Hunters and Gatherers: A Novel


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Grain is special, but for a different reason. It is easy to standardize—to plant in rows or paddies, and store and record in units such as bushels. This makes grain an ideal target for taxation. Unlike underground tubers or legumes, grain grows tall and needs harvesting all at once, so officials can easily estimate annual yields. As for writing, that great gateway to history, Scott reports that its earliest uses suggest it was basically a grain-counting technology.

Writing contributed a ledger of exploitation.

Life in cities, he argues, was probably worse than foraging or herding. City dwellers were vulnerable to epidemics. Their diets were less varied than those of people on the outside. Unless they were in the small ruling class, they had less leisure, because they had to produce food not just for their own survival, but also to support their rulers. Their labor might be called on to build fortresses, monuments, and those ever-looming walls. Outside the walls, by contrast, a fortunate savage or barbarian might be a hunter in the morning, a herder or fisherman in the afternoon, and a bard singing tales around the fire in the evening.

So why would anyone come into the city? Scott argues, based on reconstruction of ancient soils and climate, that around 5, years ago, droughts in the fertile wetlands of Mesopotamia made wild foods critically scarce, which meant that foragers had to rely more and more on grain to feed themselves.

What hunter-gatherers can teach us about exercise

Once a system of labor was in place, fresh bodies could be hustled into it by the new sub—ruling class of soldiers, or swept up en masse in slave raids. Once the exploitation machine called civilization was running, it was self-perpetuating. Except that it often was not, because cities were acutely vulnerable—both more powerful and fragile than the more diverse and dispersed ways of life that preceded them.

Besides epidemics, they tended to produce ecological crises, such as gradual salinization of the soil, sediment buildup in canals, and other environmental choke points that degraded grain production. And although urban ruling classes wielded organized military power, they were often sitting ducks for barbarian raiders. Many stories of civilizational flowering end with raiders riding in from the plains or their black sails appearing in the harbor, bringing looting, fire, and the end of days.

Hunter vs. farmer hypothesis

Such lives are easily neglected in hindsight. Precisely because they were stateless, their labor did not produce many stone monuments, and their stories did not enter the annals of the early historians. They burned up their surpluses feasting together, in camps or villages whose materials decayed a few generations after they died.

They left no Ozymandias. But Ozymandias needed them. Barbarians were a threat but also a resource. They traded with city dwellers, supplying them with goods from the wild—such as honey, hides, and amber—as well as slaves and mercenaries. Think of the Gauls in Rome, who fought as gladiators and labored as slaves. The great flourishing of pre-modern states, from China west through Rome, brought with it the era of great barbarian nations that preyed on the cities, traded with them, and fed them their own people as slaves. When cities declined or failed, their laborers might slip across the frontier and join the barbarians; such escapes from exploitation were probably a safety valve at all times.

This is easy to miss, Scott argues, because we still imagine history through the self-serving and binary stories that the earliest civilizations have passed on to us. Scott is well aware that much of this story is not entirely new. Big-picture historians such as Jared Diamond have acknowledged that for most people quality of life fell when agriculture replaced hunting and gathering. The infrastructure-building, law-codifying, biopolitical states of antiquity are not the starting points of universal history for Scott, as they were for both Marx and liberal historians.

They are instead a kind of usurpation of a longer and quite possibly richer human practice of mobility and freedom.


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Although the focus of the symposium was explicitly evolutionary, the conference volume did not hint at a revolution in animal behavior and ecology that was stirring at the time Parker, The value of observation techniques and hypothesis testing in ethology prompted him to apply the same approach to studying child development Blurton Jones, , Lack had previously demonstrated otherwise by accumulating evidence of the tradeoffs that birds faced between offspring quantity and quality: more hatchlings allowed less food for each; less food lowered chick survivorship.

Clutch sizes that left the most descendants maximized neither number nor survivorship per hatchling. Konner was part of the Harvard Kalahari Research Project interested in child development and invited NBJ to visit him in the field to explore their mutual interest in child behavior.

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Kung and the Harvard Kalahari Research Group. Subsequently Richard Lee gave him a chapter about! Kung birth spacing in which he Lee, took up Lewis Binford's comments at the Man the Hunter Conference about associations between sedentism and population growth at the end of the Pleistocene. Kung mothers. Lee's chapter reported that foraging mothers carry their children everywhere from birth to the age of four and calculated the weight of baby mothers would have to lug each year if they gave birth at different intervals.

