Subsistence Systems: Introduction and Food Collectors
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Subsistence Systems: Introduction and Food Collectors

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Introduces the Concept of ubsistence ystems; Discusses two types of food collectors: Simple foragers and complex foragers

Introduces the Concept of ubsistence ystems; Discusses two types of food collectors: Simple foragers and complex foragers

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Subsistence Systems: Introduction and Food Collectors Subsistence Systems: Introduction and Food Collectors Presentation Transcript

  • Subsistence Systems Introduction and Food Collectors
  • Introduction to Subsistence Systems
    • When Christ said man cannot live by bread alone, he did not say man can live without bread.
    • If we were plants, we could just feed ourselves by going to the beach and catching a few rays; the chlorophyll would take care of the rest
    • But we’re animals; we have to feed on plants and/or other animals.
    • In anthropology, we are not only what we eat, but we are also what we produce, and how we produce.
    • So anthropology is about adapting to the environment by extracting energy from the environment.
    • It’s a technological question (how to get food), but its also an ecological question.
  • Subsistence Systems? What Are We Talking About Anyway?
    • Subsistence systems is about ways of making a living, in most cases, directly from the earth, in the form of edible plants and animals.
    • But they are systems in that how we produce determines what kind of a social organization we will have, from economy to social control to—yes, religion and the supernatural
    • For example, to the Mayan peoples in Chiapas and Guatemala, corn is not only the main staple, but it is also a sacred object, their cosmic father and mother rolled up into one .
  • Subsistence Systems and Adaptation
    • Culture is largely adaptive, as you learned from day one
    • The main locus of adaptation is food getting
    • As subsistence systems become more complex, societies become more complex; empires have always relied on intensive agriculture—including our own.
    • Therefore societies tend to evolve from the simple to the complex—with exceptions
  • Subsistence Systems: Food Collectors
    • There are five broad types in all in two categories: food collectors and food producers
    • The food collectors are those who hunt and gather food where they find it, with no modification of the environment. They consist of two broad types:
    • Simple Foraging/Hunting and Gathering , which involves hunting animals and gathering seeds, roots, berries, leafy greens, and much else. Examples are the !Kung of the Southern African Kalahari Desert and the Inuit (Eskimo) of Arctic North America
    • Complex Foragers: They comprise equestrian hunters, such as the Plains Indians who used horses to hunt bison, and fishers, such as the Northwest Coast Indians, who produce enough salmon, game, and plant foods to stay in one place. There were others in the Mesolithic.
  • Subsistence Systems: Food Producers
    • Food producers are those peoples who have domesticated edible plants and/or animals and so control their food sources, often modifying the environment. They involve the following technologies:
    • Horticulture, which involves small-scale agriculture using a hoe, digging stick, and/or other hand tools.
    • Intensive Cultivation or Agriculture, which involves large-scale cultivation, using higher technology, such as irrigation and animal- (or tractor-) driven plow
    • Pastoralism, which is animal herding, usually exclusively; animals range from goats and sheep to horses and cattle.
  • Foraging: Main Features I
    • In foraging, food is where you find it. That means that human populations are directly dependent on naturally available edible plants and game animals
    • Plant foods (like these mongongo nuts gathered by !Kung women, top photo) form 80% of the diet among most foragers
    • Near total reliance on hunting is rare (one exception is the seal-hunting Inuit depicted in the lower photo)
  • Foraging: Main Features II
    • Fluctuation of food sources occur by place, season, and year; there may be an abundance of water, edible plants, and animals one year or season or even location, and practically none the next.
    • Because of this fluctuation, foragers are typically nomadic , as they search for new resources as their current one run out.
    • Means of meat storage is rare or nonexistent; neither the !Kung of Southern Africa nor the Aborigines of Australia have any way to prevent their meat from spoilage.
    • Again the Inuit are exceptions: they do have an icy environment that preserves their seal and other forms of meat.
    • Foragers enjoy a wider variety of food—both plants and animals—than intensive cultivators.
