Hunter-gathering seems to have been easier than farming


Enlarge / An Agta family relaxing in the afternoon. (credit: Mark Dyble)

For most of our history, humans got hold of food like any other animal: by hunting and foraging, moving around to find the best resources. Settling down in one place to cultivate crops is a comparatively recent development. But once it started around 12,000 years ago, agriculture spread through human cultures across the world, fundamentally changing our societies, genomes, and possibly even languages. In many ways, farming seems to have been terrible news for the people who adopted it, leading to poorer nutrition and greater social inequality—but it also resulted in higher fertility rates and a massive population expansion.

Understanding how and why this technological change was adopted remains a challenge. Studies mostly rely on fossil evidence, but there are also clues in the modern world, as some present-day groups of people are moving away from hunting, fishing, and gathering their food and toward agriculture.

A paper published in Nature Human Behaviour explores how this shift affects the time budgets of hunter-gatherers in the Philippines, finding that women who participate more in agricultural work have less leisure time—around half the leisure time of women who prioritize foraging. The results fall in line with past research that challenges the concept of hunting and foraging as arduous work with scant rewards, and this work contributes to a growing understanding of the social dynamics that go along with a shift to agriculture.

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