When you have a worldbuilding problem for a story you’re not really
working on at present, to which your mind returns periodically to niggle
at it in search of an answer, it is very satisfying to find oneself
niggling at it once again and this time having the answer fall into one’s
lap. And while it may not be satisfying to realize your failure to see
said answer before came about because you let yourself fall into a rather
stereotypical trap of perception, it’s somewhat nice to also realize that
means you’ll have an opportunity to make a quiet demonstration of a point
to which you have always spoken in support.

In other words, most hunter-gatherer caloric intake comes from the
gathering, not the hunting. And I’d forgotten that.

Go about your business. All is well with the world now — or at least
with that world.

0 Responses to “*click*”

  1. zellandyne

    that made me laugh. awesome

  2. mindstalk

    I’ve heard that figure a lot, but not having read the supporting reseach I’ve been skeptical. (And what’s most? 60%? 80%? 90%?) One thing I’ve wondered about is that most historically surviving H-Gs were in marginal jungle or desert or icebound (obviously hunting there) lands, not in human-friendly lands which farmers had displaced them from, with North America as a big exception.

    • Marie Brennan

      H-G cultures aren’t something I personally studied a lot, so I get that stat from the professors for whom I’ve worked, rather than articles I could cite for you. But I do trust the professors to know their business were such information is concerned. You’re right about the marginality of modern H-G land, and the figure could certainly fluctuate based on conditions. (Case in point: the Inuit, who for large stretches of time, as I understand it, used to subsist on animal products alone, thanks to the short growing season of their environment. But the Inuit are definitely an extreme case.)

      I don’t have percentages. The one stat I remember is that the Bushmen (or whatever term is best to use these days; the video I watched called them that), who are pretty well-practiced hunters, come home with meat one day in four.

      Whatever the exact ratio, certainly it’s true that gathering has often been neglected in favor of the far more glamorous hunting, in terms of how much attention archaeologists and anthropologists pay to it. And yes, you can fill in a pretty unsurprising gender-based analysis here.

      • mindstalk

        I hate to be the amateur doubting the claims of an entire field, but you aren’t the first I’ve queried on this, and I’ve never been assured that yes, someone specific counted caloric input over a year, for a diverse set of tribes. Or something like that. So I have to wonder, and what you do remember is vague enough to make my point:

        Bushmen bring home meat one day in four? Bushmen living in the Kalahari, one of the driest places on Earth? That seems pretty good — and what does “meat” mean? A handful of lizards to flavor the stew, or a big deer or boar? 30 people living on meat for four days would eat 120-240 kilograms, I figure, which as big game goes isn’t that big. If you brought animals like that home you wouldn’t need to hunt more than one day in four. Or 8, because I had them eating nothing but meat.

        I didn’t know the Inuit got any plant matter other than what they found in the stomachs of their kills, or in seaweed. But William Calvin pointed out that in northern winters in general, hunting might provide most of the calories for a few cold months even if it didn’t for the year overall, making it important for niche stability. And even not so extreme seeming places like grasslands might support hunting more easily than gathering, depending on the ease of finding — what, roots? — vs. hunting the animals who can eat the human-edible biomass of grass.

        I know gathering was neglected; what I fear is backlash the other way. As I noted, “most” is rather vague; one could take the claim as implying that the contribution of the male half the tribe doesn’t really matter much, which seems as implausible as the earlier neglect of the women. 90% calories from gathering would get you there, while 60% would suggest more that the tribe is dependent on everyone’s efforts.

        To complicate gender issues, women might well be bringing back animal products as eggs and even small game killed in the field, and in the Mbuti women and chldren help with net hunting — everybody’s there, some holding the nets and clubbing and others driving game into the nets.

        *tries to do a bit of own research*

        This abstract claims about 65% animal dependence, in a couple of studies looking at many societies. Also this, with “Paleolithic diet” Loren Cordain as lead author. This one says “the archeological record is insufficient to determine whether plants or animals predominated”. And this abstract at least mentions various methods used to probe the nature of past diets.

        This PDF talks about studies by the author, and claims the Ache of Paraguay, in forest mode, get 56% from calories, 18% from honey, and “plant and insects” 26%. It’s got some interesting stuff on comparative hours worked and infant mortality rates and causes (and ditto for adult death).

        And if I believe this random Usenet post, some of all this might go back to Richard Lee’s quoted and re-quoted _Man the Hunter_, saying 35% came from hunted animal foods, with the 65% of gathered calories including various animal sources (including fish), an oft-overlooked detail.

        Final conclusion: I don’t know, except that there may be no “typical” H-G society averaged over ecologies, and I’d bet hunting/animals has tended to be important — 35% isn’t small change.

        How is this such a crucial detail for your worldbuilding, anyway, if you can say?

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