Culinary Innovations Helped Hunter-Gatherers Survive the Ice Age

Culinary Innovations Helped Hunter-Gatherers Survive the Ice Age

By The Siberian Times reporter

Ancient pottery started to appear in the Amur region in the Russian Far East between roughly 16,000 and 12,000 years ago, as the Ice Age slightly eased.

But what was cooking?

A new international study asks not only why the pots evolved at this time - but examines the type of food they served. It turns out some ancient Siberian hunter-gatherers survived the Ice Age by inventing pottery which helped them to maintain a fish diet . Others used their new pots to cook meat.

Reconstruction of Osipovka Culture vessel (right) and pot shards found at Gasya and Khummi (left). (Images: Vitaly Medvedev, Oksana Yanshina/ The Siberian Times)

These cooking secrets are revealed by lipid residue (or fatty acid) analysis of 28 pot shards found at various sites in the Russian Far East. These are some of the oldest pots in the world.

The Osipovka culture in the lower reaches of the Amur River used pots to process fish, most likely migratory salmon, and obtain aquatic oils. Such salmon-based hot pots remain a favorite even today.

For late glacial period hunter-gatherers such dishes were seen as ‘an alternative food source during periods of major climatic fluctuation’ - for example when severe cold prevented hunting on land.

Excavations of Gasya settlement in 1980. (Image: Vitaly Medvedev / The Siberian Reporter)

That makes the Osipovka similar to people in modern-day Japanese islands , says the study in the Quaternary Science Reviews . Yet the Gromatukha culture upstream on the Amur had other culinary ideas. Here pots were being used to cook land animals like deer and wild goat the scientists found.

This was ‘probably to extract nutritious bone grease and marrow during the hungriest seasons’, according to a synopsis of the report .

Parallel Pottery Innovations

The clay cooking pots used by these ancient people were made in different ways in various localities. This is seen as indicating a parallel process of innovation, where separate groups without contact all found the same solutions spurred by pressure from the cold climates in which they survived.

Peter Jordan, Director of the Arctic Centre at the University of Groningen in the Netherlands, senior author of the study, said:

‘The insights are particularly interesting because they suggest that there was no single ‘origin point’ for the world’s oldest pottery – we are starting to understand that very different pottery traditions were emerging around the same time but in different places, and that the pots were being used to process very different kinds of resources. This appears to be a process of ‘parallel innovation’ during a period of major climatic uncertainty, with separate communities facing common threats and reaching similar technological solutions.’

Pottery shards found at Gromatukha site. (Image: Oksana Yanshina/ Science Direct)

Oliver Craig, Director of the BioArch Lab at the University of York, where the analyses were conducted, said the study ‘illustrates the exciting potential of new methods in archaeological science - we can extract and interpret the remains of meals that were cooked in pots over 16,000 years ago’.

Oksana Yanshina, Senior Researcher at the Kunstkamera in St. Petersburg, leader of the Russian team, and a co-author of the research said, “This study resolves some major debates in Russian Archaeology about what drove the emergence and very earliest use of ancient pottery in the Far Eastern Regions. But at the same time, this paper is just a small but important first step.”

“We still need to do many more studies of this kind to fully understand how prehistoric societies innovated and adapted to past climate change . And perhaps this will also provide us with some important lessons about how we can better prepare for future climate change.”

Goncharka-1 site, where some of the pot sherds were found. Image: Oksana Yanshina

The Life-saving Importance of Pottery

Once developed, pottery quickly proved to be a highly attractive tool for the processing of water and land foods, and it came into its own with the onset of the warm Holocene period around 11,000 years ago. This was long before the transition to farming .

Co-author Dr Vitaly Medvedev, leading researcher of the Institute of Archaeology and Ethnography in Novosibirsk, said he was ‘incredibly lucky’ to find the ancient pottery which has now been studied within this study.

