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Article about Simple Hunter-Gatherers

by EvansPress Thursday, Apr. 30, 2009 at 7:51 PM
EvansPress@yahoo.com

Hello, for anyone interested, here is an article about simple hunter-gatherers

This article can be purchased as a downloadable PDF version from EvansPress@yahoo.com. The price of the PDF version is A_RTICLE.40 and payment can be made through Paypal.com to EvansPress@yahoo.com. For information on other articles available please contact: EvansPress@yahoo.com.



The Relatively Peaceful Societies of Simple Hunter-Gatherers

By Nicholas Evans



According to modern anthropology, and contrary to popular thought, simple hunter-gatherer societies are relatively peaceful. 1. According to modern archeology, the simple hunter-gatherer type of societies have been demonstrated to be the main type of society to produce some relatively peaceful societies free from warfare so far. 2. Simple hunter-gatherer societies are mostly nomadic, they typically promote co-operation, sharing, egalitarianism, female-male equality, 3.they had lots of free time to do things they want, 4. and they were/are generally healthy. 5.

The Anthropologist Fry, following work from the Anthropologist Kelly, describes two types of hunter-gatherers: Simple and Complex. 6.

What are the differences?

Simple: Simple hunter-gatherer’s primary food source is terrestrial game, they very rarely store food, they are nomadic or semi-nomadic, they have low population density, they are egalitarian, and warfare is rare. 7.

Complex: Complex hunter-gatherer’s primary sources of food are marine sources and plants, they typically store food, they are settled or mostly settled, they have higher population densities, they are hierarchical and classes exist based off of wealth or heredity, in some cases there are family lineages, slavery is frequent, competition is encouraged, and warfare is common. 8. Complex hunter-gatherers are chiefdoms. 9.

What is warfare?

According to Fry, warfare is a group activity that happens between communities, and it is directed against non-specified members of another community. Warfare is different from individual acts of violence and feuding. 10. Many simple hunter-gatherer bands did have individual acts of violence and/or feuding to varying degrees, 11. however, other groups like the Indian Paliyan are near total pacifists who are free from serious individual acts of violence and feuding. 12. Keeley also notes there are pacifistic hunter-gatherers. 13. 14.

The archeology books: War Before Civilization: The Myth of the Peaceful Savage by the archeologist Keeley and Constant Battles: The Myth of the Peaceful, Noble Savage by the archeologist LeBlanc document the higher levels of warfare and fighting between complex hunter-gatherer groups and tribes. Both Keeley and LeBlanc note to varying degrees that simple hunter-gatherer societies were relatively peaceful or were the main type of society to live without warfare so far.

For instance, Keeley notes:

“Truly peaceful agriculturalists appear to be somewhat less common than pacifistic hunter-gatherers.” 15.

“As we noted in Chapter 2, some of the most peaceful nonstate societies in the world had very low population densities… Most of these peaceable groups prevented intergroup disputes and conflicts from escalating into armed violence by fleeing from their adversaries. But this option can be exercised only under conditions where possessions are portable and essential resources, however scarce, are widely distributed.” 16.

The type of lifestyle under conditions where possessions are portable and essential resources are widely distributed in low density populations are what constitute simple hunter-gatherers; and it is these simple hunter-gatherer societies that we humans lived the majority of our existence. LeBlanc notes:

“The basic human social grouping for more than a million years was a small band of people, usually forty or fewer residing in one group, who survived by foraging-or regularly moving around-hunting, and gathering there food…They continually moved camp, typically never staying much longer than perhaps a few weeks or so in one location.” 17.

Even LeBlanc, who believes everyone has had warfare in all time periods 18., notes the few societies that have been and are relatively peaceful and have lived free from warfare are simple hunter gatherer societies that existed in the past and continue to exist in the West Coast of Tasmania, Central Australia, and the middle of the Kalahari desert. 19.

