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  • Cited by 22
  • Print publication year: 1989
  • Online publication date: October 2009

3 - Saving it for later: storage by prehistoric hunter–gatherers in Europe


This contribution distinguishes three temporal scales of resource fluctuation (seasonal, interannual and long-term), and examines the responses available to higher-latitude hunter–gatherers, concentrating in particular on storage. The specific environmental contexts in which storage is likely to be a major risk-buffering mechanism are defined. Storage will cope only with the seasonal and interannual scales of resource fluctuation, not with the long term. Direct evidence of storage is unlikely to survive in the archaeological record, but (a) resource specialisation, (b) more permanent settlement, and (c) mass capture technology are put forward as indirect evidence. These features are found among prehistoric European hunter–gatherers in the locations predicted by the model. Social storage will be important when resources are stored and when local spatial resource variability is considerable. Planning for the worst likely situation leads to surplus storage in most years. This, coupled with local resource imbalances, provides a context in which some groups or individuals may be able to acquire and retain more prestige, and hence status, than others.

Storage among hunter–gatherers has been discussed in a number of recent publications. These view storage as (1) one among a number of risk-reducing mechanisms, developed usually as a response to gaps in the subsistence cycle (e.g. Cashdan 1983, 1985; Wiessner 1982), and (2) as contributing to, if not causing, the development of social and economic complexity (e.g. Hayden 1981; Testart 1982a and b; Rowley-Conwy 1983; Price and Brown 1985).