Hunter-Gatherers/ Life History & Reproduction

Session Date: 
Mar 23, 2019
Speakers: 

Humans evolved long before farming and herding began about 10,000 years ago. Where people now depend on wild foods, their practices are an “experimental opportunity” to discover how foraging for a living actually works: the problems and solutions, and especially how those vary by sex, age, and local socioecology.  Of course regional non-foraging political systems, trade with non-foraging neighbors, and recent technology - like motor vehicles and fire arms - commonly alter daily tradeoffs. But even where people are part-time foragers, their experienced assessment of opportunities can be an empirical window into the ancient tradeoffs and constraints that drove the evolution of our lineage. Differences in foraging strategies by sex and age are robust across socioecologies. Men usually specialize in foods taken unpredictably, in large packages, with portions widely claimed by many.  Women specialize in foods more reliably acquired and consumed by their own families. Unlike our closest living evolutionary cousins, the great apes (or other mammals generally), humans never acquire all they eat or eat all they acquire. This economic interdependence is closely tied to our distinctive life history. Careful demographies of foraging as well as other traditional populations find age structures like those of state societies. The post-menopausal longevity, later maturation and earlier weaning that distinguish humans are crucial clues to what happened in the evolution of our lineage - now promising to help explain our pair bonding habit, big brains, and distinctively cooperative social appetites.