responsibility for subsistence ordinarily falls to persons who are in middle adulthood, with both young and old members contributing less to the subsistence needs of the group. Hunting is conducted by males, gathering by females. Although women may occasionally hunt or trap small game animals, they are seldom involved in big game hunting. Likewise, men sometimes share in gathering activities, but they are the principal gatherers in no hunter-gatherer society. Hunter-gatherers are notoriously lacking in occupational specialization beyond subsistence tasks. There are no specialized “arrow makers” or “bow makers.” Each man makes all of the tools that he needs in the subsistence quest, and the women do the same.
The primary unit of subsistence among hunter-gatherers is the family, and hence economic life may be termed familistic (Service, 1966). Yet individual families within each local band are linked together into a total economic unit, the local band itself. While individual families produce their own subsistence, they also contribute in significant ways to the subsistence of other families within their band.
Hunter-gatherers, or at least most of them, are well known for their failure to produce an economic surplus, an excess of goods over and above what is needed for subsistence. Until recently it was widely believed that this was due simply to an inability to do so, an inability resulting from a marginal and precarious existence. Contemporary research contradicts this view. Social scientists now generally agree that the failure to produce a surplus is due to a lack of any real need. Since the resources of nature are always there for the taking, nature itself becomes a kind of great storehouse.
However, in recent years it has come to be increasingly recognized that some hunter-gatherers do produce an economic surplus, in some cases a considerable one. This