Pygmy nets & raven scouts

Eleanor Konik

Eleanor Konik

Professionally, I teach world history. In my downtime, I enjoy combining storytelling with my love of sharing obscure history and science.


Hunting has been a pretty important aspect of people's lives for a really long time, but it doesn't show up often in fiction. Oh, you see it in the occasional medieval European style fantasy, or off-handedly referenced in something like the Pern books, but not as often as battles or arguments. Maybe because "man vs. beast" stories tend to be less popular than "man vs. man" plots? Regardless, I realized that part of the reason I don't write a lot of hunting stories is that I don't know much about hunting, so I did a little research...

Quick Facts

The Flush of Success

Successful hunters who are also fathers wind up with more testosterone after the hunt. This is similar to what's experienced by men who win games, sports competitions, or promotions at work. This happens even if they weren't personally involved in the sporting event or making the kill. The elevated testosterone might help reinforce the desire to hunt, but mostly this indicates that human hunting behaviors are motivated by a desire to feed one's family, rather than gaining status.

Low Risk, Fine Reward

Although people often think of hunting as an activity for male hunter-gatherers (with females doing the gathering), Martu (part-time Aboriginal foragers from Australia's Western Desert) women do most of the monitor lizard hunting, which accounts for about a third of the diet. The women spend most of their foraging time hunting lizards. First they burn away vegetation to find the lizard dens, then dig them out of the dens and chase them into places they can't burrow. Martu men tend to hunt kangaroo, which are a less reliable source of food.

Net Hunting

The BaAka (pygmies) are considered premier net hunters. Both genders participate in the hunt, which begins by setting up a big circular net structure; the net is about a kilometer long. Generally, the women flush the game into the nets, while the men use their spears to kill the animals, but it's not a strict division from what I can tell.

Mixed Economies

This article about the interactions between human and animals in the Neolithic era says things like "the people of Çatalhöyük practiced a mixed economy: they farmed sheep and goat and cultivated wild cereals, while still gathering wild plants and hunting wild animals like deer, boar, horses and aurochs" but what struck me is that this was true in Appalachia within the last hundred years, too. For an interesting look at a mixed economy in the process of shifting away from hunting, check out this Brazilian example.

📗 If you found this interesting, check out these previous editions of the newsletter, which included information about the sociopolitical importance of boar hunting & why Siberian hunters drink reindeer urine.

💚 If you learned something from this overview, consider forwarding it to a friend and encouraging them to sign up for more overviews of my research into obscure history and science.

🏹 Have you ever been hunting? I mostly grew up fishing, myself, so can you tell me about what it was like, either via email or in a comment where other readers can see? Otherwise, have a great week!


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