collective effort
how to ask better questions and where to search for better answers. Thus we have no results in any standard
sense to present. It was a historic and novel event in
itself to assemble scientists and those who study them
to discuss matters of science, in this case primatology.
Although we did not get as far in terms of concrete
conclusions as we might have with a homogeneous
group of experts, we certainly can draw lessons from our
discussions and point to the ways in which different
ideas about science can generate mutual suspicion and
barriers to communication that can be overcome with
time and effort.
The three sessions in the first part of our conference
were sobering in that they required us to define our
terms and to acknowledge the complexity of the issues.
We learned that it takes extra work to talk across disciplines but that cross-disciplinary communication opens
up new ways of looking at familiar problems. We also
realized that our initial questiontheory, method, and
gender, what changed our minds?had to be carefully
situated. Finally, we recognized the need for a method
or set of methods for determining how primatology has
changed that will be acceptable to both practitioners of
science and those who study science. We came to the
conclusion that studying the development of a science
is as complex and multifactorial as studying the ontogeny of an individual and needs to account for at least as
many levels of interaction.
Several lessons also emerged from the second part of
the conference. First, we found that even subdisciplines
housed within the same academic department (such as
anthropology) might have quite disparate histories and
that members of these subdisciplines might have little
awareness of the theoretical and methodological issues
that interested their colleagues. Second, we discovered
that there was disagreement over whether and when
primatology had achieved independence from its parental disciplines of anthropology, psychology, and
ethology/animal behavior. And finally, we learned once
again that we must be more specific about the variables
in any comparison of primatology with other disciplines because the fields of anthropology, psychology,
and animal behavior are large and heterogeneous and
are practiced differently in different nations and even in
different institutions within North America.
During the final part of the conference, several useful
suggestions were made as to how to further research on
our topic; a team approach involving different techniques and types of expertise was one such suggestion.
Participants recognized the danger of falling into the
science wars trap, in which practitioners and science
studies scholars or scientists and the media are seen as

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Volume 38, Number 4, AugustOctober 1997 681

adversaries. It was concluded that addressing complex

issues requires collaboration.
A number of challenges remain: formulating questions about changes in primatology in such a way that
the rich history of local events is not lost, determining
what will constitute the evidence for change and how
it can be gathered, and encouraging the relevant experts
to communicate and collaborate across disciplinary
boundaries. Several conclusions can also be drawn.
First, this conference opened up several new ways of
thinking about the science of primatology; participants
suggested both new avenues of research and new constraints on how we ask and answer questions. Second,
although some of the participants felt that we spent too
much time discussing questions of science, it was clear
that we cannot understand specific patterns in any aspect of primatology without a general framework for
what science is. This conference focused upon what has
happened in the past, but an understanding of what has
gone before will also allow us to move forward in the
future. And everyone was concerned about the future:
the future of primates, of primatology, of the other disciplines, and of science. We have formed an e-mail list
or chat group to continue the discussions begun in Brazil. A book based on revisions of the conference papers,
continuing discussions among the participants, and our
emerging understanding of how science and gender
issues are embedded in our perceptions of the history of
primatology is in preparation.

tinguishing pre- and posttransitional regimes and Bongaarts (1978) in revising the intermediate variables of
fertility identified by Davis and Blake (1956) and suggesting that the total fertility rate of a population can
be calculated by combining its proximate determinants.
Reviewing studies of European populations, Henry
(1961) identified two different patterns of fertility. In
the pretransition stage, fertility was high and independent of the number of previous offspring, while in the
posttransition stage fertility was low and dependent on
the number of previous offspring. Henry was trying to
obtain a baseline representing the fertility of populations that did not practice birth control with which to
compare the fertility rate of contemporary societies
(Landers 1990), but to his surprise he found that the
marital fertility of pretransition societies was quite
variable. This led him to reject the concept of physiological fertility in favor of the new concept of natural
fertility. Although the concept of natural fertility was
first used by Pearl (1939), the exact definition comes
from Henry (1961):

Reference Cited

Given this definition, natural fertility would have been

characteristic of the pretransition period, in which the
human population was characterized by high birth and
death rates (Handwerker 1983, Hassan 1981).
Bongaarts (1978) considered the independence of the
number of previous offspring characteristic of the pretransition period a function of two of the proximate determinants he identified: (1) the proportion of married
women and (2) the mean duration of the infertile period
following birth. Furthermore, he considered the dependence of this variable characteristic of the posttransition period a function of these same proximate determinants and of (3) the effectiveness of contraceptive
methods and (4) the rate of abortion. Thus, the transition from natural fertility to controlled fertility is reflected in the increase of contraception and abortion as
ways of preventing births.
The decline of fertility has thus been interpreted as a
shift from natural fertility to controlled fertility, and
this change is attributed to the introduction of contraception or, as Henry put it, the entry of rationality into
the sphere of reproductive behavior. This point of view,
as well as the more explicit one advanced by Knodel
(1977), suggests that the deliberate and prolonged control of fertility within a marriage is itself a consequence
of modernization (Landers 1990). Thus modernization
is understood as the agent of change in the fertility transition. The empirical patterns of fertility in some populations deemed traditional (in Latin America, Asia,
and Africa) are considered pretransitional, and therefore

s t r u m, s. c., a n d l. m. f e d i g a n. n.d. Theory, method,

and gender: What changed our views of primate society? in
The new physical anthropology. Edited by S. C. Strum and
D. G. Lindburg. Englewood Cliffs: Prentice-Hall. In press.

Contraception in Three Chibcha

Communities and the Concept
of Natural Fertility1
m a r t a s a i n z d e l a m a z a ka u f m a nn
Departamento de Antropologa, Facultad de Ciencias
Biologicas, Universidad Complutense, Ciudad
Universitaria, 28040 Madrid, Spain. 3 iv 97
The decline in the fertility rate of the population of Europe at the beginning of the 19th centurythe so-called
fertility transitionhas been the subject of many studies attempting to understand its causes. Fundamental
contributions have been made by Henry (1961) in dis1. 1997 by The Wenner-Gren Foundation for Anthropological Research. All rights reserved 0011-3204/97/3804-0009$1.00. Translated by Marissa Sabio.

We can term as natural the fertility which exists or

has existed in the absence of deliberate birth control. . . . control may be said to exist when the behavior of the couple is bound to the number of children already born and is modified when this
number reaches the maximum which the couple
does not want to exceed.

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682 c u r r e n t an t hr o p o l o g y

their fertility is considered natural fertility (Henry

Using data collected in three pretransitional Chibcha
communities in Costa Rica, this study argues for the
necessity of revising the concept of natural fertility. My
hypothesis is that the high pretransition or current fertility of traditional populations reflects not the absence
of the notion of controlling fertility but a social, economic, and cultural choice. In the three indigenous
communities studied we find contraception being practiced by young, fertile women and also reported as having formerly been practiced by women past menopause.
Furthermore, there is no difference between these
groups with respect to the frequency of its use, although
there are differences in methods: premenopausal
women use primarily modern methods, while postmenopausal women report having used traditional

they have been treated as one. Statistical analysis (Student-Newman-Keuls test) determined with a 95% level
of confidence that the Bribri and the Cabecar are similar
with regard to the variables studied (Sainz de la Maza
To carry out this study, 320 Huetar, Bribri-Cabecar,
and Guaym women were interviewed with regard to
their reproductive histories. The distribution of the
women interviewed by community and the representativeness of the sample are shown in table 1 and their
number and distribution by community and reproductive stagepremenarcheal, premenopausal, and postmenopausalin table 2. Taking into account the heterogeneity of the census sources, the percentage of the
population that the women interviewed represent has
been calculated for each community. Data collection
was undertaken during a period of six monthsSeptemberNovember 1992 and FebruaryApril 1993.

materials and methods


The Chibcha groups studied live in southern Costa Rica

(fig. 1), between 800 and 1000 north latitude and
8230 and 8430 west longitude on the Pacific coast
and in the interior (see Greenberg, Turner, and Zegura
1986; Barrantes 1990, 1993). The choice of these groups
for study was a consequence of an interest in analyzing
the presence of contraception in these populations as a
function of the length of contact with the white or creole community and therefore of the degree of disintegration of the traditional culture. The Guaym community
was chosen as the most isolated group; of all the indigenous groups in Costa Rica they have best conserved
their traditional culture, and studies of genetic markers
evidence little or no mixing with nonindigenous groups
(Bozzoli 1986, Barrantes 1993, Guevara and Chacon
1992, Barrantes and Azofeifa 1981). Within the Guaym
community itself two distinct settlements, Progreso
and Villapalacios, the former more isolated than the latter, were studied. The Huetar community, the most accessible (30 km from San Jose), was chosen as the most
integrated into creole life, continuous contact with the
white community having begun before the turn of the
century. It is small and moderately transculturized and
hybridized with nonindigenous groups, whites as well
as blacks. Finally, the Bribri and Cabecar communities
were chosen as intermediate in degree of contact with
the creole community and, moreover, relatively accessible. Some members of these communities have maintained their traditional ways of life as well as their scattered settlements, although a significant degree of
contact with Western society is reflected in types of
dwelling and in the presence of schools, transportation,
and modification of their traditional customs (Sainz de
la Maza 1994). For these two communities three settlements with different degrees of isolation, Salitre (Bribri), Ujarras (Cabecar), and Cabagra (Bribri), were studied. Bozzoli (1979), among others, has proposed that the
Bribri and Cabecar are best understood as a unit with
regard to their belief systems and warfare, and therefore

