Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Hunter-gathers, and stuff.

Roxie asked where I got the twenty hour work week figure for hunter gatherers. Actually, I pulled it out of my head. That's considered the standard rule of thumb in most anthropology classes. (Or at least the ones I took.) A quick flip through Wikipedia (which I hate due to the scholarship, but damn it, it's handy) gives some other figures, all around the twenty hour mark. The !Kung study in one village came to a fifteen hour work week.

Modern humans (i.e. those of us sitting here in our modern homes reading this on the internet) have a biased view of hunter-gatherer society. For one thing, I think modern humans lose track of how little we REALLY need to live a fine, healthy life. Food, shelter, clothing. That's really about it. Another factor is, all current hunter-gatherer societies have been pushed to 'fringe lands' over the years, by other agricultural societies who moved in and took the good land. The !Kung in the Kalahari Desert used to live further north in more temperate climates until the Bantu Expansion pushed 'em out. The Australian Aborigines lived in what is now farmland for Euros; they didn't CHOOSE that desert climate. That's just all they had left. Ditto for many Native American tribes, Inuit (though to a lesser degree), Lapp/Sami, assorted C Asian nomadic tribes... well, you get the idea. That is why, the other day, I qualified my twenty hour figure with 'living in a reasonably fertile area' (or something like that). It depends a great deal on where they are. I'm betting Eastern Woodlands tribes (where I grew up in Ohio) had less than twenty hours in a work week; the area is chock full of food and other natural resources.

There is a good bit of evidence showing that in many areas when agriculture/animal domestication was introduced, it was used only for hard-to-find plants or important animals. Then as populations expanded, they relied more heavily on agriculture. Also, in other places, they became farmers not because it was the better way to get food, but because the tribe wanted to become sedentary, so they could take advantage of natural resources and trade more successfully; it's hard to haul around a kiln or a blast furnace as a nomad. So the farming happened more by default than because it was a better way to get food. I suspect that farming was rarely adopted simply because it was a better way; for hunter-gatherers in very fertile areas, it was NOT the better way, it was just a different one, that suited different purposes better.

Did that last paragraph make sense?

Otherwise, I'm still knitting. Something. It's to be a gift so I don't wanna show detail, but here you go.

And, um. I'm looking into doing some batik prints for Christmas presents. I'm telling myself they'll be faster than knitted shawls. 'Cause we need more craft gear in this house.


Donna Lee said...

I understand batik printing is fun.....

Roxie said...

Wow! Thanks! That makes good sense. Naturally hunter/gatherers would live in the most fertile area available. And with only 20 hours a week needed to survive, that gives lots of time for the creative instinct to manifest. Idle hands embellish and refine. Idle minds make poetry and song, and tell long, long stories.

Alwen said...

Yeah, modern culture is very oriented towards defining luxuries and toys as "needs". Well, a Wii Fit might be nice, but I have to tell you, it's not a need the way air, water, food and shelter are needs.

Me, I tend to define myself as "cavewoman happy". I'm warm, I'm dry, I'm fed. Everything else is toys & entertainment.

Amy Lane said...

You gotta know hunters/gatherers had their priorities in order--they valued story-tellers and art.

Anonymous said...

Very interesting! I love your archaeology posts.
Jared Diamond wrote that gatherer-hunters only turned to farming in areas where the former was so difficult that it was just about their only choice to survive. Personally, I think we've been jibbed! Hands up who wants a 15-hour work week?