Why Foragers Hunt

Session Date: 
Mar 2, 2018

The idea that women have evolved to be plant gatherers and men hunters has dominated evolutionary thinking and the popular imagination for decades. Many have suggested that the origins of a distinctly human form of social organization known as the nuclear family lie in women depending on a man's hunting production to provide high energy foods in the form of meat and fat to her children. This model is commonly invoked to explain patterns of human hunting both past and present, and while there are some societies around the world where this might hold, there are others that warrant a different explanation. Australia is one of the places that challenges our understanding of who hunts and why. Across Australia prehistorically, women were active hunters, with a primary focus on the hand-capture of small to medium sized animals. In many locations, women skillfully used fire and hunted with dogs to improve their efficiency. Today, women in remote communities still hunt extensively and share meat with both children and other women in ways that create bonds of trust and support strongly cooperative social networks. Women's high investment in hunting is likely linked to the fact that small animal hunting is particularly predictable and productive in this environment, especially when modified by fire. The most active hunters are older women who engage their skills in hunting not only to support their grown daughters and grandchildren, but also to build their social status and bring groups together through their generosity with meat. 

File 2018_03_02_03_Bird-Web.mp480.46 MB