Tag Archives: Foraging


Farmers actually work more than hunter-gatherers, have less leisure time

New research says that agriculture may not have been the smartest move we ever pulled. The authors of the study report that hunter-gatherers in the Philippines who are transitioning towards agriculture work for significantly longer each day. Women seem to be the hardest hit by this transition.


Image via Pixabay.

A team of researchers led by University of Cambridge anthropologist Dr. Mark Dyble lived with the Agta people, a group of small-scale hunter-gatherers from the northern Philippines who are increasingly engaging in agriculture. The team says that engagement in farming and other non-foraging work resulted in the Agta working harder and for more time every day — in essence, it ate into their leisure time. On average, the Agta that primarily engaged in agriculture worked 10 more hours per week compared to foraging-focused ones. The women living in agricultural communities were especially hard-hit: on average, they only had half as much leisure time as their hunter-gatherer counterparts.

Toils of the earth

“For a long time, the transition from foraging to farming was assumed to represent progress, allowing people to escape an arduous and precarious way of life,” says Dr Dyble, first author of the study.

“But as soon as anthropologists started working with hunter-gatherers they began questioning this narrative, finding that foragers actually enjoy quite a lot of leisure time. Our data provides some of the clearest support for this idea yet.”

The researchers recorded what the Agta were up to at regular intervals between 6 am and 6 pm for every day they were there, across ten Agta communities. Using this data, the team then calculated how 359 Agta managed their time: in particular, they were curious to see how much time they assigned to leisure, childcare, domestic chores, and out-of-camp work per day. Some of the Agta people in the study engaged in hunting and gathering exclusively, while others mixed foraging with rice farming.

Increased engagement in farming and other non-foraging activities was linked to larger workloads and less leisure time, the team reports. On average, the Agta that engaged primarily in farming worked roughly 30 hours per week, while forager-onlys worked around 20 hours, the team estimates. The difference was largely due to women, they add, who had to forgo domestic activities and work in the fields. Women living in the communities most involved in farming had half as much leisure time as those in communities which only foraged.

Both men and women had the lowest amount of leisure time at around 30 years of age, although it kept increasing steadily later on. Overall, women spent less time working outside of the camp, and more on domestic chores and childcare (in-camp activities) than men. All in all, however, both sexes enjoyed a roughly equal amount of leisure time. Adoption of farming had a disproportionate impact on women’s lives, however, as we’ve mentioned above.

“This might be because agricultural work is more easily shared between the sexes than hunting or fishing,” Dr Dyble says. “Or there may be other reasons why men aren’t prepared or able to spend more time working out-of-camp. This needs further examination.”

“The amount of leisure time that Agta enjoy is testament to the effectiveness of the hunter-gatherer way of life. This leisure time also helps to explain how these communities manage to share so many skills and so much knowledge within lifetimes and across generations,” says Dr Abigail Page, an anthropologist at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine and one of the paper’s co-authors.

However, “we have to be really cautious when extrapolating from contemporary hunter-gatherers to different societies in pre-history,” she adds. “But, if the first farmers really did work harder than foragers then this begs an important question — why did humans adopt agriculture?”

The paper “Engagement in agricultural work is associated with reduced leisure time among Agta hunter-gatherers” has been published in the journal Nature Human Behaviour.


The ‘forager gene’ of humans and fruit flies works in practically the same way

An international team of researchers reports that a gene humans and fruit flies share has a similar effect on their behavior. The same gene is found in many species across the world, likely acting in a similar way.


Image via Pixabay.

This might seem ludicrous, but there was a time in which humans couldn’t go to the grocery store to get food. In those dark times, we had to forage our way into a meal. New research shows that one gene with significant impact on foraging behavior in fruit flies (Drosophila melanogaster) has a similar effect on our own foraging strategies.

Will search for food

The team, which includes researchers from Canada, the U.K., and the U.S. has found that a gene known as PRKG1 — which is present in a wide range of species — can dictate whether individuals are “assessors” or “locomotors” when foraging for food.

The team worked with a group of college volunteers, who were asked to play a video game on a tablet. The object of this game was to find as many berries (which were hidden among plants) as possible. Each participant could navigate the environment at will and click on individual berries to pick them up. After playing the game, each volunteer was asked to give a tissue sample for DNA testing.

Some volunteers took a perimeter-first approach, the team reports — these were the “assessors” — while others dove right into the thick of it — these are the “locomotors”. Next, the team looked at the differences in the human equivalent of the PRKG1 — a nucleotide polymorphism genotype called rs13499 — among these participants, and compare them with those seen in fruit flies.

Prior research has shown that one variant of the PRKG1 gene pushes flies towards the “assessor” pattern of behavior, while another makes them “locomotors”. Upon entering an area, assessors are more likely to tour its perimeter first, then move inward. Locomotors, in contrast, make a beeline for the first fruits they see.

If you’re thinking ‘hey, those behaviors seem pretty similar,’ you’re spot on. The team reports finding the same gene variants responsible for instigating locomotor or assessor behavior in fruit flies in their college participants, having the same effect in both species. They further note that the search paths taken by the human volunteers and the sitter and rover fruit flies were nearly identical.

The findings suggest that this gene-induced preference in foraging patterns likely holds for other species as well. The team adds that their findings also suggest the patterns of behavior we employ when pursuing our goals can also be connected with these two gene variants.

The paper “Self-regulation and the foraging gene (PRKG1) in humans” has been published in the journal PNAS.