Hunter-gatherer explained

A hunter-gatherer or forager society is one in which most or all food is obtained from wild plants and animals, in contrast to agricultural societies which rely mainly on domesticated species.

Hunting and gathering was the ancestral subsistence mode of Homo, and all modern humans were hunter-gatherers until around 10,000 years ago. Following the invention of agriculture hunter-gatherers have been displaced by farming or pastoralist groups in most parts of the world. Only a few contemporary societies are classified as hunter-gatherers, and many supplement, sometimes extensively, their foraging activity with farming and/or keeping animals.

History

The earliest humans probably lived primarily on scavenging, not actual hunting. Early humans in the Lower Paleolithic lived in mixed habitats which allowed them to collect seafood, eggs, nuts, and fruits besides scavenging. Rather than killing large animals themselves for meat, they used carcasses of large animals killed by other predators or carcasses from animals that died by natural causes.[1]

Hunting and gathering was presumably the subsistence strategy employed by human societies beginning some 1.8 million years ago, by Homo erectus, and from its appearance some 0.2 million years ago by Homo sapiens. It remained the only mode of subsistence until the end of the Mesolithic period some 10,000 years ago, and after this was replaced only gradually with the spread of the Neolithic Revolution.

Starting at the transition between the Middle to Upper Paleolithic period, some 80,000 to 70,000 years ago, some hunter-gatherers bands began to specialize, concentrating on hunting a smaller selection of (often larger than had previously been hunted) game and gathering a smaller selection of food. This specialization of work also involved creating specialized tools like fishing nets and hooks and bone harpoons.[2] The transition into the subsequent Neolithic period is chiefly defined by the unprecedented development of nascent agricultural practices. Agriculture originated and spread in several different areas including the Middle East, Asia, Mesoamerica, and the Andes beginning as early as 10,000 years ago.

Forest gardening was also being used as a food production system in various parts of the world over this period. Forest gardens originated in prehistoric times along jungle-clad river banks and in the wet foothills of monsoon regions. In the gradual process of families improving their immediate environment, useful tree and vine species were identified, protected and improved whilst undesirable species were eliminated. Eventually superior foreign species were selected and incorporated into the gardens.[3]

Many groups continued their hunter-gatherer ways of life, although their numbers have perpetually declined partly as a result of pressure from growing agricultural and pastoral communities. Many of them reside in arid regions and tropical forests in the developing world. Areas which formerly were available to hunter-gatherers were—and continue to be—encroached upon by the settlements of agriculturalists. In the resulting competition for land use, hunter-gatherer societies either adopted these practices or moved to other areas. In addition, Jared Diamond has blamed a decline in the availability of wild foods, particularly animal resources. In North and South America, for example, most large mammal species had gone extinct by the end of the Pleistocene, according to Diamond, because of overexploitation by humans,[4] although the overkill hypothesis he advocates is strongly contested.

As the number and size of agricultural societies increased, they expanded into lands traditionally used by hunter-gatherers. This process of agriculture-driven expansion led to the development of the first forms of government in agricultural centers such as the Fertile Crescent, Ancient India, Ancient China, Olmec, Sub-Saharan Africa and Norte Chico.

As a result of the now near-universal human reliance upon agriculture, the few contemporary hunter-gatherer cultures usually live in areas unsuitable for agricultural use.

Americas

See main article: Paleo-Indians.

See also: Paleo-Indians period (Canada) and History of Mesoamerica (Paleo-Indian)Evidence suggests big-game hunter gatherers crossed the Bering Strait from Asia (Eurasia) into North America over a land bridge (Beringia), that existed between 47,000–14,000 years ago.[5] Around 18,500–15,500 years ago, these hunter-gatherers are believed to have followed herds of now-extinct pleistocene megafauna along ice-free corridors that stretched between the Laurentide and Cordilleran ice sheets.[6] Another route proposed is that, either on foot or using primitive boats, they migrated down the Pacific coast to South America.[7] [8]

Hunter-gatherers would eventually flourish all over the Americas, primarily based in the Great Plains of the United States and Canada, with offshoots as far east as the Gaspé Peninsula on the Atlantic coast, and as far south as Chile, Monte Verde.[9] American hunter-gatherers were spread over a wide geographical area, thus there were regional variations in lifestyles. However, all the individual groups shared a common style of stone tool production, making knapping styles and progress identifiable. This early Paleo-Indian period lithic reduction tool adaptations have been found across the Americas, utilized by highly mobile bands consisting of approximately 20 up to 60 members of an extended family.[10]

