Myths about hunter-gatherers redux : nomadic forager war and peace

Douglas Fry, Patrik Söderberg

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticleScientificpeer-review

    19 Citations (Scopus)


    Purpose - The purpose of this paper is to critique several studies that claim to show that nomadic foragers engage in high levels of inter-group aggression. This is done through exploring four myths: nomadic foragers are warlike; there was a high rate of war mortality in the Pleistoscene; the nomadic forager data support the "chimpanzee model" of lethal raiding psychology; and contact and state influence inevitably decrease aggression in nomadic forager societies.

    Design/methodology/approach - Using exact criteria, a sample of 21 nomadic forager societies is derived from the Standard Cross-Cultural Sample. This sampling method minimizes the chance of sampling bias, a shortcoming that has plagued previous studies. Only the highest quality ethnographic data, those classified as Primary Authority Sources, are used, which results in data on 148 cases of lethal aggression. The specifics of the lethal aggression cases are then discussed vis-à-vis the four myths to demonstrate the disjuncture between the data and the myths.

    Findings - All four myths are found t be out of step with actual data on nomadic forager war and peace. Overall, the default interaction pattern of nomadic foragers is to get along with neighbours rather than make war against them. The findings contradict both assertions that there was a high level of war mortality among nomadic foragers of the Pleistoscene and the chimpanzee model's proposal that human males have a tendency or predisposition to form coalitions and make lethal attacks on members of neighbouring groups.

    Original languageUndefined/Unknown
    Pages (from-to)255–266
    JournalJournal of Aggression, Conflict and Peace Research
    Issue number4
    Publication statusPublished - 2014
    MoE publication typeA1 Journal article-refereed


    • peace
    • war
    • hunter-gatherers
    • Chimpanzee model

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