“At that time, in the 1980s, it was the world’s oldest,” he told The Siberian Times today. “The first finds were in 1975 and then more in 1980. When we found the pottery many did not believe us at first. We got the first radiocarbon data - 12,960 years old.”

Amur River. (Image: Khabarovsk Region Administration, @sergeyiss / The Siberian Times)

‘It was at the Gasya ancient settlement 80 kilometers from Khabarovsk, down the Amur River.’

He said: “This first pottery was very soft. The temperature of firing was very low, only 350 - 400 degrees Celsius.”

“There is an interesting story about this. When the first vessels were found at Gasya settlement, it was summer and rather hot. A girl-student was digging there and suddenly she told me, ‘Looks like I have some plasticine here’. Of course, there could not be any plasticine there, so we looked closely and saw it was pottery. But it was so soft. We wrapped it into special paper and after two days it hardened, but was still quite loose, like cookies.”

Excavations at Goncharka-1 site. Image: Oksana Yanshina

“We were wondering about the purpose of the pottery. We observed from the very beginning that the vessels were covered with a thick layer of soot. Plus, inside there was a layer of residue left from food. It was clear that ancient people cooked some food in the vessel - and more than once.

I came up with the idea then that it could be fish, as there is an abundance of fish in the Amur. And all our finds pointed to (the people being) fishers. Academician Alexey Okladnikov even named the people of Lower Amur as 'ichthyophages', as their life was based on fisheries.”

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Salmon spawning in one of the Amur River tributaries. (Image: Konstantin K. / The Siberian Times)

“So what else could they cook there? I also suggested that they could process and store cod-liver oil in their vessels. We see that these people used nets, most likely made of plant fiber (a kind of nettle), as we found stone sinkers for nets.

Can you imagine how many fish could they get during salmon spawning? Surely they needed to process this somehow to store for the winter season. We see that they smoked and dried fish , and obviously they cooked it.”

Amur River indigenous people are netting salmon in modern days. (Image: AiF / The Siberian Times)

“I even think that they came up with the idea of permanent dwellings. One of the earliest permanent dwelling appears in the Osipovka culture as they were able to stay at the same place during the winter season, having stored a big amount of fish. They had no need to relocate with migrating animals, as did hunters. Their dwellings were dug into the ground. They dug round holes, put the pillars and covered them with roof of birch bark and turf.

‘It is great that the resent research from our international team confirmed our suggestions and helped us to get closer to understanding this unique and amazing culture.”


Paleolithic settlement

The period of human activity to the end of the last major Pleistocene glaciation, about 8300 bce , is termed the Paleolithic Period (Old Stone Age) that part of it from 35,000 to 8300 bce is termed the Upper Paleolithic.

The climatic record shows a cyclic pattern of warmer and colder periods. In the last 750,000 years, there have been eight major cycles, with many shorter episodes. In the colder periods, the Arctic and Alpine ice sheets expanded, and sea levels fell. Some parts of southern Europe may have been little affected by these changes, but the advance and retreat of the ice sheets and accompanying glacial environments had a significant impact on northern Europe at their maximum advance, they covered most of Scandinavia, the North European Plain, and Russia. Human occupation fluctuated in response to these changing conditions, but continuous settlement north of the Alps required a solution to the problems of living in extremely cold conditions.

By 1,000,000 years ago hominins were widely distributed in Africa and Asia, and some finds in Europe may be that early. The earliest securely dated material is from Isernia la Pineta in southern Italy, where stone tools and animal bones were dated to about 730,000 bce . Thereafter the evidence becomes more plentiful, and by 375,000 bce most areas except Scandinavia, the Alps, and northern Eurasia had been colonized.

Fossil remains of the hominins themselves are rare, and most of the evidence consists of stone tools. The simplest were chopping tools made from pebbles with a few flakes struck off to create an edge. These were replaced by more complex traditions of toolmaking, which produced a range of hand axes and flake tools these industries are referred to as Acheulean, after the French site of Saint-Acheul. Some of the tools were for woodworking, but only rarely do any tools of organic material, such as wooden spears, survive as evidence of other Paleolithic technologies.

