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Desert Peoples: Archaeological Perspectives

Peter Veth (Editor), Mike Smith (Editor), Peter Hiscock (Editor)
ISBN: 978-1-4051-0090-8
320 pages
January 2005, Wiley-Blackwell
Desert Peoples: Archaeological Perspectives (1405100907) cover image
Desert Peoples: Archaeological Perspectives provides an issues-oriented overview of hunter-gatherer societies in desert landscapes that combines archaeological and anthropological perspectives and includes a wide range of regional and thematic case studies.

  • Brings together, for the first time, studies from deserts as diverse as the sand dunes of Australia, the U.S. Great Basin, the coastal and high altitude deserts of South America, and the core deserts of Africa
  • Examines the key concepts vital to understanding human adaptation to marginal landscapes and the behavioral and belief systems that underpin them
  • Explores the relationship among desert hunter-gatherers, herders, and pastoralists
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Notes on Contributors.

1. Global Deserts in Perspective: Mike Smith, Peter Veth, Peter Hiscock and Lynley A. Wallis (National Museum of Australia; Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies; The Australian National University; The Australian National University).

Part I: Frameworks:.

2. Theoretical Shifts in the Anthropology of Desert Hunter-Gatherers: Thomas Widlok (University of Heidelberg).

3. Pleistocene Settlement of Deserts from an Australian Perspective: Peter Hiscock and Lynley A. Wallis (both at The Australian National University).

4. Arid Paradises of Dangerous Landscapes: A Review of Explanations for Paleolithic Assemblage Change in Arid Australia and Africa: Peter Hiscock and Sue O’Connor (both at The Australian National University).

Part II: Dynamics:.

5. Evolutionary and Ecological Understandings of the Economics of Desert Societies: Comparing the Great Basin USA and the Australian Deserts: Douglas W. Bird and Rebecca Bliege Bird (both at University of Maine).

6. Cycles of Aridity and Human Mobility: Risk Minimization amongst Late Pleistocene Foragers of the Western Desert, Australia: Peter Veth (Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies).

7. Archaic Faces to Head-Dresses: The Changing Role of Rock Art across the Arid Zone: Jo McDonald (Jo McDonald Cultural Heritage Management Pty Ltd).

8. The Archaeology of the Patagonia Deserts: Hunter-Gatherers in a Cold Desert: Luis Alberto Borrero (Consejo Nacional de Investigaciones Cientificas y Tecnicas and the Universidad de Buenos Aires, Argentina).

Part III: Interactions:.

9. Perspectives on Later Stone Age Hunter-Gatherer Archaeology in Arid Southern Africa: Anne I. Thackeray (University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg, South Africa).

10. Long Term Transitions in Hunter-Gatherers of Coastal Northwest Australia: Kathryn Przywolnik (Department of Environment and Conservation (NSW), Sydney, Australia).

11. Hunter-Gatherers and Herders of the Kalahari during the Late Holocene: Karim Sadr (University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg, South Africa).

12. Desert Archaeology, Linguistic Stratigraphy, and the Spread of the Western Desert Language: Mike Smith (National Museum of Australia).

13. People of the Coastal Atacama Desert: Living between Sand Dunes and Waves of the Pacific Ocean: Calogera M. Santoro, Bernardo T. Arriaza, Vivien G. Standen, and Pablo A. Marquet (Universidad de Tarapacá Arica, Chile; University of Nevada, Las Vegas; Universidad de Tarapacá Arica, Chile; Pontificia Universidad Católica de Chile, Santiago).

14. Desert Solitude: The Evolution of Ideologies amongst Pastoralists and Hunter-Gatherers in Arid North Africa: Andrew B. Smith (University of Capetown, Rondebosch, South Africa).

15. Hunter-Gatherer Interactions with Sheep and Cattle Pastoralists from the Australian Arid Zone: Alistair Paterson (University of Western Australia).

16. Conclusion: Major Themes and Future Research Directions: Peter Veth (Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies).

General Index.

Index of Archaelogical Features and Subjects

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Peter Veth is Director of Research at the Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies, Canberra. He is the author of over 100 articles and books on the archaeology of arid zone hunter-gatherers.


Mike Smith is Director of Research and Development at the National Museum of Australia. He pioneered research into late Pleistocene settlement in the Australian desert and has worked extensively across the arid zone attempting to piece together its human and environmental history.


Peter Hiscock is a Reader in the School of Archaeology and Anthropology at the Australian National University.

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  • Provides a comparative overview of cultural and ecological processes affecting hunter-gatherer societies in deserts
  • Brings together, for the first time, studies from deserts as diverse as the sand dunes of Australia, the U.S. Great Basin, the coastal and high altitude deserts of South America, and the core deserts of Africa
  • Examines the key concepts vital to understanding human adaptation to marginal landscapes and the behavioral and belief systems that underpin them
  • Explores the relationship among desert hunter-gatherers, herders, and pastoralists
See More
“This is an up-to-date and theoretically broad-ranging comparative treatment of desert hunter-gatherer archaeology and ethnology that introduces a new, fresh generation of scholars and issues. Bravo!” Richard Gould, Brown University


“Desert Peoples shows how important the world’s arid habitats have always been during the course of human evolution. The geographical scope of the contributions is breathtaking, their comparative approach to dynamics and interactions compelling. I congratulate the editors for making the desert bloom for human prehistory.” Clive Gamble, Royal Holloway, University of London


“A superb synthesis…. The authors use the opportunity to set out several probing questions that will underpin future research on how societies adapt to challenging environments.” John Dodson, Brunel University and University of Western Australia

"Competent, well-written summaries of local culture history...several of the essays merit serious attention from readers of this journal." Archaeology in Oceania

"In this era of regional and topical specialisation, which often leads to perochialism, the editors of this book can take great satisfaction in having provided a venue for looking at the big picture."
Australian Archaeology

"Desert Peoples: Archaeological Perspectives is an essential source for those interested in hunting-gathering lifeways." Laurie Milne, Canadian Journal of Archaeology

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