First Contact:

gather% / fish % / hunt %
fat % / protein % / carb%

A rough estimate to help us understand how carnivorous and how ketogenic these people were before being exposed to western civilization


Click this Slide deck Gallery to see high quality images of the tribe, daily life, diet, hunting and gathering or recipes

About the Tribe

The Hadza is a HG group of about 750 people. They live in Eastern Rift Valley near Lake Eyasi in Northern Tanzania. As stated, Hadza feature prominently in ethnographic analogies with Paleolithic.

Herders have lived near the Hadza for many centuries (Marlowe, 2010). The Hadza do not make or use stone tools. They most probably relied on trading iron from neighboring farmers for at least 500 years since Bantu-speaking farmers arrived in the area (Marlowe, 2010). At the time of contact with European researchers, many of them were speaking their neighbors' language as a second language (Marlowe, 2010). Although in 1917 they were described by Bagshawe as not having dogs, evidence from 1931 to 38 indicates that they kept dogs (Marlowe, 2002:Table 1).

Woodburn (1968) reported that systematic subsistence data had not been gathered in the eight years since the beginning of his research in 1960. A 2009 paper by Marlowe and Berbesque reported that the caloric values of the Hadza diet were still being analyzed. A 31% meat component in caloric terms is reported in Marlowe et al. (2014) and Berbesque et al. (2016).

Considerable ecological changes must have impacted the Hadza territory for many years before European contact due to the encroachment of the Bantu-speaking herders some 500 years ago. Later, Nilotic-speaking cattle herders gradually took over the best foraging spots when they arrived from Sudan 200–300 years ago (Marlowe, 2010:17,18). Marlowe (2010:17) cites a personal communication from Woodburn, indicating a significant increase in herders' presence during the 1950's. Marlowe (2010:36) also provides evidence for herders' encroachment effect on the Hadza. The Hadza themselves say that there is less game than in the past. As noted, Obst (1912) reported seeing large herds of big game in the Yalda valley in 1911 during Obst's visit whereas these days, it is mostly Datonga cows and some gazelles.“ From exclusive use of over 2500 km2 at the time of the late 19th century European encounter, they retained only 800–1000 km2 by the early 1980's. By that time, further encroachment by Datonga herders took place with striking environmental effects, both on humans and particularly on wild ungulates, which were kept away from water holes. The Datonga's practice of digging large wells caused channel erosion during sub- sequent wet seasons, further decreasing the prevalence of natural water holes, which previously supported fauna during the dry season (O'Connell, 2006). Elephants were hunted for their tusks by foreign hunters for more than 100 years in this region until they became rare (Marlowe, 2010:19,30). The three largest animals – rhinos, hippos, and elephants – are not hunted today (Marlowe, 2010:58). Elephants and hippos are rare, and rhinos are absent in the Hadza territory (Marlowe, 2010:58; Marlowe, 2002). As noted, elephants and other mega- herbivores dominated the African herbivore biomass (Hempson et al., 2015), so the dramatic decline in their density can be a 'game-changer' for groups that rely on either hunting or gathering for their subsistence. The significance of large animals to hunting yield is demonstrated by the fact that although only 50% of the animals hunted by the Hadza were defined as 'large,' they provided a full 90% of the weight of the hunted meat (Marlowe, 2010:Figure 8.7). Analyzing a sample of 60 hunts of the Hadza (Bunn et al., 1988; O'Connell et al., 1990), we found that 57% of the weight of the hunted animals came from the largest animal, the giraffe and that 90% of the weight came from animals that weighed over 200 kgs (Ben-Dor and Barkai, In press).

The dwindling elephant population in the Hadza territory that was already evident by the beginning of the 20th century (Marlowe, 2002) may have had a particular influence on the non-meat component of their Pla-AniR. Baobab fruits and seeds provide some 18% of the Hadza calories and honey some 14% (Marlowe et al., 2014). The bee species that supply most of the honey to the Hadza (Apis mellifera) live on the baobab trees. Elephants are known to be a formidable 'predator' (killer) of baobab trees (Barnes, 1980), and their presence is known to sig- nificantly reduce the density and age structure of these trees (Edkins et al., 2008; Leuthold, 1977). Maintaining populations of baobab trees is a significant concern of park managers in parks where elephants re- side (Barnes, 1980).

