The History of Hunter Gatherers

How the hunter gatherer lifestyle has adapted and evolved.

2/21/202426 min read

1. Introduction

The aim of this initial section is to provide readers with a clear understanding of what we mean by hunter-gatherers. Hunter-gatherer societies are those which are relatively simple - meaning that they do not have any political structures or large societies which are broken down like in more complex societies such as chiefdoms and states. These societies rely on the natural environment that they live in as they move around, and do not perform any farming or have permanent homes. This section explores that simplicity to give a good foundation for understanding the rest of the work about hunter-gatherer social life. For example, the lack of an ability to produce a surplus, agricultural farming and any manufacturing due to the mobile nature of hunter-gatherer tribes is emphasised. By painting the picture of a very simple and environmentally-dependent society, the reader is better able to understand the other factors mentioned throughout the rest of the work which explain why these societies carried on as they did. The introduction also highlights that societies which are hunter-gatherer societies tend to be quite egalitarian and that men and women have different roles. To group work as part of an AS and A Level Sociology topic, and have found that it has been really useful and informative so far. By the time I finished the introduction, I already had a much better understanding of what was meant by hunter-gatherer societies and I felt like I’d learnt a lot. This is a good example what to write in a higher level answer - it explains why each point is made and how it helps the understanding, and also gives the reader an insight into the progression expected throughout the work.

1.1. Definition

In this regard, the section is of the view that hunter-gatherers form a bond society. The term society simply refers to the state of being human beings. Societies range from small and local specific to large. However, the term bond society here shows a kind of society that is small and local specific. It is also been explained by the section that hunter-gatherers may also be referred to as foragers. Foragers are the members of the society who move from one place to another in search of food and they do not have a permanent place to live. The term hunter-gatherers is used to apply to those societies that depend on nature and gather food as and when it is necessary and available. This has drawn a line between those people who depend on agriculture and those who depend on nature for survival. The section also states that studies on human development have been dominantly centered on evolution based on agricultural societies. As agricultural societies were considered to be populous and first to establish permanent residents, most of the archaeologists and sociologists have developed their arguments and understanding on human development based on these principles. However, this notion was recently challenged by research that discloses a significant amount of information extracted from the study of modern-day foragers and hunter-gatherers. Viva, section 1.1.0 is of the view that the true understanding of human development could simply and only be understood by closely studying the societies that formed the very foundation of human development. Also, the argument that as modernization takes place, traditional societies will start to die is being nailed by section 1.1.0. The section is of the view that it is not justified to come up with an arranged thinking that is based on the notion that evolution of human societies from bond to complex societies is more sort of an uplift from tradition to modernity. According to the section, societies which have maintained their traditional way of life still exist and behave in respect of its norms.

1.2. Importance

What's so important about hunter-gatherers? This question is often on the minds of the students when they learn about the life of the pre-agricultural human groups. The values of hunting and gathering can sometimes confuse people because it seems to be pretty hard and uncomfortable. However, many early human generations have been living in this style and it is until a few thousand years ago that people started to settle down. Why would they do that if hunting and gathering were so bad? Well, the truth is, it was not bad at all. In fact, many archaeologists and researchers describe the hunter-gatherer life as affluent, that it provided more than enough food and many other resources besides. When we say affluent, it does not mean they lived luxuriously or lavishly like the modern day rich and famous. Instead, it means their needs, such as the food, water, shelter and community, were satisfied. It was a lifestyle where they did not have to worry about their necessities for life and they had plenty of leisure or resting time. Over the past fifty years, a powerful economic interpretation based on the foraging (another term for hunting and gathering) societies has been advocated, first by Marshall Sahlins and more recently by others. Sahlins suggested that foraging life is the original affluent society, but over the years, people have become more prone to scarcity. Scarcity means the resources that people rely on in everyday life are not enough while the affluent society refers to a society where needs are adequately satisfied. Concerning to the modern society, the value of efficiency and productivity has caused people to ‘work more to gain more’. However, looking back into the hunting and gathering societies, research has shown that people only need to work for around four hours each day for their food and resource. Hunter and gatherer people tend to have very long life without suffering material depravation and hunger. By examining the information from the burial sites and other resources, we can see that people in these traditional societies lived without any sign of the diseases caused by nutritional deficiency, such as scurvy or anaemia. It is also very rare for evidence of any violence and physical injury to be found, suggesting a harmonious and peaceful life. All in all, it doesn’t mean we should romanticise or having an idealised picture about this lifestyle. But what we can learn from the history of the hunter-gatherers is that it can provide a different way of looking at the relationship between work, resource and social organisation in our modern society.

