Pauline Wiessner

School of Human Evolution and Social Change
TEMPE Campus
TEMPE Campus


Polly Wiessner received her bachelor’s degree in creative writing from Sarah Lawrence College in 1969 and her doctorate at the University of Michigan in 1977. She was a researcher at the Max Planck Institute for Human Ethology between 1981 and 1996 and a professor at the University of Utah from 1998 until 2016. Her research focuses on social networks to reduce risk and responses of societies to the breakdown of traditional cultural institutions with modern resources and technology. She has conducted 40 years of research among the Kalahari San and 30 years among the Enga of Papua New Guinea. She is a member of the National Academy of Sciences.

Polly Wiessner established a non-profit, the Tradition and Transition Fund, that addresses the current needs of the populations she studies: food security for the Kalahari Bushmen and constructing a museum/research center in Enga, the Enga Take Anda or ‘house of traditional knowledge’. The Enga Take Anda is currently integrating cultural education into all the schools of Enga Province with educational materials produced by Wiessner.


  • Ph.D. Anthropology, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor 1977
  • B.A. Creative Writing, Sarah Lawrence College 1969


Research Interests

My research among the Kalahari (Ju/hoansi) Bushmen since 1973 has focused on the role of hxaro exchange in establishing networks of long-term interpersonal relationships crucial to survival in habitats with high spatial and temporal variation in resources. I have tracked the flow of hxaro gifts and explored how social information contained in artifacts provides information about social units. Recently I have initiated studies of the night, documenting how fireside stories keep networks alive and transmit information about cultural institutions. Currently I am expanding the work on stories to understand moral values of the past among the Ju/hoansi compared to changing values of today.

My work among the Enga of Papua New Guinea addresses the question: How do new resources and technological innovations, adopted from the outside world, such as new crops, cell phones, high powered weapons and modern transport, disrupt traditional institutions, values and morals, and how new institutions for cooperation are established to put order to chaos.



