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Journal of Archaeological Method and Theory

, Volume 25, Issue 1, pp 202–225 | Cite as

The Structural and Functional Complexity of Hunter-Gatherer Technology

  • John F. HoffeckerEmail author
  • Ian T. Hoffecker
Article

Abstract

The complexity of hunter-gatherer technology has been measured by counting artifact parts or production steps. There are a variety of alternative approaches to the measurement of artifact or system complexity. If technological complexity is assumed to reflect the complexity of the problem (or amount of entropy reduction) that the artifact is designed to address, the most appropriate measure of technological complexity is functional design complexity, which entails application of the entropy formula from information theory to the making and using of an artifact and the results obtained by its use. Functional complexity is related to structural or hierarchical complexity, because the entropy formula can be represented as a hierarchy (or step-by-step reduction of entropy) and the functional differentiation is related to the structural differentiation of an artifact. Another approach to hunter-gatherer technological complexity entails definition of a class of “complex artifacts” on the basis of general design characteristics (e.g., incorporation of moving parts). The most structurally and functionally complex artifacts are those that possess multiple states, either through changes in the physical relationship between parts (or sub-parts) during use or through structural differentiation. Although functional complexity is difficult to measure, structural or hierarchical complexity may be measured—and multiple-state artifacts may be counted—with adequate ethnographic and archaeological data on hunter-gatherer technology.

Keywords

Technological complexity Hunter-gatherers Information theory 

Notes

Acknowledgment

The authors are grateful to Ian Gilligan and several anonymous reviewers for their comments on two earlier drafts of this paper, which significantly improved the final version.

Compliance with Ethical Standards

Conflict of Interest

The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.

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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Institute of Arctic and Alpine ResearchUniversity of Colorado at BoulderBoulderUSA
  2. 2.Department of Medical Biochemistry and BiophysicsKarolinska InstitutetStockholmSweden

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