“The group engaged entirely in foraging spent forty to fifty per cent of daylight hours at leisure,” Dyble told me, when I asked him to summarize his team’s results, “versus more like thirty per cent for those who engage entirely in farming.” His data validates Lee’s claim that hunter-gatherers enjoy more leisure time than agriculturalists, though perhaps not to the same extreme. Missing from these high-level numbers, however, is an equally important observation: how this leisure time was distributed throughout the day. As Dyble explained, while the farmers engaged in “monotonous, continuous work,” the pace of the foragers’ schedules was more varied, with breaks interspersed throughout their daily efforts. “Hunting trips required a long hike through the forest, so you’d be out all day, but you’d have breaks,” Dyble told me. “With something like fishing, there are spikes, ups and downs . . . only a small per cent of their time is spent actually fishing.”
The final point of difference I observed concerns the nature of the work occupying our time then and now. “[H]ow do you become a successful hunter-gatherer?” Lucassen asks in his magisterial “The Story of Work.” “You must learn it, and the apprenticeship is long.” Drawing from multiple anthropological sources, Lucassen presents a common “schema” for training competent hunters. Young children are given toy hunting weapons to familiarize them with their tools. Next, between the ages of five and seven, they join hunting trips to observe the adults’ techniques. (In general, Lucassen notes, observation is prioritized over teaching.) By the age of twelve or thirteen, children can hunt on their own with their peers and are introduced to more complex strategies. Finally, by late adolescence, they’re ready to learn the details of pursuing larger game. An entire childhood is dedicated to perfecting this useful ability.