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Networked Glass: Lithic Raw Material Consumption and Social Networks in the Kuril Islands, Far Eastern Russia

By Stephen Phillips


This research assesses the effects of environmental conditions on the strategic decisions of low-density foragers in regards to their stone tool raw material procurement and consumption behavior. Social as well as technological adaptations allow human groups to meet the challenges of environments that are circumscribed due to geographic isolation, low biodiversity, and the potential impacts of natural events. Efficient resource management and participation in social networks can be viewed within the framework of human behavioral ecology as optimal forms of behavior aimed at increasing the chances of successful adaptations to dynamic island environments. A lithic resource consumption behavioral model is constructed and predictions derived from the model are tested through the analysis of lithic flake debitage from artifact assemblages representing 2,100 years of human occupation in the Kuril Islands of Far Eastern Russia in the North Pacific Ocean. The relative proportions of debitage across lithic reduction sequence stages provides a measure of lithic reduction intensity, which is compared with the model predictions based on the environmental conditions and local availability of lithic resources in six archaeological sites. A specific raw material type, nonlocal obsidian, was further analyzed through a source provenance study that traces the procurement, transportation, and use of obsidian from Hokkaido and Kamchatka in the Kuril Islands. The distribution and diversity of obsidian sources in Kuril Island archaeological sites provide the basis for constructing and analyzing past social networks of human relationships. Results indicate that the marine-adapted hunter-gatherers of the late Holocene Kuril Islands adapted their lithic technology to meet the conditions of specific island environments in relation to lithic resource availability and subsistence resource predictability, particularly in the Central Kuril Islands. Changes in the level of lithic reduction intensity were detected in conjunction with a change in the specific culture group who occupied the island chain that occurred around 1400 BP. Variation in the distribution and diversity of obsidian from sources in Hokkaido and Kamchatka also coincided with this population change, suggesting a re-orientation of social networks that provided access to nonlocal resources. This study supports the growing body of evidence that living in an island environment does not necessarily equate to living in social isolation, but that insular island societies display a high degree of communication and interaction which may refer to a successful adaptation against the potential perils of isolation.

Topics: obsidian, lithic analysis, social network analysis, Russian Far East, Kuril Islands
Year: 2011
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