2. Early Hunter Gatherer Societies

One of the most significant and defining aspects of early hunter-gatherer societies was the way in which they obtained food. For much of human history, people survived by foraging for food; in other words, hunting animals and gathering wild plants. This was vital to the survival of the community, and so different groups would move around in accordance with the changing seasons, often following the migrations of herds of big game. It is estimated that a typical group of 25 people would need to find 48 pounds of food each day to survive, a sobering thought when compared with the relative ease with which many of us feed ourselves today. This need to travel with the seasons to track food availability had a profound impact on early hunter-gatherer societies. All members of the community needed to pull their weight and make a contribution, and so the development of a ruling class was prevented. Everyone was interdependent and equal, as no particular skill set was more valuable than another. However, it seems that life was not all 'nasty, brutish and short', as Thomas Hobbes once famously described pre-agrarian life. Burials dating back to the Mesolithic era have been discovered which are elaborate and luxurious, giving an insight into the society and beliefs of the people of this time. Hunter-gatherer societies had to be mobile in order to meet their food needs, and so they lived in temporary housing. The huts were built with wood and covered with animal skins or grasses, and so all that remains of them today are circular patches in the ground. The limited archaeological evidence means that we are still learning about the homes and living centres of hunter-gatherer groups, but the discovery of campsites surrounding 'avenue grass' hollow circular huts indicates that they were used for many centuries. This continued use of the same sites suggests that the early people of Britain felt a strong attachment and connection to the land they lived on, and preferred.

2.1. Lifestyle

As men in early hunter-gatherer societies, they would require some form of social organization to divide up the work and to support each other. Over the centuries of the Palaeolithic period, hunter-gatherers probably lived in a more equal, fair way than many societies after the adoption of agriculture - as they would all share in the rewards of the hunt and also the fruits of the land. It is relatively easier to provide examples of the ways of life of hunter-gatherer societies once we leave the Palaeolithic period and the Stone Age and enter into the Neolithic period. This is because as mankind began to settle more permanently, houses were built and “possessions” began to be accumulated. In order to provide resources like food and materials for tools, there would need to be some form of food production; this is a primary activity for many people in a Neolithic society. However, the majority of the evidence for Neolithic life has been unearthed at such sites as Skara Brae, which provide insights into the people’s living conditions. For example, from the way that people lived in a close-knit society, in small groups, even sharing each other’s houses at different times. Also, from the various tools found, it is clear that making use of the environment and scavenging from the sea and land was vital - from materials like animal bones for making needles or antlers and stones for axes. On a domestic level as well, it is likely that life was very hard for many people in a Neolithic society. With the requirement for resources and especially food, there would have to be some form of trade between different settlements. Also, as people moved away from a reliance on the immediate facade of the environment, there was a pressure to control and manage the living space and the land around the settlements – such as through the development of animal and crop farming.

