Journal of Archaeological Method and Theory

, Volume 17, Issue 4, pp 303–322 | Cite as

Niche Construction Theory and Archaeology

  • Kevin N. Laland
  • Michael J. O’Brien


Niche construction theory (NCT) is a relatively new development within evolutionary biology, but one that has important implications for many adjacent fields of research, including the human sciences. Here, we present a broad overview of NCT and discuss its application to archaeology. We begin by laying out the basic arguments of NCT, including a historical overview, focusing on how it affects understanding of human behavior and evolution. We then consider how NCT can be used to inform empirical research and how it might profitably be applied in archaeology, using as a case study the origins of agriculture. We suggest that the unrivaled potency of human niche construction, compared with that of other species, means that archaeologists need not be mere consumers of biological insights but can become important contributors to evolutionary theory.


Agriculture Archaeology Human evolution Niche construction Plant domestication 



We thank Lydia Pyne and Julien Riel-Salvatore for inviting us to participate in the Society for American Archaeology session on niche construction and John Odling-Smee for helpful comments on an earlier draft. A very helpful anonymous reviewer caused us to sharpen our focus. KNL thanks the Royal Society and EU (NEST-Pathfinder, Cultaptation) for providing financial support.


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Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.School of BiologyUniversity of St AndrewsSt AndrewsUK
  2. 2.Department of AnthropologyUniversity of MissouriColumbiaUSA

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