Regarding the !Kung, LeBlanc may have unintentionally mislead people. He notes the !Kung are relatively peaceful while mentioning other San peoples that fought, perhaps unintentionally misleading readers into believing it was the !Kung he was discussing. 20. Fry mentioned LeBlanc’s section on the !Kung as a ‘time and place shifting fallacy’. 21.

On the subject of LeBlanc’s view that “…everyone had warfare in all time periods…”, documented archaeological evidence actually shows that warfare has only existed within the past 10,000 years. 22. The archeologist Keeley notes this, 23. anthropologists such as Ferguson and Fry note this, as do others such as Haas, Roper, Boehm, Otterbein, Sponsel, and Ury. 24. Ferguson suggests LeBlanc’s claims about warfare are “…sweeping…” then goes on to show conclusive archeological evidence that demonstrates warfare has only existed quite recently in human history. 25. Regarding violence in the Upper Paleolithic Period (40,000 BC to 12,000 years ago) the evidence LeBlanc uses is inconclusive. LeBlanc notes this himself for he states regarding his three major examples “…fifteen possible cases of cannibalism…” 26. (from the first example) “…They could have been killed in a failed mammoth hunt…” 27. (from the second example) and “Interpreting rock art is hardly a cut-and-dry process, and others would argue that this interpretation of warring humans in Paleolithic is all wrong.” 28. (from the third example). The first example he uses: “…the time of the famous cave paintings of France and Spain, scholars begin to uncover lines of evidence in addition to the blows to the head or cut marks on bones, although these continue, including fifteen possible cases of cannibalism.” 29. he cites as footnote 37 the ‘Tabulated in Roper, “A Survey of the Evidence for Intrahuman Killing in the Pleistocene.”’ 30. which the abstract on the website about the very article itself notes “The author's determination is that, although there seems to be sound evidence for sporadic intrahuman killing, the known data is not sufficient to document warfare.” 31.



Another example LeBlanc uses for supposed evidence of warfare in the Upper Paleolithic is apparently after the Upper Paleolithic Period from about ten thousand to two thousand years ago. As LeBlanc notes: “The upper Paleolithic period lasted from 40,000 B.C. until around 12,000 years ago,…” 32. If I read him correctly I am unsure why he mentions the Upper Paleolithic in the beginning of the paragraph then goes on to talk about violence from a different time period “…about ten thousand to two thousand years ago…”. 33. If I read him correctly perhaps it may be an unintentional mistake which is unfortunately misleading. 34.

Regarding our past and warfare, as noted previously, the anthropologist Ferguson (among others) note that according to global archeological records warfare is very recent in human history mainly from around 10,000 years ago. 35. Warfare is largely from complex-hunter gatherers, and warring states within civilization all which arose to varying degrees very recently 36. compared to simple hunter-gathers who were usually free from war while existing since the beginning of humanity. 37.



Bibliography and Footnotes:

1. Ferguson, Brian R. (No title) Ferguson wrote a review of Keeley’s book, War Before Civilization. Savagist’s site: goodreads.com (February 23, 2009) Retrieved April 8th 2009 from: http://www.goodreads.com/book/show/328446.War_before_Civilization_The_Myth_of_the_Peaceful_Savage

“An extremely careful reader who sifts out scattered phrases here and elsewhere (pp. 28, 31, 38, 119) will note that Keeley… acknowledges that small, mobile, low-density bands are commonly, though not universally, without war. This is the condition in which human beings evolved and lived until a few thousand years ago, a hugely important point that Keeley effectively buries.”

2. Keeley, Lawrence. War Before Civilization New York: Oxford University Press. 1996 pp 31

LeBlanc, Steven. Constant Battles: The Myth of the Peaceful, Noble Savage. St. Martin's Press: New York. 2003 pp 202 and 241

3. Fry, Douglas P. Beyond War: The Human Potential for Peace New York: Oxford Press. 2007. pp 157 and 199

LeBlanc, Steven. Constant Battles: The Myth of the Peaceful, Noble Savage. St. Martin's Press: New York. 2003 pp 102 “This earliest human social organization was egalitarian.”

