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Boreal forest adaptations. The northern Algornkians. Edited by A. T. Steegmann Jr. New York Plenum Press. 1983. xii + 360 pp. figures tables references index. $49

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Book Reviews
Edited by A.T. Steegmann, Jr. New York: Plenum Press. 1983.
360 pp., figures, tables, references,
index. $49.50 (cloth).
A.T. Steegmann has assembled a n extremely valuable and comprehensive description of a boreal forest ecosystem and the
adaptations made by its resident human populations. Most of the authors adopt a cultural-ecological perspective and argue that
the really important human adaptations to
this environment are cultural, not biological.
Archaeological and historical research is
combined with contemporary studies to provide a sense of continuity essential for understanding how the population’s lifeways
emerged and why they have been so
In the introductory chapter, A.T. Steegmann, who began this research in the early
1970s, outlines the metamorphosis of his
ideas on adaptation. What started as a n investigation of biological adjustments to cold
gradually became redefined as a study of cultural responses to the boreal forest
Bruce Winterhalder provides both a thermodynamic analysis of the Northern Ontario
boreal forest and a n examination of environmental conditions in the area from the postglacial period to the present. In Chapter 2,
he emphasizes the small-scale spatial heterogeneity of the boreal forest zone and describes the landforms, soils, climatic factors,
and vegetation that disperse the animal populations and provide some unique resource
problems for human populations. In Chapter
6, Winterhalder develops several hypotheses
based on the ecological conditions described
in his earlier chapter and on the idea that
humans will try to achieve the highest possible rate of energy capture while foraging
(the so-called “optimal foraging theory”). He
finds that, despite some changes caused by
automation (e.g., snowmobiles), boreal forest
indigenes will hunt a broad range of species
and live in small, dispersed settlementsboth as predicted by the model. However,
they will favor certain resource zones on a
0 1984 ALAN R. LISS. INC.
continuing basis rather than exploiting them
for short periods of time as the model predicts. Winterhalder’s analysis is endowed
with a dynamic quality that is often lacking
in studies of human ecology.
Both Chapter 3, by Kenneth C.A. Dawson,
and Chapter 4, by Edward S. Rogers, develop
the idea that the cultural patterns of the
Ontario boreal forest inhabitants were always relatively homogeneous and have remained so consistent over time that historical
data can be used to interpret the prehistorical material. Dawson argues that the basic
cultural adaptations to a wide range of fluctuating and seasonally available game was
made to the West and South of Ontario’s
interior forest. The first permanent habitation of the latter began sometime after 3,000
BC and, with only minor changes, the cultural patterns of these pioneers persisted until recent times. Rogers’ analysis tends to
focus on the Indians from a European perspective. Information is presented on gamehunting techniques, housing, and clothing,
as well as the social and cultural system,
most of which were altered by Europeans,
who gradually increased in numbers and influence in the region.
Marshall Hurlich reviews the historical
and recent demography of the Algonkians of
northern Ontario in Chapter 5. He attributes
the introduction and spread of infectious disease (particularly smallpox) to economic
changes caused by Europeans. Because of
their relative isolation, however, interior
populations may have remained less affected
than those near early trading posts and along
the major trading routes. In the second part
of the chapter, Hurlich does a commendable
job of integrating five different data sources
to reconstruct fertility and mortality trends
in a single village between 1925 and 1974.
A.T. Steegmann samples a large number of
accounts published in the 19th and 20th centuries to derive some notion of forest hazards
and past adaptations. Historical and demographic accounts parallel those given in the
preceding two chapters, but the information
covers northern New England as well as the
St. Lawrence River-Great Lakes axis. Steegman argues that the low normal carrying
capacity of this area was aggravated by a
more extensive European presence than occurred in northern Ontario. The resultant
hunger and starvation were severe enough
to cause human groups to limit population
size, develop new food distribution and management practices, and diversify foraging
strategies. Perhaps unexpectedly he concludes that cold and snow could be more effectively managed by specific survival and
coping strategies than could any other part
of the environment. Whether this means that
cold mortality and morbidity were low during traditional times is difficult to say, since
historical vital event recording tends to be
incomplete and selective and deals with circumstances caused by the presence of Europeans (e.g., epidemics).
In Chapter 8, Louis Marano argues that
cold is not a major stress presently, and that,
if one has learned the appropriate behavioral
“rules,” there is little chance that death will
occur from exposure. Unfortunately, information on cold stress and injury is entirely
anecdotal. Mortality data are drawn from
several small villages and a hospital. Only
the hospital reported exposure deaths, and
most were apparently connected with excessive alcohol consumption. A slightly different perspective is derived from Hurlich’s
longitudinal data (in Chapter 51, which indicate that 7.7% of deaths of known cause involved starving or freezing in the cold.
Nevertheless, it presently seems that death
from the cold is considerably less likely than
death from drownings and cabin fires.
Emoke J.E. Szathmary and Franklin Auger consider genetic relationships within Algonkians. They employ a linguistic model
based on the historical development of protoAlongkian as a framework within which genetic data are examined. Dendrograms based
on blood groups, serum proteins, and red cell
enzymes show that Cree and Ojibwa are the
most closely related of the language family.
Genetic distances increase when corrections
are applied for European admixture, suggesting that the biological influence of Europeans has been to increase similarity among
In the final chapter, Steegmann, Hurlich,
and Winterhalder reiterate the belief that
cold stress does not cause significant mortality among the Algonkians. A brief review of
the physiological studies concludes that Algonkian males have the mass, proportional,
and peripheral heat circulation characteristics of a population that is cold adapted. Although biological responses are helpful, the
authors conclude that they are not sufficient
for survival in the cold. This demands cultural strategies and knowledge of the
The conclusions reached by Steegmann and
his collaborators provide a wealth of testable
hypotheses, particularly for those interested
in physiological responses to the cold. How
does the perhaps purposeful exposure of children to the cold (Marano’s suggestion) influence physiological characteristics during
development; or, conversely, can the adult
differences in physiological responses documented by Steegmann be linked to differences in cold experience during development?
To what extent do tea breaks provide thermal warming while hunting in the cold (an
argument made by Marano in Chapter 8 and
by Steegmann et al. in Chapter lo)? Much is
made of the Algonkian perception that cold
is not stressful, but do individual perceptions
of cold truly correspond to internal and peripheral measures of cold stress? These and
similar studies could begin to “flesh in” the
pattern of boreal forest adaptations in a useful and quantitative manner.
Department of Anthropology
Temple University
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
Dentition. Genetic Effects edited by R.J. JorDENTITION.
(Birth Defects
Original Article Series, Volume 19.) Edited genson is primarily directed to dentists who
by R.J. Jorgenson. New York: Alan R. Liss are not geneticists to expand their horizons
Inc. 1983. xiii + 186 pp., figures, tables, and to develop a n appreciation for developreferences, index. $42.00 (cloth).
mental problems of the teeth in geneticists
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algornkians, xii, steegmann, 360, figuren, references, index, forest, new, boreal, york, northern, 1983, edited, tablet, adaptation, pres, plenum
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