Hunter-gatherers and human evolution


  • Frank W. Marlowe

    Search for more papers by this author
    • Frank W. Marlowe is Associate Professor of Anthropology at Harvard University. His research focuses on the behavioral ecology of mating systems and cooperation. For the past decade, he has worked with Hadza hunter-gatherers of Tanzania.


Although few hunter-gatherers or foragers exist today, they are well documented in the ethnographic record. Anthropologists have been eager to study them since they assumed foragers represented a lifestyle that existed everywhere before 10,000 years ago and characterized our ancestors into some ill-defined but remote past. In the past few decades, that assumption has been challenged on several grounds. Ethnographically described foragers may be a biased sample that only continued to exist because they occupied marginal habitats less coveted by agricultural people.3 In addition, many foragers have been greatly influenced by their association with more powerful agricultural societies.4 It has even been suggested that Holocene foragers represent a new niche that appeared only with the climatic changes and faunal depletion at the end of the last major glaciation.5 Despite these issues, the ethnographic record of foragers provides the only direct observations of human behavior in the absence of agriculture, and as such is invaluable for testing hypotheses about human behavioral evolution.6.