2.1. Hunter-fisher-gatherer territoriality

Recent ethnoarchaeological studies from hunter-fisher-gatherer societies in western Siberia (Jordan 2003) and the Northwest Coast (Oliver in press) have noted the significance of resource procurement territoriality for structuring routine social interactions and seasonal movements within cultural landscapes. These studies centre on cultural landscapes in temperate and boreal forest biomes, where social competition for resources is mediated by the inheritance of specific procurement locales within the landscape.

Jordan's (2003) study of the Malyi Iugan Khanty of western Siberia gives extensive insights into the complex intricacies of hunter-fisher-gatherer territoriality, social organisation and economic systems. The Malyi Iugan reside along a tributary of the Bolshoi Iugan river (59°-61° North latitude), within a 'richly textured landscape of forest, open vegetation, rivers, and lakes'. The topography is flat and both sandy and loamy soils predominate (ibid., 80). The Malyi Iugan are delayed-return hunter-fisher-gatherers practising the 'remote taiga economic complex' of hunting, net and weir fishing, gathering, and (formerly) small-scale reindeer herding (ibid., 79). Social organisation is based on the yurt:urman dichotomy (Figure 2), which is determined by the predictability and relative seasonal abundance of key resources throughout the landscape (ibid., 260). Yurts are multi-household (2-5) riverside 'base-camps' inhabited from spring to summer. Urman are forest areas outside the immediate 4-5km radius of the yurt settlement, which are comprised of dispersed single-household huts inhabited from the late autumn-winter (Jordan ibid., 245).

Figure 2. Malyi Iugan hunting territories (from Jordan 2003, 251)
Figure 2: Malyi Iugan Hunting Territories (from Jordan 2003, 251)

Yurt and urman areas comprise different modes of territoriality. Yurt settlements are the yearly aggregations of household groups, which exploit the riverside through both communally and individually owned fishing, trapping, gathering, and hunting locales. The yurt areas form a pattern of 'dispersed and congregated local communities which reflect the uneven, yet predictable distribution of resources over the landscape at different times of the year' (ibid., 260). Urman hunting and gathering territories reflect the dispersed resources of the boreal forest. These territories are inherited by successive generations of each individual household. They are stable over the long term, and may:

"persist for (a) at least several generations for the yurt community's area, or (b) at least one generation for areas held by particular households within this wider area (ibid., 261)."

Khanty territoriality mediates the contexts of social interaction between both individual households and yurt communities throughout the annual round. Resource procurement practices were primarily undertaken on the household level; however, activities such as fishing and gathering were sometimes carried out communally. Household-level activities included hunting (elk, deer, bear, duck, squirrel), gathering (cedar nuts, berries, wild garlic, firewood, construction timber) fishing (both migratory and sedentary), and trapping (black grouse, muskrat, sable, mink and hare) (ibid.). The resource landscape is 'in-ownership', and 'bound to webs of social and ritual relationships of control' (ibid., 273). This ownership does not imply active defence, but a reciprocal understanding of particular households' 'right of access'. For instance, Jordan's fieldwork concludes that:

"most male hunters had at least some experience of hunting in others' areas (ugod'ia) but that many of these visits were of an occasional, sporadic, and predominantly social nature, rather than a deliberate and sustained productive presence in others' areas. The only conflict noted was with the unannounced and secretive encroachment by one household into the clan lands of another community." (ibid., 263)

The household ownership of resource procurement territories has also been cited from the Northwest Coast of North America. Archaeological evidence from prehistoric and historic periods indicates the presence of privileged access rights to specific fishing, gathering, and hunting locales (cf. Ames 1994; Hayden 1997; Oliver in press). Activities such as bark stripping, berry cultivation, large-scale net fishing, and chert extraction are connected with resource procurement territoriality (Ames 1994; Hayden 1997; Oliver in press). Oliver points out the limitations of traditional archaeological evidence that focused solely on the riverside settlements of the Fraser river valley as the loci of the Salish cultural landscape. This ethnoarchaeological evidence suggests that the surrounding forest 'beyond the water's edge' was essential to the development of social complexity in Northwest Coast hunting-fishing-gathering societies. Bark-stripped trees reveal the history of dynamic social relationships between groups, individual households, and the culturally constructed landscape (ibid.). Strikingly, the prehistoric Keetly Creek site has revealed that the 'same distinctive corporate group had existed as an identifiable economic and social entity with inherited rights over discrete fishing and hunting areas for well over 1000 years' (Hayden 1997, 258).

Ethnoarchaeological research on hunter-fisher-gatherers in temperate and boreal environments suggests that cultural landscapes are structured spaces, conditioned by the diachronic socioecological dynamics of household and communal interactions during ritual and resource procurement activities (cf. Zvelebil 2003). The ethnoarchaeological evidence allows for a more humanistically informed perspective on prehistoric hunter-gatherer land-use strategies and the way that inter-household social interaction was carried out within the annual round. Resource procurement territoriality can be seen as a structural condition of social interaction both within and between different populations. The most challenging aspect of 'applied hunter-gatherer ethnoarchaeology' is the determination of the relevant structural (social, economic, environmental) conditions amidst the incomplete nature of the archaeological record.


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