CS3 - Tierra del Fuego · Argentina

Social cooperation in late hunter-gatherer societies of Tierra del Fuego (Argentina).

Case Study 3


Aim. The aim of this case study is to explore the role of aggregation and cooperation in the Yámana hunter-fisher-gatherer society (Beagle Channel, Tierra del Fuego, Argentina). We explore the following questions: (a) cooperation as a social resource to deal with stress; (b) simulation as a tool to generate archaeological hypotheses.


Background. Cooperation is one of the most efficient mechanisms that made possible the development of human societies. In fact, in hunter-gatherer (also in hunter-fisher-gatherer) societies, where the whole group tends to live separated (atomized) into domestic units/families/etc, both cooperation and reciprocity are essential elements for the construction and maintenance of the social tissue. Furthermore, when dealing with stress, cooperation can be used as a social tool aimed at promoting resilience of the whole hunter-gatherer way of life. Our study is focused on the Yámana, a society that lived on sea and coastal resources in the southern extreme of Tierra del Fuego until their disappearance at the beginnings of the 20th century. We base our case study on the supposed existence of an aggregation event in Lanashuaia beach. According to ethnographical sources, a stranded whale represented one of the cases where there could be an episode of social aggregation of different social basic units (identified as families by ethnography). In this exceptional social frame, ceremonies and communal works for reinforcing social ties would have taken place. This type of occasions, therefore, can be paradigmatic of a context of cooperation other than everyday cooperation between members of a single domestic unit. A critical analysis of the ethnological sources is being carried out for the recording of social rules regarding either punishment or reinforcement of cooperative attitudes. On the other hand, all activities carried out cooperatively are being considered for the generation of the model.


Questions. Are the cooperative dynamics a social reinforcement tool within Yámana society? Which is the role played by exceptional ‘communal’ resources, such as stranded whales, in the Yámana way of life?


Methodology. We are working from an ethnoarchaeological approach, so simulation is being done within a realistic context produced from ethnological and archaeological data. In our replica of the Yámana world, we are using Agent Based Model (ABM) simulation in order to explore cooperation. We are making an exhaustive compilation of ethnographical sources in search of phenomena of cooperation: we record communal activities as well as myths and legends related to them. This information is being used for the ABM simulation, which is focused on checking the real role of aggregation and cooperation in Yámana social dynamics documented by ethnography. Finally, the model can be used for the generation of new hypotheses that may direct a future archaeological agenda.