PROBLEMS IN GENERALIZING FROM MODERN HG SOCIETIES

1.2 Can We Extrapolate from HG Societies to Hominids?

There has been much interest in the possibility that studies of energy flow in HG societies can be used to achieve an understanding of our hominid ancestors. As Robert Foley put it, ‘‘until very recently being a hominid, being a human and being a hunter-gatherer were very nearly the same thing.’’ Do studies of the energetic efficiency of food-gaining among the! Kung San of the Kalahari, or the energy storage strategies of sub-Arctic maritime hunting/fishing communities, have general implications for the behavior of humans or hominids who are remote from these societies in time and space? Perhaps it is the intentionality of the human subject that distinguishes his or her behavior from the superficially similar food quest of the nonhuman HG groups, as well as the human capacity for a symbolic expression of hunting experiences, as shown in the cave art of the Upper Palaeolithic and the shamanism of modern HG groups.

Remember also that modern HG groups exploit a depleted set of resources compared to their Pleisto­cene ancestors, because of megafaunal extinctions. The capacity clearly existed in the past for rapid population growth and a relationship with nature that is far removed from the stable and rather harmonious one that HG societies have exhibited in modern times. Moreover, these societies are not a random sample of those that existed on Earth before the spread of agriculture. Not only are they restricted to environments less suited ecologically to agricul­ture or pastoralism, but also they are no longer ‘‘pure’’ in their HG lifestyle, interacting with farmers or herdsmen when opportunity arises.

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