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What Anthropology Teaches Us About Hunter-Gatherers

different colored feathers on arrows

For most of human history, people have lived as hunter-gatherers. This means that they hunted for meat and gathered wild plants to eat. Some groups of people also fished for fish to eat as well. Hunter-gatherers are also called foragers. Anthropology can teach us about the lives of hunter-gatherers through Cultural Anthropology and Archaeology. Archaeology can teach us about past hunter-gatherers, while Cultural Anthropology can teach us about contemporary and recent hunter-gatherers.

What is Hunter-Gatherer Society Like?

The typical hunter-gatherer society is made up of small communities that are nomadic or semi-nomadic. And the population as a whole is small, so there is a low population density. There are no specialized political officials, meaning that no one is the official formal group leader. Also, there isn’t really any difference in wealth between members in a hunter-gatherer society. They are egalitarian, which means that everyone is equal. They divide labor by gender, which means that each gender has a different role to play in society. The men usually do the hunting and fishing, while the women are in charge of gathering.

Anthropology hunter-gatherers. Image of a hunter using a bow and arrow at sunset.

What are Complex Hunter-Gatherers?

There are some groups of hunter-gatherers who don’t fit the typical characteristics that I described above. These are called complex hunter-gatherers. In these societies, the communities are sedentary or seasonally sedentary, which means that they live in one place although they may move to another location during certain seasons. Also, the community population size is higher, and so the population density is higher as well. Instead of an egalitarian society, these societies are hierarchical, meaning they have different levels. For example, a chief may be in charge of a community.

Do People Really Still Live as Hunter-Gatherers?

Yes! While numbers of modern hunter-gatherers are decreasing, some people still live this type of lifestyle today. One group of modern hunter-gatherers is the Hadza people of Tanzania. In the short YouTube video embedded below, you can join the Hadza on a hunt. Can’t see the video? Click here.

Learn More

Want to learn more about hunter-gatherers? Check out this article from the HRAF (Human Relations Area Files).

Want to view more videos of the Hadza hunting and gathering? Check out this 4 part YouTube documentary:

Thanks for reading!