The subsistence economy depended on hunting and gathering. Population densities were necessarily low, and group territories were large. The main evidence is animal bones, which suggest a varied reliance on species such as rhinoceros, red deer, ibex, and horse, but it is difficult to reconstruct how such food was actually acquired. Open confrontation with large animals, such as the rhinoceros, is unlikely, and they were probably killed in vulnerable locations such as lake-edge watering spots at La Cotte de Sainte Brelade in the Channel Islands, rhinoceroses and mammoths were driven over a cliff edge. Scavenging meat from already dead animals also may have been important. Food resources such as migratory herds and plants were available only seasonally, so an annual strategy for survival was necessary. It is not clear, however, how it was possible to store food acquired at times of plenty carcasses of dead animals frozen in the snow would have provided a store of food.

From the beginning of the last major Pleistocene glaciation about 120,000 bce , the hominin fossils belong to the Neanderthals, who have been found throughout Europe and western Asia, including the glacial environments of central Europe. They were biologically and culturally adapted to survival in the harsh environments of the north, though they are also found in more moderate climates in southern Europe and Asia. Finds of stone tools from the Russian plains suggest the first certain evidence of colonization there by 80,000 bce . Despite their heavy skeletons and developed brow ridges, Neanderthals were probably little different from modern humans. Some of the skeletal remains appear to be from deliberate burials, the first evidence for such careful behaviour among humans.


America's Ancient Forests: From the Ice Age to the Age of Discovery

At the time of European discovery, the ancient North Americanforests stretched across nearly half the continent. And while todaylittle remains of this past glory, efforts are underway to bringback some of the diverse ecosystems of that era. America's AncientForests: From the Ice Age to the Age of Discovery providesscientists and professionals with essential information for forestrestoration and conservation projects, while presenting acompelling and far-reaching account of how the North Americanlandscape has evolved over the past 18,000 years.

The book weaves historical accounts and scientific knowledge into adynamic narrative about the ancient forests and the events thatshaped them. Divided into two major parts, it covers first theglaciers and forests of the Ice Age and the influences of nativepeoples, and then provides an in-depth look at these majesticforests through the eyes of the first European explorers. Changesin climate and elevation, the movement of trees northward, theassembly of modern forests, and qualities that all ancient forestsshared are also thoroughly examined.

A special feature of this book is its self-contained introductionto the early history of Native American peoples and theirenvironment. The author draws on his roots in the Osage nation aswell as painstaking research through the historical record,offering a complete discussion of how the cultural practices ofhunting, agriculture, and fire helped form the ancient forests.


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Inventions helped pre-historic people in India to survive

21 July 2009 (Planet Earth)

A technological breakthrough 35,000 years ago allowed the hunter-gatherers of India to thrive despite the challenges of environmental change and an arid climate.

The findings, published yesterday in theProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, show how a new, innovative type of small stone tool - called microliths - became the weapon of choice for Paleolithic hunters.

Dr Michael Petraglia, an archaeologist from the University of Oxford and lead author of the paper, uncovered thousands of stone blades and bladelets, no bigger than 4 cm long, from three locations in South Asia. The blades were probably inserted at the top of wooden shafts and used as spear-heads or arrow tips.

'This a pre-historic example of how humans adapted to environmental change.'
Dr Michael Petraglia, University of Oxford

The microliths were light and portable, and could easily be produced in large quantities. They were 'highly efficient weapons that made hunting easier and less risky,' he says.

But Petraglia and the team were also interested in the broader meaning of his tool findings. 'When you do archaeology, you have to put it in its proper environmental context,' he says. To get a better idea of what India looked like 35,000 years ago, the archaeologists joined forces with an international team of geneticists and earth scientists including researchers from Indian universities.