4. Sahlins, Marshall. Stone Age Economics. New York: Aldine De Gruyter. 1972. Pp 22. Sahlins noted around 2.5 hours of work a day. In response to Anthropologist works on the subject similar to Sahlins, LeBlanc notes that !Kung life is easy now: “The !Kung found in the Kalahari do spend only a few hours a day foraging for food, at least most of the time.” pp109 LeBlanc, Steven. Constant Battles: The Myth of the Peaceful, Noble Savage. St. Martin's Press: New York. 2003 Regarding the !Kung’s past, LeBlanc suggests the life of the !Kung was seemingly difficult pp 241 despite the majority Anthropological view that !Kung life had a lot of leisure. Regarding the amount of free time of the !Kung, LeBlanc notes among some other things, that Irven DeVore did not take into account the amount of time the !Kung spent processing the food they collected. He notes that subsequent research has shown that collecting and processing combined take much more time than originally estimated. He also mentions anthropologists sometimes assisted women foragers or gave them rides. The !Kung also had cotton cloth and iron tools. Pp 110 However, if processing time for food ect. are to be taken into account, similar domestic duties in civilization such as food preparation in ones home ect. must also be taken into account as work. So if processing food ect. is counted as work for the !Kung, domestic food preperation ect. in the privacy of one’s home must also be counted as work within civilization. LeBlanc also believes the !Kung are not and did not live in ecological balance. However almost all scholars believe the !Kung do live in ecological balance as LeBlanc himself mentions: “The consensus among scholars has been that they do manage to stay in balance with their resources…” pp 112 Regarding this view, a reviewer of LeBlanc’s book pointed that the !Kung hunter-gatherer society is certainly living much more in ecological balance then an average modern civilized person within the current civilization.

5. Steckel, Richard H. and Wallis, John. Stones, Bones, and States: A New Approach to the Neolithic Revolution nber.org 2007. pp 1 Retrieved April 17, 2009 from: http://www.nber.org/~confer/2007/daes07/steckel.pdf

“Urban living came at a substantial cost. Accumulating evidence from skeletons, which we discuss below, shows that Neolithic cities and towns were unhealthy. Their residents were smaller in stature than hunter-gatherers and their bones had relatively more lesions indicating dental decay, infections and other signs of physiological stress. Since the early city dwellers had the option of living as healthier hunter-gatherers…” pp1” For more information about this study regarding hunter-gatherers and violence please see the footnote number 6.

6. Fry, Douglas P. Beyond War: The Human Potential for Peace New York: Oxford Press. 2007. pp 77

Some studies do not separate the complex and simple hunter gatherers despite the vast differences. This may sometimes unintentionally lead to misinformation about either the simple or complex hunter-gatherers. One study combines both the simple and complex hunter-gatherers in regards to violence. The study entitled: Stones, Bones, and States: A New Approach to the Neolithic Revolution by Steckel and Wallis 2007 http://www.nber.org/~confer/2007/daes07/steckel.pdf notes the high amounts of violence by complex hunter-gatherers. On pg. 18 it notes 80% of their data is from Native Americans. In the article Washington Post article Bones Reveal Some Truth in 'Noble Savage Myth' by Jack Lucentini, April 15, 2002 http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/articles/A48202-2002Apr14.html

and also here:

http://groups.yahoo.com/group/drumbeat-weekend_edition/message/23003

http://www.highbeam.com/doc/1P2-351540.html

the anthropologist Walker mentions:

"...the higher injury rate could have many explanations. Increased violence is normally associated with more densely populated, settled life, which Native Americans experienced in modernity,..."