The frequency of use of the different types of contraceptive methods is shown in table 3, in which we observe
that although the three groups behave in significantly
different ways with regard to the use of these methods
it is the absence of their use that predominates (fig. 2).
In each community modern methods of contraception,
especially birth control pills, were the most frequently
used (fig. 3). The median age at the start of contraception varied with the community; the Guaym began to
use contraceptive methods earlier than the others.
There are no significant differences in the practice of
contraceptioneither modern or traditionalor in the
use of different contraceptive methodspills, prophylactics, etc.and in medical supervision between premenopausal and postmenopausal women (table 4).
There is, however, a significant difference ( p , 0.05) in
the type of contraception used, whether modern or traditional, according to reproductive stage; the postmenopausal women had mostly used traditional methods (fig.
Focusing on the women who had completed their reproductive period and therefore had a final family size,
the use of contraceptives is significantly negatively correlated (R 5 20.134; p , 0.05) with the number of live
births. For this sample of women, differentiating four
reproductive periods according to the age of the first
pregnancy, we find that the amount of time between
the birth of the last child and menopause decreases with
increase in the age at first pregnancy (table 5). Thus the
women who had started having children later maintained their reproductive capacity until 6 years before
menopause while those who had started having children earlier stopped reproducing 12 years before menopause.
Almost all of the published works on fertility in developing populations mention the absence of contraceptive

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Volume 38, Number 4, AugustOctober 1997 683

F i g. 1. Locations of the Costa Rican indigenous communities studied (Guevara and Chacon 1992). 1, Huetar
(Quitirris); 2, Cabecar (Ujarras); 3 and 4, Bribri (Salitre, Cabagra); 5, Guaym (Villapalacios); 6, Guaym

methods and consider lactational amenorrhea the contraceptive method used in those populations that do not
use other contraceptives apart from the postpartum sex
taboo (Wood, Johnson, and Campbell 1985, Khalifa
1986, Garenne and Van de Walle 1989, Chimere-Dan
1990, Harrison 1992). Moreover, delay of marriage and
first childbirth are viewed as necessary for a decline in
fertility (Rob 1990, Luc et al. 1993). The general acceptance that fertility in these traditional populations is
natural implies a belief in the absence of deliberate
control of the birthrate (Henry 1961), another characteristic that seems to group these populations (Wood,
Johnson, and Campbell 1985, Challis 1986, Rosette
1989, Garenne and Van de Walle 1989, Chimere-Dan
1990, Rob 1990, Harrison 1992, Luc et al. 1993) but in

fact obscures the considerable variability characteristic

of so-called natural fertility. Leridon (1977) found that
in 23 natural-fertility populations the total fertility rate
varied between 3.7 and 9.5this variation, as the definition of natural fertility implies, resulting from the
combined effect of postpartum amenorrhea and sex taboos, early or late marriage and/or first childbirth, and
different physiological conditions. In the three indigenous communities studied here, however, the practice
of contraception is reported both by young, fertile
women and by women past menopause. This raises the
question whether contemporary or primitive pretransitional populations are really characterized by an absence of deliberate control of the birthrate.
The results of this investigation indicate that tradi-

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684 c u r r e n t an t hr o p o l o g y

table 1
Number of Women Interviewed by Indigenous Community and Percentage of
Each Communitys Population According to the Three Most Accurate
Percentage of Communitys Population



Guevara and Chacon









table 2
Number and Percentage of Women by Reproductive Stage and Indigenous
Indigenous Community of Origin




Reproductive Stage










table 3
Frequency of Use of Contraception (%), Mean Age at Start of Use, and Medical Supervision (%) by

Type of Contraceptive Usedb







Mean Age
at Startb













Significant, p 5 0.0.
Significant, p , 0.05.

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Volume 38, Number 4, AugustOctober 1997 685

F i g. 2. Frequency of use of contraceptives by

indigenous community. Left to right, yes, no, no

F i g. 3. Type of contraceptive method used by

indigenous community. Left to right, traditional,
modern, no response.

F ig. 4. Type of contraceptive method used by

reproductive stage. Left to right, all women,
postmenopausal women, premenopausal women.

tional methods of contraception are effective (see table

4), and, given that there is no secular variation in the
practice of contraception and that the general availability of modern contraception in Costa Rica dates from
the 1970sthe National Family Planning Program was
started in 1968 (Sosa 1983)a substitution of modern
contraception for the traditional methods must have occurred. This substitution is almost complete among the
Huetar women, where 97% of the contraceptives used
are modern, and is spreading among the Bribri-Cabecar
and the Guaym, who use these methods in only 57%
of the cases.
With reference to the fertility of pretransitional societies as they are treated here, it is important to point
out that the fertility rate is not homogeneous. On the
contrary, all these groups subsumed under the euphemistic labels of underdeveloped or developing present a great deal of heterogeneity with respect to their
fertility. In fact, the variation of the total birthrate in
these societies is three times greater than in corresponding developed populations (Campbell and Wood
1988). The fact that these traditional populations belong to disparate subsistence types, such as hunter-

table 4
Frequency of Use of Contraception (%), Mean Age at Start of Use, and
Medical Supervision (%) by Reproductive Stage
Type of
Contraceptive Useda






Mean Age
at Startb










Significant, p 5 , 0.05.
Significant, p 5 0.0.

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686 c u r r e n t an t hr o p o l o g y

table 5
Reproductive Events and Periods for Postmenopausal Women by Age at First Pregnancy

First Pregnancy

Last Pregnancy



Age at



















Significant, p 5 0.05.

gatherer nomads and sedentary farmers, might be seen

as an explanation of this variation, which in 90% of
cases ranges from 4 to 8 (Wood, Johnson, and Campbell
1985), but this has been demonstrated not to be so
(Campbell and Wood 1988). At the extremes of the fertility distribution, for the values outside the 48 interval, it has, however, been possible to classify the populations. Those with birthrates higher than 8 are
considered colonizing populationsamong them the
Hutterites, the Mennonites, the Mormons, and even the
Yanomami. Those with birthrates lower than 4 are populations characterized by pathological sterility such as
those found in Sub-Saharan Africa (Caldwell and Caldwell 1983). Pathological sterility will not be considered
here. It is interesting, however, to see that the colonizing populationsgroups with the intention of populating, settling, and establishing themselvestend to reproduce more than others that do not have these
ambitions. If some populations respond to particular
circumstances by increasing their fertility as colonizing
groups do while others maintain lower numbers, it
must be because they have some control over their reproduction. One might ask, then, what mechanism is
controlling these variations in fertility.
According to Bongaarts (1978), the proximate determinants of fertility are the proportion of married
women, the practice of contraception, the existence of
abortion, the duration of postpartum infertility, the frequency of sexual relations, spontaneous intrauterine
mortality, and the percentage of permanent sterility.
Therefore, bearing in mind that the existence of natural
fertility in traditional populations presupposes the absence of abortion and contraception, the homogeneous
fertility of developed countries is the result of the combination of all the proximate determinants while the
heterogeneous fertility of traditional societies results
from a combination of characteristics that excludes
abortion and contraception.
Fertility began to decline in Europe as a result of control of the birthrate when women had achieved the

number of children desired. Subsequently, and once infant mortality was checked, control operated at all ages
(Bernis and Varea 1990). Thus there was a general decline of fertility throughout Europe as a consequence of
the incorporation of women into the workforce and
other social, economic, and cultural factors (Hill 1990).
This trend shows that, in the past as now, the number
of children born to a woman is the result of a choice
conditioned by one circumstance or another. All this
brings us to the hypothesis that even in women belonging to traditional societies fertility is the result of a
choice and never the consequence of the absence of deliberate birth control.
The populations studied here have a fertility level of
6.5 (Sainz de la Maza 1994), and this does not vary significantly among them even though age at menarche,
age at first childbirth, or duration of lactation may do
so. At the same time, as we have seen, women who began to have children later maintain effective reproduction longer than those who began to have children early,
from which it can be deduced that they were practicing
birth control. These data alone would confirm the presence of contraception in this supposed natural-fertility
population, but they are further supported by the information gathered about the use of contraception analyzed earlier. These observations lead us to conclude
that we are dealing with populations that control their
birthrate throughout the fertile period.
Here the hypothesis is advanced that traditional societies have contraceptive methodsincluding natural
medicines, postpartum amenorrhea and sex taboos,
abortion, and even infanticideand use them. Therefore the concept of natural fertility understood as the
fertility of populations that do not control their birthrates no longer makes sense in its general application to
traditional societies. It is possible that in communities
subjected to severe tension and acculturation (refugee
camps, etc.) situations may arise in which women are
truly incapable of controlling their fertility, but even
here this would be a hazardous assumption.