2.2. Tools and Technology

Early hunter gatherers people used wooden tools or tools made from of animals. Some tools that were most often used for cutting, scraping and chopping were made from flint, chert and quartzite. These rocks were hard enough to shape other materials and keep a sharp edge. To shape the rocks, the early hunter gatherers pounded on the stones with hard objects until pieces broke off and formed the knives, choppers and other tools. These kinds of tools are called "chipped stone tools" or "flaked stone tools". The basic process used in making flaked tools is called "knapping". Forearm-long blades would be attached together and fixed to a handle in order to make a scraper, that was used to clean animal hides or to work with wood more efficiently. For instance, a left side scraper would be fixed onto a long left hand side blade and then one or more right hand side blades would be fixed to that blade. This would allow the tool to be twice or three times longer than a single flake. The major advantage of this kind, as well as many other stone technology, is that if the handle becomes damaged, it can be easily replaced. This use of microlithic technology is evidence of tool specialization by different groups. For instance, small geometric microliths might be used in the creation of a composite bone tool to improve the sharpness and thus the working life of that bone tool. Microliths were used as tips and barbs on arrows and spears and the use of a microlith as an arrow head would improve aerodynamic capabilities in comparison to a notched bone point. Early hunter gatherers people also used some tools made of bone for things like sewing clothes together because it is long lasting, it does not get dull, it is flexible and it is hard to break. Small sharps or needles were made from one of the three types of bones from animals that early hunter gatherers ate; bird bones, medium bone or bones from deer.

2.3. Social Structure

The size of these societies was limited by the available food so clans remained small. A single group would only have around 20 to 50 members and not have a lot of contact with other clans, meaning that the social structure was based around the family. A typical group would be led by the oldest male, who would make the decisions on things like when to move, and the rest of the group would all be related by blood or marriage. This made things quite a bit simpler than the way we live today, as there was no need for elaborate systems of government. There were likely to have been some kind of belief in spirits and a strong sense of unity within the clan would be needed for everyone to survive in the tough environment. Humans have always tried to group themselves in ways that give them the best chance of surviving and hunter gatherer clans are a good example of this. In these societies everyone had a part to play and the groups were small and held together by close family ties. Everyone knew each other very well and decisions would be made for the good of the whole group so there were no real leaders in the modern sense. Every person was vital: men would do the hunting and guarding, together with the women, and the older children would help with things like finding food and watching the youngest children. Such active link of every family member in the productivity of the community is a key element in the sustainable lifestyle of the hunter-gatherer societies.

3. Migration Patterns

The first hunter gatherers began migrating approximately a few million years ago to what we now consider to be the dominant continents of the world. Early hunter gatherers migrated from the savannas of East Africa first to Eurasia, beginning with what is now considered the mainland of today’s Europe and Asia. Second, prehistoric hunter gatherers migrated to the eastern and western parts of the world and then to the western portion of the Roman Empire. Hunter gatherers migrated from the savannas of West Africa to two areas in the middle of what is now known as the Middle East. Hunter gatherers migrated from Australia to only one area in Southeast Asia. These first hunter gatherer migrations would start a trend that would continue for millions of years where different hunter gatherer societies arose, expanded, and then migrated in every direction of the world. Migrations allowed dispersal of humans across the world, with different populations becoming genetically distinct. Over time, the migrations of hunter gatherers from Africa to Europe and Western Europe would allow for the genetic mixing by distinct groups of humans who had undergone adaptations to different environments. Crossing land bridges that connected continents and using their advanced stone tool technologies, such as their “Levallois” style stone blades. This style of stone making could be used in greatly many different environments, allowing for hunter gatherers to migrate effectively. Rising sea levels from the end of the last Ice Age nearly 10,000 years ago would flood many of these land bridges and completely isolate many populations of hunter gatherers. Cultures would then begin to diverge in isolation from each other, giving rise to distinctly separate cultures suited to their environments on different landmasses. Hunter gatherers continued to migrate to new areas and adapt their way of life to better suit a given environment. Hunter gatherer societies would ebb and flow in success and population due to outbreak of new diseases, changing environmental conditions or competition for resources. Later migrations of hunter gatherers would result in the dispersal our own species, homo sapiens as well. Hunter gatherer migrations shaped the history of humanity as we know it today and continue to teach us about the process of migration, environmental adaptation and human culture.