  • Foraging: Carrying Capacity
    • Foragers are the most directly dependent on the limitations of their food sources
    • The foraging population is limited by the carrying capacity of their environment, or the amount of resources available to support that population
    • This usually means that the population will tend to be small: between 40 and 100 people.
  • Liebig’s Law of the Minimum
    • In addition, population relies on some critical resource, so that the abundance of other resources will not matter.
    • Justus Von Liebig , an agronomist, made this observation for critical nutrients for crops
    • Liebig’s Law : Populations may not increase beyond the minimum amount of critical resources that an environment yields
    • Here, fishermen are facing a water shortage and fish stocks at Lake Victoria in Kenya, Africa—no water, no fish.
  • Liebig’s Law of the Minimum Illustrated
    • The point is made with a barrel with staves of unequal length
    • The lowest stave of a barrel limits its capacity; you can’t fill a barrel with more than that..
    • To von Liebig, crops can yield only as much as the amount of a critical nutrient
    • This principle applies to the limits to carrying capacity.
  • Foraging: Sharing
    • When game is scarce, hard to come by, and requires cooperation, there is a strong sharing ethic governed by rules of distribution
    • Among the Netsilik Inuit (top photo) hunters form partnerships according to the anatomical parts of the seal.
    • For example, if you are my shoulder, I give you a shoulder from the seal I have killed, and you give me a shoulder if you kill a seal
    • !Kung: Hunters and owner of arrow “own” the game, which is only stewardship; it’s yours only to distribute to others according to rules of kinship and other obligations.
  • Foraging: Derived Characteristics
    • Other characteristics are derived from the uncertainty of the environment:
    • The property form is communalism: in most cases, hunting and gathering territory is open to all foragers of a group
    • There is no incentive to hoard; meat usually will not keep.
    • Social class differences are minimal.
    • However, status differences may exist between the genders (Inuit women are lower in status than !Kung women) and the ages.
  • Work Time: And You Thought the 40-Hour Week is a Big Deal
    • Hunters and gatherers do not engage in intensive labor; labor is more intensive among cultivators and even herdsmen.
    • Average work time varies 15-20 hours/week, and usually it is combined with non-production activities; foragers do other things besides hunting and gathering when they go out foraging.
    • Domestic mode of production refers to the practice of working only until their needs are met.
    • Try that in your workplace and see how long you last!
  • Reciprocity: Source of Integration among Simple Foragers
    • All simple foragers rely on exchange for their survival
    • Reciprocity refers to gift giving between two individuals and, more often, groups
    • Within the family and local band, generalized reciprocity is the norm; a person or group receives a gift from another with no expectation in exchange
    • A !Kung hunter down on his luck will still receive meat from other hunters.
    • But there is always the obligation to repay; when he finally bags a large animal, he will distribute his meat and so repay those who have supported him in lean times.
  • Simple Foragers: Contemporary Ancestors?
    • We Homo sapiens foraged for up to 200,000 years; does that make today’s foragers our ancestors who live in the present.
    • There are drawbacks to this interpretation:
    • Foragers could be deculturated agriculturalists or even herdsmen who lost their former skills
    • For example, the !Kung of South Africa may have been herdsmen once, but were forced out of their original habitat when the Bantu expanded southward from their place of origin and so took up hunting and gathering.
    • The Australians have been foragers for nearly 40,000 years.
    • Foragers do occupy margins of earth, those that other peoples do not want. They include desert areas (Southwest Africa, most of Australia’s outback, and the Nevada basin), extremely cold regions of the Arctic), and tropical rain forests such as the central Congo.
  • Complex Foragers
    • Complex Foragers are hunters, gatherers, and sometime fishers who live in an environment rich enough to permit settled communities or large populations.
    • One example comprises the equestrian hunters who used the horse to hunt bison and so increased their food yield.
    • Another example is the fishing complex of the Northwest Coast Indians, who relied extensively on salmon runs and rich game and plant resources and so could live in one place year around.
    • The Mesolithic comprised settled communities, again because of rich fishing, game, and plant resources that made it unnecessary to migrate from place to place.
  • Complex Foraging: Equestrian Hunting
    • Equestrian hunting entails the use of animals (horse, reindeer) to hunt other animals (bison, reindeer)
    • The Reindeer Tungus rode the shoulders of reindeer to hunt other reindeer.