  • 2014 Wiessner, P. The Embers of Society: Firelight Talk Among the Ju/’hoansi Bushmen. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 111 (39) 14013-14014. Published, 09/2014. 
  • Wiessner, P. and A. Tumu. 2013. Beyond Bilas: The Enga Take Anda. Association for Social Anthropology in Oceania 2012 Distinguished Lecture. Oceania 83 (3) 265-280. Published, 11/2013.
  • Fiona Jordan, Carel van Schaik, Pieter Francois, Herbert Gintis, Daniel Haun, Daniel Hruschka, Marco Jansen, James KittsLaurent LehmanSarah Matthew, Pete Richerson, Peter Turchin and Polly Wiessner.Cutural Evolution: Society, Technology, Language and Religion. P. rRicherson and M. Christiansen (Eds). MIT press. Published, 11/2013.
  • Polly Wiessner and Nitze Pupu. 2012. Towards Peace: Indigenous Institutions and Foreign Arms in a Papua New Guinea Society, Science 337, 1651. Published, 09/2012.
  • Polly Wiessner. 2012. Alienating the Inalienable: Marriage and Money in a Big-man Society. In The Scope of Anthropology: Maurice Godelier's Work in Context. Edited by Laurent Dousset and Serge Tcherkezoff. Berghahn Books, Oxford and New York. Published, 03/2012.
  • Youths, Elders and the Wages of War in Enga Province, Papua New Guinea. State, Society and Governance in Melanesia. Discussion Paper, Australian National University, Canberra. Published, 07/2010. 
  • Wealth Transmission and Inequality among Hunter‐Gatherers Eric Alden Smith, Kim Hill, Frank W. Marlowe, David Nolin, Polly Wiessner, Michael Gurven, Samuel Bowles, Monique Borgerhoff Mulder, Tom Hertz, and Adrian Bell. Current Anthropology 51:1. 2010. Published, 02/2010.
  • The power of one: Big-men revisited. In The Evolution of Leadership, edited by J. Eerkens, J. Kantner and K. Vaughn. Santa Fe: SAR Press. 2010. Published, 02/2010. 
  • Parent-offspring conflict in marriage: Implications for social evolution and material culture among the Ju/’hoansi Bushmen. In Patterns and Process in Cultural Evolution (Origins of Human Behavior and Culture), edited by Stephen Shennan. Berkeley: University of California Press. Published, 12/2009. 
  • Monique Borgerhoff Mulder, Samuel Bowles, Tom Hertz, Adrian Bell, Jan Beise, Greg Clark, Ila Fazzio, Michael Gurven,, Kim Hill, Paul L. Hooper, William Irons, Hillard Kaplan, Donna Leonetti, Bobbi Low, Frank Marlowe, Suresh Naidu, David Nolin, Patrizio Piraino, Rob Quinlan, Rebecca Sear, Mary Shenk, Eric Alden Smith, Polly Wiessner. The Intergenerational Transmission of Wealth and the Dynamics of Inequality in Premodern Societies. Science 326:5953. October 2009. Published, 10/2009.
  • Experimental games and games of life among the Kalahari Bushmen. Current Anthropology 50(1):133-8. Published, 01/2009. 
  • Violent and nonviolent response to state failure: Papua New Guinea and Ecuador. In Values and Violence: Intangible Aspects of Terrorism, edited by I. Karawan, W. McCormack and S. Reynolds, New York: Springer. Published, 07/2008. 
  • Prehistoric stone artifacts from Enga and the implications of links between the highlands, lowlands, and islands for early agriculture in Papua New Guinea. Journal of the Society for Oceanists 126-7:127-48. Published, 06/2008. 
  • From spears to M-16s: Testing the imbalance of power hypothesis among the Enga. Journal of Anthropological Research 62:165-191. Published, 03/2006. 
  • Norm enforcement among the Ju/'hoansi bushmen: A case of strong reciprocity? Human Nature 16 (2):115-145. Published, 08/2005. 
  • Social, symbolic, and ritual roles of the sweet potato in Enga, from its introduction until first contact. In The Sweet Potato in the Pacific: A reappraisal, edited by Chris Ballard, Paula Brown, Michael Bourke and Tracy Harwood, pp. 121-130. Sydney: Ethnology Monographs 19, Oceania Monograph 56, University of Sydney. Published, 03/2005.
  • Of human and spirit women: From the seductress to second wife. In Female Roles in Male Ritual, edited by Pascale Bonnemere. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press. Published, 09/2004. 
  • Understanding culture across species. Trends in the Cognitive Sciences 8(8) 341-46. Published, 07/2004. 
  • Owners of the future: Calories, cash and self-sufficiency in the Nyae Nyae area between 1996 and 2003. Visual Anthropology Review 19(1-2):149-159. Published, 04/2004. 
  • Hunting, Healing, and Hxaro Exchange: A long term perspective on !Kung (Ju/'hoansi) large-game hunting. Evolution and Human Behavior 23:1-30. Published, 08/2002. 
  • The Vines of Complexity: Egalitarian structures and the institutionalization of inequality among the Enga. Current Anthropology 43:233-269. Published, 06/2002. 
  • Taking the risk out of risky transactions: A forager's dilemma. In Risky Transactions, edited by F. Salter. Oxford: Berghahn Books. Published, 05/2002. 
