The Hunting Gathering Hypothesis

The hunter-gatherer hypothesis was proposed by Silverman and Eals (1992) as an evolutionary explanation for sex differences in spatial ability. The main idea is that sex differences in task performance result from a natural selection process that favors hunting-related skills in men and foraging-related skills in women. Although we cannot test the hypothesis directly, we can test its prediction, and we have applied this method in a series of studies to generate new and testable predictions.

One of the longest-running debates in anthropology and related disciplines has focused on the relative weight of aggression and competition versus non-aggression and cooperation as motivators—the evolution of human behavior. Literature about hunter-gatherer societies – past and present – has played a prominent role in these debates.

The Hunting Hypothesis

The hunting hypothesis is that hunting activities primarily influenced human evolution and that hunting activities distinguished human ancestors from other primates. This is in contrast to the population hypothesis. Proponents of the hunting hypothesis tend to believe that tool use and manufacturing are essential to human evolution because tools are essential to effective hunting. Furthermore, women are so preoccupied with pregnancy and child care that they do not hunt because it is dangerous and less profitable.

Moreover, subsistence labor is different, as observations suggest that gender patterns are due to genetic traits. Another possible explanation for female foraging is the inherent priority of raising offspring, which is difficult for females to maintain when hunting. Hunting is considered more cost-effective for men than for women. The division of labor allows us to use both types of resources (animals and plants). Hunting alone or in small groups requires perseverance and skill rather than strength, so women are just as capable as men. Strength, stamina, or endurance cannot explain why women do not hunt big games regularly. You can take it with a shoulder sling for Females to hunt when they are compatible with children. This usually means communal netting or hunting for small prey. If rearing prevents a female from hunting at a young age, her expertise may help her become an effective hunter later.

Although the hunting hypothesis is still debated today, many experts believe that women's impact on their involvement in mostly male hunter-gatherers was far more significant than previously thought. Theories suggest that females in herbal societies regularly hunt smaller prey and occasionally larger prey. Because such women developed the necessary qualities for hunting: stamina, coordination of movements, and athletic ability, all capable groups, including women, were encouraged to participate, as hunting big game requires a collective effort.

Additionally, since more energy was required to utilize atlatl or javelin throwing, contributions from everyone, including women, helped reduce the energy expended using an atlatl. Such examples include the Maatu women of Western Australia, who frequently hunt monitor lizards and lizards. Females may also participate in shared game drives and have extensive knowledge of the land they use to help males hunt.

Gathering Hypothesis

The gathering hypothesis is an evolutionary psychology term coined in 1970s feminism as the antithesis of the "hunting hypothesis," which suggests that foraging rather than hunting is the main factor that led to the emergence of anatomically modern humans. David Buss argues that the tools were not initially used for hunting but for digging and gathering vegetation.

The invention of tools may explain the transition from forest habitats to wooded savannas and grasslands. Tools made gathering food more accessible and economical, allowing ancestral humans to live in a less sparse environment. It was not until the invention of food containers that more sophisticated tools were developed for hunting, skinning, and butchering. According to the gathered hypothesis, hunting did not play a significant role in the evolution of modern humans.

The gathering theory is an excellent correction to the exclusive focus on male hunting in human evolution. It helps explain that our primate cousins' diets, and likely our hominid predecessors' diets, comprised primarily of plant food. It also helps to explain why collected plant foods constitute more than 35% of hunter-gatherer diets. Also, it emphasizes the importance of all population members— males and females—in evolutionary terms; women have frequently been disregarded as essential players in the development of modern humans.

Men- The Hunters, Women- The Gatherers

Archaeological evidence from Peru indicates that some ancient big game hunters were women. Science writers have supported one of the most common beliefs about ancient hunter-gatherers: men hunted and questioned the notion that women were the foragers. Armed with imagination and a handful of fossils, the story of human origins was developed by an anthropologist in the early 20th century.

They viewed male hunting as a significant driver of human evolution, endowing their early ancestors with bipedalism, large brains, tools, and a desire for violence. In this story, hunting also led to nuclear families, with women waiting at home for men to bring meat home.

These constraints play a role in shaping risk appetite. For hunter-gatherers, searching is dangerous and likely to fail. Males typically hunt alone or in small groups, target large games with projectile weapons, and need to travel long distances quickly. Females, in contrast, prefer to hunt in groups, concentrating on small, easy-to-catch prey near camps, often with the help of dogs. Women are often critical to the success of others' hunting through logistical and ritual support.

In such cases, the woman can help catch the animal, beat it to death, and take the meat home. Moreover, in big-game hunting societies, women support the hunters by making clothing, weapons, and means of transport. , may also graze where it surrounds and kills its prey.

As a result, a hunter-gatherer faces difficult decisions about dividing up a complex task into her 24-hour day. In this context, economic considerations show that specialization pays off. Low comparative advantages such as speed and strength and incompatibility with parenting can lead to a division of labor that increases the group's overall food supply. From this perspective, the decision for females to hunt less than males could be a reasonable effort allocation decision.

Comparing the Hunting and Gathering Hypotheses

Despite its relevance, the gathering theory has been questioned by many who do not believe it can explain the split of humans from the monkey lineage. Men throughout the world hunt. If collecting were the most profitable human technique of food acquisition, why wouldn't men gather and quit wasting their time hunting? In other words, the gathering theory fails to explain the observed division of work between the sexes across various societies, with males hunting and women collecting.

In contrast, the hunting hypothesis might clarify this division of work. That explains why women do not hunt regularly: they are preoccupied with pregnancy and dependent children, making hunting more onerous, hazardous, and less rewarding. In short, males can afford to hunt more cheaply than women. Furthermore, the division of labor allows for the exploitation of both types of resources—animals, and plants. The gathering theory does not explain the significant parental investment by human males. It fails to account for the rise of solid masculine coalitional psychology.

It also fails to explain why humans colonized numerous regions devoid of plant resources; the Eskimos, for example, subsist nearly solely on animal flesh and fat. The gathering theory also fails to explain why the human gut anatomy, notably the enormous size of the small intestine compared to plant-eating primates, appears to be specifically built to handle meat. The gathering theory struggles to explain why people build long-lasting extensive reciprocal friendships. It also struggles to explain why women should share their food with males, who would be parasites sponging off women's work unless they contributed something in exchange, such as meat.

Nevertheless, exchanging gathered food for meat might explain why women were willing to share the food they collected and prepared with males. In conclusion, ancestral females have gathered plant foods across millions of years of primate and human history. Stone tools made plant collection more effective, and gathering was vital in reciprocal trades between the sexes.


The theory of hunter-gatherer human evolution holds that men and women were selected for their cognitive abilities related to hunting and gathering. This concept has been put forward to explain the findings that women tend to perform better on tasks related to object-location memory. In contrast, men tend to perform better on tasks related to object-location memory and directional tasks. In summary, men can hunt for less money than women.

Additionally, the division of labor allows for exploiting animal and plant resources. The gathering idea does not account for human males' considerable parental investment. It ignores the establishment of a strong male coalitional psychology. It also fails to explain why humans colonized many areas lacking plant resources; for example, the Eskimos live almost entirely on animal flesh and fat.

The gathering argument also fails to explain why the human gut structure, particularly the vast size of the small intestine compared to plant-eating primates, appears to be designed expressly for meat consumption.

Updated on: 12-Apr-2023


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