Re: Foragers?

Fred Pearl (fred@ACS.TAMU.EDU)
Tue, 19 Mar 1996 15:04:24 -0600

>So what is it that distinguishes Lee's "band" foragers (!Kung, etc) from
>other foragers such as the NWC foragers (and other chiefdoms [or at least
>from other redistribution-based political-economic systems such as the
>Plains hunters, both Pre and post horse?]) and thereby from conclusions
>about the nature of foraging society in general?

Richard Lee was clearly looking for a micro-distinction between two very
different types of foragers, and I think he was right to do so. But he
didn't have to include a political dimension to do it. As Donna Lanclos
wrote, Binford did it in 1980 with the concept of foragers and collectors.
Also, Woodburn did it in 1980 with immediate and delayed return systems.
Both of these systems show how a foraging mode of production might adapt
its production strategy to complex ecological systems.

>How valid is Lee's proposition that "The concept of *mode of production*
>includes political as well as economic dimensions" if that proposition
>limits the political dimension to only bands?

An excellent point, but I think what he meant to do was to say that any
mode of production whether it be forager, collecter, farmer, or other) is
not as simple a system as other Marxist archaeologists had viewed it. I
suspect that he intended the dimension of politics to diversify each MOP
into multiple types. Thus we could talk about all foragers at one level,
and certain types of foragers at another. Again, it may not have been
necessary as Binford and Woodburn showed. Nonetheless, the concept is valid
as long as it facilitates explanation or understanding of certain aspects
of human culture.

His political distinction correlates closely with Binford and Woodburn's.
It is curious that he chose group infrastructure to subdivide the MOP,
rather than first seek an ecological or otherwise materialist explanation
for the division.

Fred Pearl

Binford, L. 1980
Willow smoke and dogs' tails: hunter-gatherer settlement systems and
archaeological site formation. American Antiquity 45:4-20.

Woodburn, J. 1980
Hunters and gatherers today and reconstruction of the past. In *Soviet and
Western Anthropology*, E. Gellner, editor, pp. 95-117. London:Duckworth.

Center for Environmental Archaeology Geoarchaeology
Texas A&M University Ethnoarchaeology
College Station, TX 77843-4352