Hunter-Gatherer Societies Have Three-Tiered Social Networks

In good times households can support themselves, but sharing builds networks for when there is need. Gul Deniz Salali

A study of two hunter-gatherer societies located half a world apart has found similarities in the shape of their social networks. These structures have great survival value during hard times, and commonalities with societies where the interconnecting web is worldwide, rather than a food web. Having lived for so much of our history in environments like this, such structures may have laid the foundations for our networks in a digital age.

We have plenty of reasons to connect with other people, but our original needs were for sustenance and safety. "No other apes share food to the extent that humans do," said Dr Andrea Migliano of University College London in a statement

Migliano conducted a study, reported in Current Biology, of the Agta people in the Philippines and the Mbendjele people in the Republic of Congo. Neither conducts their own agriculture, although each trade foods they catch or collect with neighbors who do cultivate crops.

Agta children gathering seafood. Rodolph Schlaepfer

Migliano mapped the food sharing networks. In each case, individuals were part of a household usually made up of five to six people. Three to four households would come together in a “cluster” to share food frequently, while also being part of a wider camp, which could be relied on for support if hardship struck an individual household. “In larger camps, there are more clusters rather than larger clusters,” the paper reports.

"Despite being from different continents and living in very different ecologies, both groups of hunter-gatherers had a strikingly similar social organization," said first author Mark Dyble. "Cooperation and especially food sharing are essential for survival in a hunting-and-gathering economy,"

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