The Diversity of Hunter-Gatherer Pasts
Bill Finlayson and Graeme Warren (eds)
Oxbow Books, £36
Review by: George Nash
In the recent past, there has been a tendency to be cautious when applying anthropology to assist in understanding archaeology. While many will agree with this notion per se, anthropology can be a useful tool in explaining how past hunter-fishergatherer societies functioned in the distant past, especially in general terms of social, political, and ritual organisation. One can conceive through careful research that many of these traits in, say, contemporary South African !Kung or Mbuti societies also existed in Mesolithic and Upper Palaeolithic hunter-gatherer communities throughout the world. Taking this notion into consideration: enter the recent publication of The Diversity of Hunter-Gatherer Pasts.
Based on the editors’ introduction, Finlayson and Warren suggest that contemporary hunter-gatherer communities from around the world are organised in different ways, which supports the idea that the archaeological material culture varies considerably from region to region. Reflecting this diversity, the book covers a broad scope of places across the world, including the north-west coast of North America, central Africa, Japan, and the Arctic and Antarctic. These geographic studies are supported by good theoretical discussions.
The book provides the reader with a global view of hunter-gatherers, and is an important contribution to our understanding of how prehistoric hunter-gatherer societies may have functioned.