The Archaic period in the Americas saw a changing environment featuring a warmer more arid climate and the disappearance of the last megafauna.[11] The majority of population groups at this time were still highly mobile hunter-gatherers; but now individual groups started to focus on resources available to them locally, thus with the passage of time there is a pattern of increasing regional generalization like, the Southwest, Arctic, Poverty, Dalton and Plano traditions. This regional adaptations would become the norm, with reliance less on hunting and gathering, with a more mixed economy of small game, fish, seasonally wild vegetables and harvested plant foods.[12] [13]

Common characteristics

See also: cultural universal.

Habitat and population

Hunter-gatherer societies tend to be relatively mobile, given their reliance upon the ability of a given natural environment to provide sufficient resources in order to sustain their population and the variable availability of these resources owing to local climatic and seasonal conditions. Individual band societies tend to be small in number (10-50 individuals), but these may gather together seasonally to temporarily form a larger group (100 or more) when resources are abundant. In a few places where the environment is especially productive, such as that of the Pacific Northwest coast or Jomon-era Japan, hunter-gatherers are able to settle permanently.

Hunter-gatherer settlements may be either permanent, temporary, or some combination of the two, depending upon the mobility of the community. Mobile communities typically construct shelters using impermanent building materials, or they may use natural rock shelters, where they are available.

Social and economic structure

Hunter-gatherer societies also tend to have relatively non-hierarchical, egalitarian social structures. This might have been more pronounced in the more mobile societies.

Full-time leaders, bureaucrats, or artisans are rarely supported by these societies.[14] [15] [16] In addition to social and economic equality in hunter-gatherer societies there is often, though not always, sexual parity as well.[14] [17] Hunter-gatherers are often grouped together based on kinship and band (or tribe) membership.[17]

In a few groups, such as the Haida of present-day British Columbia, lived in such a rich environment that they could remain sedentary or semi-nomadic, like many other Native Americans of the Pacific Northwest coast.

Violence in hunter-gatherer societies is usually rare, caused by grudges and vendettas.[17] Warfare over land was rare and with few fatalities as tribes could easily move to unoccupied or easily invaded areas. The land was seen as belonging to all and owned by none.

A vast amount of ethnographic and archaeological evidence demonstrates that the sexual division of labor in which men hunt and women gather wild fruits and vegetables is an uncommon phenomenon among hunter-gatherers worldwide. Although most of the gathering is usually done by women, a society in which men completely abstained from gathering easily available plants has yet to be found. Generally women hunt the majority of the small game while men hunt the majority of the large and dangerous game, but there are quite a few documented exceptions to this general pattern. A study done on the Aeta people of the Philippines states: "About 85% of Philippine Aeta women hunt, and they hunt the samequarry as men. Aeta women hunt in groups and with dogs, and have a 31%success rate as opposed to 17% for men. Their rates are even better when theycombine forces with men: mixed hunting groups have a full 41% success rate amongthe Aeta."[18]

It was also found among the Ju'/hoansi people of Namibia that women helped the men during hunting by helping them track down quarry.Moreover, recent archaeological research done by the anthropologist and archaeologist Steven Kuhn from the University of Arizona suggests that the sexual division of labor did not exist prior to the Upper Paleolithic and developed relatively recently in human history. The sexual division of labor may have arisen to allow humans to acquire food and other resources more efficiently.[19] It would, therefore, be an over-generalization to say that men always hunt and women always gather. It is more of a relatively recent human "invention" that by increasing efficiency was beneficial to both sexes.At the 1966 "Man the Hunter" conference, anthropologists Richard Borshay Lee and Irven DeVore suggested that egalitarianism was one of several central characteristics of nomadic hunting and gathering societies because mobility requires minimization of material possessions throughout a population; therefore, there was no surplus of resources to be accumulated by any single member.Other characteristics Lee and DeVore proposed were flux in territorial boundaries as well as in demographic composition.

At the same conference, Marshall Sahlins presented a paper entitled, "Notes on the Original Affluent Society", in which he challenged the popular view of hunter-gatherers living lives "solitary, poor, nasty, brutish and short," as Thomas Hobbes had put it in 1651.According to Sahlins, ethnographic data indicated that hunter-gatherers worked far fewer hours and enjoyed more leisure than typical members of industrial society, and they still ate well. Their "affluence" came from the idea that they are satisfied with very little in the material sense. This, he said, constituted a Zen economy.[20] These people met the same requirments as their sedentary neighbors through much less complex means.