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Volume 38, Number 4, AugustOctober 1997 687

Whether natural fertility has ever existed is a question that Wood (1991) has characterized as difficult to
answer. In the first place, he questions the definition of
natural fertility, which is based on a negative logic (the
absence of behavior limiting the number of children per
woman) that is impossible to demonstrate in any case.
He goes on to suggest that the concept of natural fertility depends on individual intentions, which are always
difficult to distinguish, the more so when one is dealing
with little-known populations and, especially, past populations. The data from a number of research projects
being carried out at present point to behaviors in traditional societies that clearly indicate fertility control
whether dependent on the number of previous offspring
or not (Felt et al. 1990; Varea 1993; Sainz de la Maza
and Gonzalez-Kirchner 1991, 1995). These findings give
us reason to reopen the debate over the appropriateness
of the concept of natural fertility as it is used at present.

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688 c u r r e n t an t hr o p o l o g y

Polygyny as a Risk Factor for

Child Mortality among the
b e v e r l y i. s tr a s s m a n n
Department of Anthropology, University of Michigan,
Ann Arbor, Mich. 48109-1382, U.S.A.
( 15 ii 97
Polygyny was allowed in 83% of preindustrial societies
in Murdocks (1967) Ethnographic Atlas (N 5 849); evidence on sexual dimorphism suggests that polygyny
was also the prevailing mating system over human evolutionary history (Alexander et al. 1979). In a classic
book, the economist Gary Becker (1981) presents a theoretical model in which he explains the widespread occurrence of polygyny in terms of benefits for women. In
essence, he agrees with George Bernard Shaw, who
wrote, The maternal instinct leads a woman to prefer
a tenth share in a first-rate man to the exclusive possession of a third-rate one. Beckers view is similar to the
polygyny-threshold model (Verner and Willson 1966,
Orians 1969) developed for passerine birds and extended
to humans (Borgerhoff Mulder 1988, 1990; Josephson
1993). In brief, the polygyny-threshold model proposes
that since polygyny must always be advantageous to
males, its presence or absence must depend primarily
upon the advantages or disadvantages to females (Orians 1969). Beckers hypothesis and the polygyny-threshold model view polygyny as the outcome of female
choice, but I shall argue that female choice is inadequate to account for the maintenance of polygyny
among the Dogon of Mali.
An alternative to the female-choice model emphasizes conflicts of interest between members of the two
sexes over the optimum mating system (Downhower
and Armitage 1971, Irons 1983, Davies 1989, Chisholm
and Burbank 1991). In humans, the conflict arises because males may benefit reproductively from concurrent marriages to multiple wives even if the result is
lower average fitness for each wife. Thus, to the extent
that male strategies win over female strategies in any
given society, polygynous marriages may entail a cost
to female fitness. Females may experience the cost of
polygyny through a reduction in fertility or an increase
in child mortality. Testing for an adverse effect of polygyny on the reproductive success of females was a pri1. 1997 by The Wenner-Gren Foundation for Anthropological Research. All rights reserved 0011-3204/97/3804-0010$1.00. I thank
Akeme Dolo and the Dogon of Sangui for their generous hospitality, K. Sanogo for authorization to conduct this study, S. Moulin
and T. Stevenson for participation in the fieldwork, S. Slocum for
logistical help, B. Gillespie for statistical advice, K. Hunley for assistance with the preliminary analyses, and P. Gowaty, B. Hewlett,
K. Hill, and S. Hrdy for helpful comments. This research was supported by the University of Michigan, the L. S. B. Leakey Foundation, and the National Science Foundation (BNS-8612291).

mary a priori objective of 31 months of fieldwork

among the Dogon initiated in 1986 and currently ongoing.
Demographers have examined the hypothesis that polygyny reduces female fertility, but their findings have
often been equivocal and have failed to illuminate the
underlying mechanisms (e.g., Dorjahn 1958; for review
see Wood 1995). In view of the considerable interest
generated by the possible link between polygyny and
fertility, it is curious that the hypothesis that child
mortality is higher under polygyny has drawn little attention. The few studies that have addressed this possibility (Chojnacka 1980; Roth and Kurup 1988; Isaac and
Feinberg 1982; Borgerhoff Mulder 1989, 1990; Chisholm
and Burbank 1991) have relied on retrospective data and
have not controlled for other risk factors for mortality.
By contrast with these studies, the data in this report
constitute a prospective, longitudinal test of the polygyny-mortality hypothesis. Through logistic regression
analysis (Hosmer and Lemeshow 1989), other significant predictors of mortality, including age, sex, wealth,
nutrition, and family size, were controlled.
ethnographic background
The Dogon live in the Malian Sahel in a landscape dominated by a 260-km sandstone cliff called the Bandiagara
Escarpment. The study village, Sangui, is situated on
the plateau of the escarpment at 14 29 N, 3 19 W,
and had a population of 460 in January 1988. At that
time, 54% of the married men in the study village had
one wife, 35% had two wives, and 11% had three wives.
First wives enjoy the minor honor of having a sleeping
room to the right of the husbands and other tokens of
esteem but no material advantages. Polygyny is strictly
nonsororal, and wives are either ya biru (arranged) or ya
kezu (taken from another man). Ideally they do not reside with the ige biru (arranged husband) until the birth
of two children, who will be raised by their maternal
grandparents. As a young girl matures, her fiance presents minor gifts to his future parents-in-law including
small amounts of cash, firewood, cowries, chickens,
and grain. He also owes limited assistance in the fields,
but there is no bride-price.
The Dogon are an appropriate population in which to
test for an adverse effect of polygyny on female fitness
because the interests of women are subordinated to
those of men in several important respects. For example, through patrilineal descent and patrilocal residence, groups of related males form powerful coalitions
(Smuts 1985, Hrdy 1996). Related women are not allowed to marry into the same patrilineage, which
makes alliances among female kin difficult to maintain.
Behavioral scan data also provide evidence for male
dominance: women spent 21% more time working than
men (t 5 25.10; d.f. 5 127; p , 0.0001), and men spent
29% more time resting than women (t 5 7.71; d.f. 5
127; p , 0.0001) (Strassmann 1996). Although women
assume the energetic demands of lactation and heavy
physical labor, their diet is largely restricted to the sta-

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Volume 38, Number 4, AugustOctober 1997 689

ple crop, millet, and men have almost exclusive access

to meat (Strassmann 1996). Animism, the traditional religion, is a powerful vehicle through which Dogon
males attempt to assert control over female sexuality.
For example, threats of supernatural punishment associated with animism, as well as social reprisals, help
husbands and patrilineages to enforce the menstrual taboos. These prohibitions require menstruating women
to advertise their menses (and presumed fertile period)
by visiting a menstrual hut. Although all female informants (N 5 113) viewed the menstrual taboos as restrictive and unpleasant, hormonal data revealed excellent
compliance (Strassmann 1992, 1996). Females are also
clitoridectomized, which is intended to promote paternity certainty by reducing female sexual pleasure.
The greatest burden on Dogon women, however, is
child mortality. In the study village, the mean number
of live births for postreproductive women was 8.6, but
20% of children died in their first year of life and 46%
died by age five years (N 5 388) (Strassmann 1992). Impure drinking water, low levels of vaccination, and
other manifestations of poverty contribute to the mortality toll by increasing exposure and lowering resistance to the three major endemic killers: malaria, measles, and diarrhea (Fabre-Test 1985).
The study population included all children (N 5 205)
aged # 10 years who were resident in the study village
between 1986 and 1988. These children were individually known to me because I resided in the village for 30
months during the same years. The village was recensused in 1994 to determine which children had survived
the intervening six-year period. Twenty children had
left the village and were lost to follow-up, and 9 children lived with widowed grandmothers in domestic
units that did not include any married adults. After excluding these 29 children, the effect of polygyny was
tested on a final sample of 176 children, 86% of the total population aged # 10 at the outset of the study. Data
on age at death between 1988 and 1994 were not available; therefore I coded the dependent variable dichotomously (0 if the child was still alive in 1994 and 1 if
he or she had died). Since the dependent variable was
dichotomous, I used logistic regression instead of survival analysis. All logistic regressions were performed
in the statistical program SPSS 6.1 (SPSS 1994).
Any independent variable that improved overall
model fit based on the likelihood ratio test (Hosmer and
Lemeshow 1989) was included in the final models. To
test whether the logit had a quadratic rather than a linear relationship with any of the continuous variables, I
added squared terms. If a squared term did not improve
model fit based on the likelihood ratio test it was omitted. The values for the independent variables were obtained from a combination of direct observation (e.g.,
childs sex), private interviews (e.g., parents education),
and quantitative measurement (e.g., economic rank). To
compare the economic resources (land, grain, onions,