The team analysed available data on the environment and climate in South Asia to compile the first reconstructed vegetation map of the area about 30,000 years ago. At the time, global climate was turning colder at the onset of the Ice Age.

South Asia escaped the growing ice caps, but the summer monsoon became weaker and the amount of rainfall decreased across the region. As a result, the climate became drier and in some areas inhospitable.

This research, Petraglia says, 'is a pre-historic example of how humans adapted to environmental change.' Back then, South Asia was a mosaic of deserts, savannah and isolated patches of tropical woodlands. The region was not stable and the landscape changed frequently in hundred-year cycles.

Despite the challenging environment, the genetic findings of the study reveal that local populations actually increased during this period. 'It seems that the hunter-gatherers were doing very well,' says Petraglia.

This is particularly significant because up to now 'it was thought that the high population density of India started during the more recent period - the Holocene - as a consequence of domestication.'

'Our research suggests that the population was already increasing 35,000 years ago,' Petraglia adds.

The combination of archaeological, genetic and environmental data is 'unusual but powerful', argues Petraglia. 'We wouldn't be able to tell the whole story from a single viewpoint,' he says, adding that he hopes that this work will serve as an example for other research projects.

M. Petraglia, C. Clarkson, N. Boivin, M. Haslam, R. Korisettar, G. Chaubey, et al. Population increase and environmental deterioration correspond with microlithic innovations in South Asia ca. 35,000 years ago. PNAS, published online before print July 20, 2009, doi:10.1073/pnas.0900546106


After the Ice : A Global Human History, 20,000-5000 BC

20,000 B.C., the peak of the last ice age--the atmosphere is heavy with dust, deserts, and glaciers span vast regions, and people, if they survive at all, exist in small, mobile groups, facing the threat of extinction.

But these people live on the brink of seismic change--10,000 years of climate shifts culminating in abrupt global warming that will usher in a fundamentally changed human world. After the Ice is the story of this momentous period--one in which a seemingly minor alteration in temperature could presage anything from the spread of lush woodland to the coming of apocalyptic floods--and one in which we find the origins of civilization itself.

Drawing on the latest research in archaeology, human genetics, and environmental science, After the Ice takes the reader on a sweeping tour of 15,000 years of human history. Steven Mithen brings this world to life through the eyes of an imaginary modern traveler--John Lubbock, namesake of the great Victorian polymath and author of Prehistoric Times. With Lubbock, readers visit and observe communities and landscapes, experiencing prehistoric life--from aboriginal hunting parties in Tasmania, to the corralling of wild sheep in the central Sahara, to the efforts of the Guila Naquitz people in Oaxaca to combat drought with agricultural innovations.

Part history, part science, part time travel, After the Ice offers an evocative and uniquely compelling portrayal of diverse cultures, lives, and landscapes that laid the foundations of the modern world.


Mesolithic

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Mesolithic, also called Middle Stone Age, ancient cultural stage that existed between the Paleolithic (Old Stone Age), with its chipped stone tools, and the Neolithic (New Stone Age), with its polished stone tools. Most often used to describe archaeological assemblages from the Eastern Hemisphere, the Mesolithic is broadly analogous to the Archaic culture of the Western Hemisphere. Mesolithic material culture is characterized by greater innovation and diversity than is found in the Paleolithic. Among the new forms of chipped stone tools were microliths, very small stone tools intended for mounting together on a shaft to produce a serrated edge. Polished stone was another innovation that occurred in some Mesolithic assemblages.

Although culturally and technologically continuous with Paleolithic peoples, Mesolithic cultures developed diverse local adaptations to special environments. The Mesolithic hunter achieved a greater efficiency than did the Paleolithic and was able to exploit a wider range of animal and vegetable food sources. Immigrant Neolithic farmers probably absorbed many indigenous Mesolithic hunters and fishers, and some Neolithic communities seem to have been composed entirely of Mesolithic peoples who adopted Neolithic equipment (these are sometimes called Secondary Neolithic).

