Before Farming

Aboriginal economy and society at the threshold of colonisation

a comparative study

Before Farming (2003), 2003, (3), 1–24.

Abstract

Drawing on early ethnography as well as more recent studies, this paper summarises the results of a comparative study of Aboriginal economy and society in seven contrasting regions of Australia as they were at the threshold of colonisation. The comparison proceeds along several dimensions: environment and population, resources and technology, settlement and mobility, key institutional forms (modes of identity, kinship, cosmology and governance), and economy (control of production, organisation of production, distribution and consumption, exchange and trade). The study indicates that in spite of widely contrasting environments, very varied population densities, and degrees of mobility, the organisation of production and basic patterns of distribution were very similar in all regions. Institutional forms varied considerably, however. The paper traces some of the conditions and consequences of this variation.

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Keen, Ian