Additionally, barries “comprised the largest share of the Haza diet, as measured by kilocalories,” and during their season (late dry and rainy seasons), “totally dominate daily consumption every day they are available” (Marlowe, 2010:114). Berries formed between 18 and 37% of the weight of the Hadza diet, depending on the season, and their avail- ability fluctuates in a complementary manner with baobab fruits throughout the year (Marlowe and Berbesque, 2009). However, here again, fruits, including berries, are actively sought out by elephants, and elephants are known to be a dispersal agent for barries, among other fruits (Owen-Smith, 1988:31; Feer, 1995). In all probability, with a natural, dominant biomass presence of elephants, and other mega- herbivores, the Hadza's potential for calories from the backbone of their non-meat diet - berries, baobab, and honey - would have diminished significantly. On the other hand, the relative contribution of animal- sourced food to their diet would have likely surged.

Importance of Animal Products

Importance of Plants

Transition to Industrialized Food Products

5.2.2. The Hadza - technology

Researchers recognize that there are substantial technological dif- ferences between recent HG and Paleolithic groups (Marlowe, 2010:Table 4.2). Among the artifacts that Marlowe lists that did not exist in the Paleolithic, and that could conceivably affect the ability of the Hadza to obtain and consume foods, one can count 1. Rubber tire soles, 2. Bows and arrows, 3. Iron arrows, 4. Metal knives, 5. Metal axes, 6. Metal chisels, 7. Metal hammers, 8. Metal needles, 9. Metal cooking pots.

Metal tools are more efficient for hunting, butchering, and plant food processing. The relative contribution of each of these artifacts to an improved ability to obtain and process energy from plants, honey, and smaller animals is difficult to quantify. The use of rubber tire soles may provide a significant advantage, presumably in improved walking speed over rough terrain and maybe even access to terrain that was previously less accessible. In turn, more efficient exploitation of territories may improve the time and energy efficiency of the Hadza in acquiring prey and plant foods.

Technology can facilitate coping with a scarcity of large animals by allowing more energy-efficient hunting of smaller animals. The Hadza hunted only with bows and arrows (Woodburn, 1968:51). In ethno- graphic settings, bows and arrows are used for hunting smaller, fleeting prey (Churchill, 1993). Bows and arrows became available relatively late in human prehistory, with the earliest claimed evidence of arrow points some 62,000 years ago in Africa. More widespread evidence of bow and arrow use is evident in Africa, the Levant, and later on in Europe during the Upper Paleolithic (Backwell et al., 2018; Shea, 2006). The Upper Paleolithic is associated with evidence of a reduction in the average size of hunted fauna and increased consumption of plant foods (Bar-Yosef 2014:260,263; Koch and Barnosky 2006; Stiner and Munro 2002). In addition to this relatively late Paleolithic technology of using the bow and arrow, the Hadza added the use of iron arrow- heads. One can only speculate as to the advantages that access to iron tips accorded the Hadza in terms of both the energy and time invested in hunting small animals.

Several researchers have examined the substantial mobility limita- tions and energetic costs that were associated with a lithic economy based on the procurement, production, and use of stone tools (e.g., Browne and Wilson, 2011; Jeske, 1992; Kuhn, 2014; Mateos et al., 2018; Wilson, 2007; Wood and Wood, 2006). It might be assumed that eliminating the need to maintain a lithic economy allowed the Hadza to divert a significant net amount of energy and time to food gathering and hunting of smaller prey with lower caloric return rates per hour. Iron tools could also allow more efficient cooking methods, such as boiling and other forms of food processing (Lee, 1979:277).

Crittenden et al. (2017) found a significantly high prevalence of tooth cavities among the Hadza, attributed to the consumption of large amounts of honey. Caries is very rare in Pleistocene human fossils. Humphrey et al. (2014) claim that the first evidence of extensive caries during the Paleolithic is found in the Grotte des Pigeons in Morocco and is dated between 15,000 and 13,700 years ago. There, the researchers associate the high prevalence of dental caries (51%) with increased reliance on wild plants. The presence of caries may mean that during most of the Paleolithic, high consumption of honey or indeed carbo- hydrates was not as prevalent as it is today in the Hadza or as it was at the end of the Pleistocene in Morocco.

When applying ethnography to Early Pleistocene circumstances, we must also consider the extensive use that HG groups make of fire. Fire arguably was not available to humans on a habitual basis before 400,000 years ago (Gowlett, 2016; Roebroeks and Villa, 2011; Shahack- Gross et al., 2014; Shimelmitz et al., 2014; but see Wrangham, 2016). The Hadza use ten different types of fires for, among other things, cooking, warming, roasting, and honey gathering (Mallol et al., 2007). Some plant food requires cooking for consumption, and extra energy is extractable from meat and plant food by cooking (e.g., Wrangham, 2016). It is quite apparent then that without the habitual use of fire, food acquisition and exploitation by the Hadza, as well as by Paleolithic HG, would have been significantly different.

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