Learning to forage in hunter-gatherer societies
Department of Psychology, Simon Fraser University & Department of Archaeology and Heritage Studies, Aarhus University
Studying how contemporary hunter-gatherer children learn to forage can help shed light on the evolution of human cognition, life history, and social organization. Still, our species’ developmental plasticity and socioecological diversity complicates the applicability of single-population findings to our understanding of human evolutionary processes. In this presentation, I draw upon systematic literature reviews and empirical research with Tanzanian Hadza and Congolese BaYaka hunter-gatherer children and adolescents to outline cross-cultural similarities and differences in contemporary hunter-gatherer children’s learning. I first show how play, teaching, participation, and imitation biases contribute to children’s acquisition of skill and cooperative norms. One striking cross-cultural similarity is the primacy of learning with and from peers in the mixed-sex multi-age playgroup. I argue that peer learning may contribute to more rapid, and potentially less costly, knowledge transfers in humans, and may also lead to the innovation of new social norms and subsistence practices. I discuss the implications of these findings to cumulative cultural evolution. Second, I outline how cultural beliefs, ecology, settlement structure, and subsistence opportunities contribute to cross-cultural variation in hunter-gatherer children’s economic work and learning. I argue that these contextual factors can help us understand the selection pressures which have shaped our long childhood and the age-graded division of labour.