empowering hunter-gatherer societies – celebrating human potentiality – promoting hunter-gatherer research



Dear friends,


It was mid-1990s, when I firstly became interested in hunter-gatherers. Back then, it was a bit of a shame to be an eco-anarchist and, at the same time, unacquainted with the basics of the socio-political organization of Ju/’hoansi, Hadza or Ache. Among anarcho-primitivists, mobile foragers were celebrated as exemplars of anti-hierarchical, cooperative living. As Lee and DeVore famously put it: “We cannot avoid the suspicion that many of us were led to live and work among the hunters [or to study them, in my case] because of a feeling that the human condition was likely to be more clearly drawn here than among other kinds of societies” (1968: ix).


In 2009, I edited a Greek language volume about modern “simple” hunting-gathering societies –“sharing societies”, I called them–, containing some of the most classic papers about them by Richard B. Lee, James Woodburn, Marshall Sahlins, Nurit Bird-David, Alan Barnard, George Silberbauer, Tim Ingold and Karen Endicott.


After completing this publication, I wanted to answer myself three questions: how many hunter-gatherer societies have been recorded, which are they and what are the main publications about them? I felt badly the need for a hunter-gatherer bibliographic archive. At that time, there was not even a reasonably exhaustive catalogue of food-gathering groups to begin with. I had the impression that we were probably still unsuspected of the “foraging spectrum” at its fullest. Except from the star-quality groups of Ju/’hoansi and Hadza that are in some ways perhaps over researched, there have been so many other groups that we cannot even be sure for the spelling of their names. This freely-accessible (selected) bibliography is hopefully addressing in part this challenge by doing justice to the whole foraging cosmos.


The most fundamental problem with such a bibliographic database is the definition of hunter-gatherer. Firstly, speaking in terms of subsistence, and following the Human Relations Area Files (HRAF) (Ember 2020), the hunter-gatherers included in this archive are or were either “hunter-gatherers/foragers” who have been known to “depend almost entirely (86% or more) on hunting, fishing, and gathering for subsistence” or “primarily hunter-gatherers” who have been known to “depend mostly (56% or more) on hunting, fishing, and gathering for subsistence”. In some cases, people defined as hunter-gatherers also exploit cultigens to a significant extent (Greaves & Kramer 2014). Secondly though, and ethically speaking, it would be unfair to treat hunter-gatherers simply as food-procurers. Following Barnard (2002, 2017), I conceive hunter-gatherers as people who place great emphasis on sharing and egalitarianism. It is the “foraging mode of thought” that makes someone a hunter-gatherer. Sahlins’ “original affluent society” (1972), Woodburn’s “egalitarian societies” and “immediate-returnism” (1982), Bird-David’s “giving environment” and “procurement” mentality (1990, 1992), Gardner’s “individual-autonomy syndrome” (1991), Boehm’s “reverse dominance hierarchy” (1999) and, of course, Clastres’ “societies against the state” (1974) are also extremely useful concepts in this regard. Sharing as a concept has been lately explored in detail by Widlok (2017) and Kishigami (2021). Lest I paint an overly rosy picture of hunter-gatherer inequality-aversion attitude, we must keep firmly in mind that some hunter-gatherer cultures were even slave-holding ones (Donald 1997).


The greatest difficulties arise when having to categorize groups with mixed subsistence strategies. Let’s see in brief some perplexing cases: (1) What about the “tropical forest” cultures (Lathrap 1968)? What about the “trekkers” (Rival 2002)? How do we cope with groups that think of themselves as being essentially hunters despite their profound dependence on cultigens? Are they gardener-hunters or hunter-gardeners? (2) What about the mounted American Indians? How do we cope with Indians that abandoned farming and adopted buffalo-hunting lifeways upon the arrival of the horse? (3) What about the Northeastern Woodlands Indian tribes that in summer lived in agricultural villages while in winter separated into family groups for hunts? (4) What about the sedentary sago-dependent hunter-gatherers of New Guinea (see the groundbreaking survey of Roscoe 2002)? How easily can sago-farming be distinguished from sago-harvesting? Do we have more precisely to do with agro-forestry and “wild-food production” or not? (5) What about the African groups whose economic life is alternated between rainy-season agriculture and dry-season hunting? It seems that many African rural cultures might be better categorized as variants of cultivator-hunters rather than farmers or hunter-gatherers. (6) What about the “regressed”/“devolved” cases of hunter-gatherers? (7) What about the “complex” hunter-gatherers who have adopted maximization/productivist strategies and hierarchical structuring? Delayed-return foragers have much more common attributes with farmers than with “pure” foragers. (8) What about the post-foragers? When do we stop treating post-foragers as foragers (Peterson 1991)? (9) Are the “degraded in postsocialist Poland” hunter-gatherers (Rakowski 2016)? Could recent Greek economic turmoil be conceived as a case of “cultural mismatch” (Hirschon 2014), that is failed immediate-returners living in an EU dominated by delayed-returners? Lastly, it is also crucial to provide data on hunter-gatherers in the twenty-first century, as researchers in Codding and Kramer (2016) have done.


