Mark Collard’s lecture was about risk, demography, and technological evolution in non-industrial populations and he discussed the evolution of tool use among a variety of groups of hunter-gatherers and food-producing communities. Collard states that the number and complexity of tools varies greatly among populations and he focuses on why this variation exists. He starts off by discussing and analyzing toolkit variation in both hunter-gatherer and farming societies and then moves on to discuss overall technological variation in these societies and the possible explanation for it.
He lists four hypotheses that help explain this variation in toolkits among groups. They are the Diet hypothesis, the Risk hypothesis, the Mobility hypothesis, and the Population Size hypothesis. Collard states that the Diet hypothesis has to do with where the individual is hunting and what they are hunting. It is believed that a more complex toolkit is required in order to hunt moving or mobile animals. In addition, some environments, such as an aquatic environment, require more complex toolkits than terrestrial environments. The Risk hypothesis involves the risk of resource failure and the increasing complexity of task-specific tools compared to multi-task tools. The Mobility hypothesis basically states that the structure of the toolkit is limited by the amount an individual can carry without the help of domesticated animals or vehicles. This means that an extremely mobile individual would have a smaller toolkit so they could carry it all at once. The Population Size hypothesis uses cultural drift (similar to genetic drift) as a basis for toolkit variation. It says that the relative frequency of cultural traits within a population can be affected by random sampling effects.
Collard’s research focuses on which of the previously mentioned hypotheses best explains global variation in toolkit variety. He uses the variables of richness (total # of tools involved in “food-getting”) and complexity (total # of technounits) in his study. Technounits are the different parts of a finished tool. He focuses first on hunter-gatherers and finds that the risk of resource failure is the main driver in toolkit richness and complexity (along with mobility) and population size has little or no effect. He then moves on to food producers (farmers) instead of hunter-gatherers. He notes that population size is a major driver in technological variation among food- producers and there is no evidence of risk of resource failure in these larger groups.
I think that the most interesting question posed by Mark Collard is whether there...