3.1. Reasons for Migration

For those of you who have a communal garden of some sort, you may have plant foods springing up which you never sowed and instead grow wild! We call these wild plant foods ‘weeds’. However, the idea that all weeds are dangerous pests to our gardens is a deep-seated and perhaps misleading one. As you will find out in this section, our foraging ancestors would have recognized weeds as valuable food resources. Although individual regions may have had different plant foods, common arable weeds across different regions and habitats seem to feature quite heavily in the archaeological record of plant food use. Given that these wild foods would likely have been found in large quantities and they have the added advantage of growing without human interference, it is reasonable that they were rather significant resources to those who lived by the seasons and did not practice full-scale farming. For a foraging society then, weeds in a cultivated area would probably have been encouraged to grow because the increased availability of them would in turn increase the amount of food available. All of these arable weeds would have been considered rich pickings to our foraging ancestors and it is important to note that they would have been collected by all family members who were able and not just those who may have been designated as ‘hunters’ or ‘gatherers’.

3.2. Impact on Culture

There are several ways in which the migration of archaic human groups might have had an important effect on their culture. For example, it was apparently an important tactic for enabling the spread of the species across the globe. Modern evidence from genetics and physical anthropology indicate that numerous migratory occasions of individuals from Africa have formed the genetic pool of non-African individuals thus that a inhabitants founded first out of Africa may have inhabited some migratory waves to make with different humans right here. It can be assumed that any given culture which existed in the context of a selected migratory wave would have been clearly affected by the nature and societal structure of that wave. Therefore, if we are able to pin-point how migration affected the nature of a given culture, we can start to hypothesize about what specific migratory behaviors existed at the moment. For instance, the migrations of the primary historic human groups would have required a high degree of mobility and coordination to be able to find new resources such as different plants and animals in addition to good living environments. It has been suggested that the scope and frequency of migratory events increases with population growth. This is as a result of an increase in population size creates a larger quantity of risks given the chance that higher levels of intra-population competition can lead to local environmental pressures. Such pressures might have further pushed migratory behaviors and in consequence the culture of migratory groups in answer to the need to avoid the dangers involved with high population stress. On the other hand, the physical remnants of historic human migration can provide details about the general pattern of migratory events. For instance, the presence of a given technology spreading across the globe might imply that a sought after migratory culture, or some element of it, was readily adopted by native humans that had already been settled within the area. Such migrations may represent a displacement of existing native cultures by the migratory group.

4. Adaptation to Environment

The hunter gatherers were very clever and adapted to their environment to make the most of their surroundings. This is called adaptation. They had to find ways to live in the forests, the coastline and on the moors and mountains. There were many different hunter-gatherer lifestyles because the UK makes up of many different environments. In England, most people lived in the forests of the South and the lowlands and coastline, like the Mesolithic people. However, during the Neolithic people began to live in the moors and mountains of the North. The arrival of farming to England changed the way people lived. Most people were farmers and they lived in settled communities but, after a few thousand years, the way farmers lived began to change. First they stopped living in longhouses and started living in roundhouses and then between 1000 and 500 BC, they began to bury their dead in large burial mounds called barrows. These people are called the 'Beaker People' as they buried their dead in pottery containers called beakers.

4.1. Survival Techniques

Lastly, and most importantly, fire could be the difference between life and death. It provides warmth and light, a way of signaling, and can clear vast areas of vegetation very quickly to drive game. If it was lost, then any of these things would be lost as well, and so a constant watch had to be kept over both the fire itself and the children that also needed it for warmth or cooking as well. Sometimes embers would be covered with ashes when the group had to move from an area, to prevent the wind causing any sparks to reignite the dried kindling. It seems that nutritionally, a diet that is predominantly fat must have been very important- and there have been similar suggestions made in the past, but this seems to be confirmed by a scientific study that was published in the summer of 2007 in the journal of current anthropology. Modern societies are used to having a constant food supply, but researchers found that in times of scarcity just eating protein as a primary nutrient could potentially lead to dysfunction of the liver and that starting to use up muscle mass - which would make hunting even harder for the individuals suffering from the lack of food. The hunter-gatherers of the past would have been aware of the way that their life was affecting the environment and would have understood the implications of the overkilling of prey species or the reckless destruction of vegetation by fire. However, recent research into the impact of hunter-gatherer groups on the land is starting to show that these ancient peoples have been wrongly accused- for example, new evidence shows that the extinction of large mammals in areas of North America cannot be directly linked to the population of the "Clovis" people as has previously been suggested by researchers.