So the majority of hunter-gatherers in the study are Native American, and many of them were complex hunter-gatherers though they refer to both types of hunter-gatherers in the study, without making a distinction between the 'simple' and 'complex' hunter-gatherers; a distinction that many others in the modern day do make. The article unintentionally may make it sound that all types of hunter-gatherers were very violent, when in fact simple hunter-gatherers were relatively peaceful.

Researcher and author John Zerzan, who’s work has been published along side many prominent anthropologists in the book Limited Wants, Unlimited Means: A Reader on Hunter-Gatherer Economics and the Environment by Professor and chair of the Department of Economics John Gowdy with a forward by Richard B. Lee Washington: Island Press 1998., prefers to use the term hunter-gatherer for simple hunter-gatherer societies that are free from domestication of plants and animals. See his excellent books: Elements of Refusal and Future Primitive.

7. Fry, Douglas P. Beyond War: The Human Potential for Peace New York: Oxford Press. 2007. pp 77

8. Ibid. pp 77

9. Ibid. pp 71

10. Ibid. 16-17

11. Please see: Fry, Douglas P. Beyond War: The Human Potential for Peace New York: Oxford Press. 2007.

12. Ibid. pp 31

13. Keeley, Lawrence. War Before Civilization New York: Oxford University Press. 1996 pp 31

14. LeBlanc, Steven. Constant Battles: The Myth of the Peaceful, Noble Savage. St. Martin's Press: New York. 2003 pp 241 footnote 3. On a related note, LeBlanc seems to acknowledge not being completely peaceful is different from warfare.

15. Keeley, Lawrence. War Before Civilization New York: Oxford University Press. 1996 pp 31

16. Ibid. pp 119

17. LeBlanc, Steven. Constant Battles: The Myth of the Peaceful, Noble Savage. St. Martin's Press: New York. 2003. pp 101

18. Ibid. pp 8

LeBlanc believes “…everyone had warfare in all time periods,…”

19. LeBlanc, Steven. Constant Battles: The Myth of the Peaceful, Noble Savage. St. Martin's Press: New York. 2003 pp 202 and 241

“…those living in the middle of the Kalahari dessert…” pp 241 LeBlanc is referencing the !Kung people as he notes “The !Kung people, who now occupy the center of the region’s dessert…” and “…while a few, such as the !Kung, retained their foraging lifestyle-but only in the extreme dessert.” pp 116 the desert LeBlanc is talking about is the Kalahari dessert: “The !Kung found living in the center of the Kalahari…” pp 109 The !Kung lived in the Kalahari and other places in the past and live in the middle of the Kalahari now. Pp 110-111 and 115 On the subject of the !Kung and their peacefulness please see footnote 13. As noted by Fry, LeBlanc does not offer any evidence about the !Kung’s past with the subject. The !Kung were relatively peaceful in the past according to modern Anthropology. Regarding Australia, everybody living on it were hunter-gatherers. LeBlanc notes: “Foragers occupied the entire continent of Australia up until the last couple of centuries. In fact, Australia is the only continent in which farming was never developed.” pp 119 Tasmania is part of Australia.

20. Ibid. pp 115-116

21. Fry, Douglas P. Beyond War: The Human Potential for Peace New York: Oxford Press. 2007. pp 291-292

Regarding Constant Battles: The Myth of the Peaceful, Noble Savage by LeBlanc (2003) Fry notes: “On pp 115 LeBlanc concedes that the Ju/’hoansi do not make war, but immediately adopts an approach paralleling Eibl-Eibesfeldt’s of citing information from different southern African San populations across different time periods to imply that the Ju/’hoansi were not so friendly in the past. This is a time and place shifting fallacy…” The section Fry is discussing is the following: After a section about battles the paragraph by LeBlanc starts with: “Among the !Kung today not even that amount of vestigial warfare is found. But the !Kung of today are not the !Kung of the past. Historical accounts and archeology provide a picture of the !Kung that contrasts sharply with the “friendly” desert people of today. Until about two thousand years ago, !Kung, or their San speaking relatives,…” then Leblanc goes on to speak about other San peoples who are different from the !Kung including San goat herders and battles between other San people and Europeans.” pp 116

