Daily Bulletin

The Conversation

  • Written by The Conversation
imageModern hunter-gather cultures, like the Agta of the Philippines, show how equal our ancestors were.Rodolph Schlaepfer

It is often believed that hierarchical and sometimes oppressive social structures like the patriarchy are somehow natural – a reflection of the law of the jungle. But the social structure of today’s hunter gatherers suggests that our ancestors were in fact highly egalitarian, even when it came to gender. Their secret? Not living with many relatives.

These societies were not only strikingly different from most horticulturalist, farming and pastoralist societies today, but also from the hierarchical societies of apes, our closest evolutionary relatives. Chimpanzees and gorillas are known to have patterns of sex inequality similar to post-agriculture humans.

The history of hierarchy

About 10,000 years ago, humans started forming societies based on food production which also led to the development of wealth accumulation and inheritance. It was these factors that resulted in well-structured hierarchies based on social ranking – with more wealth leading to more power. This organisation was also expressed at the gender level. The sex that could monopolise resources could also take charge of territories, wedding decisions, family life and was ultimately able to control the opposite sex.

imageFemales in the back, please!wikimedia

Specifically, sex inequality – which is seen in most food-producing societies that evolved relatively recently in human history – meant that the powerful sex (most often men) could dictate alliances between the relatives they lived with. This increased the power of clans and facilitated wealth transfer over generations. The weaker sex (most often the women) as a rule had no choice but to follow their husbands and move with their husband’s family.

Well, we do not believe that this grim scenario is necessarily “natural”. Before food production started, we were all hunter-gatherers. And if the few hunter-gatherer groups living today are representative of our adaptive past, then our findings suggest that our ancestors were much more egalitarian, and sex-egalitarian, than we are.

In our study of the BaYaka from Congo and the Agta from the Philippines, what is striking is how egalitarian these populations are in many social domains: there are no chiefs, no large households, no property of land or resources, and couples are welcome to come and go between camps as they please. Couples must constantly move around between camps in search of food or in search of people to share food with, and for this reason group composition keeps changing. As a result individuals in a camp can be highly unrelated to each other, which prevents the formation hierarchical structures.

imageThe Ogiek people are some of the few remaining hunter-gatherers, living in East AfricaEPA

This freedom of movement allows for both men and women to recruit help from their families when necessary. The main result from our computer simulations and co-residence data was that although both husbands and wives try to maximise the number of family members living close by, neither sex has the upper hand. This implies that neither one ends up living with their relatives but instead reside with a small proportion of relatives and in-laws and a large number of unrelated individuals. Rules of sharing are therefore extended to unrelated co-residents, and movement between camps is frequently used as a way to avoid the less cooperative individuals.

These populations could not have evolved in harsh environments without placing cooperation between the sexes and families at the heart of their lifestyle. In a nutshell, this means that egalitarianism, food sharing, large-scale cooperation and sex equality are all a matter of necessity in hunter-gatherers.

The evolution of fairness

Our simulations are a simple mechanistic answer for the puzzle of why modern hunter-gatherers live with so few kin, but they have huge implications for our understanding of human evolution, and also of human nature.

The fact that we are able to live, interact and cooperate with unrelated individuals and not only with kin has been recently identified as the most fundamental difference between human societies and other animal societies.

Of course, humans have the capacity to be anything, from the most cruel and unequal species, with sex slavery and warfare, to the most cooperative and caring animal, with people donating blood to complete strangers. Good and evil are just the two extremes of our malleable nature. However, the few surviving hunter-gatherers groups show us that without the equality and cooperation between sexes that they share with our distant ancestors many of the characteristics that we like to call “uniquely human”, such as caring for others and fairness, would probably not have evolved.

Andrea Migliano receives funding from The Leverhulme Trust. She is also a member of Agta Aid.

Lucio Vinicius receives funding from the Leverhulme Trust.

Authors: The Conversation

Read more http://theconversation.com/why-our-ancestors-were-more-gender-equal-than-us-41902

Writers Wanted

The Mitchells vs The Machines shows 'smart' tech might be less of a threat to family bonds than we fear

arrow_forward

The Essentials of DIY Home Repairs: What You'll Need

arrow_forward

The Conversation
INTERWEBS DIGITAL AGENCY

Politics

Prime Minister interview with Karl Stefanovic and Allison Langdon

Karl Stefanovic: PM, good morning to you. Do you have blood on your hands?   PRIME MINISTER: No, it's obviously absurd. What we're doing here is we've got a temporary pause in place because we'v...

Karl Stefanovic and Allison Langdon - avatar Karl Stefanovic and Allison Langdon

Prime Minister Scott Morrison delivered Keynote Address at AFR Business Summit

Well, thank you all for the opportunity to come and be with you here today. Can I also acknowledge the Gadigal people, the Eora Nation, the elders past and present and future. Can I also acknowled...

Scott Morrison - avatar Scott Morrison

Morrison Government commits record $9B to social security safety net

The Morrison Government is enhancing our social security safety net by increasing support for unemployed Australians while strengthening their obligations to search for work.   From March the ...

Scott Morrison - avatar Scott Morrison

Business News

The logistics behind setting up massive vaccination hubs in South Australia

To scale up the South Australian vaccination rollout, Portable Partitions Australia were approached by SA Health to urgently provide 78 vaccinations booths across the Northern and Central mass vac...

NewsCo - avatar NewsCo

The Age Of Advertising: The Importance of Online Business Advertisements

The language of advertising had long grown since its modern beginning in the 15th century when printing was all the jazz. Nowadays, it continues to flourish and adapt as new mediums are created, a...

NewsCo - avatar NewsCo

What is Hampering Your Good Sleep? 7 Things to Check

A good sleep is the pillar of a healthy body and a strong mind. Countless studies have proven how a good night’s sleep goes hand in hand with good health and a productive day ahead. Sleep has an i...

NewsCo - avatar NewsCo