The Skewed Distribution of HG Societies Today

Using ethnographic sources, we can map the distribution of 115 HG societies that existed in the 20th century (Fig. 2). Based on the environments they occupy, five groups can be distinguished:

The Skewed Distribution of HG Societies Today
Hot deserts and tropical savannas (19 societies).

• Tropical rain forests and coral reefs (30 societies).

• Boreal forest and tundra zone (38 societies).

• Cool temperate maritime regions (13 societies).

• Other environments (15 societies).

It is apparent that in modern times HG societies have been absent from almost all environments that are prime farming land. Therefore, those that still survive are a very biased sample of the HG mode of the past. The temperate deciduous forests, for example, have not been the domain of hunter – gatherers in Europe since the Neolithic 5000-6000 years ago. In eastern North America and Chile, such forests were used for a mixed HG/agricultural strategy before being taken over by European colonists some 400 years ago; the same process removed Aboriginal HG societies from the temperate forests of Tasmania in the 19th century. While being careful not to label the environments of modern HG societies as necessarily ‘‘marginal,’’ which they are not except from the point of view of agriculture, we should also bear in mind the predominance of hot deserts, jungles, and seasonally frozen environments in the world list.


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