22. Keeley, Lawrence. War Before Civilization New York: Oxford University Press. 1996 pp 39

23. Ibid. pp 39

24. Fry, Douglas. The Human Potential for Peace: An Anthropological Challenge to Assumptions about War and Violence. New York: Oxford University Press. 2006 pp 139

25. Ferguson, Brian R. The Birth of War An Archeological Survey Concludes that Warfare, Despite its Malignant hold on Modern Life, Has Not Always Been Part of the Human Condition Natural History Magazine. July/August 2003 Retrieved April 8th 2009 from: http://www.naturalhistorymag.com/0703/0703_feature.html

26. LeBlanc, Steven. Constant Battles: The Myth of the Peaceful, Noble Savage. St. Martin's Press: New York. 2003. pp 124

27. Ibid. pp 124

28. Ibid. pp 125

29. Ibid. pp 124

30. Ibid. pp 237

31. Roper, Marilyn Keyes. A Survey of the Evidence for Intrahuman Killing in the Pleistocene. University of Chicago Press. 1969. Retrieved April 16th 2009 from: http://www.jstor.org/pss/2740555

32. LeBlanc, Steven. Constant Battles: The Myth of the Peaceful, Noble Savage. St. Martin's Press: New York. 2003. pp 124

33. Ibid. pp 125

34. The paragraph is as follows: “A final piece of evidence for warfare from the Upper Paleolithic comes from Sudan. When the Aswan Dam was built, a great deal of archeology was undertaken along the Nile River in Upper Egypt and Sudan. From this research scholars know that toward the end of the Paleolithic, about ten thousand to two thousand years ago, a graveyard held the remains of fifty-nine people, at least twenty-four of whom showed direct evidence of violent death, including stone points from arrows or spears within the body cavity, and many contained several points. There were six multiple burials, and almost and almost all those individuals had points in them, indicating that the people in each mass grave were killed in a single event and then buried together. This evidence shows a level of warfare that exceeds almost all the other known examples from any time, anywhere, in the past.” pp 125 of LeBlanc, Steven. Constant Battles: The Myth of the Peaceful, Noble Savage. St. Martin's Press: New York. 2003.

35. Ferguson, Brian R. The Birth of War An Archeological Survey Concludes that Warfare, Despite its Malignant hold on Modern Life, Has Not Always Been Part of the Human Condition Natural History Magazine. July/August 2003 Retrieved April 8th 2009 from: http://www.naturalhistorymag.com/0703/0703_feature.html

“…the global archaeological record contradicts the idea that war was always a feature of human existence; instead, the record shows that warfare is largely a development of the past 10,000 years.”

36. Fry, Douglas P. Beyond War: The Human Potential for Peace New York: Oxford Press. 2007. pp 54,55 and 71

“Evidence suggests that the simple tends to precede the complex, and archeologically speaking, complexity is very recent. Bruce Knauft explains: ‘Complex hunter-gatherers were most common after 12,500 BP, usually transitional between simple hunter gathering and agricultural systems’.” and “…arising in certain places only within the last 25,000 years…” according to archeological evidence. About 5,000 to 6,000 years ago the first states were created.

37. Ibid. pp 55

“So, broadly speaking, the archeological record shows a recurrent pattern. The nomadic hunter-gatherer band was the form of human social organization until just before the agricultural revolution.”



About the author:

Nicholas Evans plans to receive an AA degree in Anthropology and Economics. Nicholas Evans prefers peaceful and/or gradual change. He also plans to receive a major in filmmaking in Japan.

Nicholas is also the editor of two electronic broadsheets entitled: Anthropology, Human Nature, Technology, and Symbolism Review and Various Scientific Economic Review. Both AHNTSR and VSER are issued twice a year.





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