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SIL Anthropologist contributes to long-term research on present-day hunter-gatherers

Agta residence group, 1963, by T. Headland Agta residence group, 1963, by T. Headland

(March 2011) The American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) has just published a ground-breaking article on co-residence patterns of present-day hunter-gatherer societies. It was published in the AAAS’s March 11 issue of Science, the premier global science weekly. The article is titled “Co-Residence Patterns in Hunter-Gatherer Societies Show Unique Human Social Structure,” with Kim Hill of Arizona State University as the lead author in collaboration with nine co-authors, all of whom are specialists in human forager societies. SIL anthropologist Thomas Headland, one of the co-authors, contributed to this long-term research collaboration with his own data on the Agta hunter-gatherer people in the Philippine rainforest. Tom and his wife Janet lived with the Agta people for many decades, beginning in 1962 to their last fieldtrip in 2010, under the auspices of SIL and the Philippine Department of Education. During those years part of their demographic research consisted of taking repeated censuses of Agta bands, mapping their camp groups and tracking how members of each group were related to everyone else.

Their data, when compiled with those collected in 32 other hunter-gatherer societies around the world, are presented in this article showing that hunter-gatherer group structure is unique among vertebrates, including primates. The evidence here is overwhelming that human foragers do not live in patrilocal bands, as anthropologists like Julian Steward have argued in the past. Instead Hill and Headland and their colleagues show that 20th century hunter-gatherers live bilocally (a married couple may live with either the husband’s or the wife’s natal group), and that these patterns produce large interaction networks of unrelated adults. The authors assume in their model that today’s foraging societies better represent ancestral patterns.

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