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Understanding prehistoric hunters' economic choices

Professor Alan Outram

Professor Outram has a keen research interest in the decisions that hunters make about how to process the carcasses of animals they have hunted. If a hunter brings down an animal of appreciable size they are then faced with a dilemma. They cannot carry the whole animal back to their home on their own. Even if they have assistance it may not make sense to transport the entire carcass. The hunter's decisions over what to transport will result in some bones being left at the kill site and other being taken to their settlement. These decisions are likely to be based upon a series of variables, such as how much food is on each part, which parts taste best, the craft utility of skins, bones and sinew and the overall subsistence needs of the people. The study of these patterns is important because it can tell us about the function of a site. Very low utility elements tend to be left at kill sites, for instance. We see different patterns at temporary hunting camps and base camps. Combining this evidence with evidence for season of occupation can help us reconstruct the settlement systems of hunter/gather peoples. Study of hunters' transport decisions can also help us assess levels of subsistence stress within communities.

Alan's work has recently concentrated on the hunting of horses. In order to study hunters' decisions he created an index of food utility of horse elements by carrying out the experimental butchery of three horses (these horses had died at the end of their natural lives). He recently spoke on this subject at an international symposium on Horses and Humans: the Evolution of Human - Equine Relations in Pennsylvania. Alan has also considered the complex issue of hunters' transport decisions at the hominid site of Klasies River Mouth, South Africa.

Some of Professor Outram's relevant publications:

Outram, A. and Rowley-Conwy, P. (1998) Meat and marrow utility indices for horse (Equus). Journal of Archaeological Science 25, 839-849.

Outram, A.K. (2000) Hunting Meat and Scavenging Marrow: A seasonal explanation for Middle Stone Age subsistence strategies at Klasies River Mouth. In: P. Rowley-Conwy (ed.) Animal Bones and Human Societies. Oxford: Oxbow Books. 20-27.

Outram, A.K. (2001) Economic Anatomy, Element Abundance and Optimality: A New Way of Examining Hunters' Bone Transportation Choices. In: A. Millard (ed.) Proceedings of Archaeological Sciences '97. BAR International Series 939. Oxford: British Archaeological Reports. 117 - 126.

Outram, A.K. (2001) FOCUS: The Scapula Representation could be the Key: A Further Contribution to the "Klasies Pattern" Debate. Journal of Archaeological Science. 28:12, 1259-1263.

Outram, A.K. (2005) Applied models and indices vs. high-resolution, observed data: detailed fracture and fragmentation analyses for the investigation of skeletal part abundances. Journal of Taphonomy 2:3 (2004), 167-184.

Outram, A.K. (2006) Juggling with indices: A review of the evidence and interpretations regarding Upper Palaeolithic horse skeletal part abundance. In: S.L. Olsen, S. Grant, A.M. Choyke and L. Bartosiewicz (eds) Horses and Humans: The Evolution of Human Equine Relationships. Symposium BAR Int. Series 1560, Oxford: Archaeopress, pp49-60.