I am sure I have read it somewhere, but I can't figure out in which book anymore (I think Steve Pinker's How the Mind Works)

Most of human (pre-)history (and evolution) has happened in a foraging economic and social context. What surface area was required per person for a hunter-gatherer society to thrive? Since the ideal environment for foragers was the Savannah (c.f. Pinker), we could take this as a default ecosystem to compare to other environments, like steps or jungles.

Any numbers? Thanks.

  • I remember reading an estimate that, without agriculture, the USA's lower 48 could support only 2 to 6 million people. ... Not sure we have any evidence of an HG society that didn't also interact with agricultural societies though. Sep 23, 2012 at 23:31
  • persquaremile.com/2011/08/05/…
    – none
    Sep 24, 2012 at 0:13

2 Answers 2


I found this quote:

“Based on the preceding calculations, a family of five would require an estimated 200 ha of habitat from which to gather animal and plant food. This estimate is based on an ideal ecosystem, one containing those wild plants and animals that are most suitable for human consumption. Researchers report that, in fact, modern-day hunter-gatherers need much more than 40 ha per person. For instance, Clark and Haswell (1970) estimate that at least 150 ha of favorable habitat per person is needed to secure an adequate food supply. In a moderately favorable habitat, these scientists estimate that 250 ha per person would be required. These estimates are four to six times greater than those in the model presented earlier. In marginal environments, such as the cold northwestern Canadian region, each person needs about 14,000 ha to harvest about 912,500 kcal of food energy per year (Clark and Haswell, 1970).”

  • [David Pimentel and Marcia H. Pimentel, ‘Food, Energy, and Society’, third edition, (Boca Raton, FL: CRC Press, 2008), p. 45-46.]

There isn't going to be just one number. It depends a lot on the environment they find themselves in. For example, obviously the Tuareg in their desert envionrment require a lot of territory for every tribe to support itself. On the other extreme, I understand that the pre-columbian Native Americans in the pacific northwest were living in such a productive environment that their population densities rivaled a lot of farming communities.

Note that this environment was not savannah, but cedar forrest (with lots of rivers full of salmon).

  • 1
    Yes exactly, I didn't expect one number indeed, but an approximate depending on roughly defined habitats. Sep 26, 2012 at 16:33

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