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Hunter-Gatherer Storage, Settlement, and the Opportunity Costs of Women’s Foraging

  • Carly S. Whelan (a1), Adrian R. Whitaker (a2), Jeffrey S. Rosenthal (a2) and Eric Wohlgemuth (a2)

Abstract

Food storage is a crucial adaptation for hunter-gatherers who face seasonal resource shortfalls, but the extra time that hunter-gatherer s must spend accumulating food surpluses has the potential to conflict with the time they need for other activities during seasons of abundance. Since the activities that conflict with storage may be different for women and men, it is important to consider which gender is responsible for storage. We argue that when women perform most storage tasks, the tradeoff between foraging and childcare is likely to shape storage behavior, particularly the decision of which foods to store. Our analysis of storage food preferences among the prehistoric hunter-gatherers of California’s Sierra Nevada suggests that women altered their storage strategy during the late Holocene when the shift to a semi-sedentary settlement system increased the conflict they faced between foraging and providing childcare. The adoption of an acorn-based storage economy during this period allowed women to minimize the time they spent foraging away from their residential bases, so they could better accommodate their childcare needs. This study demonstrates the utility of considering issues beyond the rate of caloric return from foraging to develop more complete models of hunter-gatherer behavior and explanations of the archaeological record.

Resumen

El almacenamiento de la comida es una adaptación crίtica para cazadores-recolectores quien se enfrentan déficits estacionales en los alimentos, pero el tiempo que los cazadores-recolectores tienen que gastar en acumular excedentes de comida puede estar en pugna con otras demandas en su tiempo durante las estaciones de abundancia. Como las actividades que están en conflicto con el almacenamiento pueden ser diferentes para hombres y mujeres, también es importante considerar cual sexo es lo responsable para almacenar. Sostenemos que cuando las mujeres hacen la mayorίa del trabajo relacionado con almacenamiento, la interacción entre buscar la comida o cuidar los niños va a influenciar su comportamiento con respecto al almacenamiento. Nuestro análisis de las preferencias entre cazadores-recolectores prehistóricos de las montañas de la Sierra Nevada de California sugiere que las mujeres cambiaron su estrategia de almacenamiento durante el Holoceno Tardίo cuando el cambio a un sistema de asentamiento semi-sedentario aumentó el conflicto que se enfrentaron entre buscar comida y cuidar los niños. La adopción de una economίa basada en el almacenamiento de bellotas durante esta época permitió que las mujeres acomodaran sus necesidades de cuidar niños en una mejora manera. Este estudio muestra la utilidad de considerar asuntos afuera de la taza calórica de retorno de forrajear para desarrollar modelos más completos del comportamiento de los cazadores-recolectores y explicaciones del registro arqueológico.

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References

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