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The hunter gatherer network

In this article you will be introduced to the small tribal network, where we as humans have been living for hundreds of thousands years.
Icon of three people on a glove

By far, the largest part of human history is prehistoric: there was no written language, and the only information we have is based on archeological findings and the old stories that echoed through towards modernity. Nevertheless, on the basis of limited data we can compose a picture of how people were living in tribes for hundreds of thousands of years.

From the perspective of social networks it is assumed that humans lived in groups of a few dozen people, composed of several families (Groeneveld, 2016). They were living as hunter gatherers, often following the species they were predating on. According to Dunbar (1992) we have evolved a cognitive ability to maintain stable social relationships and be aware of the social structure of about 150 people.

These groups of people were collaborating in hunting, communicating about where fruit and edible plants could be found, educating the young and spending time together, sharing stories, developing norms about (in)appropriate behaviour. They also shared vector borne diseases.

The networks based on these tribal interactions are closely knit. Families or households are the basic clusters where young people are raised into the social practices of the family and the tribe. Learning skills, understanding and social practices, such as hunting, identifying edible plants and special celebrations takes place in a wider tribal context.

Whereas today our species is connected globally through the internet, we have to be aware that much of our sociality originates from these tribal networks, and that much of our interactions still take place in smaller networks with dense connections, such as families, groups of friends and colleagues.


Dunbar, R. I. M. (1992). Neocortex size as a constraint on group size in primates. Journal of Human Evolution, 22(6), 469–493.

Groeneveld, E. (2016). Prehistoric Hunter-Gatherer Societies. Ancient History Encyclopedia.

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