The Quantitative Analysis of Mobility: Ecological Techniques and Archaeological Extensions



This paper provides an overview of techniques for the quantitative analysis of mobility derived from mathematical ecology. Focusing on the Lévy distribution as a model for movement data, a number of methods for ­identifying power laws are assessed. These methods are applied to a dataset gathered by Yellen (Archaeological Approaches to the Present: Models for Reconstructing the Past, 1977) during research among the Dobe !Kung and allow the complete ­mathematical description of the movement pattern of that group. Results suggest that the group moves between resource patches which are power-law distributed in size but that their camp relocation distances follow a lognormal distribution. These results are interpreted by reference to the “complete radius leapfrog pattern” described by Binford (J Anthropol Archaeol 1:5–31, 1982). In order to extend the study of mobility as practiced by ecologists to the data encountered in the archaeological record, a novel simulation methodology is developed that relates step-length distributions to the distributions of intersite distances in landscape-level archaeological samples. This methodology is discussed with regard to its archaeological implications and certain social and cognitive correlates of specific mobility strategies.


Step Length Archaeological Record Random Walk Model Spider Monkey Intersite Distance 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.



This paper was originally presented at the Society for American Archaeology Annual Conference in Vancouver in the spring of 2008. I would like to thank Stephen Lycett and Parth Chauhan for organizing and inviting me to participate in the “Analytical Approaches to Palaeolithic Technologies” session at that conference, and for their editorship of the current ­volume. James Steele provided stimulating discussions of many of the ideas pursued in “Lévy Walks in Hunter-Gatherers” and has helped clarify my thoughts in key areas. Clive Gamble and Fiona Coward both provided comments on earlier drafts of the paper for which I am very grateful. Finally, a comprehensive review by Jeff Brantingham led to substantial modification of the original manuscript, improving it in both structure and coherence. This research was funded by the British Academy Centenary Research Project, “Lucy to Language: the Archaeology of the Social Brain.” I would particularly like to thank Robin Dunbar and Clive Gamble for their continued support.


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© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2010

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Institute of Cognitive and Evolutionary AnthropologyUniversity of OxfordOxfordUK

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