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Man the Showoff? Or the Ascendance of a Just-so-Story: A Comment on Recent Applications of Costly Signaling Theory in American Archaeology

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  20 January 2017

Brian F. Codding
Department of Anthropological Sciences, Stanford University, 450 Serra Mall, Building 360, Stanford, CA 94305-2117 (
Terry L. Jones
Department of Social Sciences, California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo, CA 93407(


In several recent, and highly provocative papers, McGuire and Hildebrandt (Hildebrandt and McGuire 2002, 2003; McGuire and Hildebrandt 2005) have helped introduce costly signaling theory into American archaeology. While their efforts are commendable, we feel that their reinterpretations of western North American prehistory overstate the likely influence of costly signaling on the archaeological record. Only by overlooking a considerable body of ethnographic literature that indicates a more limited role for signaling are they able to characterize Great Basin and California hunters as motivated more by the pursuit of prestige than provisioning. We offer three specific challenges to their models: (1) while McGuire and Hildebrandt treat the issue as decided, the relationships among foraging, provisioning, prestige, and fitness is still actively contested among researchers; (2) while ethnographic studies suggest that some types of hunting and low-return, high-risk activities may indeed represent attempts by males to signal costly behavior, these activities contribute very little to the faunal and other residues that accumulate in the archaeological record; and (3) the theoretical underpinnings of costly signaling explicitly preclude the type of runaway positive feedback loops that Hildebrandt and McGuire implicate as the driving force behind an apparent cultural collapse in the Great Basin at the end of the Middle Archaic.



En varios papeles, McGuire y Hildebrandt recientes y sumamente provocativos (Hildebrandt y McGuire 2002, 2003; McGuire y Hildebrandt 2005) ha ayudado a introducir señalar costoso la teoría en la arqueología Americana. Mientras sus esfuerzos son recomendables, nosotros nos sentimos que sus reinterpretaciones de prehistoria norteamericana occidental exagera la influencia probable de señalar costoso en el registro arqueológico. Sólo dejando pasar un cuerpo considerable de la literatura etnográfica que indica un papel más limitado para señalar es ellos capaz de caracterizar Gran Palangana y cazadores de California motivaron como más por el persecución del prestigio que provisioning. Ofrecemos tres desafíos específicos a sus modelos: (1) mientras McGuire y Hildebrandt tratan el asunto como decidido, las relaciones entre adentrarse, provisioning, el prestigio y la salud, todavía son refutados activamente entre investigadores; (2) mientras los estudios etnográficos sugieren que algunos tipos de cazar y el bajo-regreso, las actividades de alto riesgo pueden representar verdaderamente las tentativas por males para señalar la conducta costosa, estas actividades contribuyen muy poco al faunal y otros residuos de que acumulan en el registro arqueológico; (3) los apuntalamientos teóricos Señalar impide explícitamente el tipo de lazos de reacción que Hildebrandt positivos fugitivos y McGuire implican como lafuerza que maneja detrás de un desplome cultural aparente en la Gran Palangana a fines del Mediano Arcaico.

Copyright © The Society for American Archaeology 2007

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