Red Queen in Australia

Publication Name

Journal of Anthropological Archaeology


Change in Holocene Australia is typically depicted as establishing greater control over the environment, with heightened prosperity, growth of social complexity, status competition, intergroup congregation, and population. Endogenous social processes altered Australian forager life yielding, on average, increased per capita output. Those claims were named Intensification. We critique that concept, re-evaluate evidence, and conclude there is no evidence for release from environmental constraint or heightened prosperity. Our model is more capable of explaining change in Holocene Australia. This Red Queen model claims cultural changes reflect unfavourable alterations in economic opportunity, driven by coevolution with dingos during worsening environmental conditions. Restructured environments with fewer high ranked foods led to greater diet breadth, expansion into marginal landscapes, and focus on atypical resource rich spots. By increasing their labour groups sought to maintain population size, this strategy reducing the likelihood of neighbouring groups seizing resource hot spots. Foragers responded to tensions with neighbours over resource access by magnifying social defence, offering limited use of resources in return for maintenance of territorial control. Those political negotiations constructed moderately stable alliances. We test the Red Queen model and show it, not Intensification, explains the emergence of ethnographically identified social interactions, economy and settlement systems.

Open Access Status

This publication is not available as open access



Article Number


Funding Sponsor

Australian Research Council



Link to publisher version (DOI)