Humans didn’t always live in cities and towns. They started out as nomadic tribes looking for whatever food was available in their general area. Hunter-gatherer societies laid the foundations of our modern civilizations, comprising almost all of human history with the exception of the last few thousand years. But what was it like to live as one of them?
During their dominant time in the Paleolithic Era, hunter-gatherers spent their days scrounging food from plant life while hunting and fishing for meat. These two means of obtaining food led to the basic cultural structures we see today, especially in the form of gender roles.
Hunter-gatherer societies hold many surprises, especially when we study the last few remaining tribes that live a similar lifestyle today. Even though humanity eventually embraced agriculture during the Neolithic Era, a few hunter-gatherer tribes have lived on, and from them we can extrapolate what life was once like for all human beings.
How can anybody be more affectionate than some of today's helicopter parents? Alas, based on cross-cultural findings in the 20th century, hunter and gatherer societies were actually on the whole nicer toward their children than modern industrial societies. As a hunter-gatherer, you would be less likely to put an emphasis on obedience and responsibility, and more likely to show warmth and affection.
In fact, the only hunter-gatherer cultures that really put stress on their children were those that relied more on hunting. Due to the often unpredictable nature of hunting, as opposed to gathering, there was more stress placed on male children, who had the burden of providing for the entire tribe.
Maybe peace on Earth would be possible if all societies were hunter-gatherers. While there is some debate on the subject, research done in the last few decades has more or less found that hunter-gatherers were less likely to fight than their food-producing counterparts.
While some early studies pointed to tribes going to war every two years, more recent ones have found conflict was actually less common. The reason for this? Food-producing cultures were more vulnerable to famines and food shortages if something bad happened to their crops…and when you desperately need something, the first human inclination is to take it from someone else.
You might be spared from constantly raging against the patriarchy. Typically, men hunted game and fish while women gathered food such as fruits, vegetables, and nuts. While meat was certainly important, the gathering from the women typically brought in more food. After all, hunting can be very tough and rather hit-or-miss, while plants tend not to run away. Thus, overall the workload was actually pretty even, and women weren’t relegated to simply cooking whatever the men brought back from their hunting trips. Researchers think that the fact that women brought in more calories overall than men may well have meant their contributions were more respected, too.
But at least you'd do a whole lot of traveling! Hunter-gatherers are widely accepted to be nomadic. Some tribes were fully nomadic, while others merely existed within a certain radius. The reason for this comes down to their lifestyle. If hunter-gatherers stayed in one place, they’d eventually use up all the resources that region could offer. By moving from location to location, they ensured there would always be new game to hunt and food to gather. It has been estimated that they needed 7-500 square miles of land for their lifestyle to be sustainable.
As humans began to grow their own food and were responsible to tending crops and fields year-round, a nomadic lifestyle was replaced with societies that inhabited fixed locations.