Because the Mesolithic is characterized by a suite of material culture, its timing varies depending upon location. In northwestern Europe, for instance, the Mesolithic began about 8000 bce , after the end of the Pleistocene Epoch (i.e., about 2,600,000 to 11,700 years ago), and lasted until about 2700 bce . Elsewhere the dates of the Mesolithic are somewhat different.

The Editors of Encyclopaedia Britannica This article was most recently revised and updated by Adam Augustyn, Managing Editor, Reference Content.


Why (and How, Exactly) Did Early Humans Start Cooking?

Clearly, the controlled use of fire to cook food was an extremely important element in the biological and social evolution of early humans, whether it started 400,000 or 2 million years ago. The lack of physical evidence suggests early humans did little to modify the control and use of fire for cooking for hundreds of thousands of years, which is quite surprising, given that they developed fairly elaborate tools for hunting during this time, as well as creating some of the first examples of cave art about 64,000 years ago. Physical evidence shows that cooking food on hot stones may have been the only adaptation during the earliest phases of cooking.

Then, about 30,000 years ago, “earth ovens” were developed in central Europe. These were large pits dug in the ground and lined with stones. The pits were filled with hot coals and ashes to heat the stones food, presumably wrapped in leaves, was placed on top of the ashes everything was covered with earth and the food was allowed to roast very slowly. The bones of many types of animals, including large mammoths, have been found in and around ancient earth ovens. This was clearly an improvement over rapidly roasting meat by fire, as slow cooking gives time for the collagen in tough connective tissue to break down to gelatin this process takes at least several hours, and often much longer, depending on the age of the animal and where the meat comes from in the animal. The shoulders and hindquarters of animals are involved in more muscular action and thus contain more connective tissue than the tenderloin near the ribs. Breaking down tough connective tissue makes the meat easier to chew and digest. Like today’s barbecue methods, cooking meat slowly in earth ovens made it very tender and flavorful.

After dry roasting with fire and heating on hot stones, the next true advance in very early cooking technology appears to have been the development of wet cooking, in which food is boiled in water. Boiling food would certainly be an advantage when cooking starchy root tubers and rendering fat from meat. Many archeologists believe the smaller earth ovens lined with hot stones were used to boil water in the pit for cooking meat or root vegetables as early as 30,000 years ago (during the Upper Paleolithic period). Others believe it is likely that water was first boiled for cooking in perishable containers, either over the fire or directly on hot ashes or stones, well before this time.

Unfortunately, no direct archeological evidence has survived to support this conclusion. Yet we know that even a flammable container can be heated above an open flame as long as there is liquid in the container to remove the heat as the liquid evaporates. Thus containers made of bark or wood or animal hides could have been used for boiling food well before the Upper Paleolithic period. No physical evidence of sophisticated utensils for cooking food appears until about 20,000 years ago, when the first pieces of fired clay pottery appear. Using sensitive chemical methods, scientists have determined that shards of pottery found in Japan contain fatty acids from marine sources such as fish and shellfish. These heat-resistant pots may have been used to boil seafood.

The development of simple clay ovens did not occur until at least 10,000 years later. If cooking has had such a profound effect on the evolution of humans, why is there little evidence from earlier periods of the development of more sophisticated methods of cooking than simply roasting in a hot pit or boiling in water with hot stones?

Jacob Bronowski may have answered that question in his enlightening book The Ascent of Man. The life of early nomads, such as the hunter-gathers who existed for several million years or more, was a constant search for food. They were always on the move, following the wild herds. “Every night is the end of a day like the last, and every morning will be the beginning of a journey like the day before,” he wrote. It was a matter of survival. There simply was no time for them to innovate and create new methods of cooking. Being constantly on the move, they couldn’t pack up and carry heavy cooking utensils every day, even if they had invented them. Then, about 10,000 years before the last ice age ended, creativity and innovation finally began to flourish in spite of the restrictions of nomadic life. Early humans were finding that food was becoming more abundant due to warming weather, so they could gather it more easily without needing to move constantly.

