Subsistence derived from a combination of gathering and hunting

The primary reason for the continuing survival of foraging economies is the inapplicability of their environmental settings to food production.

A contemporary forager from

Australia’s Cape York peninsula collects eggs from the nest of a magpie goose.

Correlates of Foraging

Band-organization (30-50) people -- flexibility allows for seasonal adjustments.

Mobile, at least seasonally nomadic -- Pattern of congregation and dispersal

Bands flexible in composition.

No permanent attachment to group or land.

Access to resources held communally.

Individual ownership of food, tools and other goods but strong pressure to share.


Little difference in wealth, few material goods

Social and political organization are simple

At most, headman without authority

Social control is informal

Low population density

(few people per area of land)

Limited means of food storage

The Agta of the Phillippines live by hunting, gathering, fishing and exchange with lowland farmers

Typical gender-based division of labor with women gathering and men hunting and fishing, with gathering contributing more to the group diet.

No full-time specialists, Some parttime specialists

Amount of work is limited

Little warfare

(conflict between groups)

All foraging societies distinguish among their members according to age and gender, but are relatively egalitarian (making only minor distinctions in status)

Wide Variation in characteristics across H-G societies

degree of dependence on hunting vs. gathering

gender roles/ gender status

technologies used

Political organization


Worldwide distribution of recent hunter-gatherers.

recent foragers have often been used to understand prehistoric humans


Now in least desirable environments: tundra, desert, rain forest

Cultural changes in last

20,000 years

Natural environment has changed

Affected by other people


non-intensive plant cultivation, based on the use of simple tools and cyclical, non-continuous use crop lands.

Slash-and-burn or swidden cultivation and shifting cultivation are alternative labels for horticulture.

About 300 million people depended primarily on swidden cultivation for subsistence.

slash-and-burn horticulture

Ranomafana, Madagascar.


use a limited, nonmechanized technology to cultivate plants.

Slash-and-burn agriculture

Cyclical process

Burned vegetation, ashes nourish land

Land left fallow for several years

Tend to be less nomadic and more sedentary than foragers

Cultures include:




A Yanomamö hunter

Horticultural Adaptations

Gardening, using tools that require human power

Domesticated plants

Shift in emphasis on role of women in kinship


Increased labor intensity


Social stratification notions of private property, and ownership of land warfare

Groups range from 100 to more than 5,000

Relatively settled, but nomadic within limits

Location of villages is shifted periodically to keep the near areas being cultivated but even so, villages usually remain in each location for several consecutive years.

South American farmers. Women tend to be the main producers in horticultural societies.


Subsistence is based on the care of domesticated animals

Migration follows herds

Examples: Bedouins,

Lapps, Nuer

East African cattle complex

Supplement diet with gardens

Largely eat blood and milk from cattle, not meat



A female pastoralist who is a member of the Kirgiz ethnic group in Xinjiang Province, China.


members of such economies may get agricultural produce through trade or their own subsidiary cultivation.

Patterns of Pastoralism:

Pastoral Nomadism: all members of the pastoral society follow the herd throughout the year.

Transhumance: part of the society follows the herd, while the other part maintains a home village (this is usually associated with some cultivation by the pastoralists).

East African cattle complex



Agriculture is cultivation involving continuous use of crop land, and is more labor-intensive (due to the ancillary needs generated by farm animals and crop land formation) than horticulture.

Domesticated animals are commonly used in agriculture, mainly to ease labor and provide manure.

Irrigation is one of the agricultural techniques that frees cultivation from seasonal domination.


Irrigated and terraced rice fields used by the rice farmers of

Luzon in the Philippines.

Agriculture: Costs and Benefits

Agriculture is far more labor-intensive and capital-intensive than horticulture, but does not necessarily yield more than horticulture does (under ideal conditions).

Agriculture’s long-term production (per area) is far more stable than horticulture’s.

Intensified food production is associated with sedentism and rapid population increase.

Top: Egyptian shaduf

The Cultivation Continuum

In reality, non-industrial economies do not always fit cleanly into the distinct categories given above, thus it is useful to think in terms of a cultivation continuum.

Sectorial fallowing: a plot of land may be planted twoto-three years before shifting (as with the Kuikuru,

South American manioc horticulturalists) then allowed to lie fallow for a period of years.