Optimal Foraging Theory - OFT : Background, Problems and Possibilities

University essay from Högskolan på Gotland/Institutionen för kultur, energi och miljö


Optimal Foraging Theory (OFT) has its origin in processualistic ideas in 1960s with traces back to the dawn of the archaeological science in the 19th century. The OFT model is based on the construction of an individual’s food item selection understood as an evolutionary construct that maximizes the net energy gained per unit feeding time. The most common variants are diet patch choice, diet breadth/prey choice models and Marginal Value Theorem (MVT). The theory introduced experimental studies combined with mathematically data analyses and computer simulations. The results visualized in the experimental diagrammed curve are possible to compare with the archaeological records. What is “optimal” is an empirical question not possible to know but still useful as a benchmark for measuring culture. The theory is common in USA but still not in Europe. OFT seems to be useful in hunter-gatherer research looking at human decisions, energy flow, depression of resources and extinction. This literature review concludes that the prey-choice/diet-breadth model seems to be useful for hunter-gatherer research on Gotland focusing on possible causes of the hiatus in archaeological records between 5000-4500 BC.

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