Scaling of Hunter-Gatherer Camp Size and Human Sociality

José Lobo, Todd Whitelaw, Luís M.A. Bettencourt, Polly Wiessner, Michael E. Smith, Scott Ortman

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

10 Scopus citations


One of the most common tendencies of human settlements is for larger settlements to display higher population densities. Work in urban science and archaeology suggests that this densification pattern reflects an emergent spatial equilibrium where individuals balance movement costs with social interaction benefits, leading to increases in aggregate productivity and social interdependence. The temporary camps created by hunters and gatherers exhibit a tendency to become less dense with their population size. The different manner in which hunter-gatherer groups express their sociality in residential space suggests that they typically lack the social structures and material technologies necessary for humans to live at greater spatial densities in permanent settlements. Here we examine why this difference occurs and consider conditions under which hunter-gatherer groups may transition to sedentism and densification. We investigate the relationship between population and area in hunter-gatherer camps using a data set representing a large cross-cultural sample derived from the ethnographic literature. We present a model based on the interplay between social interactions and scalar stress that describes the observed patterns among mobile hunter-gatherers. We find that the transition to a densification scheme does not necessary involve domestic food production, only surpluses and storable resources.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)68-94
Number of pages27
JournalCurrent anthropology
Issue number1
StatePublished - Feb 2022

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Archaeology
  • Anthropology
  • Archaeology


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