and livestock) of all families, the 540 cereal fields and

422 onion fields belonging to the people of Sangui were
measured with a compass and meter tape, baskets of
grain and onions were counted and weighed, and livestock were tallied by species, maturity (juvenile versus
adult), and sex, as described in Strassmann (1990). Yearto-year fluctuations in the wealth of the village from
1986 to 1994 occurred in response to changes in rainfall
and market forces but had a negligible impact on the
relative wealth of the families, which I expressed as a
rank from 1 (lowest) to 59 (highest). The 14 poorest families were headed by widowed grandmothers and did not
contain any married adults. Since this study was about
polygyny versus monogamy, no children from these
groups were included in the sample of 176 children.
Polygyny, the independent variable of key interest,
was defined first by the mothers marital status: first,
second, third, or sole wife. This definition excluded
from the analysis 46 children whose mothers were widowed, engaged, divorced, or deceased, reducing the sample size to 130. Second, I computed polygyny as the ratio of married women to married men in the childs
work-eat group, defined as the people who cultivate the
same millet fields and assemble in one compound to eat
together. Members of a work-eat group defer to the
same head of the family and depend on one another economically. Married women cultivate millet alongside
the other members of their work-eat group (both male
and female) and do not plant their own individual millet
fields. The sample size for polygyny of the work-eat
group was 176 children and the mean (6S.D.) work-eat
group size was 15.60 (610.64) persons, with a range of
341. Work-eat groups do not correspond to households: if a work-eat group contains several married men,
their families sleep in different compounds. Cowives
and their children also sometimes have separate compounds.

results and discussion

Univariate results revealed strikingly lower survivorship among the children whose mothers were polygynously married ( 2 5 9.57; d.f. 5 2; p 5 0.008; N 5 130),
particularly if the mothers were first wives. When the
ratio of married women to married men in the childs
work-eat group was plotted against the number of children who lived or died, a step function was obtained
with high survivorship below and low survivorship
above 1.5 (fig. 1). Specifically, a total of 37 children died
and 81 children survived in the groups with a ratio of
married women to married men of $ 1.5 (hereafter defined as polygynous), while only 3 children died and 55
children survived in the groups with a ratio of , 1.5
(hereafter defined as monogamous) ( 2 5 15.18; d.f. 5 1;
p 5 0.0001). Because the relationship between polygyny
of the work-eat group and child mortality was a step
function, I modeled work-eat group polygyny as a categorical variable. Whether I used the polygyny index of
the work-eat group for 1988 or for 1994 had no effect on

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690 c u r r e n t an t hr o p o l o g y

F i g. 1. Percentage of children who died and polygyny

index of the work-eat group. Numbers above bars
indicate sample sizes. N Total 5 176.

the conclusions. The results reported in this paper are

for the average index in these two years.
The two best-fitting final models are shown in table
1 (N 5 176). Both models contain the polygyny index of
the work-eat group (0 5 monogamous, 1 5 polygynous),
age of the child at the outset of the study (010 years),

sex of the child (0 5 female, 1 5 male), and the economic rank of the childs work-eat group (1559). In addition, model 1 contains the number of children (aged #
10 years) in the childs work-eat group, whereas model 2
contains the dependency ratio, number of children (aged
# 10 years) per married adults in the work-eat group.
Because these two variables were correlated (r 5 0.33;
p 5 0.000), it was useful to consider them in separate
models. In both models, work-eat group polygyny was
the single strongest predictor of child mortality in
terms of effect size. In model 1, the odds of death were
7 times higher in the polygynous groups than in the monogamous groups (p 5 0.005). In model 2, the odds of
death were 11 times higher under polygyny (p 5 0.001).
These effect sizes could reflect my choice of a married
women-to-married men ratio of 1.5 as the cut point between monogamy and polygyny. This cut point was
based on the data in figure 1. I could not find any variable that, if added to either model, caused the polygyny
variable to become nonsignificant.
No interaction terms were significant when added to
either model (p . 0.15) except sex and age, which was
marginally significant based on the likelihood ratio test
(model 1: p 5 0.05; model 2: p 5 0.06). For a one-year
increase in age in model 1, the odds of death for girls
decreased by a factor of 0.84 (95% confidence interval:
0.641.11) and the odds of death for boys decreased by
a factor of 0.56 (95% confidence interval: 0.410.75). In
model 2 the results were virtually identical (odds ratio
for girls 5 0.83; odds ratio for boys 5 0.56). Including
the age-sex interaction in the model increased the sig-

table 1
Predictors of Child Mortality from 1986 to 1994 (N 5 176)
Model 1

Polygyny status of the work-eat group
(0 5 monogamous, 1 5 polygynous)a
Age of child (010)b
Sex of child (0 5 female, 1 5 male)
Number of children in family (119)c
Number of children per married adults
Economic rank (1459)d
Economic rank squaredd

Model 2

95% Confidence


95% Confidence















Monogamous, ratio of married women to married men ,1.5; polygynous, ratio of married women to married men $1.5.
Odds ratio for an increase of 1 year in age.
Odds ratio for each additional child.
Odds ratio for an increase of 10 ranks.
* p # 0.05.
** p , 0.01.
*** p # 0.005.
**** p , 0.0001.
22 log likelihood: 135.1 (model 1) and 132.8 (model 2)
Goodness-of-fit statistic: 173.9 (model 1) and 148.6 (model 2)


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Volume 38, Number 4, AugustOctober 1997 691

nificance of all the other independent variables including polygyny. Moreover, the odds ratio for polygyny increased to 8.7 (model 1) and 13.8 (model 2).
To assess the goodness of fit of the final models, I
compared the observed and predicted outcomes (lived or
died) for each child. In model 1, 81.8% of all children
were correctly predicted, and in model 2, 79.2% were
correctly predicted. Plot of the squared studentized residuals against the predicted probabilities of death also
indicated good model fit. In both models, only 4 of the
176 children had squared studentized residuals greater
than 4, indicating that they were not well predicted by
the models (see Hosmer and Lemeshow 1989:16263).
All 4 were children from polygynous families who had
high predicted probabilities of survival due to variables
other than polygyny. Consistent with the polygynymortality hypothesis, these 4 children actually died.
The leverage statistics for models 1 and 2 indicated that
no observations had undue influence on model fit.
Several variables were tested for an effect on survivorship and found to be nonsignificant (p .. 0.05). One of
these was age of the father or mother. Neither the number of married men nor the number of married women
in the work-eat group was significant, only the ratio of
the two. Children who had more paternal siblings were
not at greater risk of death; what mattered was the total
number of children in the work-eat group. This result
may reflect competition among children or increased
exposure to infectious diseases such as measles and gastroenteritis (Aaby et al. 1984, Desai 1995). Surprisingly,
child mortality was not predicted by whether or not the
father or mother was resident in the village. Nonresident fathers included young men from other villages
who had fiancees and children in Sangui, deceased fathers, and fathers who had left temporarily to work in
the city. Children whose fathers were not resident lived
with relatives: usually mothers, grandparents, or paternal uncles. If the mother was deceased or had divorced
and left the village, the child lived with the father or
grandparents. A total of 144 of the 176 children in the
study had both parents resident in the village. The fact
that residence of the parents did not predict survivorship speaks to the strength of the extended family.
Whereas the women had no schooling, some of the men
had a few years of primary school education, but fathers education did not predict child mortality. Many
of the men had previously worked in the city for a year
or two, but these experiences also did not predict mortality.
In some cases a childs parents were in a monogamous union but other adults in the work-eat group were
polygynously married (or vice versa). This raised the
question whether mothers marital status or the polygyny index for the work-eat group as a whole was more
important for survivorship. To address this question, I
compared alternative multivariate models that differed
only with respect to the polygyny variable (either mothers marital status or work-eat group polygyny). In these
models work-eat group polygyny was more predictive of
mortality than mothers marital status. Specifically,

