Combining anthropology, archeology, and evolutionary theory, Paul E. Minnis develops a model of how tribal societies deal with severe food shortages. While focusing on the prehistory of the Rio Mimbres region of New Mexico, he provides comparative data from the Fringe Enga of New Guinea, the Tikopia of Tikopia Island, and the Gwembe Tonga of South Africa.
Minnis proposes that, faced with the threat of food shortages, nonstratified societies survive by employing a series of responses that are increasingly effective but also are increasingly costly and demand increasingly larger cooperative efforts. The model Minnis develops allows him to infer, from evidence of such factors as population size, resource productivity, and climate change, the occurrence of food crises in the past. Using the Classic Mimbres society as a test case, he summarizes the regional archeological sequence and analyzes the effects of environmental fluctuations on economic and social organization. He concludes that the responses of the Mimbres people to their burgeoning population were inadequate to prevent the collapse of the society in the late twelfth century.
In its illumination of the general issue of responses to food shortages, Social Adaptation to Food Stress will interest not only archeologists but also those concerned with current food shortages in the Third World. Cultural ecologists and human geographers will be able to derive a wealth of ideas, methods, and data from Minnis's work.