4.2. Food Sources

Hunter gatherer societies were nomadic and so they settled near food resources. Having a varied diet was important as it helped them to stay healthy so they could continue finding food. Hunter gatherers would have eaten a wide range of plants including tubers and berries. These were sometimes ground up and mixed with water to make pastes which could easily be cooked. Evidence of meals containing a mishmash of crushed seeds and plants in a paste-like solution have been found by scientists. It is likely that meat was also an important part of the diet. Scientists have studied the make-up of human teeth which can show if we are omnivores, carnivores or herbivores. Hunter gatherers hunted mammals such as woolly mammoths, deer, aurochs and horses. Fishing was probably also played an important role in the diet of hunter gatherers. In 2011, scientists discovered the earliest human food remains in the world at a site in Botswana. The 100,000 year old pots contained remnants of fish. By being a fish eater, hunter gatherers would have had access to important vitamins and minerals that help to prevent diseases. Hunter gatherers might also have benefited from the social aspect of having to work together to obtain food which would have strengthened relationships and helped to avoid isolation and loneliness. Fossil evidence shows that men and women in prehistoric societies had different roles and many people believe that women had as much of a key role in providing food as men. It has been suggested that women, who would not have been able to hunt as successfully as men, were responsible for providing substantial vegetable foods which would have tremendously helped hunter gatherer survival. Hunter gatherer societies must have had a deep understanding of the environment to survive over many thousands of years. By using the right resources at the correct times and not staying in one place long enough to harm the surroundings, these people were able to keep their populations safe and sustained.

4.3. Shelter

The shelter was an important factor in hunter-gatherer societies. The shelters were simple and small, mainly because society was highly mobile. The sole purpose of shelters was to provide protection from the weather and local predators. Fixes structures or houses weren’t required since the people are constantly on the move; hunting and gathering resources. Hunter-gatherer groups always lived in harmony with nature. When an animal was killed, every part of its body was used. The meat was eaten, skin was used as clothing or for covering their shelters and bones were used for tools. Hunter-gatherers were respectful toward nature and the environment; the resources were never over exploited or wasted. This is a marked contrast to the way people live today, both in cities and rural areas. Immense and permanent damage to the environment is caused by practices such as intensive farming and large-scale deforestation and only a few thousand years of farming and settlements, a number of natural resources have been seriously depleted. This respectful way of living for hunter-gatherers could be one of the contributing reasons for the success of their survival over a million years.

