Hunter-Gatherer Societies: their Diversity and Evolutionary Processes

It is argued that attributes which have been widely used to typify hunter-gatherer societies are inadequate for several reasons. One is that they fail to capture the full extent of the diversity of these societies. We suggest some additional attributes which should be taken into account in characterizing these societies. Linear (unidirectional) models of the development of prehistoric societies are criticized and multi-linear models are discussed. Currently, three main stereotypes of the nature of hunter-gatherer societies exist. While these indicate that they were diverse, they fail to capture the full extent of their diversity. It is suggested that this diversity increased with the passage of time and was shaped by the varied local eco-geographic conditions (local resource endowments) in which these societies existed. This raises the question of whether this development had the same basis as speciation in the biological theory of natural selection. This is discussed and then particular attention is given to Adam Smith’s vision of the evolution of human societies. In conclusion, it is suggested that the evolutionary path of modern societies has diverged from that of prehistoric societies.

Issue Date:
Publication Type:
Working or Discussion Paper
DOI and Other Identifiers:
ISSN: 1327-8231 (Other)
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Total Pages:
JEL Codes:
O1; P00; P4; P5
Series Statement:
Economics, Ecology and the Environment

 Record created 2017-04-01, last modified 2017-04-26

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