after controlling for the other predictors of mortality in

model 2, the odds of death for the children of polygynously married women were 3.6 times higher than for
the children of sole wives, but this result was not significant ( p 5 0.10; N 5 130). When work-eat group polygyny was substituted for mothers marital status, the
odds of death were 9.8 times higher under polygyny (p
5 0.003; N 5 130).2 Moreover, the model with work-eat
group polygyny had a smaller 22 log-likelihood statistic
(101.3 versus 109.9), indicating better model fit. To confirm the conclusion that work-eat group polygyny is
critical, I deleted from the sample the children for
whom mothers marital status and work-eat group polygyny differed. As expected, the results for the remaining children were significant and identical for both
mothers marital status and work-eat group polygyny
(odds ratio 5 16.18; p 5 0.009; N 5 111).
The comparison of mothers marital status and workeat group polygyny is of particular interest because it
shows the importance of family structure. When members of a patrilineal extended family are economically
interdependent, children are affected by the polygyny
status of their own parents as well as the polygyny status of their paternal relatives.
Resource dilution. To explain why child mortality
was dramatically higher in polygynous work-eat groups
after controlling for confounding variables, I tested the
a priori hypothesis that polygynous groups were wealthier in terms of total resources but poorer on a per capita
basis (see Chojackna 1980, Brabin 1984, Oyedeji 1984,
Hames 1996). I found a positive correlation between the
wealth rank of the group and the ratio of married females to married males (r 2 5 0.28; N 5 45; p 5 0.0001)
(fig. 2, left). Work-eat groups with $ 1.5 females per
males farmed more land ( p 5 0.001) and produced more
grain (p 5 0.009) and more onions (p 5 0.002) than did
families with , 1.5 females per males (fig. 2, right).
Next I standardized the wealth of each family by its
daily energy requirements. I computed the energy requirements of each family from the number of individual members, adjusted for age and sex, using guidelines
of the FAO/WHO (1973). The standardized wealth of
polygynous groups was still slightly higher than that of
monogamous groups (r 2 5 0.09; N 5 45; p 5 0.03) (fig.
3, left) because polygynous groups had more revenues
from onions (p 5 0.01) (fig. 3, right). On other measures
of wealth, polygynous and monogamous families were
comparable. These data contradict the hypothesis that
the dilution of wealth accounts for the high mortality of
children in polygynous families. The dependency ratio
provides another estimate of the parental resources
(e.g., wealth, time) available to children. As this variable increased by one additional child, the odds of death
increased by a factor of 2.9 (p 5 0.02). However, as
2. In the comparison, I used the sample of 130 children for whom
data were available on both mothers marital status and work-eat
group polygyny. The 46 children who did not live with married
mothers (see above) were omitted from both analyses to ensure that
the statistical power of the two analyses was the same.

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692 c u r r e n t an t hr o p o l o g y

F i g. 2. Left, regression of the wealth rank of the work-eat group on the polygyny index (number of married
women/number of married men) of the work-eat group. N 5 44. Groups in which an elderly widow or
widower worked alone or with a grandchild are excluded. Right, mean wealth (CFA or, for land, ha) of
polygynous ($1.5 married women/married men) and monogamous (,1.5 married women/married men) workeat groups. Error bars are 95% confidence limits. h, livestock (p 5 0.222); , onions (p 5 0.002); s, grain (p 5
0.009); , land (p 5 0.001), e, commerce (p 5 0.148). In 1987, 310 CFA 5 $US1.
shown by model 2, mortality was much higher under
polygyny even after controlling for the dependency ratio
(table 1).
To find out whether children in polygynous families
were less well nourished, I used cross-sectional anthropometric data on 77 children aged 6 years or younger in
1988. In particular, I compared their observed and expected values for weight/height. The expected weight/
height for each girl or boy was obtained from quadratic

regressions of weight/height against age. These equations are as follows: weight/height (Dogon girls) 5 9.17 1
Age(1.53) 1 Age 2 (20.10) (r 2 5 0.74; N 5 34; p , 0.0001);
and weight/height (Dogon boys) 5 9.47 1 Age(1.98) 1 Age 2
(20.16) (r 2 5 0.71; N 5 43; p , 0.0001). If the children
in the polygynous families were leaner than those in the
monogamous families, then they should have tended
toward negative residuals (observed weight/height ,
expected weight/height) while the children in monoga-

F i g. 3. Left, regression of work-eat group wealth (CFA)/energy requirements (MJ) on the polygyny index. N 5
45. Right, mean wealth (CFA or ha)/energy requirements (MJ) of polygynous and monogamous work-eat
groups. Error bars are 95% confidence limits. h, livestock (p 5 0.967); , onions (p 5 0.012); s, grain (p 5
0.567); , land (p 5 0.314); e, commerce (p 5 0.793).

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Volume 38, Number 4, AugustOctober 1997 693

F i g. 4. Regression of weight for height residuals on

the polygyny index of the work-eat group. N 5 74.

mous families should have tended toward positive residuals (observed weight/height . expected weight/
height). As shown in figure 4, there was a very weak
tendency in the predicted direction that was not quite
significant (r 2 5 0.04; N 5 74; p 5 0.07). Controlling for
this weak relationship had no effect on the coefficient
for polygyny in the subset of observations (N 5 74) for
which weight for height measurements were available.
These results indicate that the mechanism causing low
child survivorship in polygynous families was probably
not nutritional.
Cowife competition. The indigenous Dogon explanation is that poor survivorship under polygyny reflects
competition among cowives. Cowives are not related,
and the rivalry among them extends to their sons, who,
upon the death of their father, almost invariably stop
farming together. In addition to accusations of neglect
and mistreatment, it was widely assumed that cowives
often fatally poisoned each others children. I witnessed
special masked dance rituals intended by husbands to
deter this behavior. Cowife aggression is extensively
documented in Malian court cases with confessions and
convictions for poisoning. These cases raise the possibility that Dogon sorcery might have a measurable demographic impacta view that is consistent with the
extraordinarily high mortality of males compared with
females. Males are said to be the preferred targets because daughters marry out of the patrilineage whereas
sons remain to compete for land. Even if women do not
poison each others children, widespread belief in the
hostility of the mothers cowife must be a source of
stress. Stressful family environments, including residence with a stepfather and half-siblings, have been
shown to affect childhood cortisol levels and can lead
to immunosuppression and a high frequency of illness
(Flinn and England 1995). In the United States, the risk

F ig. 5. Percentage of observations of females and

males engaged in child care at various ages, from
behavioral scan sampling in the agricultural fields
and village (Sangui). Stars indicate significant
differences between the sexes.

of fatal abuse is approximately 100 times greater for

stepchildren than children living with two genetic parents (Daly and Wilson 1988:89). However, regardless of
whether or not female-female competition results in
neglect, immunosuppression, or poisoning, the focus on
cowives alone is too narrow. If cowives adversely affected each others offspring, one would not expect
work-eat group polygyny to be a better predictor of survivorship than mothers marital status.
Paternal investment. An alternative hypothesis is
that the children in polygynous families are the victims
of lower paternal investment. The monogamous fathers
have a greater stake in the survival of each of their children. The polygynous fathers eventually produce a
greater number of offspring, so each child is less important for the fathers total lifetime reproductive success.
Controlling for age, polygynists (aged 2469) had on average two more living offspring for each additional wife
(r 2 5 0.25; N 5 70; p 5 0.0001).
What aspect of paternal care is crucial for survivorship but lacking in the polygynous families? Behavioral
scan data show that the men in both the polygynous
and monogamous families do very little direct child
care (fig. 5), so it is unlikely that the key difference is
the amount of time spent with children. Given the
prevalence of parasitic and infectious diseases, differential access to medical care could have a dramatic impact
on mortality. If the children in the polygynous families
are less likely to be given costly medicines and other
Western or indigenous treatments for illness, then this
could cause the striking decrement in survivorship observed in this study. This hypothesis needs to be tested
by monitoring differences in morbidity and treatment
under monogamy and polygyny.
If polygynous men invest less per child, where do
they divert their efforts? Children with more paternal

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694 c u r r e n t an t hr o p o l o g y

siblings were not at greater risk of death, so it does not

appear that polygynous men are simply spreading their
investment among a greater number of existing children. Instead they may be diverting resources to mating
effort (and the prospect of producing future offspring) or
even to somatic effort (buying meat or beer in the marketplace).
Nepotistic investment. Yet the paternal investment
hypothesis can be criticized along the same lines as the
cowife competition hypothesis. If polygynously married
men invest less per child than monogamously married
men, then it is not clear why work-eat group polygyny
is a better predictor of child survivorship than parents
marital status. A potential solution is to broaden the paternal investment hypothesis to include the nepotistic
investment of relatives other than fathers. Polygynous
work-eat groups may be less inclined to pay for medicines and other treatments for childhood illnesses. Such
groups have higher reproductive potential than monogamous groups and are more likely to produce a surplus
of sons relative to the hectarage of land to be inherited.
With each successive generation, the competition for
land within the family becomes increasingly intense.
Some of the sons emigrate; the other children may be
less indulged than those in monogamous work-eat
groups, even if their own father is monogamously married. The father himself is not necessarily the one who
withholds investment; instead it may be the uncle or
grandfather, whoever is work-eat group boss (ginu du
banga). Thus, to explain the high mortality rates of children in polygynous work-eat groups, further study is
needed to identify possible differences in the spending
patterns of the men and women of these groups compared with monogamous groups. Conflict of interest between work-eat group members is another area for inquiry. Such conflicts were frequently reported and led
to a high frequency of work-eat group fission (Strassmann, unpublished data).
Why do women marry polygynously? In view of the
high mortality of children in polygynous work-eat
groups, it is surprising that Dogon women are willing
to marry into such families.3 But there are not enough
monogamous work-eat groups for all the women on the
marriage market. The number of women exceeds the
number of men on the marriage market for reasons
which have been widely overlooked. First, Dogon wives
are on average eight years younger than their husbands.
When the age-structure of a population is pyramidal, a
difference in mean age at marriage ensures that the cohort of women looking for husbands is larger than the
cohort of men looking for wives, forcing some women
into polygyny (fig. 6) (Dorjahn 1959, Pison 1985, Chisholm and Burbank 1991). Second, a tendency for men to
marry at a later age or to die at a younger age produces a
surplus of widows relative to widowers. If these widows
3. Polygynously married Dogon women had fewer surviving offspring than monogamously married women. Although I expect
that they also usually had fewer surviving grandchildren, empirical
verification is required.

