Nomads as post-hunter-gatherers

By Razib Khan | July 12, 2012 12:28 am

There’s a new paper in PLoS ONE which seems to confirm domesticate goat or sheep in southern Africa ~4,000 years ago. This is of particular interest because it may shed some light on the prehistoric migration of the Khoikhoi populations of the region, which predate the Bantu. In First Farmers Peter Bellwood argues that the anthropological evidence indicates that it is difficult for a non-farming population to adopt farming wholesale. Groups such as Pygmies in Central Africa are engaged in the farming economy, but only in symbiosis with farmers proper, and generally as landless laborers. But nomadism might be a contrast. I have observed that it seems while Australian Aboriginals have not taken keenly to farming, they have become integrated in the pastoral economy of Australia. Nomadism is quantitatively different from hunting & gathering, but the skillset is not too different.

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Anthroplogy
MORE ABOUT: Nomadism
  • Dwight E. Howell

    Adding a beast of burden to a hunter gather group would be a big assets as would milk producing animals assuming you can drink milk but what you tend to run into is customs that say you share everything with everybody and if somebody likes something you have you give it to them. However among the kung that doesn’t appear to be an absolute barrier.

  • AG

    Captured young animals can be easily tamed into pets. First step in domestication. Certain animals have natural tendency to be domesticated like Diamonds suggested. Young wild duck or geese are good example.

  • Isabel

    It’s been many years since I read Colin Turnbulls’s “The Forest People” but as I remember the Pygmies did not envy the lives of their neighbors and had little motivation to adopt their lifestyle. One of the “symbiotic” services they provided during their periodic visits was erotic dancing and entertainment. They considered the farmers to be real prudes and mocked them for it amongst themselves. They also seemed to have plenty of free time (and relative freedom in general) and were not exactly starving or anything. I haven’t read Bellwood’s book, but lack of motivation seems as important a factor as “difficulty”.

  • Isabel

    I apologize for my lack of expertise on the subject (walking on eggshells expecting to be yelled at for previous comment) and I realize many anthropologists like CT have very leftist reputations that would offend many here. I should have scanned for previous posts on the subject, anyway, sorry- maybe we are actually in agreement, that the skill set, or difficulty, is not in the farming itself but in the few manipulating the many into transitioning. The management level skills in the few would have more naturally developed gradually but quickly, since there would be big reward in their case, but I can’t see the majority following easily unless it was by necessity, eg if they were forced into less productive areas for some reason.

  • van Rooinek

    :Nomadism is quantitatively different from hunting & gathering, but the skillset is not too different”

    Indeed, speaking as one who has both hunted, and bred/raised/butchered my own livestock, I observe that the gap between hunter and rancher isn’t really that great. A roundup can resemble a hunting drive and requires similar understanding of animal behavior. Ranching is just an advanced form of game management. As Charles Kingsley noted long ago, “A keeper is only a poacher turned outside in, and a poacher a keeper turned inside out.” ( The Water-Babies, 1863).

    Since pastoralists can use land that farmers can’t (drier, more rugged, etc), it seems quite reasonable that pastoralism could develop on the “edges” — where hunters and farmers meet. Perhaps the hunters at first hired themselves out to guard and herd the farmer’s critters, and later acquired animals of their own and herded them deep into regions where the farmers couldn’t follow. This is how the North American Indians got horses: they learned to ride while working for the Spanish, then struck out on their own. Probably the Khoi Khoi followed a similar pattern.

    In the case of reindeer domestication, it appears that the transition from hunting to ranching may have taken place without the inspiration of settled farming neighbors. I’m surprised this transition didn’t happen more often.

  • http://dispatchesfromturtleisland.blogspot.com ohwilleke

    Certainly there seem to be multiple cases of hunter-gatherers making the cultural transition to being pastoralists (as pointed out in comment #5) and far fewer of hunter-gatherers making the cultural transition directly to horticulturalists. Almost all contacted relict hunter-gatherer populations are to some extent herders now.

    There is also a selective effect at work. Hunter-gatherers who make the transition to being herders continue to exist as a culturally coherent ethnicity. Those who do not are wiped out as an ethnicity even if their genes introgress to some extent into the superstrate population (e.g. in the case of the former indigenenes of Mozambique).

    There also seems to be some indication that terrestrial hunter-gatherers who make first contact with herders survive as an ethnicity, while terrestrial hunter-gatherers who make first contact with farmers do not. More or less non-nomadic fishing based hunter-gatherers, in contrast, seem to have more staying power vis-a-vis farmers than terrestrial hunter-gatherers do.

  • Grey

    “Since pastoralists can use land that farmers can’t (drier, more rugged, etc), it seems quite reasonable that pastoralism could develop on the “edges” — where hunters and farmers meet. Perhaps the hunters at first hired themselves out to guard and herd the farmer’s critters, and later acquired animals of their own and herded them deep into regions where the farmers couldn’t follow.”

    Yes, i think so. Google “aboriginal stockman” for a lot of images like this:

    http://www.plaintree.com.au/images/35.jpg

    In places like Australia the European colonization was fast and complete so people like those in the pictures didn’t have time to learn the trade on European sheep stations and then strike out on their own to the extent of creating a new pastoralist identity built on the hunter-gatherer one but what if something similar had happened in the past where the agricultural advance was halted by latitude for centuries or millenia at a time as seems to have been the case during the neolithic expansion in Europe and maybe elsewhere?

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About Razib Khan

I have degrees in biology and biochemistry, a passion for genetics, history, and philosophy, and shrimp is my favorite food. In relation to nationality I'm a American Northwesterner, in politics I'm a reactionary, and as for religion I have none (I'm an atheist). If you want to know more, see the links at http://www.razib.com

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