An agent-based approach to weighted decision making in the spatially and temporally variable South African Palaeoscape

Colin D. Wren, Chloe Atwater, Kim Hill, Marco Janssen, Curtis Marean


Even a “simple” human foraging pattern has a large number of moving parts. This requires a complex decision making process to effectively exploit the spatially and temporally variable resources in an environment. Here we present a general framework, based in optimal foraging theory, for agent foragers to make mobility and foraging decisions by weighing expected caloric returns against geographic and social factors, and forecasted future return rates. We evaluate the effectiveness of this and alternative decision making strategies by comparing their caloric returns over the long-term.

During the early Holocene in South Africa, Later Stone Age (LSA) foragers systematically exploited a wide variety of flora and fauna in both terrestrial and inter-tidal environments. We first use a combination of modeling and field-based foraging experiments to rigorously reconstruct the spatially and temporally variable caloric returns of the South African Holocene resource environment. Next we apply our decision making system to this resource environment as a way of gaining greater insight into LSA foraging patterns. Finally, we discuss the implications of our study for the evolution of complex cognition.