F ig. 6. Effects of difference in mean age at marriage.

When the mean age at marriage for women is
younger than that for men, husbands become a
limiting resource for would-be-wives; many women
are thereby forced to double-up in polygynous
generally remarry, this will also result in a surplus of
women on the marriage market (Pison 1985). The remarriage of widows will promote polygyny regardless of
the age-structure of the population. Third, it is well
known that a female-biased sex ratio will promote polygyny (e.g., Dorjahn 1959). Among the Dogon, the
skew is caused by excess male mortality and the departure of males to the cities in search of wage labor. Finally, even those women who enter monogamous marriages cannot assume that their marriages will remain
monogamous. In this study, the excess mortality under
polygyny was greatest among the offspring of first
wives, most of whom had not known that their marriages would become polygynous.
Most Dogon women are in a polygynous marriage at
some time during their lives, and in preparation young
girls are taught to sing, Im not afraid of my husbands
other wife. But interviews of all the adult men (N 5
71) and women (N 5 113) in Sangui indicate that
women do sometimes fight polygyny with some success. The primary strategy is divorce, which both sexes
agree is predominantly female-initiated. In a sample of
88 divorces, the wife said that she had been the initiator
in 95% of divorces, and the four most frequently cited
reasons were (1) husband pursuing wage labor in the
city (25%), (2) dislike of husband (18%), (3) dislike of
cowife (10%), and (4) too many children died in that
marriage (6%). Miscellaneous other reasons, each of
which was less commonly cited than the above, accounted for 41% of cases. The absence of a decrease in
per capita economic status in polygynous work-eat
groups (fig. 3) provides further evidence for female resistance to polygyny. Dogon informants said that men
cannot attract women into polygynous marriages unless they at least appear to have sufficient wealth.
The results reported here provide the strongest evidence
to date for an adverse effect of polygyny on child mortal-

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Volume 38, Number 4, AugustOctober 1997 695

ity in a human population. The odds of death for Dogon

children (N 5 176) in polygynous work-eat groups were
7 to 11 times higher than for children in monogamous
groups. By contrast with previous studies, this conclusion is based on prospective rather than retrospective
data. Moreover, other significant predictors of mortality
were controlled, including age of the child, sex of the
child, number of children in the work-eat group, dependency ratio of the work-eat group, and economic status.
Postulated explanations for why polygyny is a risk factor focus on resource dilution, cowife competition,
paternal investment, and nepotistic investment. The
data did not support resource dilution, but further
study is needed to discriminate among the other possibilities.
Beckers economic model and the polygyny-threshold
model view polygyny as the outcome of female preference. However, the eight-year difference in the age of
spouses generates a surplus of Dogon women on the
marriage market, forcing many women into polygyny.
Dogon men who achieve polygyny gain reproductively
while their wives lose, indicating that male preference
is more likely to be the driving force behind this marriage system. The practical import of this study is that
polygyny is a much neglected but crucial variable in
prospective studies of child health.

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696 c u r r e n t an t hr o p o l o g y

Bedouin Hand Harvesting of

Wheat and Barley: Implications
for Early Cultivation in
Southwestern Asia1
s te v e n r. s i m m s a n d k e nn e t h w. r u s s e l l
Department of Sociology, Social Work and
Anthropology, Utah State University, Logan, Utah
84322-0730, U.S.A. (ssimms@wpo.
1 v 97
The food-producing transition is increasingly seen not
from the vantage of the Neolithic or as a progression
from one evolutionary type to another but as a set of
alternative foraging strategies with selective advantages
and disadvantages that vary with the socioecological
circumstances (Layton, Foley, and Williams 1991:255).
This view focuses attention on the constraints placed
upon foragers by different circumstances. We present
data on one such constraint resulting from ethnographic study among the Bedul Bedouin of Jordan. At
the time of the study (1986), many Bedul cultivated
wheat and barley using local seed stocks, ard tillage, and
rainfall farming conditions. More interesting, they harvested their fields by hand, only rarely using sickles. We
were therefore able to compare the cost of hand harvesting with that of harvesting with various types of sickles
known from the past. Harvesting by hand proved less
costly than the use of early sickles, and hand harvesting
of cultivated cereals was similar in cost to the harvesting of wild cereals despite the investment in field preparation. These findings have implications for the recognition of food production in the archaeological record.
the bedul bedouin and cereal cultivation
The Bedul Bedouin are the traditional inhabitants of Petra, Jordan, a locale best-known as a major urban center
during Nabataean-Roman times (fig. 1). During intermittent fieldwork from 1986 to 1994, the Petra Ethnoarchaeological Project focused on the ethnography, ethnohistory, and ethnoarchaeology of the Bedul Bedouin
(Simms and Russell 1997). In the first years of our study,
many Bedul retained a traditional life despite the tour1. by The Wenner-Gren Foundation for Anthropological Research. All rights reserved 0011-3204/97/3804-0011$1.00. Kenneth
Russell passed away in the field in Jordan in 1992, when most of
this work was in progress or rough-draft form. Continuation of the
project is in his memory. Funding was provided by the L. S. B. Leakey Foundation, a U.S. Information Agency Fellowship, the American Center for Oriental Research, Amman, and Utah State University, Logan. We gratefully acknowledge the support of the
Department of Antiquities of Jordan. We thank K. Renee Barlow
and James F. OConnell, University of Utah, for good comments,
an anonymous referee for helpful perspective, and Marina Hall for
editorial assistance. Article scope, emphasis, and any errors remain
the responsibility of the senior author.

ism associated with Petra. They perceived change as

harmful to their limited ties to the tourist economy,
and to maintain this aspect of their livelihood they held
to traditional lands and practices longer than most Bedouin in Jordan. Bedul ethnohistory and their contemporary situation are described elsewhere (Russell 1993,
Simms and Kooring 1996).
In addition to their pastoral subsistence activities, the
Bedul traditionally cultivated fields of wheat, barley,
and indigenous tobacco throughout the Petra region.
They also kept small truck gardens in restricted locales.
Their agricultural fields were encountered by early travelers, and it appears that cultivation was part of the Bedul economy from at least the 19th century (McKenzie
1991, Russell 1993). Archaeological evidence from
fields at Petra suggests that some of them may date to
the medieval period (Simms and Russell 1997: chap. 2).
In many respects, Bedul cereal cultivation involved
ancient techniques. A government survey in southern
Jordan in 1988 found that 88% of the farmers were using a local variety (or varieties) of wheat known broadly
as qatma safra (El-Hurani 1988:41, 42, table 52). This
unimproved, mass-selected hard-wheat landrace, relatively low in gluten quality and content but high in protein (Salim 1961:12, 14, table 7), was cultivated by the
Bedul. Tillage was traditionally performed using animal-traction ards. Harvested grain was threshed using
animal traction on stone and dirt threshing floors located near agricultural fields. Winnowing was done in
the wind using wooden forks. Of special interest here is
the method of harvest: Dry or slightly green tillers of
grain were gathered together with a sweep of the hand
and broken off with a short jerk backwards accompanied by a downward tilt of the wrist. This action proceeded until both hands were full of small bundles of
grain, at which point the bundles were laid on the
ground in piles. Modern mechanized equipment has replaced traditional implements, and both tillage and
threshing are generally done now by tractor. In 1986 and
1988, traditional practices continued to be employed in
remote areas or in locations of difficult access for tractors and other mechanized equipment.
The areas in which Bedul agricultural fields were historically located (fig. 1) include the ruins of the ancient
city of Petra, the southern half of the Petra Valley, the
lower Wadi Beida drainage and its surrounding plateau,
and several outlying areas more than 10 km from Petra.
The Bedul also cultivated pockets of arable land on
the sandstone massifs surrounding the Petra Valley.
The well-known Natufian and Pre-Pottery Neolithic B
(12,0008,000 b.p.) site of Beida (e.g., Kirkbride 1966,
1968) is only 4 km north of the heart of Petra. Bedul
fields are thus, in terms of topography, geology, and, in
some respects, cultivation practices, analogous to prehistoric ones.
the costs of cultivation
The wooden ards employed in southwestern Asia and
throughout the arid and semiarid regions of the world

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Volume 38, Number 4, AugustOctober 1997 697

F i g. 1. The study area, showing Bedul fields and sources of grain samples.

