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Due to decreasing resource densities, higher latitude hunter-gatherers need to maintain their social networks over greater geographic distances than their equatorial counterparts. This suggests that as latitude increases, the frequency of face-to-face interaction decreases for 'weak tie' relationships in the outer mating pool (~500-strong) and tribal (~1500-strong) layers of a hunter-gatherer social network. A key question, then, is how a hunter-gatherer tribe sustains coherence as a single identifiable unit given that members are distributed across a large geographic area. The first step in answering this question is to establish whether the expectation that network maintenance raises a challenge for hunter-gatherers is correct, or whether sustaining inter-group contact is in fact trivial. Here I present a null model that represents mobile groups as randomly and independently moving gas particles. The aim of this model is to examine whether face-to-face contact can be maintained with every member of an individual's tribe at all latitudes even under the baseline assumption of random movement. Contrary to baseline expectations, the number of encounters between groups predicted by the gas model cannot support tribal cohesion and is significantly negatively associated with absolute latitude. In addition, above ~40 degrees latitude random mobility no longer produces a sufficient number of encounters between groups to maintain contact across the 500-strong mating pool. These model predictions suggest that the outermost layers of hunter-gatherers' social networks may require additional mechanisms of support in the form of strategies that either enhance encounter rates, such as coordinated mobility patterns, or lessen the need for face-to-face interaction, such as the use of symbolic artefacts to represent social affiliations. Given the predicted decline in encounters away from the equator, such additional supports might be most strongly expressed at high latitudes.

Original publication




Journal article


J Archaeol Sci

Publication Date





403 - 413


Gas model, biomes, latitude, social relationship