5. Art and Rituals

The most well-known and dramatic type of hunter-gatherer art is cave paintings, which are found throughout the world. Drums, masks, body painting, and other items were part of hunter-gatherer rituals that likely included music and dance, and these arts are still practiced today. Friedrich (2002:252) explains that the significance of cave art goes beyond intellectual interpretations and can be more directly spiritually inspired. In his discussion of the altered states of consciousness of San shamans, Lewis-Williams (2002:119) emphasizes that the act of creating rock art, through which the shaman entered the spirit world, may be as important as the content of the rock art itself. Rock art is still of great spiritual importance today. Wounded Knee, a holy place of the modern-day Sioux, is a canyon in which are found many sites significant for Sioux religion. At Wounded Knee, an outline of a hunter drawn in red Ochre stands out; his body is pierced with arrows, while his left hand holds a bow and arrow. This is known as the Great Spirits Tiw I Ode sacred symbol. Today, during the sun dance festival that celebrates the vision of the Sioux Shaman Black Elk, pilgrims, and healers visit the spirits associated with the rock art, believing that the Great Spirit blessed and inspired these spirits. It is said that the spirits grant blessings to those who can maintain contact and energy with them, and it is considered beneficial to have visions near the rock art. On request, modern-day Sioux religious leader Ha(il JaKu 7]; will conduct healing ceremonies for pilgrims in which they seek to make spiritual contact with the spirits near the three bison at the site. The power of art for religious inspiration and guidance can therefore be seen to be of both historical and modern value for hunter-gatherers. Art continued to develop throughout the ages of this way of life, largely due to the changes in the living styles and uses of such art, until the rise of agriculture. Art and Religion were two bonding elements between the different societies of hunter-gatherers through this long time period, an idea that is supported through the evidence of archaeology and many theories and opinions of professionals in this area today. Art was and still is an important expression of human culture, illustrated through the cave paintings, sculptures, ceremonial regalia and everyday objects the later hunter-gatherer periods. It is evident that art and religion are two phenomena that have been associated throughout human cultural development and have had vital connections in history. Retaining of customs and rituals is of very big significance to the San. Like many aspects of San society, the religious and spiritual practices have been adapted to fit a modern and changing world. Yet, the San peoples hold the historical art and rock paintings of their ancestors and the rituals and beliefs that are shared in the society today of equal value. Art has been and still is a very effective way of teaching the history of spiritual traditions and the significance of a way of life, and this expression of culture is of vital value to the protection of religious and social practices today.

5.1. Cave Paintings

Throughout prehistory, people made significant efforts to record their ways of life. Many of the earliest kinds of cave paintings found in the environment. The paintings are usually meant to symbolize some ceremonial aspects. It is believed that many of the cave paintings were discovered retrospectively over the years without people having a clear understanding of who discovered the paintings. Some of the famous cave paintings include the famous 12,000-year-old rock painting discovered in Columbia, South America, which was added to the world heritage list of sites in 1997. The first set of cave paintings discovered in Africa were found in Namibia in the Brandberg Mountain range. This area was usually inhabited by bushmen people, who were hunter-gatherers and it is here where one of the longest records of paintings was found from 27,500 years to 2,500 years ago. The discovery was made by a French team of researchers led by J.L Vernet and it showed a range of animals big and small, with about 1,000 paintings found on the site. Another example of cave paintings can be found in Lascaus, France. It is believed that the cave was used by prehistoric humans over 15,000 years ago and it was discovered by four boys who were searching for treasures. There, the boys discovered a cave that was adorned with almost 2,000 individual figures and the cave was added to the world heritage sites in 1979. These famous drawings known as the “Chinese Horse” and the “Unicorn” are characterized by their striking colours, attention to detail and animation, with most of the animals represented appearing to be in motion. Such discoveries and analysis help archaeologists to understand the patterns and sequence of signs, symbols and art by hunter-gatherers around the world and across the ages. Most importantly, archaeologists have relied on the discovery of these paintings to draw conclusions and piece the reigns of the ancestors who were responsible for their creation. By examining colours, shades and contours of the paintings combined with their location and subject matter, archaeologists have been successful in proving the different traditional customs and cultures of societies who existed across different eras.

5.2. Spiritual Beliefs

Religion was vital to the spiritual beliefs of the hunters; some researchers suggest that the religious beliefs were focused towards fathers and grandfathers. It is believed that the hunters often consumed lots of blood to form a stronger connection with their gods. Many primary religions believe in ancestor worship like the hunter gatherers. Our research however shows that not all hunter gatherer tribes are recorded to have religious leaders or the shaman. The shaman was in charge of social order amongst the many different tribes that lived during the hunter gatherer period. It was a requirement that the shaman had to take the people in the specific group to a location where they could assure the people that they will get a clear sense of their spiritual enlightenment. Ecofeminism and religion seeks to replace the traditional anthropocentrism with a more holistic view which incorporates the natural world and all living things, particularly focusing on ‘female’ things such as passive and nurturing theology. Modernisation: The industrial revolution provided a huge stepping stone in modernising and shaping the way that people view the hunter gatherer society. This is because the spirituality that the hunter gatherers felt from performing rituals was replaced with the modern day technology and coding systems; similar to what we use today! Religion amongst these people continued to decline until there was almost no religion left. This was because the spirituality that humanity felt from performing certain rituals and embracing nature was no longer found within them, and the sense of community was gradually broken down. Although there is evidence to suggest that eventually religion will die out, in my opinion it is nigh on impossible for religion to disappear completely no matter what happens with the future of human evolution; this is because spirituality and connection to the natural world is a fundamental need and desire for humanity, and so there will always be a place for religion.