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698 c u r r e n t an t hr o p o l o g y

table 1
Grain and Straw/Chaff Yields (kg) for Wheat (W) and Barley (B) Fields at
Petra in May 1986

Yield kg/du







L. Wadi Beida
L. Wadi Beida
L. Wadi Beida
L. Wadi Beida
L. Wadi Beida
L. Wadi Beida
S. Petra Valley
S. Petra Valley






Ras Muaesrah
Ras Muaesrah
S. Petra Valley
S. Petra Valley
S. Petra Valley
S. Petra Valley






have changed little since prehistoric times (Avitsur

1965; Hopfen 1969:4755; Russell 1988:3840, 118;
Varisco 1982; Watson 1979:7475), and the ards used by
the Bedul are no exception. (Palmer and Russell [1993]
review the traditional ards used in Jordan.) Of course,
the earliest tillage was by hand with the help of digging
sticks, hoes, and other such implements. Russell (1988:
10934) compiled a detailed survey of ethnographic and
historical accounts to compute the labor costs of cereal
cultivation at various levels of technology. He found
that hand tillage suitable for cultivating wheat and barley requires approximately 35 hours per dunam, an area
of 1,000 m 2 or 2.25 acres (Russell 1988:115). This value
is employed here for modeling early cultivation employing hand tillage. Bedul informants commonly reported that one could till three dunams in an 810-hour
day with a team of donkeys. This is equivalent to 2.7
3.3 hrs./du. These observations are comparable to data
on ard tillage from other ethnographic and historic
sources (Russell 1988:12223, tables 25 and 27). For
complete field preparation using an ard, a value of 20
hrs./du is used in the calculations here (Russell 1988:
In May 1986 we obtained quantitative data on wheat
and barley yields from Bedul fields. A representative
square meter of the crop in a field was totally harvested,
and both clean seed (hand-cleaned by the researchers)
and straw/chaff yields were measured using hand-held
scientific scales. In three instances, two samples were
taken in order to quantify obvious yield differences in
the same field as a result of microtopographic and ecological variations. The results are presented in table 1.
The Bedul considered 1986 to be an average to good
year, noting that 1983 had been exceptional. Wheat and
barley yields and informant evaluations about the qual-

ity of the harvest among Bedouin farmers in the Negev

desert in the late 1950s as reported by Mayerson (1960:
18) are consistent with our findings for the Bedul. Additional consistent comparisons of the Bedul yields with
others from the region can be found in Russell (1988:71,
table 3; 112, table 16).
Comparisons of the nutritional composition and energetic value of cultivated wheat (Feldman 1976:121;
Aykroyd and Doughty 1970:18) and wild einkorn collected in Turkey by Harlan (1967:198) suggest that the
general values have not significantly changed as a result
of domestication. The energy value of the wild einkorn
harvested by Harlan was 3,567 kcal/kg. Modern red
winter wheat analyzed at the same time was found to
have an energy value of 3,474 kcal/kg. Modern wheat
contains more carbohydrates but slightly less protein
and fat than wild einkorn. Analyses of two wheat samples from Bedul fields produced an average of 3,511
kcal/kg. The average of two barley samples was 3,313
kcal/kg. The nutritional composition of the Bedul samples indicated a higher protein content than is typical
of modern domesticated wheats. For the calculations
here, we rounded the energy values to 3,500 kcal/kg for
wheat and 3,300 kcal/kg for barley.
In May and June 1986, quantitative data on the labor
costs of harvesting wheat and barley by hand were recorded in fields on the plateau south of the lower Wadi
Beida drainage and in the southern Petra Valley. During
this period, fields were being harvested by the Bedul in
groups ranging in size from the few members of a single
household to groups of over 20 individuals from related
families. The actual harvesting was done by adult males
and females, with children, adolescents, and the elderly
assisting by carrying bundles of grain to larger piles.
To obtain quantitative data, a representative focal

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Volume 38, Number 4, AugustOctober 1997 699

table 2
Return Rates for Bedul Males Hand Harvesting Wheat and Barley near Petra
in May and June 1986
Subjects age
Field location
Yield (kg/du)
No. of m2 timed
Avg. minutes/m2
Yield (kg/hr.)
Returns in kcal/hr.
Return rate (hrs./du)a

S. Petra Valley

L. Wadi Beida

S. Petra Valley

L. Wadi Beida

note: Calculated for barley at 3,300 kcal and wheat at 3,500 kcal.
Return rate excludes tilling, sowing, and processing costs.

person was chosen and timed by stopwatch, recording

the time elapsed for each square meter harvested. The
purpose and nature of the recording were not revealed
to the focal person, and the recorder pretended to be observing another harvester. The measurement of the
number of square meters covered by a harvester was
done with a tape measure after the completion of the
timed observation. In four cases, harvesting labor was
determined in fields for which grain yields had been previously established. Returns are based on the yield of
clean grain and exclude tilling, sowing, and processing
costs. The results of these four cases are presented in
table 2. (We made additional observations but exclude
them here because they represent instances in which
the timing was interrupted or the yields from the field
under observation could not be obtained. These incomplete results did, however, fall within the ranges recorded during the complete experiments.)
Subjects 2 and 3 harvested from sandy soils, while
subject 4 harvested from silty, clayey loam. The standard method did not work for subject 4, who had to jerk
the stalks from the hard soil a few tillers at a time. The
resulting differences in the labor required are readily apparent. Subjects 2 and 3 worked at comparable paces,
resulting in expenditures of 10.7 and 10.8 hrs./du, even
though the density of crops being harvested was 40 and
64 kg/du respectively. In contrast, subject 4 invested
44.7 hrs./du. In addition to occasional expletives, subject 4 repeatedly expressed his desire for a sickle.
The important and often misunderstood relationship
between efficiencya rate of return (e.g., energy/
time)and abundance (productivity or yield/area) is apparent here. Subject 4 was working in a field with an
exceptionally high density of wheat because it was located in the trough of a shallow drainage where water
accumulated. In this portion of the field, he was also
working in very hard ground. His increased time per du-

nam was likely due to the higher density of wheat. He

thus produced a greater yield while investing more effort per unit of area. However, his return rate, a measure
of effort per unit of time (time that could have been
spent doing other things), was only comparable to that
of the other subjects. His complaints about the increased effort stemmed from the difficulty of hand harvesting in hard ground. His circumstances and response
suggest that the use of sickles may, in part, be related
to soil density and raise the question of the relationship
between the return rates of hand harvesting and harvesting with sickles.
The possibility of a correlation between hand versus
sickle harvesting and cultivation of cereals on sandy
versus dense soils was suggested by Bohrer (1972). Comparison of Bedul hand harvesting with harvesting using
prehistoric sickles supports this hypothesis. Comparative reaping costs of various prehistoric sickles were organized and reported by Russell (1988:11518, table 20),
drawing mainly on replication studies by Steensberg
(1943) on barley and oats and Korobkova (1981) on
wheat. These experiments employed replicate sickles of
simple and composite forms, the latter using both ancient and modern lithic blade inserts. From this work it
is possible to compare the return rates from hand harvesting with those from the use of simple early lithic
sickles, sickles with flint microblade inserts, and various bronze and iron sickles. The trend in these data is
toward increasing harvesting efficiency across sickle
types through time. With the most ancient forms of
sickles reaping costs 34 hrs./du (Russell 1988:117).
Sickles with lithic blade inserts reduced costs to 20
hrs./du (p. 118), and early metal sickles were of similar
Comparison of these figures with Bedul reaping costs
for barley (18.3 hrs./du) shows that hand harvesting is
as efficient as harvesting with advanced lithic and early

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700 c u r r e n t an t hr o p o l o g y

table 3
Return Rates for Alternative Methods of Wheat Procurement
Cost (hrs./du)
Wild wheat
Cultivated wheat, hand-tilled and handharvested
Hand-tilled and harvested with early
lithic sickles
Hand-tilled and harvested with advanced
lithic sickles
Ard-tilled and harvested with early
metal sickles






Return Rate


















note:: Energy content of wheat 5 3,500 kcal/kg. All calculations for methods involving cultivation assume a yield of 50 kg/du. Estimates for tilling, sowing, harvesting, and threshing from Russell (1988:11324) unless otherwise noted.
Wild wheat return rate of 1.1 kg/hr. (Harlan 1967) scaled to 50 kg/du for comparison with cases of cultivation.
Wright (1994:246, fig. 4). We use an average of her samples 315, representing dehusking and groat preparation. These samples reflect the greatest degree of overlap in costs for this level of preparation, ranging from 0.5 to 1.3 hrs./kg.
Hand harvesting cultivated wheat is from direct observation of Bedul.