  • Averting the bush fire day: Ain's cult revisited. In Festschrift for Roy Rappaport, edited by E. Messer and M. Lambek. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press. Published, 05/2001. 
  • Brewing Change: Enga Feasts in a Historical Perspective (Papua New Guinea). In The Archaeological Importance of Feasting, edited by B. Hayden and M. Dietler. Washington: Smithsonian Institution Press. Published, 01/2001. 
  • A Collage of Cults. In Blurred Boundaries and Transformed Identities. Canberra Anthropology 22(1):34-65. Published, 05/1998. 
  • Indoctrinability and the evolution of socially defined kinship. In Warfare, Ideology and Indoctrinability, edited by F. Salter and I. Eibl-Eibesfeldt. Oxford: Berghahn Books. Published, 03/1998. 
  • Historical Vines: Enga Networks of Exchange, Ritual and Warfare in Papua New Guinea. Smithsonian Institution Press, Washington D.C. Published, 02/1998.
  • Seeking guidelines through an evolutionary approach: Style revisited among the!Kung San (Ju/'hoansi) of the 1990s. In Rediscovering Darwin: Evolutionary Theory and Archaeological Explanation, edited by M. Barton and G. Clark. Washington D.C.: Archaeological Publications of the AAA Monograph Series. Published, 02/1997. 
  • (Edited volume) Food and the Status Quest. Published, 05/1996.
  • Leveling the Hunter: Constraints on the status quest in foraging societies. In Food and the Status Quest, edited by P. Wiessner and Wulf Schiefenhövel. Berghahn Books, Oxford. Published, 01/1996.
  • Pathways of the past: !Kung San Hxaro exchange and history. In Überlebensstrategien in Afrika, edited by M. Bollig and Frank Klees. Colloquium Africanum 1. Heinrich-Barth Institut. Published, 05/1994.
  • Die Buschleute. In Im Spiegel der Anderen. Edited by W. Scheifenhövel, J. Uher and R. Krell. München: Realis, pp. 16-25. Published, 05/1993.
  • In Im Spiegel der Anderen. Edited by W.Scheifenhövel, J. Uher and R. Krell. München: Realis, pp. 174-9. Published, 02/1993.
  • From Inside the Women's House: The lives and traditions of Enga women. Published, 05/1992.
  • Is there a unity to style? In The Uses of Style in Archaeology, edited by M. Conkey and C. Hastorf. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, pp. 105-112. Published, 01/1990. 
  • A View of Enga Culture. Published, 09/1989.
  • Style and changing relations between the individual and society. In The Meaning of Things: Material culture and symbolic expression, edited by Ian Hodder. London:Harper Collins. Published, 03/1988.
  • !Kung San networks in a generational perspective. In The Past and Future of !Kung Ethnography, edited by M. Biesele, R. Gordon and R. Lee. Helmut Buske Verlag, Hamburg, pp. 103-136. Published, 05/1986. 
  • Breast-feeding and young child Nutrition in Uong Bi, Quang Ninh Province, Vietnam. Journal of Tropical Pediatrics 32:137-9. Published, 02/1986.
  • Style or isochrestic variation? A reply to Sackett. American Antiquity 50(1):160-66. Published, 09/1984.
  • Reconsidering the behavioral basis for style: A case study among the Kalahari San. Journal of Anthropological Archaeology 3:190-234. Published, 05/1984. 
  • Social and ceremonial aspects of death among the !Kung San. Botswana Notes and Records, 15:1-5. Published, 08/1983.
  • Style and social information in Kalahari San projectile points. American Antiquity 48:253-276. Published, 02/1983. 
  • Beyond willow smoke and dog's tails: A comment on Binford's analysis of hunter-gatherer settlement systems. American Antiquity 57(1) 171-178. Published, 05/1982. 
  • Risk, reciprocity and social influences on !Kung San economics. In Politics and History in Band Societies, edited by E. Leacock and R. Lee. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, pp 61-84. Published, 02/1982. 
  • "Mother! Sing loudly for me! The annotated dialogue of a Basarwa healer in trance. Botswana Notes and Records 11:25-31. Published, 05/1981. 
  • Measuring the impact of social ties on nutritional status among the !Kung San. Social Science Information 20, pp. 641-678. Published, 02/1981. 
  • Hxaro: A Regional system of Reciprocity for Reducing Risk among the !Kung San. University Microfilms, Ann Arbor, Michigan. Published, 03/1977.
  • A functional estimator of population from floor area. American Antiquity 39:343-9. Published, 02/1972. 


Fall 2019
Course Number Course Title
ASB 484 Internship
ASB 499 Individualized Instruction
ASB 592 Research
Summer 2019
Course Number Course Title
ASB 792 Research
Spring 2019
Course Number Course Title
ASB 484 Internship
ASB 493 Honors Thesis
MBB 495 Undergraduate Research
ASB 591 Seminar
ASB 592 Research
Fall 2018
Course Number Course Title
ASB 492 Honors Directed Study
Spring 2018
Course Number Course Title
ASB 300 Food and Culture
Spring 2017
Course Number Course Title
ASB 300 Food and Culture