CS2 - Patagonia · Argentina

The Emergence of Ethnicity in Hunter-Gatherer Societies. The case of Patagonia.

Case Study 2


Aim. The aim of this case study is to explore the different algorithms that may allow us to predict the historical dynamics of a hunter-gatherer society (Patagonia, South America) evolving towards complex socioeconomic structure in the same way as European mesolithic societies did at the beginning of the Holocene. By implementing known historical events as computational agents and their mutual influences as interactions, we analyze the historical dynamics of collective action accentuated by continuous transitions and transformations between subjects and objects. We are interested in testing alternative hypotheses about the formation of different groups (cultures) and social influence patterns, and the emerging behaviour.


Background. Ethnicity is the process of reproduction of cultural diversity thorough the transmission of a particular identity from generation to generation. However, the means of such reproduction and hence the resulting identities are determined in the present as a result of interaction, in such a way that there cannot exist an ‘essential’ and immutable identity defining a human population once and forever. It has been our aim to analyze how cultural diversity and ethnic identities can emerge and how they have reproduced historically in small-scale societies that acquire subsistence from the environment and whose means of production are technologically limited. This does not mean that our hypothesis is exclusive of this kind of social formations. In general, the process may be the same in any kind of societies, but the concrete mechanisms might differ as subsistence becomes produced instead of merely acquired. We have modelled the very idea of ‘social identity’ in terms of perceived similarities in social activity. We assume people identify themselves rationally as members of a group, because they can calculate similarities in the patterns of needs, motivations, beliefs, behaviour and artifacts within their birth-group and between neighbour groups. Such identity is at first inherited from their parents, but it will be modified when they interact in the present with individuals from other groups with different identities. As a result, the way of choosing reproductive partners changes, and the possibilities of transmitting their own identity to the next generation also change given the introduction of partners with a different identity. Of course, identity also changes from the past to the present, given the probability of internal mechanisms of change and innovation. In our simulation, computational agents are not animats without rationality; on the contrary, they are programmed to think, and from time to time they may find by themselves new ways of doing old things, but the group will maintain its coherence all along the time period. In such conditions, internal change has the same rate, but its consequences are affected by the constant building of new identities when cooperating with new people.


Questions. What factors play a role in hunter-gatherer (HG) cultural diversity persistence or disappearance? Are ethnicity and ethnogenesis key factors for the understanding of HG behaviour? Do external social interactions affect HG probabilities for survival?


Methodology. We use ABM simulation to explore different social interactions and economic decision making strategies and mobility behaviours within different theoretical scenarios, some of them based on ethnological data on ancient Patagonia. Simulation experiments are based on empirical knowledge and coherent with what would probably happen in reality. Archaeological, anthropological and palaeoenvironmental data are here used to calibrate the model and, potentially, to validate some of the results we expect to reach.