6. Transition to Agriculture

The revolution of agriculture brought in the Neolithic Era, or the New Stone Age. This is found to have started around 10,000 years ago. In different parts of the world people began the agriculture way of life at different times. Agriculture was first started in the Middle East and later spread to Asia, Europe, and other continents. Major climate changes are seen to have occurred at the end of the ice age and the people must have had to adapt to new environments. Over many years this lead people to begin the farming way of life. By growing their own food, people were able to abandon the way of life which at the end of the day lead to great success. This success was seen in growth in population which also lead to the beginnings of many villages and the need for people to find ways of protecting themselves. Archaeologists have used the evidence of plant and animal remains, pollen grains and some evidence of houses and other buildings to help them draw conclusions about the changes. The shift from the hunter-gatherer way of life to the farming way of life was most likely a gradual one, where small different groups of people began experimenting with this new way of life at different times.

6.1. Reasons for Transition

Although the reasons for transition are not known, there are a number of hypotheses that could help to explain why hunter-gatherers would have decided to become farmers. One reason is the concept of 'population pressure'. This is the idea that the population in many areas may have increased to the point where the hunter-gatherer lifestyle was no longer viable. As the size of groups grew, they would need to work all year round to collect enough food to feed everyone. This would encourage people to develop a more reliable form of food production and could have led to the adoption of some early form of agriculture. Another possibility is that groups of hunter-gatherers decided to become farmers as a response to climate changes. It has been postulated that the stable, warm weather following the end of the Ice Age could have encouraged people to start experimenting with plant cultivation. Also, the end of the Ice Age led to land becoming available for farming, as huge forests that had covered Europe and other areas retreated. This would have made it possible for farmers to clear areas of forest in order to grow crops. The problem with farming is that, apart from in some very limited conditions, it is almost always a more arduous way of life than the hunter-gatherer lifestyle. Farmers may return time and time again to the same patch of land that they work in; they invest huge amounts of time and energy in the hope of a good harvest. However, there is no guarantee that the land will produce enough food and while farming families - usually consisting of about six or seven people - may have a more stable form of food production, it would almost certainly have management implications compared to the more-foraging based lifestyle of hunter-gatherers.

6.2. Impact on Society

With the emergence of a more settled, agricultural way of life in the transition away from hunter-gatherer societies, the role of men and women in the society became more distinct. It is easy to imagine how a population that stays in one place would begin to grow – now, a heavy workload for a woman for nine months may not be practical. Indeed, in societies where subsistence is based on farming, populations are significantly higher than in the sparsely populated world of the hunter-gatherer. There is evidence that in such societies there is a clear distinction drawn between the sphere of activity of men and women, with the women centred on the home and care of the children whilst the man’s role is in the wider political and economic sphere. With the development of private property, the nature of the social structure and the mechanisms for exchange change. Studies of contemporary hunter-gatherer societies show that food is shared to ensure the safety of the group, and that property rights tend to be quite limited and well-defined. In a settled, agricultural society, there is a greater need to securely identify and protect any single individual’s access to a valuable and finite resource such as land; as a result, this facilitates the development of a more systematic and hierarchical social structure, often around the authority of a single leader.