metal sickles. This relationship is stronger in the case

of wheat grown on sandy soils, with Bedul return rates
of 10.710.8 hrs./du being significantly higher than for
harvesting with all early sickles and competitive with
harvesting with early iron sickles (Russell 1988:116
17). The return rate (energy/time) for the subject harvesting wheat growing in hard soil was similar to that
for hand harvesting, but his productivity (energy/area)
would have been improved with the use of a sickle (thus
intensifying production). However, with the typically
lower density of wheat in sandy soils a sickle would
have been only a third to half as efficient as hand harvesting. Intensification increases productivity at the expense of efficiency by adding labor and, eventually, nonhuman energy to the system. This raises the question
what selection pressures would lead to this seeming
A variety of available data can be combined with the
findings reported here to compare the overall return
rates for harvesting wild forms of wheat (Harlan 1967,
OConnell and Hawkes 1981, Russell 1988) with hand
tillage and hand harvesting of domesticated wheat (this
study), hand tillage and hand harvesting using early
lithic sickles, and finally animal-traction tillage and advanced lithic/early metal sickles. Data on processing
costs can also be included to calculate return rates for
the entire cultivation and preparation process (OConnell and Hawkes 1981, Wright 1994) (table 3). For wild
wheat procurement, tilling and sowing are, of course,
omitted. For cultivated wheat the aforementioned analyses of Russell (1988) identify the costs of hand and ard
tillage, sowing, and threshing. Wright (1994) carefully

details processing costs by examining the various forms

of milling necessary to make cereals edible. She reports
considerable variability in the time required to process
groats, and therefore we use a suite of her samples (3
15) bridging the processing steps of dehusking and groat
preparation, yielding an average of 0.9 hr/kg. We suggest that this value approximates the midpoint of what
was likely a wide range of processing costs. Further, it
compares well with the processing value of 1.0 hr./kg
used by OConnell and Hawkes (1981), which was based
on direct observations of foragers grinding hard seeds.
Our goal is not so much to find the real return for
early cultivators as to identify potentially robust relationships.
The return rates for wild wheat (1,986 kcal/hr.) and
hand-tilled and hand-harvested cultivated wheat (1,815
kcal/hr.) are similar. This counterintuitive similarity is
probably due to the offsetting of wild wheats higher
harvesting cost (because of its weak rachis and smaller
seeds) by the absence of the need to expend energy in
field preparation. At the same time, the costs of intensification associated with cultivation (tilling and sowing)
are offset by characteristics of domestication including
larger seeds, less loss of seed because of a tough rachis,
and, under favorable circumstances, the increased density of plants resulting from field preparation. The employment of early lithic sickles reduces the return rate
to 1,463 kcal/hr., and this loss is not overtaken until
the advent of advanced sickles employing lithic inserts
in the Pottery Neolithic period.
conclusions and implications
Hand harvesting versus harvesting with sickles. Harvesting cereals by hand is the oldest and most enduring

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Volume 38, Number 4, AugustOctober 1997 701

method throughout the Old World (Bohrer 1972), and

experimental studies have shown that it is effective
(Anderson 1991, Harlan 1967). The efficiency of hand
harvesting compared with harvesting with early sickles
suggests that there is no necessary link between the appearance of sickles in the archaeological record and the
earliest cereal cultivation. Early sickles may have been
used for purposes other than harvesting grasses/cereals
(see Anderson 1991; Unger-Hamilton 1989, 1991). The
advantages of sickles lay in opportunities for intensification rather than increased efficiency. Early cereal cultivation in southwestern Asia, North Africa, Central
Asia, and Europe took place in the light, sandy soils
(Sherratt 1980:315; 1983:98) that occurred in pockets in
the Levantine forests and in larger expanses in surrounding areas. As cultivation expanded into areas of
heavier soils during the Neolithic, the advantages of
sickles increased. Nevertheless, Natufian-age sickles
are known from areas characterized by sandy soils. If
sickles were used here to harvest grass seed, their primary advantage at this early date would have been in
extending the harvest. Microwear study (Unger-Hamilton 1989, 1991) indicates that Natufian sickles were
employed on green wheat, which would have enabled
the harvest to begin early. As the grain stands dried,
they would have continued to be harvested at the higher
return rate afforded by hand harvesting. Thus, greater
productivity would have been obtained at the expense
of efficiency. In sum, sickles indicate intensification, a
very different behavioral pattern from initial cultivation.
Diet breadth, resource choice, and intensification.
The proposition that diets expanded to include seed resources from the Upper Paleolithic through the Epipaleolithic in southwestern Asia is supported by the
19,000 b.p. dates for wild wheat and barley at Ohalo II
(Kislev, Nadel, and Carmi 1992). Seed resources are relatively high in cost (OConnell and Hawkes 1981, Simms
1987), and once diets began to expand to include highcost resources a host of these expensive but storable resources became available. The similarity in return rates
between wild wheat and hand-harvested cultivated
wheat indicates that when the diet includes expensive
resources, subtle variation in circumstances may favor
one or another strategy. Perhaps this is why some researchers infer general foraging while others see specialization in nuts, acorns, marsh resources, or wild cereals
(e.g., Henry 1989, Shipek 1989, Bar-Yosef and BelferCohen 1992, Olszewski 1993, McCorriston 1994).
Conceptualizing the move to food production in
terms of alternative adaptive strategies means that with
adequate data on the return rates of the alternative resources available we should be able to predict which
strategies would be favored under different circumstances. For example, consider the impact on Epipaleolithic foragers of different mobility patterns: Those with
higher mobility would be expected to harvest wild
wheat (or nuts, or acorns), perhaps store some, and
move on. Less mobile foragers exploiting areas that include cereal patches on a recurrent basis would, through

repeated use, begin the shift to cultivation and increased storage (or intensification of acorn collection).
Selection for stronger territorial claims should increase
with tethered seasonal rounds and repeated use of
patches. The management of cereal patches by cultivation would be one expression of territoriality. Thus, the
differences between Levantine forests, desert plains,
and wetland locales are probably important to understanding why some people continued as foragers, some
processed acorns, and others embarked upon a trajectory only retrospectively referred to as cereal farming.
That such variability in seasonal round and tempo and
mode of mobility existed even as early as the Epipaleolithic Geometric Kebaran complex seems well demonstrated in recent syntheses for the region (Henry 1989,
1995). Variability in adaptive strategies would be expected over time as well, and the conditions of selection
may be especially dynamic during periods of rapid climatic change such as the Younger Dryas.
The whys of the food-producing transition revolve
more around such questions as what would select for
intensification focused on two cereal grasses rather
than other resources such as acorns and what conditions would account for the cases in which agriculture
was rejected or delayed. The move toward food production began with a broadening of the diet in the Upper
Paleolithic and Epipaleolithic, opening a suite of forager
strategies across space and through time. Given the
similarity in return rates between wild wheat and handharvested cultivated wheat, early cultivation could
have been one of these. The rapid appearance of sickles
and village trappings in the Early Natufian period
marks intensification, and it seems that this too was
spatiotemporally variable. One implication of a broadening diet is a decline in foraging efficiency. Hawkes
and OConnell (1992:64) observe that where diet is
broad and handling represents the bulk of foraging effort, improvements in handling efficiency would have
large effects. Thus, when foragers are exploiting seeds,
whose high cost is largely due to harvesting and processing (OConnell and Hawkes 1981, Simms 1987,
Wright 1994), the development of techniques to reduce
these costs would give them an advantage. By the Neolithic period, the improvements in sickle technology
discussed here may have accomplished this, but this
was long after first cultivation. As for understanding
why some people continued as foragers, it is possible to
expand upon Hawkes and OConnells observation. Intensification applied to resources already in the diet
(e.g., seeds) need not represent an increase in efficiency,
at least initially. Rather, the effort directed toward intensification need be competitive only with the alternative of adding more expensive (lower-ranked) resources
to the diet. Both strategiesearly cultivation and foraging for expensive wild resourceswould be expected to
occur for a while.
At this point, these inferences can only be considered
hypotheses, albeit with the prospect of testing. A fuller
exploration will require data on the costs and benefits of
various resources. Foraging theory (Stephens and Krebs

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702 c u r r e n t an t hr o p o l o g y

1986) holds great promise for these issues but has not
been fully exploited in southwestern Asia (but see Russell 1988, Layton, Foley, and Williams 1991, Hawkes
and OConnell 1992, Winterhalder and Goland 1993). In
order to overcome the limitations of culture-historical
and post-hoc explanation typical of the literature on the
food-producing transition, theoretical models will be
essential. There is a need for more data on the costs associated with different behaviors, and we hope to contribute to that in a small way here. No less important
will be a bridging of literatures and dialog, because in
testing the predictions of theoretical models archaeological data will also be essential.

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