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    adamm's Avatar
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    Question Books on Hunter Gatherer lifestyle?

    So I'm a curious bloke, and while I've read books which give conclusions based on research, I've never read any books which accurately describe what hunter-gatherer lifestyle was like, and what research had been discovered.

    I know that there was a neolithic body found frozen in Switzerland, for example, where they were able to analyze the contents of the intestines to figure out diet, but what other data types are we working with? Outside of bones from campsites, and maybe a few other frozen bodies, how do we analyze eating habits of our ancestors?

    As for lifestyle, what data do we have besides modern research on hunter gatherer societies? Some stone tools? Some ceremonial burials? Are there any pieces that correlate to lives of modern hunter gatherers, are there any which seem to be in conflict?

    Basically, I'm asking y'all for a recommended reading list of books which have good info. Cheers!

    --Me

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    Quote Originally Posted by adamm View Post
    So I'm a curious bloke, and while I've read books which give conclusions based on research, I've never read any books which accurately describe what hunter-gatherer lifestyle was like, and what research had been discovered.
    IMO, you really want ethnography for this, not anthropology. Something that (preferably naively) just tells a story rather than that tries to lay out an organizational or belief system and analyse it.

    So, for knowing "what was it like?" I'd prefer something like Samuel Hearne's Journey to the Northern Ocean:

    Amazon.com: A Journey to the Northern Ocean: Samuel Hearne (Classics West Collection) (9781894898607): Samuel Hearne: Books

    to, say, E. E. Evans-Pritchard's Witchcraft, Oracles and Magic among the Azande:

    Amazon.com: Witchcraft, Oracles and Magic among the Azande (9780198740292): E. E. Evans-Pritchard, Eva Gillies: Books

    Some of the "captivity narratives"—once a standard American literary form—are very interesting and suggestive. Here's one set:

    Amazon.com: Captured By The Indians: 15 Firsthand Accounts, 1750-1870 (9780486249018): Frederick Drimmer: Books

    There's a lot in there. For example, there's one in which a medicine man reads the bones and advises that the enemies on the opposite bank, seen by two jumpy women, were actually wolves. All the tribesmen trust him, so they just go to sleep. In the morning, he's proved to be correct. To be sure sorcerers among primitives almost certainly do use sleight of hand and prey upon people's superstitions, but sometimes there seems to be something more. In "our" view of things this can't happen—though, I'm not so sure myself—but it's interesting to get the feel of a society where such a view of things is just assumed to be true.

    I know that there was a neolithic body found frozen in Switzerland, for example, where they were able to analyze the contents of the intestines to figure out diet, but what other data types are we working with? Outside of bones from campsites, and maybe a few other frozen bodies, how do we analyze eating habits of our ancestors?
    Palaeobotany—you could collect soil samples are the level of stratigraphy in which you're interested and see what seeds you can find in the soil. Other remains—snails shells, for example—would tell you whether you are dealing with forested land or cleared land.

    You might also look for rubbish tips where people have discarded animals bones—the bones of which animals are there? You can also do isotopic analysis of human bone material. As you probably know, there are different isotopes of carbon and nitrogen. Which proportions these occur in in bone depends on what the person has been eating—they'll be different for a predominantly carnivorous diet than for a predominantly vegetable diet.

    Bone Chemistry

    As for lifestyle, what data do we have besides modern research on hunter gatherer societies? Some stone tools? Some ceremonial burials?
    I think you put your finger on it—it's what survives in the record. So we say Stone Age—because that's the material we find, and because the switch to bronze, then iron, tools seems significant in a number of ways. However, also common would have been objects made from wood and leather. These don't usually survive. The interesting thing about the Iceman is that, being frozen in the ice, other, perishable materials did survive.

