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Author Topic: Were all hunter-gatherers living in monogamous, nuclear families??  (Read 6963 times)

Offline Roysyboy2

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In part two of the BBC series Origins of Us, Alice Roberts effectively argues that man has always lived in the monogamous, nuclear-family unit. She uses the Hazda people as an example of typical hunter-gatherers, implying that because they live in nuclear families today, they must have done this since time immemorial. This is hardly scientific. She also implies that the Hazda example can be applied to the totality of past human experience. Again, such a generalization is not scientific.
In the program, Alice refers to what she calls "defining characteristics" of humans, i.e., that distinguish man from all other animals. This is a descriptive apology for science. One can argue that a "defining characteristic" is that no other animal, bar man, has set foot on the moon. This method is not too useful. In reality, man is distinguished from animals when he begins to produce his means of subsistence. No other animal does this in a way comparable to humans. Only humans have made a transition to pastoralism and farming, i.e., to beginning to produce their means of subsistence.
In her method, if one can call it this, Alice fails to recognize that chimpanzees are also hunter-gatherers, albeit simple hunter-gatherers, as are the Hazda people. But chimpanzees don't live in monogamous nuclear families. The alarm bells should have rung in Alice's head.
Alice's position appears philistine. She seems to be unaware of, for example, Frederick Engels' Origins of the Family, Private Property and the State. Wikipedia says this about it:
"This book argues that the first domestic institution in human history was not the family but the matrilineal clan. Engels here follows Lewis H. Morgan's thesis as outlined in his major book, Ancient Society. Morgan was a radical American business lawyer who championed the land rights of Native Americans and became adopted as an honorary member of the Seneca Iroquois tribe. Traditionally, the Iroquois had lived in communal longhouses based on matrilineal descent and matrilocal residence, an arrangement giving women much solidarity and power. Throughout most of the twentieth century, the Morgan-Engels theory that early human kinship was matrilineal was considered by anthropologists to have been disproved. Modern evolutionary anthropology is currently reassessing that position."
In response to this, Alice's alternative can only be called infantile.


 

Offline CliffordK

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Welcome to the forum.  I hope you find some stimulating discussions.

I suppose the question is whether there is adequate "evidence" to support or refute the claims.

Sexuality seems to be a very cultural thing.  I'm sure there are an equal number of hunter-gatherer tribes that express "free love".  I believe there have also been reports of some tribes that don't equate sex with childbirth.

While there is a lot of diversity in Africa, I believe that one of the problems with the AIDS epidemic in the continent is more lax sexual practices than is found in other continents.  Not that the majority of Africans would be hunter-gatherers, but there are certainly cultural differences between African and European nations.

In some cultures, "women" have been considered one of the spoils of war.  Obviously causes of deaths of men and women are different, including the very dangerous childbirth.  I would wonder what the overall balance between male/females would be in a tribe which the men do battle (as well as hunting and occupational hazards).  If one would in fact find more women than men, then one would also expect to find some type of polygamy.

Is it possible to find archeological evidence of distinct families in a tribal society?  Perhaps after a natural disaster such as a volcano.  Is it possible to look at family inheritance?  Perhaps proteins of demineralized bone, although there is less variation in proteins than the UTR of DNA, so perhaps it would be difficult to follow family inheritance. 

Anyway, I would agree that it would be a stretch to consider our ancestors as being monogamous based on observations of a few isolated tribes, and perhaps a lot of wishful thinking.  The strong attraction in couples might point one towards a monogamous history, but I think there may be an underlying desire for men to "spread one's seed around".

Another point that might indicate polygamy is the ages of Mitochondrial Eve vs Y-Chromosome Adam.

The easiest way to explain the 100,000 year difference between Mitochondrial Eve vs Y-Chromosome Adam would be polygamy with a smaller group of men breeding with a larger group of women.  And a higher percentage of men not having children.
 

Offline cheryl j

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I stumbled on this funny but still scientifically interesting link that looks at this question from an unusual angle. In this article the author compares the mating strategies of different primates, such as gorillas, orangutans, and chimpanzees. He claims there is a correlation between testicle size and mating strategies, and also a link between mating behavior and the type of microscopic activity of sperm cells. Thus he says you can determine where humans "naturally" fit in the spectrum of polygamous vs monogamous vs promiscuous reproductive strategies by comparing human sperm and testicles to other primate's. He seems to place humans in the more or less monogamous with cheating on the side category, which is in the middle of the spectrum of behavior for primates. We are not quite as wild and crazy as chimps.

Some may find the language or ideas offensive, but I didnt.


http://www.joequirk.com/Sample_3.html
« Last Edit: 21/11/2011 20:59:50 by cheryl j »
 

Offline cheryl j

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I must admit, though, I've never seen any research on primates and living in a nuclear unit -eg, parents and offspring, somewhat seperate from others in the tribe or group. Maybe it was invented in the suburbs.
 

Offline myself

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People do not live in monogamous families in all societies today, so there is no reason to assume they did so at any time in the past.  Consider fundamentalist Muslim and Mormon societies.   Powerful men have had multiple wives or concubines in many societies.  There is an often an excess of women due to violence among men, or the capture of women as war booty -- almost the same thing.

Hunter-gatherers were subject to population pressures and needed methods for maintaining genetic diversity, so there is no reason to assume they differed in this respect.   Sfai can recall, those studied generally have a loose structure that may be largely monogamous, but not very strictly so.
 

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