Why hunter-gatherers value their mobility

Why hunter-gatherers value their mobility

Cecilia Padilla-Iglesias writes:

New research among hunter-gatherer societies is revealing that the social networks these populations create through mobility might be larger than ever expected. These networks, defined by movement, may also be responsible for the emergence of some characteristics thought to set humans apart from our closest nonhuman primate relatives. The movement of hunter-gatherers may explain the emergence of complex, cumulative culture and our ability to maintain high levels of genetic diversity, even when population sizes drop to very, very low numbers. Far from representing an obsolete mode of living, mobility may hold the key to the continuing survival of these populations, despite pressures to settle. These societies are not the remnants of an outdated, ancient way of life from the distant past. For many hunter-gatherers living in the 21st century, staying mobile is a deliberate choice because it enables large and complex societies – societies that look more like mobile constellations than villages or cities.

So, how did the Man the Hunter story get it wrong? A primary problem is that most of the researchers who participated in the symposium had spent short periods of time living among a single group of hunter-gatherers. They also limited fieldwork to the small camps or settlements where these people temporarily resided. Though researchers collected detailed accounts of daily events, even down to the caloric intake of individuals, they were limited by a settlement-bounded view of the potential extent of hunter-gatherers’ social worlds.

In the 21st century, hunter-gatherers continue to choose a life of almost-perpetual motion not only so they can find resources. They remain mobile so they can participate in large and complex societies distributed across territories that rival the size of Earth’s largest cities. [Continue reading…]

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