    • The Plains Indians hunting complex was not indigenous before 18th century, when they obtained stray horses from the Spaniards when they invaded what is now the U.S. Southwest
    • There were native horses among prehistoric Paleo-Indians, but these animals died off long before contact with Europeans and Anglos.
    • Several explanations of their extinction include overhunting by this population.
  • Equestrian Hunters:
    • The Plains Indians hunted the buffalo during rutting season, as in the upper photo of the Cree stampeding a herd.
    • The Tungus (also known as Evenki) hunted Reindeer but also used them as beasts of burden and maintained large domesticated herds.
  • Equestrian Hunting: Characteristics
    • The characteristics of equestrian hunters are similar to pastoralists (see discussion below)
    • Environment was grassland, whose sod would have been too tough for cultivation by hand; only plows could have broken the sod.
    • The bison moved seasonally; they massed into large herd in spring and summer, when grass grew in abundance; this was also the rutting season for bison.
    • The animals then scattered in late fall and winter.
    • The tribes moved accordingly, forming large multitribal groups in spring and summer and scattering in fall and winter.
  • Equestrian Hunting: Warlike Attributes
    • Higher mobility using the horse increased military superiority, and this might have induced settled people to adopt the horse in self-defense.
    • If so, this is a classic example of cultural convergence, where two different cultures come to adopt the same attributes—in this case, hunting using the horse.
    • Another contributing factor was the trade with whites, in which Indians traded buffalo hides for guns and other manufactured products.
    • In that case, different tribes competed for access to the trading posts, may have overhunted the bison, gave incentive for horse theft, and sought the highly valued guns and ammunition .
  • Complex Foraging: The Northwest Coast Indians
    • The Northwest Coast starts in northern California and runs through Oregon, Washington, British Columbia, and southern Alaska
    • The best known tribes are the Kwakiutl, Haida, and Tlingit, but numerous others lived on or near the coast
    • All tribes relied on annual salmon runs and preserved their meat by smoking
  • Northwest Coast Fishing Complex and Settled Communities
    • The primary staple was salmon, large quantities of which were caught by net on their annual runs (upper left). They could be smoked and kept for several months. This artwork reflects the importance of salmon (both photos)
    • Game and other fish were in abundance in a moderate rainforest
    • Wood, also in abundance, was used in house construction, woodcrafts such as totem poles and boxes, and in boat building.
  • Complex Foraging: Northwest Settled Communities
    • The salmon complex meant that settled communities, like this Haida village, were commonplace
    • The societies were chiefdoms, and ranking among families, clans, and villages were important
    • The so-called totem poles represented the clans’ founders and their successors
  • Complex Foraging: Mesolithic
    • The latter years of the Paleolithic and the Mesolithic saw the rise of complex foraging
    • At first, the main staples were large game (megafauna), such as bison, horse, mastodon and mammoths
    • When they became extinct, rich sources of game and plant food became commonplace
    • Therefore, settled communities began to spread in the Old World and later in the New World
  • A Mesolithic Village: Sannai Maruyama
    • Projectile points, fishhooks, and net weights indicate the people were both hunters and fishers
    • Food sources were available year round: wild pigs and elk in winter and spring, fish and seal in summer and fall, plant foods in fall, and fiddleheads in spring.
    • Pottery (above) of the Jomon tradition was used for storage
    • A settled community is indicated by these reconstructed houses
    • This and other cases (Vedbaek, Denmark, Mount Sandel, Ireland; Monte Verde, Chile) show that stable food sources were sufficient for settled communities without agriculture
  • Foragers: Conclusion
    • Foragers rely on what nature can provide; they have no control over sources of food
    • Simple foragers rely on unstable sources and so must migrate whenever their source runs out
    • It is possible for foragers to form settled communities if their food supply is abundant and stable, as in the Northwest Coast and in Mesolithic villages like Sannai Maruyama
    • Equestrian hunting allows for a large population for at least part of the year; this was the case of the Plains Indians who congregated in the spring and summer, then dispersed in the fall and winter.