Mutual exchange and sharing of resources (i.e., meat gained from hunting) are important in the economic systems of hunter-gatherer societies.[17] Therefore, these societies can be described as based on a gift economy.

Variability

Hunter-gatherer societies manifest significant variability, depending on climate zone/life zone, available technology and societal structure.

One way to divide hunter-gatherer groups is by their return systems.James Woodburn uses the categories "immediate return" hunter-gatherers for egalitarian and "delayed return" for nonegalitarian.Immediate return foragers consume their food within a day or two after they procure it.Delayed return foragers store the surplus food (Kelly,[21] 31).

Hunting-gathering was the common human mode of subsistence throughout the Paleolithic, but the observation of current-day hunters and gatherers does not necessarily reflect Paleolithic societies; the hunter-gatherer cultures examined today have had much contact with modern civilization and do not represent "pristine" conditions found in uncontacted peoples.[22]

The transition from hunting and gathering to agriculture is not necessarily a one way process.It has been argued that hunting and gathering represents an adaptive strategy which may still be exploited, if necessary, when environmental change causes extreme food stress for agriculturalists.[23] In fact, it is sometimes difficult to draw a clear line between agricultural and hunter-gatherer societies, especially since the widespread adoption of agriculture and resulting cultural diffusion that has occurred in the last 10,000 years.This anthropological view has remained unchanged since the 1960s.

Modern context

In the early 1980s, a small but vocal segment of anthropologists and archaeologists attempted to demonstrate that contemporary groups usually identified as hunter-gatherers do not, in most cases, have a continuous history of hunting and gathering, and that in many cases their ancestors were agriculturalists and/or pastoralists who were pushed into marginal areas as a result of migrations, economic exploitation, and/or violent conflict. The result of their effort has been the general acknowledgement that there has been complex interaction between hunter-gatherers and non-hunter-gatherers for millennia.

Some of the theorists who advocate this "revisionist" critique imply that, because the "pure hunter-gatherer" disappeared not long after colonial (or even agricultural) contact began, nothing meaningful can be learned about prehistoric hunter-gatherers from studies of modern ones (Kelly,[24] 24-29; see Wilmsen[25])

Lee and Guenther have rejected most of the arguments put forward by Wilmsen.[26] [27]

Many hunter-gatherers consciously manipulate the landscape through cutting or burning undesirable plants while encouraging desirable ones, some even going to the extent of slash-and-burn to create habitat for game animals. These activities are on an entirely different scale than those associated with agriculture, but they are nevertheless domestication on some level. Today, almost all hunter-gatherers depend to some extent upon domesticated food sources either produced part-time or traded for products acquired in the wild.

Some agriculturalists also regularly hunt and gather (e.g. farming during the frost-free season and hunting during the winter). Still others in developed countries go hunting, primarily for leisure. In the Brazilian rainforest, groups which recently did or continue to rely on hunting and gathering techniques seem to have adopted this lifestyle, abandoning most agriculture, as a way to escape colonial control and as a result of the introduction of European diseases reducing their populations to levels where agriculture became difficult.

There are nevertheless a number of contemporary hunter-gatherer peoples who, after contact with other societies, continue their ways of life with very little external influence. One such group is the Pila Nguru or the Spinifex People of Western Australia, whose habitat in the Great Victoria Desert has proved unsuitable for European agriculture (and even pastoralism). Another are the Sentinelese of the Andaman Islands in the Indian Ocean, who live on North Sentinel Island and to date have maintained their independent existence, repelling attempts to engage with and contact them.

