Hamilton, MJ; Buchanan, B; Walker, RS
Short-term hunter-gatherer residential camps have been a central feature of human settlement patterns and social structure for most of human evolutionary history. Recent analyses of ethnohistoric hunter-gatherer data show that across different environments, the average size of hunter-gatherer bands is remarkably constant and that bands are commonly formed by a small number of coresident families. Using ethnoarchaeological data, we examine the relationship between the physical infrastructure of camps and their social organization. We compiled a dataset of 263 ethnoarchaeologically observed hunter-gatherer camps from 13 studies in the literature. We focus on both the scale of camps, or their average size, structure, and composition, and the dynamics that governed their variation. Using a combination of inferential statistics and linear models, we show that the physical infrastructure of camps, measured by the number of household features, reflects the internal social organization of hunter-gatherer bands. Using scaling analyses, we then show that the variation among individual camps is related to a predictable set of dynamics between camp area, infrastructure, the number of occupants, and residence time. Moreover, the scale and dynamics that set the statistical variance in camp sizes are similar across different environments and have important implications for reconstructing prehistoric hunter-gatherer social organization and behavior from the archaeological record.