Nothing simple about hunter-gatherer societies

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The division of labor in hunter-gatherer communities is complex and sophisticated, and crucial to their economic success, researchers report.

Nothing simple about hunter-gatherer societies
Members of a Tsimane community in Bolivia. A study found complexity and 
sophistication in the division of labor in hunter-gatherers communities 
[Credit Paul Hooper]

A paper in the journal Philosophical Transactions B looks at two hunter-gatherer groups: the Tsimane game hunters of lowland Bolivia, and the Jenu Kuruba honey collectors of South India.

“In contrast to the simple cave man view of a hunter-gatherer, we found that it requires a tremendous amount of skill, knowledge and training,” said Paul Hooper, an anthropologist at Emory University and one of the study’s authors.

He and his colleagues found that there is a clear division of labor between Tsimane and Jenu Kuruba men and women.

Women tend to stay away from collecting honey and hunting, because neither is conducive to caring for young children — and because they aren’t given the opportunity to develop these skills, Dr. Hooper said.

“If a third of your life is tied up with taking care of young offspring, you don’t have that time that boys and young men have to go out and practice doing this stuff,” he said.

Individuals often have specializations in hunter-gatherer communities, the researchers also found.

When Jenu Kuruba men go in search of honey, Dr. Hooper said, “there’s one man who specializes in making smoke to subdue the bees, another that climbs the trees, and others that act as support staff to lower combs.”

The Tsimane men also organize themselves according to their specialties and modify their groups based on the size of the game they are hunting.

Author: Sindya N. Bhanoo | Source: New York Times [October 26, 2015]

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