    Are there any pieces that correlate to lives of modern hunter gatherers, are there any which seem to be in conflict?
    The idea that, in trying to understand the past, we should look for ethnographic parallels is quite an old one. I guess we have a problem in that if I use an ethnographic parallel to illuminate a find from the past and then say "look at the match" I've gone in a circle. But I think you can find some suggestive phenomena. An expert on rock art, David Lewis-Williams, points out that the ethnographic parallels—rock paintings made by South African Bushmen and North American Indians—seem to have been done in trance. We might conclude that Palaeolithic rock art was probably also done in trance. There's some independent evidence for that, however. For example, superimposed on the animals painted are sometimes geometrical forms—these are rather like the "phosphenes" that people spontaneously see when going into trance.

    Amazon.com: The Mind in the Cave: Consciousness and the Origins of Art (9780500284650): David Lewis-Williams: Books

    I can't think of any evidence that points up a "conflict" of interpretation where people in the remote past seem to have been doing something very different from what contemporary hunter-gatherers have been observed to do. There may be, but I don't know of any.
    Last edited by Lewis; 09-12-2011 at 12:35 PM.

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    Thanks for the response, I will look some of these up. At the same time, I'm not looking for story books, but more science books which can really describe the details of lifestyle? Would you know any of those? IE diet, sleep, frequency of hunting, mating habits, etc - obviously this will most likely be about "discovered" hunter-gatherers rather than paleo, but...

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    Quote Originally Posted by adamm View Post
    Thanks for the response, I will look some of these up. At the same time, I'm not looking for story books, but more science books which can really describe the details of lifestyle?
    I'm not sure this is what "social science" does. :-)

    "Detail", and in context, is exactly what you get in ethnographic accounts. Anthropologists look for patterns—and also usually try to fit them into their own theories. Is something somehow more serious or more real because it's more abstract? People in our society seem often to think so, but I'm not so sure—maybe because my philosophical orientation is more towards the Idealist philosophy. Was it Hegel who said, "Any fool can be abstract; it's difficult to be concrete"?

    Perhaps the work of 19th-century anthropology is Frazer's The Golden Bough. As far as I know, he never did any fieldwork, never left his office in Cambridge, and fitted everything he came across into his schema.

    One American anthropologist mischievously remarked that a theoretician could examine a lot of data and come up with a outline of "how things worked" in a society—a man doesn't marry his second cousin, or whatever—but in truth that could be overturned by any "alpha male" in that society who wanted something different enough and could make it stick. (Actually, this man's book on Australian Aborigines is very entertaining, and at a dollar secondhand you couldn't go wrong.)

    I was also amused by Carlos Casteņada's book wherein he gave an obviously made-up but nevertheless vivid flesh-on-bones portrait of a South American sorcerer and then finished the book with a little afterword reducing the account to academic technicalities and sucking the life out. As I say, the "information" in the book was obviously made up—and, in any case, to me "Casteņada" means Coronado's chronicler—but that was a good joke.

    But you didn't ask to be persuaded not to read what you said you wanted to read.

    I'm not an anthropologist, and what I've read is likely out of date now. You might try John Beattie's Other Cultures:

    Other Cultures: Amazon.co.uk: John H.M. Beattie: Books

    Or African Political Systems:

    Amazon.com: African Political Systems (9781154621839): Meyer Fortes: Books

    If you want to take, so to speak, a meta-view try Peter Winch's The Idea of a Social Science:

    Amazon.com: RC Series Bundle: The Idea of a Social Science and Its Relation to Philosophy (Routledge Classics) (9780415423588): Peter Winch: Books

    Would you know any of those? IE diet, sleep, frequency of hunting, mating habits, etc - obviously this will most likely be about "discovered" hunter-gatherers rather than paleo, but...
    Well, here's one I definitely think anyone interested in those sorts of things might want to take a look at—Myra Shackley's Using Environmental Archaeology. That's thematic—there are chapters on Hunting, Eating, Ailing, Living, Moving, Dying, etc. You might be bale to find a copy in a library somewhere—unfortunately, it's out of print and changes hands for quite a bit these days:

    Amazon.com: Using Environmental Archaeology (9780312835385): Myra L. Shackley: Books
    Last edited by Lewis; 09-13-2011 at 12:10 PM.

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    i like your bibliography, lewis! That captured by the indians one looked interesting, so i just bought it, along with this one specific to the Texas area.

