Before Farming

Food sharing past and present

archaeological evidence for economic and social interactions

Before Farming (2003), 2003, (1), 1–23.

Abstract

Food sharing has been proposed as a fundamental basis for the evolution of human behaviour, and a universal characteristic of modern hunters and gatherers. Various theoretical models contrast immediate vs delayed consumption, or sharing vs storage, with the inference that these may be seen as mutually exclusive phenomena. A survey of cross-cultural evidence for sharing in the ethnographic literature indicates quite a range of variation in actual practice of food sharing among modern hunters and gatherers. While competing theories attribute this behaviour to ideological or ecological bases, most ideological models are very difficult to test in the archaeological record. The difficulty lies first in establishing that food sharing took place, as opposed to mere assertion that it did, and second in demonstrating linkages between perceived patterns in the archaeological record and explanatory models said to account for the practice. Faunal remains from a late Upper Palaeolithic archaeological site are used to examine food sharing. The spatial patterning of the distribution of portions of individual reindeer carcasses from level IV-20 of Pincevent indicates aspects of food sharing in stages of multi-tiered distribution. These results are compared with those from other methods for investigating food sharing in prehistory. Indices based on minimum numbers of individuals from the individual household locations at Pincevent are shown to underrepresent severely the food sharing interactions that are indicated by carcass refitting. Carcass refitting is suggested as an appropriate and feasible method for investigating food sharing on other archaeological sites.

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Enloe, James

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