7. Decline of Hunter Gatherer Lifestyle

The next trend was for hunter-gatherer populations to become purely nomadic. This occurred as only the very fringes of the continents were inhabited. In such places, life was more precarious and, as hunters found it increasingly difficult to find game that had not been hunted to extinction, the populations would have to adopt mobile lifestyles. The reason for this trend in settlement lies within the science of geography. This came about as the last Ice Age glaciers made way for the beginning of a period of climate change. Just a few degrees of temperature increase was enough to start to melt the ice which in turn led to the flooding of many valleys that were formed by the retreating ice. With the loss of those natural barriers and the flooding of much of the land that existed between continents, connectivity would have become ever more important. As hunters retreated before the waters, they were likely to have become more concentrated in certain areas - following wildlife and increased plant growth caused by the warmer temperatures. At the same time, the hunters began to discover the advantages of living near rivers. Farmland and sedentary lifestyles had yet to emerge but the data seems to suggest that, for at least a period of time, the hunter-gatherers of one of the earliest non-African civilisations were based around rich, riverside environments. This reliance on rivers and the opportunities presented by the geography of North Africa are best documented by the emergence of a new kind of stone tool - the so-called River-Lake tool, a type of axe that appears to have evolved from the much simpler hand-axe types. These stone artefacts were most commonly found in the North African regions where rivers such as the Nile could have provided the level of sustenance that would have made sedentary life viable. It is in such areas, then as now, that a move towards the first complex societies is found. This, the final trend in hunter-gatherer settlement - that of the adoption or creation of permanent settlements - is our next and final period of transition.

7.1. Factors

There are many factors that are believed to have contributed to the end of the hunter-gatherer lifestyle. The first is that changes in climate meant that there was less and less wild grain available for people to gather. It is agreed that ancient humans regularly made use of wild grains as part of their normal diet, or as Hayden notes, ‘before the end of the last Ice Age, somewhere between 10,000 and 15,000 years ago, people began to cultivate sour grass and lay the foundations for agriculture.’ M. Stiner and G. Kuhn suggest that extreme weather conditions, such as a huge period of drought towards the end of the Ice Age, led to a ‘general breakdown in food resource predictability, accompanied by a rise in risk and variance’, which would have made it difficult, or even impossible, for people to continue to adopt the same subsistence strategies. Late Stone Age famine graves clearly show that famines did take place, and again, suggest an eventual dependence on domesticated animals and grain, as mentioned above. This is also a point strengthened by the idea that human hunting drove predator species to extinction – as an absence in certain animals rose, ancient people could no longer rely on regular meat and the balance between hunter and prey decreased. Casey et al. states that ‘it is to the detriment of the world that North America has only so few elephants compared to the proliferation of mammoth bones located in the fossil record’, with the branch of American megafauna: mammoths, American mastodons and gomphotheres etc, being ‘extinguished within a millennium of initial human entrance into the continents’. This forced a dramatic shift in culture and social organisation; people could not survive without stable food supplies and had to start to change the way they lived.

7.2. Consequences

With the end of the hunter gatherer lifestyle and their competitiveness, and the arrival of the pastoralist society, came the diseases. Hunter gatherers living in the place gradually lost their natural resources and were forced to search for other places. This brought them in contact with the pastoralist societies and in this interaction came the transmission of diseases made possible. Populations living under the hunter gatherer lifestyle had a small population capacity and sometimes the pastoralist groups completely forced them to lose their territories by kidnapping or even massacring them. Hunter gatherer groups were politically independent societies in that they recognized no other political head and had systems of self-governance which included their own judicial systems. The entry of the pastoralist society made them more susceptible to diseases and violence. When the British colonized Australia, they pushed the indigenous people away from their lands and into the less productive environment. Although hunter gatherer groups did not have territorial official boundaries or land titles, the displacement that occurred was not only a loss of social organization or spiritual attachment, but also it severely disrupted the sustainable environment that offered them resources. This also led to the loss of traditional territories and the separation of men from women when pastoralists captured women for slavery.