Project 1502

INQUA Project 1502: Reconstructing hunter-gatherer mobility: building new inter-disciplinary frameworks in the Quaternary


Dr. Rebecca Wragg Sykes (UMR 5199 PACEA, Université de Bordeaux, FR) Dr Julien Riel-Salvatore (Département d’anthropologie, Université de Montréal, CA) and Dr Suzanne Pilaar Birch (Departments of Geography and Anthropology, University of Georgia, USA)

Project Aim

Establish the current state of knowledge and unite diverse research practices regarding prehistoric hunter-gatherer mobility, as an essential step to building coherent and robust frameworks for future interdisciplinary enquiry.

Despite the fact that mobility is a central concern in reconstructions of past human behaviour, there has been remarkably little critical discussion of what we mean by this concept, how we identify it archaeologically and how to develop common analytical frameworks we can use to examine relevant data. It is intended that this project will stimulate debate and strengthen inter-disciplinary networks, promoting integrative approaches that balance the disadvantages of single methods, as well as enabling comparisons and testing against multiple forms of data.

Our long-term goals include:

  1. Clarifying the theoretical frameworks and identifying the different types of direct and indirect data that researchers use to analyse and measure past hunter-gatherer mobility;
  2. Targeting areas of potential fruitful interdisciplinary research and defining new frameworks that enable the integration and comparison of disparate models and datasets;
  3. Establishing the importance of understanding mobility for ongoing and future Quaternary research using empirical and replicable data to better put into practice theories that depend on concepts such as adaptive responses and social networks.

Establishing a working group (in particular including early career researchers) for cross-disciplinary, inter-continental development and synthesis of data, model and theory-building will allow fresh examination of diversity in hunter-gatherer mobility, across varied Quaternary climatic and environmental contexts. Our objective is to create a rich, lasting research focus group, which will collaboratively develop an online resource that provides an assessment of the different methods, analytical approaches and potential/limitations of different data for identifying and measuring mobility. It will include creation of a database of particular archaeological contexts where inter-disciplinary approaches can best be applied to questions of hunter-gatherer mobility, and establishment of new projects based on this.

Reindeer and stone tools

Image Left Silcrete flakes from Palaeolithic stone extraction locale Saint-Pierre-Eynac, France (Image: Wragg Sykes). Sourcing of lithic objects is the most commonly applied proxy for models of human mobilty: this project aims to establish new intersections between diverse proxies – faunal, genetic, anatomical, ethnographic– for more robust data and models. Image Right Reindeer; one of the species for which better understanding of past dynamics, including possibilities of long-distance migration, would improve mobility models for hunter-gatherer groups. Image: By Alexandre Buisse (Nattfodd) (self-made ( CC BY-SA 3.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

Project website