With the end of the last ice age and the beginning of the Neolithic period, about 12,000 years ago, everything changed. Everything! It was the dawn of the agricultural revolution, when wandering nomads began to settle and turn into villagers. What made this possible? The discovery that seeds from new varieties of wild grasses that emerged after the end of the ice age, such as emmer wheat and two-row barley, could be gathered, saved, planted, and harvested the following season. This occurred first in an area known as the Fertile Crescent (Jordan, Syria, Lebanon, Iraq, Israel, and part of Iran). Enough food could now be harvested in 3 weeks to last an entire year!

The change from a nomadic life to a sedentary life in more secure settlements was critical.

Being able to harvest large quantities of food at one time meant these early farmers could no longer move from place to place they had to build immovable structures for storing and protecting all the food, and this resulted in the creation of permanent settlements. The agricultural revolution then spread to other parts of the world over several thousand years.

Thanks to the pioneering research of the Russian scientist Nikolai Vavilov in the 1930s and the American scientist Robert Braidwood in the 1940s, we now know that over several thousand years people living in seven independent regions of the world domesticated crops and animals indigenous to that region. Unfortunately, Vavilov’s studies were prematurely ended when he was imprisoned in 1940 by the Stalinist government for his revolutionary views on evolution.

As the ice age was coming to an end around 12,000 years ago, early humans were harvesting wild wheat and barley in quantity in the Fertile Crescent, but there was no evidence of domesticated plants and animals. By domesticated, I mean plants and animals deliberately raised for food by humans rather than wild plants and animals gathered in the forests and fields. Then within a period of roughly 300 years, between 10,000 and 9,700 years ago, the first evidence of domesticated plants and animals began to appear in the southern Jordan Valley around the ancient settlement of Jericho.

In this relatively brief time period, the seeds of plants like wheat and barley became larger while the bones of animals became smaller. That’s how archeologists in the field can tell the difference—and it makes sense. As early humans began to select seeds to plant, they chose the larger seeds, which were storing more of the nutrients required for faster growth. The resulting crops grew faster to outcompete the wild weeds and provided higher yields—and in turn produced still larger seeds.

These early humans also selected wheat plants with terminal clusters of seeds that retained the kernels during harvest instead of allowing them to scatter in the wind like the wild varieties. The rachis, the short stalk that holds the seed to the plant, became shorter and thicker with time. DNA analysis confirms that the physical differences observed between domesticated and wild seeds originate in the plant’s genome. All these changes occurred as a result of human selection of plants with more desirable traits. These are the first plants to be genetically modified through human intervention. Similarly, domesticated goats and sheep were selected to be more docile and adaptable to living in a confined pen and feeding off the scraps of food left by their keepers. Thus they became smaller. These physical changes in domesticated plants and animals began to take shape as humans started to produce their own food.

The development of new foods and methods of cooking in the few thousand years following the emergence of agriculture illustrates how important this period was for the advancement of humans. The change from a nomadic life to a sedentary life in more secure settlements was critical, as it allowed humans to make significant achievements in technology and other areas. Within a few thousand years, small farming villages grew into large permanent settlements and then small cities. Jericho is perhaps the oldest permanent settlement, providing an accurate record of agricultural development between 10,000 and 9,700 years ago. Hunter-gatherers first settled there around 11,000 years ago in order to be near a constant source of water, a spring-fed oasis. Archeological excavations of the oldest buried sections of Jericho, which cover an area of a little less than ¼ acre (0.1 hectares), did not reveal any signs of domesticated seeds or animal bones.

