Hunter-gatherer culture is a type of subsistence lifestyle that relies on hunting and fishing animals and foraging for wild vegetation and other nutrients like honey, for food. Until approximately 12,000 years ago, all humans practiced hunting-gathering.

Anthropologists have discovered evidence for the practice of hunter-gatherer culture by modern humans (Homo sapiens) and their distant ancestors dating as far back as two million years. Before the emergence of hunter-gatherer cultures, earlier groups relied on the practice of scavenging animal remains that predators left behind.

Because hunter-gatherers did not rely on agriculture, they used mobility as a survival strategy. Indeed, the hunter-gatherer lifestyle required access to large areas of land, between seven and 500 square miles, to find the food they needed to survive. This made establishing long-term settlements impractical, and most hunter-gatherers were nomadic. Hunter-gatherer groups tended to range in size from an extended family to a larger band of no more than about 100 people.

With the beginnings of the Neolithic Revolution about 12,000 years ago, when agricultural practices were first developed, some groups abandoned hunter-gatherer practices to establish permanent settlements that could provide for much larger populations. However, many hunter-gatherer behaviors persisted until modern times. As recently as 1500 C.E., there were still hunter-gatherers in parts of Europe and throughout the Americas. Over the last 500 years, the population of hunter-gatherers has declined dramatically. Today very few exist, with the Hadza people of Tanzania being one of the last groups to live in this tradition.

 

Hunter-Gatherer Culture

The Hadza people of Tanzania rely on hunting wild game for meat, a task that requires great skill in tracking, teamwork, and accuracy with a bow and arrow.

abandoned
Adjective

deserted.

ancestor
Noun

organism from whom one is descended.

anthropologist
Noun

person who studies cultures and characteristics of communities and civilizations.

culture
Noun

learned behavior of people, including their languages, belief systems, social structures, institutions, and material goods.

decline
Verb

to reduce or go down in number.

extended family
Noun

household in which parents, children, grandparents, and other relatives live.

forage
Verb

to search for food or other needs.

Homo sapiens
Noun

(200,000 years ago-present) species of primates (hominid) that only includes modern human beings.

hunter-gatherer
Noun

person who gets food by using a combination of hunting, fishing, and foraging.

lifestyle
Noun

way of living, including cultural, economic, and social habits.

Neolithic
Noun

(~9000 B.C.E. to ~2000 B.C.E.) last phase of the Stone Age, following the Mesolithic.

nomadic
Adjective

having to do with a way of life lacking permanent settlement.

Noun

substance an organism needs for energy, growth, and life.

predator
Noun

animal that hunts other animals for food.

scavenge
Verb

to feed on dead or decaying material.

settlement
Noun

community or village.

strategy
Noun

plan or method of achieving a goal.

subsistence
Noun

minimum amount of a substance that is necessary to support life, such as food or shelter.

survival
Noun

ability to live.

tradition
Noun

beliefs, customs, and cultural characteristics handed down from one generation to the next.

vegetation
Noun

all the plant life of a specific place.