What are some similarities between hunting and gathering societies and agricultural societies?

Hunter-gatherer and agricultural societies, while separated by hundreds of thousands of years, have common elements in their social, cultural, and technological aspects. The complex social hierarchies within agricultural civilizations are rooted in the hunter-gatherer era. As early humans gathered around a communal fire, social interactions increased and with it group cohesion and organization. Religion and mythology also developed in the oral tradition. The advancement in tools and techniques that made agriculture possible were evolutions of hunter-gatherer innovations, as was specialization.

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The biggest similarities between hunter-gatherer and agricultural societies have to do with the way that technological innovation transformed existing social and cultural practices, which also allowed for significant physical and intellectual development.

Because their stone tools and other improved techniques led to hunter-gatherers having more leisure time than the farmers who would eventually be tied by daily labor to the land, cave-dwelling people were able to develop a rich artistic tradition that suggests animistic religious belief and ritual. As stories were told around the communal fires, myths emerged that were passed down and remembered, and gods were created that became absorbed into later religious traditions. It is clear from some of the oldest known sites of human habitation that early humans had a profound urge to depict their known world in image and color with an eye for motion and natural detail that reflects a high cognitive function. As oral language developed among early humans so orders could be given and spirits praised, their brains enlarged, expanding their intellectual and imaginary capacities.

The improved food quality and nutrition that came with cooking also contributed to the physical and cognitive growth of humans that would allow them the strength and know-how to begin taming the land for farming.The communal interactions around the cooking and heating fire fostered increasingly complex social organization within hunter-gatherer societies, which was a precursor to the more sophisticated civilizations that developed around agricultural settlements.

While systems of writing were not invented until tens of thousands of years later, nor were temples built to appease the gods, culture flourished among the hunter-gatherers as inter-group exchanges increased in frequency and range of distance. The monuments to religions, wealth, and royalty that distinguished later agricultural city-states with their codification of tradition and law were unprecedented expressions human vision and capability that had been long-evolving in human beings since the breakthroughs of the hunter-gatherer era which accounts for nearly all of human existence.

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When people transitioned to a more sedentary life of agriculture, many aspects of life as hunter-gatherers changed. However, there are some characteristics that both societies retained.

First of all, the importance of the family-structure can be seen in both types of societies. While they differ in detail and make-up, the role of the family remained important. Groups of hunter-gathers were organized by family groups. While agrarian societies had institutions of power and organization placed above the family level, the importance of families in managing and farming tracts of land remained important.

Both types of societies were engaged in technological developments as well. While we often think of hunter-gatherers as primitive, they were adept at creating tools. Weapons for hunting were developed and perfected, such as the atlatl and bow. Other stone and wooden tools were also used to build shelters, process food, and start fires. Agrarian societies also were busy building tools for better food production. Among other things, they invented items such as the plow and scythe to make farming more efficient. Both societies were concerned with coming up with technology to make the functions of living easier and more efficient.

Making art is another similarity between hunter-gatherers and farmers. There are examples of stone-age art that are at least 70,000 years old. These paintings and engravings often depict animals and scenes of hunting in addition to geometric designs. Of course, art did not end with the hunter-gatherers. It continued under agricultural societies and still has an important function in modern civilizations.

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According to The Prehistory of Food: Appetites for Change, edited by Chris Gosden, the differences between hunter-gatherer societies and agricultural societies has been overstated at times. For example, more recent research has questioned the notion of a strict dichotomy between the two types of societies and has suggested that societies can be on a continuum between the two extremes.

In addition, research has suggested that hunter-gatherer societies and agricultural societies were quite similar with regard to their social organization, population density, economy, and means of change. For example, the researcher Lourandos found that hunter-gatherer societies and agricultural societies in Australia and New Guinea had similar population densities and means of harnessing energy. Therefore, both societies were similar in the density of their populations, though some earlier experts had believed that agricultural societies gave rise to denser populations. The author also cites evidence that challenges the idea that agricultural societies were more complex than hunter-gatherer societies and that technology and innovation moved only from farmers to hunter-gatherers. Instead, both types of societies could develop in complexity, and technology was spread in both directions, from hunter-gatherers to farmers and vice versa.

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Most archeologists believe that both agricultural societies and hunting-gathering societies divide labor between the sexes. This means that men and women participate in distinct, specialized labor tasks as an expression of their gendered identity. Sexual division of labor can be observed among extant pastoral and agricultural societies. However, since only a few (small) hunting-gathering societies exist, scholars cannot know for sure how these societies organize and divide their labor. Despite difficulties in the anthropological study of hunting-gathering societies, the general consensus is that these societies organize(d) labor along the lines of gender. This hypothesis is widely accepted among scholars because it is buttressed by a large amount of archeological evidence. 

Both agricultural societies and hunting-gathering societies kept careful track of the seasons. Pre-dating written language and formal calanders, hunting-gathering societies oriented themselves to changing seasons by noting the position of stars and constellations. Attuned to changes in weather and sky, nomadic hunting-gathering groups would move to follow hunted game. Agricultural societies likewise worked with the seasons, paying attention to changes in temperature and other natural signs in order to determine the best times to plant, harvest, etc. 

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