Hunter Gatherer Research

Systematic description and analysis of food sharing practices among hunter-gatherer societies of the Americas

Hunter Gatherer Research (2018), 4, (1), 113–150.


Ethnographic documentation consistently informs us that practices related to food sharing are dynamic chains of events resulting from highly differentiated forms of individual and group-based interactions. Specific behaviours and transaction strategies can be identified for every hunting, gathering and fishing group or society, and the sequence of such actions develops into a multi-stage process with distinctive practices and characteristics assigned to each point of the sequence.

Detailed, empirical examples of sharing activities and multi-stage sequences can be recorded cross-culturally and at a cross-continental scale. The present paper develops a novel, systematic description of sharing activities by identifying specific behavioural patterns through textual and critical analysis, unequivocally defining and codifying each practice, and treating it as a particular expression of a multi-modal stage, and arranging each multi-modal stage in a fixed sequence of stages that can be consistently observed across a chosen set of populations.

In this way each population can be univocally described as a list of mutually exclusive characters. Each character is the expression of a specific stage in a sequence of stages, which is the same for all populations. The proposed method makes empirical evidence on food sharing directly comparable across different contexts and facilitates the application of pattern-recognition methods for exploring broad trends, as well as the use of statistical techniques for inferring processes underlying the diversity recorded. Obtained results highlight the differential relevance of diverse mechanisms generating sharing patterns, and shed light on important issues such as the impact of the presence or absence of the figure of a distributor (as well as the kind of distributor), and the relevance of geographic proximity in explaining similarity in sharing practices among North American populations – as opposed as to what can be observed in South America.

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Author details

Caro, Jorge

Bortolini, Eugenio