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Aims and objectives

This unconventional project aims at making Indigenous Knowledge and tracking methodology an integral part of archaeological fieldwork.  The data collected on the field (GPS recorded tracks, velocity and caloric expenditure data, as well as qualitative information on decision-making) will be used to obtain unique insights into the wayfinding process as well as the physical constraints to human mobility during hunting. In turn, these will be used to inform theoretical and computational models of hunter gatherer mobility, which have the potential to enhance our understanding of human/environment interactions during prehistory and offer meaningful interpretations of the spatial properties and use of archaeological sites (e.g. of rock art sites):

  1. How closely linked are existing mathematical models of pedestrian movement, in particular those used for the calculation of least-cost paths, to real movement patterns of contemporary foragers, such as the San in southern Africa? Could real mobility patterns validate or improve the standard algorithms[1][2] used to model the movements of prehistoric foragers?

  2. To what extent can the hypothesis that the mobility patterns of hunters are similar to Lévy walks[3][4] be supported (or denounced)?

  3. What is the relationship between archaeological sites (in particular rock art sites) and the real trajectories of mobile hunters? Could the choice of site location be explained by human mobility during traditional hunting practices?

  4. How rich, how time bound and how culture specific is the decision-making process (Fig. 4) that influences path choice, as well as the alternation and/or termination of a hunt? Could cultural/ideological factors (e.g. fear of supernatural powers, taboos, forbidden places etc.) affect wayfinding and to what degree do they influence hunter mobility?

  5. To what degree do existing game paths (particularly visible and persistent in the wide rocky areas of the study region, see Fig. 5) and visually prominent topographic features influence decisions on the direction of movement during hunting? Could game paths be used as empirical evidence for the validation of LCP calculations used for the modelling of animal movements?

We anticipate that the collected data and the proposed computational models will offer new insights into hunter gatherer mobility in Africa and beyond, and will encourage the development of computational approaches that are better tailored to the needs of archaeology, and hunter gatherer research in particular. We expect, therefore, that the outcomes of the project will be of relevance for an international research community. Furthermore, we anticipate that the unusual and unique datasets on a fading art (i.e. hunting with traditional means) that will be collected on the field will have a number of other uses and impact that go beyond the three-year duration of this project. For instance, they can be used to inform innovative approaches to agent-based modelling of hunter gatherer mobility, as well as support the interpretation of future archaeological finds discovered in the study area.


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  1. Campbell, M.J., Dennison, P.E., Butler, B.W., Page, W.G., 2019. Using crowdsourced fitness tracker data to model the relationship between slope and travel rates. Applied Geography 106, 93–107. DOI: 10.1016/j.apgeog.2019.03.008.
  2. Irmischer, I.J., Clarke, K.C., 2018. Measuring and modeling the speed of human navigation. Cartography and Geographic Information Science 45, 177--186. DOI: 10.1080/15230406.2017.1292150
  3. Brown, C.T., Liebovitch, L.S., Glendon, R., 2007. Lévy Flights in Dobe Ju/’hoansi Foraging Patterns. Human Ecology 35, 129–138. DOI: 10.1007/s10745-006-9083-4
  4. Raichlen, D.A., Wood, B.M., Gordon, A.D., Mabulla, A.Z.P., Marlowe, F.W., Pontzer, H., 2014. Evidence of Lévy walk foraging patterns in human hunter–gatherers. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 111, 728–733. DOI: 10.1073/pnas.1318616111.