for drying, and the remaining three-fifths are distributed to closely related households. Meat division is carried out with considerable care. The hunter may call in other men to advise him, or he may even ask his father-in-law to conduct the division. Absolute sharing is the ideal in !Kung camps even though it is seldom attained in practice. It is noteworthy that the most common verbal disputes concern accusations of improper meat distribution and improper gift exchange.
The Original Affluent Society?
Social scientists used to depict hunter-gatherers in largely negative terms. It was widely believed that they led a precarious and difficult life, one in which people had to work hard and long just to eke out a bare subsistence. As Marshall Sahlins noted over three decades ago (1972:1):
Almost universally committed to the proposition that life was hard in the paleolithic, our textbooks compete to convey a sense of impending doom, leaving one to wonder not only how hunters managed to live, but whether, after all, this was living? The specter of starvation stalks the stalker through these pages. His technical incompetence is said to enjoin continuous work just to survive, affording him neither respite nor surplus, hence not even the “leisure” to “build culture.”
Since the late 1960s social scientists have radically altered this view of hunter-gatherers. In a famous argument, Sahlins (1972) dubbed them the “original affluent society.” By this he did not mean that they are rich and enjoy a great abundance of material possessions, which would be an absurd claim. That is affluence in the modern