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Hunter Gatherers

Living off the Land


19th Century Limba Arrows, Sierra Leone

19th century Limba arrows held by Mamadou Mansaray, town chief of Bafodia, Sierra Leone (West Africa)

John Atherton

To state it simply, hunter-gatherers hunt game and collect plant foods (called foraging) rather than grow or tend crops. Hunter gatherers is the term used by anthropologists to describe a specific kind of lifestyle, that of all human beings until the invention of agriculture about 8000 years ago.

Recent studies have identified the importance of fish and maritime resources as a component of some coastal-based hunter-gatherers. Hunter-gatherers who rely on marine resources (such as the Mesolithic Ertebølle-Ellerbeck culture are known as hunter-gatherer-fishers.

Tools of the Hunter-Gatherer

Hunter-gatherers are traditionally identified by their tools: bow and arrow, atlatl, harpoon and projectile points.

Even after agriculture became a major source of food, hunting and gathering of wild plants remained a large component of people's diets. People who tend stands of natural plants are called horticulturalists; those who farm are agriculturalists.

Up until about fifty years ago, there were a few modern hunter-gatherer societies in the world today, such as the Ainu; however, they have pretty much all been made part of the modern market economy by way of the intrusion of plastics or clothing or metal which can only be retrieved from outside sources.

Hunter-Gatherers and Domestication

Hunter-gatherers domesticated dogs, and also maize, broomcorn millet and wheat. Which came first, domesticated crop or domesticated farmer?

Compare Complex Hunter-Gatherers


There is a fabulous bibliography of hunter-gatherers maintained by J. W. Helmer; I couldn't possibly come close to his collection.

Thanks to Andy Hemmings for his update on h-g living conditions.

This glossary entry is part of the Dictionary of Archaeology.

Also Known As: Foragers, gatherer-hunters

Alternate Spellings: Hunter-gatherer

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