Sexual Selection Under Parental Choice in Hunting and Gathering Societies

The determinants of the opportunity cost of free mate choice, and thus the strength of parental choice as a sexual selection force, are affected by environmental factors which vary across societies. Accordingly, in this and the following three chapters, I will attempt to examine how parental choice and other sexual selection forces vary across different society types.

Human societies can be classified in two main categories on the basis of the level of technological development on which they base their subsistence, namely, preindustrial and post-industrial societies. Pre-industrial societies can be further classified into the ones which base their subsistence on hunting and gathering and the ones which base their subsistence on agriculture and animal husbandry. Further subdivision of pre-industrial societies is possible, but, in order to keep the argument simpler, I will focus mainly on these two divisions. In this chapter I am going to explore sexual selection under parental choice in hunting and gathering societies and in the next chapter sexual selection under parental choice in agropastoral societies.

A Typical Foraging Way of Life

Hunters and gatherers do not establish permanent settlements, but they set temporary camps in which they stay for a limited amount of time (Lee & Devore, 1968). Subsistence is based predominantly on gathering plants, vegetables, fruits, honey and seeds, and hunting animals. There is a clear division of labor, where gathering is almost exclusively the job of women and hunting is almost exclusively the job of men. During hunting trips, it is not uncommon for men to gather some seeds or honey for individual consumption. Women may also engage in small animal hunting, such as hunting turtles. Gathering is based on a very simple technology, with women using only a wooden stick, which they employ to extract roots. Hunting is based on a more complex technology, with hunters employing bows, arrows, and spears (Kelly, 2013; Lee & Devore, 1968).

Overall, the technological development of foraging societies is not advanced, and, as a consequence, they do not produce enough food to allow the maintenance of large community sizes. Thus, hunters and gatherers live in small bands, which usually do not exceed 150 people (Kelly, 2013). In the same vein, not much wealth is produced, and people have few material goods in comparison to people living in societies of different subsistence types. Moreover, simple technology translates into low specialization, which, in turn, results into people being relatively self-sufficient. Furthermore, small size, limited wealth, and low specialization make well-developed institutions, such as the church and the law, not needed for the smooth function of hunting and gathering societies; thus, these institutions are usually lacking in these societies (Apostolou, 2013a).

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