    Amazon.com: The Captured: A True Story of Abduction by Indians on the Texas Frontier: Scott Zesch: Books

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    wow so i'm only a few chapters into that texas indian capture book and whoa. No way i am tuff enuff to have made it way back then in the hill country. And from the contemporary accounts, the indian (comanche, mostly) looks fun on one hand, and vicious on the other. Where i'm at right now in the book, mostly vicious.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Catherine View Post
    wow so i'm only a few chapters into that texas indian capture book and whoa. No way i am tuff enuff to have made it way back then in the hill country. And from the contemporary accounts, the indian (comanche, mostly) looks fun on one hand, and vicious on the other. Where i'm at right now in the book, mostly vicious.
    I recall one author's saying that the Commanche were so war-oriented that they were one of the few societies in North America that didn't respect old men—because they were too old to fight. Not respecting the old would, of course, be very rare in any traditional society. Whether that's generally believed about them I don't know. But they were certainly pretty tough.

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    i remember having the vague impression that Comanche & Apache were the tuffest skeeriest Indians. So far, what i've learned in the book is that they had an ingrained raiding culture. That's just what they did, even before white people arrived. So naturally, they just continued with their raiding. "Raiding" means stealing, terrifying, beating, raping, shooting, scalping, murdering etc. So far of the anecdotes I've read, they preferred to kidnap (and sometimes ransom) pre-teen children. All other captives were usually dispatched in some manner. What's interesting is that if the kids stayed with the indians for more than a year, they would not come back to the white world. And so far, even if the children had their white family murdered right in front of them, and were somehow brought back to the white world, they would not hear a negative word against the indians. Like a stockholm syndrome, or maybe something else? So far it looks like a pretty well written & well researched book (lots of oral histories, i think). I'm only about 100 pages in...

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    Quote Originally Posted by Catherine View Post
    What's interesting is that if the kids stayed with the indians for more than a year, they would not come back to the white world. And so far, even if the children had their white family murdered right in front of them, and were somehow brought back to the white world, they would not hear a negative word against the indians. Like a stockholm syndrome, or maybe something else?
    I expect the life could be appealing—but for the most past only if you got used to it very young. AFAICT, older captives, even when they enjoyed the life still preferred to return when they got the chance. Of course, you had some fully grown ne'er-do-wells living in Indian territory, but they weren't so much living the life of the Indians as evading that of civilization—in some cases the arm of the law—and exploiting the Indians where they could—choosing to be part no society in effect.

    The adoption custom is interesting. At an earlier period the St. Francis Indians (Abenaki) had taken so many captives for adoption that they were said to have quite a lot of white blood. There's a fascinating story revolving around St. Francis (the settlement). One revisionist historian, Stephen Brumwell, making an energetic attempt to cut Major Rogers down to size, claims that the Abenaki were active on the frontier because they were out for revenge owing to past maltreatment by English settlers:

    Amazon.com: White Devil: A True Story of War, Savagery And Vengeance in Colonial America (9780306814730): Stephen Brumwell: Books

    (Francis Parkman, however, had argued that, left to themselves, the Abenaki would soon have come to terms, since he thought they basically wanted goods the English had, and that the raiding was mostly because they were "sicked on" by the Jesuits. He points out that there was no Indian raiding across the New York frontier, because that might have annoyed the Iroquois and resulted in counter-raids into French Canada, which the French would not have wanted.)

    Who can really say definitively as this point in time? But I think Brumwell does succeed in throwing quite a bit doubt on the famous raid that was mythologized in Kenneth Robert's novel Northwest Passage (and later in the Spencer Tracey film). There seems quite a lot of doubt about whether many of the warriors were "at home" when Rogers called. The Rangers may have killed people we should regard as non-combatants these days—that were regarded as such then, for the matter of that. There's even a suggestion that Rogers himself may have killed an Indian woman they'd taken captive, after which the Rangers ate her—a contemporary who was on the raid did allege so.

    The raid was certainly a bold stroke and did have had the desired effect of putting an end to raids from St. Francis, but quite what actually happened on it ...

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