So my understanding is that it was not until the industrial revolution until people could eat farm animals commonly, while hunter gatherer groups subsisted on meat as the main part of their diet, so I want to ask what was the point of early domestication of sheep, pigs etc (for meat and fur) when hunting was more efficient?

  • I recommend to read Guns, Germs and Steel from Jared Diamond first, then ask some questions. – Jos Sep 4 '18 at 4:09
  • @Jos I've watched the film and am familiar with his idea that Guns, Germs and Steel conquered the americas and greater civilizations were made possible by oxen plowing the land (although sidenote maya didn't have oxen but still build up impressive society) perhaps I should have reworded the question why did humans domesticate animals for meat and fur when until the industrial revolution hunting was more efficient? the film isn't really related to my question – Hao S Sep 4 '18 at 4:15
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    How was hunting more "efficient" than animal husbandry? This is a rather surprising assertion that should be supported with citations. In any case your understanding is incorrect; meat was consumed in large quantities well before the industrial revolution. Please consult the relevant wikipedia articles (1) and (2) for important background knowledge on this subject, including a section on how domestication happened, which I suspect may clear up much of the confusion. – Semaphore Sep 4 '18 at 5:01
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    This question would benefit from research - please provide citation for "my understanding is ....." if it is true that mean wasn't common until after the industrial revolution, I suspect it has more to do with the invention of refrigeration and the increase in wealth. – Mark C. Wallace Sep 4 '18 at 9:07
  • well what I've been taught in school was that medieval people only ate meat a few times a year because their farming techniques... I' m not sure about sources here but like school history texts? – Hao S Sep 4 '18 at 15:31

I really recommend you do read the book Guns, Germs and Steel. I've read it, and watched the movie. The movie is no more than an excerpt.

The main reason why people started to domesticate animals and especially grow food is more calories. Agriculture provides a less varied diet - but a steady diet. Also you can store food much better for later use. Doesn't matter if that food is smoked meat or grain.

That is where hunter-gatherers loose out. Sometimes the hunt is successful. Sometimes very successful. What are you going to do with the surplus? Let's say you and your buddies killed two buffaloes instead of one. You can't store it. You can't carry it with you. Perhaps enough for the next few days, but not to last you a week or more. At best no more than two weeks supply. Yes, you can smoke or dry it, but you have to carry it as well. Thus, you have to eat as much as possible, there and then. Until you literally barf the surplus out.

Sometimes, very often actually, the hunt is not successful. What are you going to do then? You starve, until you (hopefully) are more successful in the next hunt.

Don't underestimate starvation. It has a cumulative effect. Your hunt was not successful. That means tightening your belt a bit. As you are hungry, you have less energy for the next hunt - which makes it a bit more difficult to be successful. Thus, you are more likely to fail. Which makes you even more hungry and less capable for the coming hunt, etc. You're also take bigger risks, which means your band can loose one or more members vital for the band.

The effects of starvation last a lot longer than the period you don't have anything to eat.

The best known modern case is the Dutch starvation winter of 1944-45. This is still examined in the descendants of those people today. The actual starvation lasted just one winter. The effects were measurable during the entire life of the people, and in their descendants. As a hunter-gatherer you suffer at least several cases of starvation in your life.

Agricultural societies stored food for later use. They didn't need to carry it around. Their diet was less varied, but far more consistent. The risk of starvation is very real for hunter-gatherers, much less so for agriculturalists. Grain can be stored for many years. Cured meat and other food products can be stored as well for very long periods. Much longer than is possible for a band of hunter-gatherers.

Since they can store food much better for later use, they can also have more children. Hunter-gatherers can't have too many children, they have to space each birth about 4-5 years for the next one. A mother can only carry one child, or possibly 2 children during migrations. One or more children walking, while one was carried was about the practical maximum.

It's not so important that agriculturalists didn't eat meat too often. They had a much more regular diet and far less risk of starvation. Many animals were kept for other purposes than eating. But in the end, a horse, ox or donkey could and would be converted into satay.

  • You are somewhat too pessimistic on the ability of a hunter to preserve meat on the spot, at least for an intermediate period. But a good answer overall. – DevSolar Sep 4 '18 at 7:39
  • I understand growing food was for more calories and was a much more reliable source of food, but meat can be preserved just by smoking it, it seems that even nomadic indians knew how to preserve meat I didn't mean stay hunter gatherer I meant crops+ hunting animals instead of crops + domesticating animals. – Hao S Sep 4 '18 at 15:23
  • @HaoSun: To have crops, the society needs to stay in one place to plant, nurture, and harvest them. To hunt animals, the society needs to stay on the move to follow migrations and allow depleted animal populations to regrow. Subsistence via crops and subsistence via hunting just don't mix well, since one requires a sedentary society and the other a nomadic society. – Giter Sep 4 '18 at 17:19
  • @HaoSun Not necessarily. The first crops were harvested by bands while on the move to the next hunting ground. As they didn't know much about agriculture, they move off after the harvest. Next year, they would find another crop. – Jos Sep 6 '18 at 10:01
  • @Jos Thanks for your input I've been told that agriculture requires far less work during growing season than planting and harvesting which would allow so an agrarian society could still hunt during the growing season similar to early military campaigns. p.s. why so many downvotes? – Hao S Sep 7 '18 at 0:28

While it's true that game meat was the staple food for paleolithic hunter-gatherer societies (1), does that mean it was more efficient than pastoralism? Not really. Hunting isn't a reliable source of food - you are not guaranteed to find any game every time you go out for a hunt. It also doesn't scale with population increase - more hunters doesn't mean more catch, only that the game you do find is easier to kill - and you do need more catch to feed more people. And the more you kill, the less of your food source is readily available. Besides, even hunter-gatherers needed plant food - hence the "gatherer" part; research indicates that paleolithic human diet required fruit and grains at least in some amounts for balance.

On the other hand, both agriculture and pastoralism provide a stable food source. There's less variables farmer (or pastoral nomad) can't control, and more population means more hands available for food production. Moreover, the positive dynamic allows to leave some supplies for times of food shortage (and that's probably the main reason for domestication - live animal "stores" much longer than dead one) - and hunter-gatherer has to eat what he gets in quite short time, or it will spoil. Thus, it's agricultural societies who are more effective at acquiring food - less food at peak consumption, but more overall.

Another point: it's true that in farmer society there's less meat in the diet - animals grow slower than most staple plant foods, and plannning means you can't just eat all of your livestock. But pastoral nomadic societies are different - their main food source are their herds, and while there are more non-meat animal products (like cheese) available to them, the staple of their diet was, again, meat.

  • Another point is that hunting requires a nomad lifestyle. Increasing population, settlements, and division of labor all don't really go together with that -- pastoralism does. – DevSolar Sep 4 '18 at 7:31
  • @DevSolar well, I was more concerned with comparison between pastoral nomads and hunter-gatherers, since animal husbandry is the main difference between the two; the question was about domestication, after all. On another hand, the advantages of sedentary agricultural society over nomadic ones are clear enough to not need an explanation in this scope, I think. – Danila Smirnov Sep 4 '18 at 7:44

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