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hunter-gatherer, hunting and gathering societies A mode of subsistence dependent on the exploitation of wild or non-domesticated food resources. This has been the means of subsistence for 99 per cent of humankind's history, and involves the hunting of animals, fishing, and the gathering of wild fruit, plants, honey, and insects. Many hunting and gathering societies comprised small nomadic bands, although others have shown greater social organization. The few surviving contemporary groups cannot be seen as offering a window on the past since they have their own history. For example, some have been pushed into marginal environments by invading groups and policies of ethnocide, while others were formerly agriculturalists.

Hunting and gathering groups are often organized about a division of labour by sex, with hunting done mainly by men, and gathering done by women. While meat is usually a source of prestige, gathering produces the indispensable food, thus suggesting that members might be more accurately labelled gatherer-hunters.

The popular image of early hunting and gathering groups struggling for survival, to the detriment of all other concerns, is a myth. There is no relation between a society's technology and the complexity of its intellectual and creative pursuits: many of these groups had a rich religious and artistic life. Indeed, Marshall Sahlins has suggested they were the ‘original affluent society’ (in Stone Age Economics, 1972), since they only needed to devote a few hours each day to subsistence activities in order to satisfy their limited material wants, thus leaving considerable periods of leisure.

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