Reactive Foraging

The Invisibility of Reactive Foragers and its Implications for Traditional Ecological Knowledge, by Erana Loveless, 2015 

Part of the Following Collections

Society for American Archaeology 2015 Conference; People without Collapse: Peripheries as Active Participants in Cultural Transformations


“Reactive foragers” are people who switched to intensive foraging in reaction to crises. They are largely a people without history because their turn to foraging decreased their archaeological visibility and increased their remoteness from the centers of civilization where written history is concentrated. Ironically, while colonialism was often a driver for reactive foraging it also introduced the keys for reactive foragers to succeed in some cases. Reactive foraging can explain the loss of technologies among dispersing groups, ethnographically and perhaps archaeologically. This work explores past and present examples of reactive foraging globally, as well as conditions in which reactive foraging is most likely to have developed. Reactive foragers often succeeded when able to learn subsistence skills from marginal groups that maintained traditional ecological knowledge (TEK). Thus, while reactive foragers became more marginalized themselves, it was often pre-existing marginal groups that made this survival tactic possible. Preservation issues and archaeological biases have resulted in an invisibility of reactive foragers which diminishes our understanding of the historical utility of TEK. The ability to cycle adaptively through subsistence strategies can improve the resilience of a group facing adversity. However, for this ability to persist, both ecological resources and TEK must also survive.


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