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Hunter Gatherer: Definition, History & Facts

Hunter Gatherer: Definition, History & Facts
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  • 0:02 Definition of Hunter-Gatherer
  • 1:13 Hunter-Gatherer…
  • 2:14 Modern Hunter-Gatherers
  • 3:31 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Christopher Sailus

Chris has an M.A. in history and taught university and high school history.

In this lesson, we explore hunter-gatherer societies of the past and present. This was humankind's way of life for millennia, but only a few hunter-gatherer societies still exist today.

Definition of Hunter-Gatherer

Think of everything you've ever found while you were walking down the street. Surely you've come across either a quarter or a dollar before, or perhaps you've even found someone's lost watch or wallet. Chances are you have seen a discarded candy bar or some other small food item as well. If you live in the country, you may have even come across some apples or berries, fallen from a nearby tree or bush. Now imagine that if instead of being able to go to the store and buy groceries, you had to live off those apples and discarded candy bars that you've found!

Such was, and is, the reality for the hunter-gatherer societies of the past and present. Though hunter-gatherer societies are largely considered a part of humankind's past, there are still some hunter-gatherer communities in the more remote areas of the earth. These societies subsist on only what animals they can hunt and what nuts and fruits they can forage for in the wilderness. True hunter-gatherer societies have no knowledge of agriculture or any type of crop production. Considering this, hunter-gatherer societies tend to be small communities comprised of only the individuals who can keep up with the highly mobile lifestyle that hunter-gatherer society requires.

Hunter-Gatherer Societies in History

Hunter-gatherer society was the sole way of life for the vast majority of human history. According to archaeologists' and historians' best estimates, humans and their ancestors tended to function best in hunter-gatherer societies for nearly two million years. Naturally, over time, human societies tended to specialize in hunting or gathering whatever flora and fauna was most abundant or most easily accessible in their local area.

Around 12,000 to 10,000 years ago, depending on the region, this specialization gave way to agricultural crop production in several parts of the world. The introduction of agriculture directly threatened the hunter-gatherer way of life, as humans could now settle in one area for long periods of time through sustained agriculture and pastoral farming. The rise in agricultural societies (and the steady decline of hunter-gatherers) is what allowed humans to begin building permanent settlements and develop characteristics of advanced society, such as government and religious ideas.

Modern Hunter-Gatherers

Due to the success of agricultural production, only a few hunter-gatherer societies still exist today, and even their natural habitats are being threatened by encroaching agriculture. One of Africa's last remaining hunter-gatherer societies are the Hadza people of northern Tanzania.

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