Sociopolitical effects of bow and arrow technology in prehistoric coastal California

Douglas J. Kennett, Patricia M. Lambert, John R. Johnson, Brendan J. Culleton

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

35 Scopus citations


Bow and arrow technology spread across California between ∼AD 250 and 1200, first appearing in the intermountain deserts of the Great Basin and later spreading to the coast. We critically evaluate the available data for the initial spread in bow and arrow technology and examine its societal effects on the well-studied Northern Channel Islands off the coast of Southern California. The introduction of this technology to these islands between AD 650 and 900 appears to predate the appearance of hereditary inequality between AD 900 and 1300. We conclude, based on the available data, that this technology did not immediately trigger intergroup warfare. We argue that the introduction of the bow and arrow contributed to sociopolitical instabilities that were on the rise within the context of increasing population levels and unstable climatic conditions, which stimulated intergroup conflict and favored the development of hereditary inequality. Population aggregation and economic intensification did occur with the introduction of the bow and arrow. This observation is consistent with the hypothesis that social coercion via intra-group "law enforcement" contributed to changes in societal scale that ultimately resulted in larger groups that were favored in inter-group conflict. We argue that the interplay between intra-group "law enforcement" and inter-group warfare were both essential for the ultimate emergence of social inequality between AD 900 and 1300.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)124-132
Number of pages9
JournalEvolutionary anthropology
Issue number3
StatePublished - May 2013

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Anthropology


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