Before Farming

Latitudinal trends in hunter-gatherer diets and the ‘tropical exception’

Before Farming (2004), 2004, (3), 1–11.

Abstract

A number of studies have used the Ethnographic Atlas to examine how latitude affects the composition of hunter-gatherer diets. At a general level, these studies find that forager diets do exhibit latitudinal trends, but at a more detailed level they also reveal unexpected complexities. In particular, they show what might be termed a ‘tropical exception': dietary patterns in the tropics diverge from trends apparent in higher latitudes. This ‘tropical exception’ remains something of a puzzle. Analysing the forager societies of the Ethnographic Atlas, this paper argues that the ‘tropical exception’ may be a misinterpretation of discontinuities in the observed latitudinal trends. These discontinuities, in turn, appear to be the product of biases in the representation of forager societies in the Atlas - in particular, of marked latitudinal variations in access to water and hence to aquatic resources.

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Roscoe, Paul