Tuesday, July 26, 2011


I ran across a theory on the possible origin of gender differences in wayfinding. Hunter males, following game across landscape, needed a method that could adapt to changing circumstances, as their route home might be different each time. Landmarks would be an important supplement, so a percentage of them needed that skill in full blossom as well, but cardinal directions, orientation, ability to envision distal routes would be of primary importance.

Gatherer females would need to reliably know where fruit, medicines, supplies, could reliably be found, and so would need advanced landmark skills. The terrain or approach might be somewhat different each year, so both gestalt environments and chains of landmarks would be useful.

Like all evolutionary biology theories, plausibility is going to be easier to come by than proof. Though strong genetic evidence for these sorts of theories may not be that far away. We can sometimes determine when a trait came into being, and if it accords with the archaeological evidence of what was in fact in use behaviorally at the time, it's a good indicator.


David Foster said...

I'd think the kind of direction-finding most useful to a hunter would depend on the terrain....Cartesian coordinates in open areas, landmarks in dense forests.

Somewhere I've read theories about the effect of terrain on type of religion evolving in an area, too.

Dubbahdee said...

Corollary to my theory of gender differences in shopping behavior. Short version:

Women gather, moving from bush to bush. Gather, sort, bring home the edibles. It is no accident that clothes are displayed in circular racks resembling bushes.

Men hunt. Find the spoor in the advertising circular. Go to the watering hole where the prey are likely to be found (e.g. hardware store). Track it (which aisle?). Kill it (pay for it) and bring it home.

More plausibility than proof. Ayuh.

jaed said...

It makes sense to me. Cursory hunting takes place over long distances, and the prey - not the hunter - controls which direction the hunt moves in. So you'd have to know landmarks over an impractically large area in order to use them effectively in hunting. "Home is back thataway 20 miles" seems like it would be more useful than "I think there was a big rock, but I'm not a hundred percent sure since this is the first time I've been to this spot."

Effective gathering, on the other hand, relies on a sense for the terrain as well as knowledge from previous years. You need a sense that such-and-such plants tend to be found in shady spots on the downhill side of a stream, or that such-and-such is on the other side of a windbreak - so you need to be paying a lot of attention to the specific things you see in the immediate locale in order to deduce where to find what you're looking for, The fact that there's open water just downhill from here would be useful as a landmark to find the spot again, but you'd be paying a lot of attention to it even the first time through, because it will help you figure out what plants might be nearby.

Hunters would be using landmarks in this way to find spots where they could find prey, but not so much once the hunt starts.

terri said...


Just noticed this on Science Daily and thought it might be relevant....correlating social acumen and spatial skill.

David Foster said...

Terri...that's really interesting...thanks! Link was wrong, though...this one works:


David Foster said...

Huh...the software truncated the URL. Let me try again.


Assistant Village Idiot said...

Minor note: I get emails of all comments. I could follow both terri's and David's original link from there, but not from here.

terri said...

oops...I didn't actually go to the trouble of linking, just copied and pasted.

I didn't know that the paste was incomplete. ;-)