By 9,700 years ago, the first domesticated seeds of emmer wheat and barley began to appear in higher levels of soil, and the earliest farming settlement had grown to an area of about 6 acres (2.5 hectares) with perhaps 300 people living in mud brick houses. By 8,000 years ago, Jericho was home to a permanent agricultural settlement of approximately 3,000 people occupying an area of 8–10 acres (3.2–4 hectares). About this same time, emmer wheat hybridized with a wild grass to produce bread wheat, which contained higher levels of the gluten-forming proteins required for making leavened bread. Wheat had finally emerged in the form in which it is still grown and used today around much of the world.

Excerpted from Cook, Taste, Learn: How the Evolution of Science Transformed the Art of Cooking © 2019 Guy Crosby. Used by arrangement with Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.


Hunting and Gathering

HUNTING AND GATHERING. Hunting and gathering, or more generally stated as foraging, can be defined as a mode of subsistence in which all food is obtained from wild resources without any reliance on domesticated plants or animals. This has been the dominant means of subsistence for 99.5 percent of the 2.5 million years of human existence. It was only in the last ten thousand years or so that people began to domesticate and produce food in some areas, while in other areas hunting and gathering continued up until the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Within this time period and throughout the many different geographical regions that people inhabited, there has been tremendous variation in food consumption. We will examine some of the major geographical, cultural, and temporal trends within this great diversity, as well as some common misconceptions.

Among the most prevalent misconceptions are the following:

  1. People relying on wild foods had to work constantly in order to obtain enough to eat, and thus had no time to develop the arts of civilized life. In reality, quantification of time use among contemporary hunter-gatherers living in comparatively harsh environments has demonstrated that even these foragers spend only two to five hours a day in obtaining food, leaving far more time for leisure than "civilized" people have.
  2. Hunter-gatherers are frequently on the brink of starvation and are generally malnourished. In contrast to this view, recent studies have shown that most hunter-gatherers experience infrequent famines and are generally better nourished than neighboring or comparable agriculturalists due in part to the wider variety of foods that hunter-gatherers usually obtain and the lack of reliance on the narrow range of starch-rich plants that tend to typify agricultural and horticultural societies.
  3. Hunting was the predominant source of food for hunter-gatherers. In fact, except for Arctic and Subarctic areas, plant foods were the most abundant and reliable foods and provided most of the daily fares (see Lee and DeVore 1986, Hayden, 1981). Surprisingly, hunters in most hunter-gatherer societies only manage to kill a few large game animals (over 10 kg) per year (Hawkes et al., p. 687).
  4. Meat has a higher caloric value than vegetable foods. In fact, they are often of equal value (Eaton et al., p. 80).
  5. Meat was always hunted. However, large proportions of the meat obtained even among contemporary hunter-gatherers is scavenged from kills of other animals.
  6. Meat was the major goal of hunting. In reality, fat is much more important (Hayden, 1981 Speth and Spielmann).

One example is seen among the Australian Aborigines, who, after bringing down a kangaroo, cut open the abdominal cavity of the animal in order to determine the fat content. If there is insufficient fat on the animal, it is not eaten but left in the bush. Similar behavior is recorded in James Woodburn's film The Hadza (1966). There are also a number of accounts of hunter-gatherers who were starving despite the fact that they were eating large amounts of very lean meat. This is sometimes referred to as "rabbit starvation" in North America since it historically involved the reliance on lean rabbits by hunter-gatherers. Fat was critically important among hunter-gatherers for proper metabolism, for obtaining essential fatty acids, and for adequate calories to maintain body temperatures during cold periods.

While animals may not have been the major staple of most hunter-gatherer diets, ethnographically they were universally highly valued far above other types of foods. Successful hunting of animals conferred great status on individuals (Hawkes et al.), and hunting was almost universally carried out by men, while women and children gathered plants and small animals such as lizards, mice, or frogs.


Those who first established food production had a head start in obtaining guns, germs, and steel, and thus were able to conquer those who didn't.

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