With the backload model in hand, NBJ was eyeing chances to see whether it would explain birth spacing elsewhere, if necessary details for mothers, including foraging patterns and details of local ecology were used as parameter values. Hadza savanna is home to many of the same plants and animals exploited by!

Wildside. The Enchanted Life of Hunters and Gatherers - gestalten

Kung foragers making differences between Hadza and! Kung especially interesting. In the meantime KH had been learning evolutionary biology from Eric Charnov, a remarkably patient and effective teacher. JOC's previous commitment to ethnoarchaeology as a guide to inferences about behavior that produced archaeological residues had led him to spend much of an Australian National University Fellowship in central Australia, observing Alyawarra foraging.

They found the simple prey or optimal diet model especially useful. It focuses on the tradeoff between time spent searching and time spent handling particular resources. Handling includes pursuing, catching, picking, and processing a resource type, everything required for capture and consumption after encounter. The rate of gain while handling defines a resource type's profitability.

Search time is excluded because search is shared over all resources. In this model a forager maximizes its overall acquisition rate by stopping search to handle resources that have higher profitabilities than the rate expected for continuing to search for something better. The initially counterintuitive consequence is that when resource types are ranked by their profitabilities, whether lower ranked types are in or out of the optimal diet is independent of their own abundance. Chance of encountering them determines whether lower ranked types are worth taking.

Implications for understanding the widespread shift archaeologists identify as the Mesolithic Archaic broad spectrum revolution Flannery, after the last glacial maximum when relatively sessile, small package, ubiquitous resources that were previously ignored seem obvious: more people, lower encounter rates for higher ranking prey.

Findings prompted them to reconsider the invaluable quantitative data Richard Lee , had provided on! The simple searching versus handling distinction also provides perspective on questions about technological change, with possibly large implications for major subsistence transitions including domestication. Handling efficiencies make little difference if the diet is relatively narrow and much time is spent in search. Kim Hill's entry into the Utah graduate program opened an unexpected pathway to explore how well predictions from Charnov's simple models fared in explaining the daily resource choices of people currently foraging for a living.

Hill had left graduate work in molecular biology to join the Peace Corps, requesting assignment to a traditional population in Latin America. Profitabilities the post encounter return rates of large game were by far the highest of anything taken. But if foragers took only those they would have spent so much time searching that overall returns would have been trivial Hawkes et al. Clearings each afternoon were small given the brief occupation, with shelters constructed only when rain would otherwise extinguish fires.

Individual activities in such close quarters were readily observable, including cooking and eating. What was readily visible to us was visible to all—likely contributing to the remarkable amount of sharing. Both the extent of the sharing, and its variation among resource types were certainly notable Kaplan et al.

Although hunting supplied a remarkably large fraction of calories consumed Hill et al. Food sharing's fundamental importance in human societies has long been recognized in all the intellectual traditions of anthropology. As summarized by cultural anthropologist Morton Fried , p.

Hunter-gatherers, Human Diet, and Our Capacity for Cooperation - Alyssa Crittenden - TEDxUNLV

Paternal provisioning by ancestral hunters was seen to be the basis for human pair bonds and nuclear families. Isaac's version of this home base argument continues to be influential in paleoanthropology and to be widely cited in the social sciences. But at the same time it was clear and stunning evidence of men preferentially spending their time targeting resources that went mostly outside their own nuclear families Kaplan et al.

While Charnov's work in optimal foraging theory was a strong Utah influence, another of his areas of specialty was sex differences.


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  • His book Sex Allocation synthesized theory that followed from RA Fisher's recognition of enormous implications for variation in physiology, anatomy, and behavior that follow simply from sexual reproduction. Charnov also reviewed the empirical record including work with his own students demonstrating the explanatory power of that theory. This and other differences between the cases warranted more serious attention to sex differences, reasons to expect that strategies serving the fitness interest of women differ from those that payoff for men.

    Whereas women, like female mammals generally may have more fitness interest in managing offspring quality—quantity tradeoffs; men may have more to gain by competing with other men for mating benefits. Women were assumed to favor a provisioning husband, but men could sometimes gain more by specializing in bonanzas that went to all. Parameter values more!

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    Kung men, although not as often, also spent time on resource types that were usually acquired by women. For the subset of resources taken by both, sex of acquirer was irrelevant to how much a resource was shared. Instead, some resource types were always shared more widely than others.

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