So, it's kind of a silly comic, definitely good for a few chuckles. Yet, when you take a second to think about it, there's a lot packed into it. In two little panels, the cartoonist manages to bring up two of the biggest misconceptions about prheistoric hunter-gatherers: 1) that hunter-gatherers spend only a small amount of time a day foraging for food and have an abundance of leisure time to devote to other pursuits; and 2) that modern humans actively killed off Neanderthals.
Now while some people still believe that confrontational, violent interactions occurred at least some of the time when modern humans and Neanderthals crossed paths (e.g., Mellars 2005), faithful AVRPI readers will know by now that this view not only glosses over a ton of inconvenient evidence, but also doesn't really jive with what we know about how groups of hunter-gatherers really compete with one another (cf. O'Connell 2006).
The first component, though - the 4-5 hours of work thing - is more interesting. It taps into a now outgrown view of hunter-gatherers as having comparatively easy lives, where only a few hours a day were spent procuring food. This idea derives from the notion of the "original affluent society" first promulgated by M. Sahlins during the Man the Hunter conference (Sahlins 1968). That conference was held in Chicago in 1966 and was published as an edited volume by the same name in 1968 (Lee and de Vore 1968). Using some of the data on foraging returns that Lee had collected, Sahlins argued that foragers like the Kalahari San groups only spent a few hours a day foraging for food, spending the rest of their time gossiping or involved in assorted leisure activities.
This was pretty revolutionary for the time. Up to that point, hunter-gatherers had been seen by most anthropologists as perpetually living difficult, physically demanding lives and as always living on the brink of starvation. Sahlins' perspective, on top of having a catchy name, was the perfect foil to that traditional view, on top of providing a view of 'people closer to nature' as living what was in many ways possibly a better life than 20th post-industrial Westerners that fit in well with some of the counter-culture ideas in vogue at the time.
However, in spite of its conceptual and socio-political sexiness, the 'original affluent society' was just as unrealistic a view as that of perpetually hungry foragers. For one thing, it was based on observations made on a handful of forager societies, and even if it had been true for them, it would have been unwarranted to transpose it to all hunter-gatherers in all times and places. Second, Sahlins ignored the fact that several hours were also employed processing the food resources gathered in the 2-4 hours he saw as a typical work day for hunter-gatherers. Thorough reviews and criticisms of the OAS model include those written by Bird-David (1992:26-28) and Kelly (1995:15-19).
Anyhoo, all of this to say that, in addition to being funny on the face of it, this little comic is doubly funny to the informed reader, since it also capitalizes (maybe unwittingly) on two anthropological idea that have very much outlived their original usefulness.
Bird-David, N. (1992). Beyond "The Original Affluent Society": A Culturalist Reformulation Current Anthropology, 33 (1) DOI: 10.1086/204029
Lee, R.B., and I. DeVore. 1968. Man the Hunter. Aldine, Chicago.
Kelly, R.L. 1995 The Foraging Spectrum. Smithsonian Institution Press, Washington, D.C.
Mellars, P. (2005). The impossible coincidence. A single-species model for the origins of modern human behavior in Europe Evolutionary Anthropology, 14 (1), 12-27 DOI: 10.1002/evan.20037
O'Connell, J.F. 2006. How did modern humans displace Neaderthals? Insights from hunter-gatherer ethnography and archaeology. In When Neanderthals and modern humans met, (N. Conard, ed.), pp. 43-64. Tubingen: Kerns Verlag.
Sahlins, M. 1968. Notes on the Original Affluent Societies. In Man the Hunter, (R. Lee and I. DeVore, eds.), pp. 85-89. Aldine, Chicago.