I know that this is nonscientific to say but someone could probably identify a hunter-gatherer group by just reading a few lines of anthropological or colonial literature. A hunter-gatherer culture has a special “feeling”. It smells like “hunting spirit”. According to the humanistic tradition, it is not so much a matter of input-output energetics but of ethical practices. It doesn’t matter so much if someone hunts for his food but if he gets it shared. Anyway, the least I could say is that the 2.000+ groups included in the “Catalogue of hunter-gatherers” have a strong hunting component that is highly culturally valued.


Please let me propose that a future CHAGS focus exclusively on this “hunter-gathererness issue”. It could, for example, be titled: “Who is a Hunter-Gatherer?: Definitions, Concepts and Identities”. In such a CHAGS there could have been regional sessions deciding –of course provisionally– about the “real” hunter-gatherer groups of each region.


If we get over the “hunter-gathererness issue”, we will then come to face the “counting issue”. For example, do I get one entry for all the Ojibwe groups or as many entries as each one of them? Last but not least, can we conclusively decide if we are dealing with a “group”, “subgroup” or “dialectal group”? For all the above reasons, the hunter-gatherer groups included in the Catalogue should be legitimately considered as hunter-gatherer cases, following Binford (2001), or even better, hunter-gatherer situations, following Widlok (2016).


Since many experts would reasonably doubt the unusually high number of the hunter-gatherer cases of the Catalogue, let me comment on this a bit further: (1) When I started compiling the forager list, I had in mind the 1.024 hunter-gatherer cases of Binford (2001:131). Although, Binford’s actual sample contained 390 cases, he had speculated that there must have been about 1.024 cases at the colonial era. (2) Australia alone hosted about 500 (or even more) Aboriginal groups. (3) There is an under researched “hunter-gatherer hotspot”: the hundreds (possibly even one thousand) Coahuiltecan hunting and gathering groups of the lowlands of northeastern Mexico and adjacent southern Texas. (4) We now have at our disposal the fairly recent catalogue of the 1.102 hunter-gatherer cases (certain and uncertain cases included) of Güldemann, McConvell & Rhodes (2020, Appendix). (5) The colonial archives are another source that needs to be scrutinized for possible foraging groups. (6) There are still more than a hundred uncontacted tribes around the world, many of them in South America and some in Africa and Asia. (7) At the “Uncertain cases” section at the Menu there are another 400+ questionable cases to be examined.


Having said all this, it is my impression that the “magic” number of 2.000+ is realistic or even relatively moderate. And as Vierich optimistically states for the future: “There may be more hunter-gatherers in the year 2100 on this planet than there were in the year 2000” (2008:13). So was I too loose when listing all these 2.000+ cases of forager cultures? I have to confess that I wanted to give as many food-gathering communities as possible the opportunity to pass the hunter-gathererness test. Let’s hope that I didn’t overdo it. Ultimately though, it is the regional hunter-gatherer experts that will now undertake the really difficult task of sorting the Catalogue out.


When compiling this bibliographic database, I have been greatly helped by the research of many regional hunter-gatherer-specialists: Hitchcock (1999, 2019), Fortier (2009, 2014), Roscoe (2002), Barnard (1992), Stiles (1981), Politis & Hernando (2014), Sellato & Soriente (2015), Lee & Daly (1999), Blackburn (1974), Chamberlain (2003), Campbell (1983). Last but not least, I am deeply indebted to Güldemann, McConvell & Rhodes (2020), Binford (2001) and Kelly (1995, 2007, 2013). Please accept my apologies for all those scholars I am now forgetting. Of course, my hunter-gatherer catalogue, at its initial stage, was just a copy-paste of Binford’s catalogue. In a way, the present catalogue is a tribute to him.


Lastly, I want to express my deep gratitude for the help, encouragement and inspiration of the following hunter-gatherer anthropologists and archaeologists: Robert K. Hitchcock, Alan Barnard, James Woodburn, Richard B. Lee, Jerome Lewis, Thomas Widlok, Nurit Bird-David, Tim Ingold, Chris Knight, Camilla Power, Ian Watts, Polly Wiessner, Megan Biesele, Diana Riboli, Robert L. Kelly, Kirk Endicott, Chris Boehm and Christiane Cunnar (HRAF). Jstor, Wikipedia, googlebooks and worldcat have also proved valuable internet tools.


As you will easily find out, this bibliographic project is mainly English-language based and social-anthropologically focused. Unfortunately, many topics, like archaeology and biological anthropology, are under-represented.


Thanos Kouravelos








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           of hunter-gatherers, by Henry Stewart, Alan Barnard & Keiichi

           Omura (eds.), pp. 5-24. Osaka: National Museum of Ethnology,

           Senri Ethnological Studies No. 60.

            2017   “Egalitarian and non-egalitarian sociality”, in Human nature and

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                     Ziegler Remme & Kenneth Sillander (eds.), pp. 83-96.

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1992   Beyond “the hunting and gathering mode of subsistence”:

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           Man (N.S.) 27(1):19-44.

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1997   Aboriginal slavery on the Northwest Coast of North America.

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2014   “Regional hunter-gatherer traditions in South-East Asia”, in

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Gardner, P.

1991   Foragers’ pursuit of individual autonomy. Current Anthropology


Greaves, R. D. & Kramer, K. L.

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            1981   Hunters of the northern East African coast: origins and historical

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