Hunter Gatherer Research

Bringing it all back home

An economic analysis of acorn journeys in Eastern California

Hunter Gatherer Research (2018), 4, (4), 531–556.


During the ethnohistoric period, the Kucadɨkadɨ (Mono Lake Paiute) regularly made journeys from the Mono Basin to Yosemite Valley to collect acorns. Archaeological evidence indicates that this practice pre-dates the time of Euro-American contact. It is unclear, however, whether these journeys were undertaken primarily for social or economic reasons. We evaluate the hypothesis that long-distance acorn transport was a viable subsistence strategy in the Mono Basin by comparing it to competing subsistence strategies. We do this by introducing a new model for examining resource transport. Using data gleaned from the ethnographic and experimental literature, we employ a Monte Carlo simulation to approximate the probability distribution of the return rates of transporting basket loads of various resources to a hypothetical winter camp in the Mono Basin. Our analysis indicates that long-distance acorn transport is a viable subsistence strategy that produces better mean return rates than collecting small seeds within the Mono Basin. Though pinyon pine nuts and Pandora moth caterpillars produce the highest return rates, these resources are not available every year and cannot be collected in enormous quantities. Acorns may have buffered against subsistence shortfall during the winter and allowed the Kucadɨkadɨ to permanently settle in the Mono Basin.

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Author details

Whelan, Carly S

Roualdes, Edward A