See also

Groups or societies

Social movements

Further reading

External links

Notes and References

  1. The Last Rain Forests: A World Conservation Atlas by David Attenborough, Mark Collins
  2. Fagan, B: People of the Earth, pages 169-181. Scott, Foresman, 1989.
  3. Book: The forest-garden farms of Kandy, Sri Lanka. Douglas John McConnell. 1992. 1.
  4. Book: Diamond, Jared.. Guns, Germs and Steel. London. Vintage. 1998. 0-09-930278-0.
  5. Web site: [https://genographic.nationalgeographic.com/genographic/atlas.html?era=e003 Atlas of the Human Journey-The Genographic Project]. National Geographic Society.. 1996-2008. 2009-10-06.
  6. Web site: The peopling of the Americas: Genetic ancestry influences health. Scientific American. 2009-11-17.
  7. Web site: Alternate Migration Corridors for Early Man in North America. American Antiquity, Vol. 44, No. 1 (Jan., 1979), p2. 279189.
  8. Web site: Jason A. Eshleman, Ripan S. Malhi, and David Glenn Smith. [https://netfiles.uiuc.edu/malhi/www/MalhiLab/downloads/Eshleman%20et%20al%202003.pdf "Mitochondrial DNA Studies of Native Americans: Conceptions and Misconceptions of the Population Prehistory of the Americas", Evolutionary Anthropology]. pdf. University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. 12:7–18. 2003. 2009-11-17.
  9. Web site: Jacobs, James Q.. 2001. The Paleoamericans: Issues and Evidence Relating to the Peopling of the New World. Anthropology and Archaeology Pages. jqjacobs.net. 2009-11-17.
  10. Web site: Paleoindians in Tennessee. John. Broster. Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation. Tennessee Historical Society. Online Edition provided by:The University of Tennessee Press. 2002. 2009-11-21.
  11. Web site: Blame North America Megafauna Extinction On Climate Change, Not Human Ancestors. ScienceDaily. 2001. 2010-04-10.
  12. Book: Fiedel, Stuart J. Prehistory of the Americas. Digitised online by Google books. Cambridge University Press. 1992. 978-0-521-42544-5. 2009-11-18.
  13. Book: Stuart B. Schwartz, Frank Salomon. The Cambridge History of the Native Peoples of the Americas. Digitised online by Google books. Cambridge University Press. 2009-11-17. 978-0-521-63075-7. 1999-12-28.
  14. Book: Gowdy, John M.. Limited Wants, Unlimited Means: A Reader on Hunter-Gatherer Economics and the Environment. 1998. Island Press. St Louis. 1-55963-555-X. 342.
  15. Book: Dahlberg, Frances.. Woman the Gatherer. London. Yale university press. 1975. 0-30-02989-6.
  16. Erdal, D. & Whiten, A. (1996) "Egalitarianism and Machiavellian Intelligence in Human Evolution" in Mellars, P. & Gibson, K. (eds) Modelling the Early Human Mind. Cambridge MacDonald Monograph Series
  17. Web site: Anthropology E-20. 2008-03-11. Thomas M. Kiefer. Spring 2002. Lecture 8 Subsistence, Ecology and Food production. Harvard University.
  18. Book: Dahlberg, Frances.. Woman the Gatherer. London. Yale university press. 1975. 0-30-02989-6.
  19. Web site: Sex-Based Roles Gave Modern Humans an Edge, Study Says. National Geographic News. Stefan Lovgren. 2008-02-03.
  20. Sahlins, M. (1968). "Notes on the Original Affluent Society", Man the Hunter. R.B. Lee and I. DeVore (New York: Aldine Publishing Company) pp. 85-89. ISBN 0-202-33032-X
  21. Book: Kelly, Robert L.. The Foraging Spectrum: Diversity in Hunter-Gatherer Life ways. Washington. Smithsonian Institution. 1995. 1-56098-465-1.
  22. Portera, Claire C.; Marlowe, Frank W.. How marginal are forager habitats?. Journal of Archaeological Science. 34. 1. 59–68. January. 2007. 10.1016/j.jas.2006.03.014. PDF.
  23. Book: Lee, Richard B. & Daly, Richard, eds.. The Cambridge Encyclopedia of Hunters and Gatherers. 1999. Cambridge University Press. 0-521-60919-4.
  24. Kelly. Raymond. The evolution of lethal intergroup violence. 10.1073/pnas.0505955102. PNAS. . 102. 2005. October. 15294–15298. 16129826. 43. 1266108.
  25. Book: Wilmsen, Edwin. Land Filled With Flies: A Political Economy of the Kalahari. University Of Chicago Press. 1989. 0-226-90015-0.
  26. Lee. Richard B.. Guenther, Mathias. 1995. Errors Corrected or Compounded? A Reply to Wilmsen. Current Anthropology. 36. 298–305.
  27. Lee. Richard B.. 1992. Art, Science, or Politics? The Crisis in Hunter-Gatherer Studies. American Anthropologist. 94. 31–54.