Hunter-Gatherer Resources from HRAF

Hadazbe men returning from the hunt, Tanzania. Photo credit: Flickr/Andreas Lederer.

Hadazbe men returning from the hunt, Tanzania. Photo credit: Flickr/Andreas Lederer.

Human Relations Area Files (HRAF) has an ever-expanding collection of resources on hunter-gatherers and foragers. Indeed, hunter-gathering is one of the most popular subsistence types in the eHRAF databases. This post will introduce some of the relevant open access materials located on the HRAF homepage as well as point out helpful tips for subscribed members who would like to find hunter-gatherers within the eHRAF databases.

New to HRAF and eHRAF? This FAQ will help you with our acronyms: What’s the difference between HRAF and eHRAF?

Web Resources (freely available on the HRAF home page)

The eHRAF World Cultures and eHRAF Archaeology databases contains thousands of pages of ethnographic texts about hunter-gatherers, all expertly coded for cross-cultural comparison. In the databases, members have full search facilities at their fingertips (detailed below). In addition, however, there are also features about hunter-gatherers freely available around the HRAF homepage ( to subscribed members and non-members alike. We have collected some of these here.

HRAF’s Explaining Human Culture series seeks to summarize what cross-cultural researchers have learned thus far about patterns of cultural variation. Carol Ember, President of HRAF, has written a popular and extensive module on hunter-gatherers from a cross-cultural perspective:

In the quest to explain human culture, anthropologists have paid a great deal of attention to recent hunter-gatherer, or forager, societies. A major reason for this focus has been the widely held belief that knowledge of hunter-gatherer societies could open a window into understanding early human cultures. After all, it is argued, for the vast stretch of human history, people lived by foraging for wild plants and animals. Indeed, not until about 10 thousand years ago did societies in Southwest Asia (the famous Fertile Crescent) begin to cultivate and domesticate plants and animals. Food production took over to such an extent that, in the past few hundred years, only an estimated 5 million people have subsisted by foraging. [Full text]

The debates explored and questions posed in the text make this EHC module well-suited to classroom teaching. A companion teaching exercise with sample Level I and II exercises can be found here: 1.22 Hunter-Gatherers (Explaining Human Culture). In the exercises, students are guided through the eHRAF World Cultures database to find information about various foraging and hunter-gatherer groups. This and nearly 40 other teaching exercises provided by HRAF are freely accessible. Note, however, that teaching exercises are sample syllabi which encourage exploration of eHRAF and engage with database materials. If your institution is not yet a member of eHRAF, contact us for a trial to make the most effective use of these materials in your classroom.

Our homepage blog, eHRAF Highlights, is also a great place to find new posts about hunter-gatherers. A post from August 2015, Burning questions: evidence for off-site fire use by hunter-gatherers in eHRAF Archaeology, highlights recently published findings based on eHRAF that challenge what is known about past and present foraging groups based on the ethnographic and archaeological record. Hunter-gatherers also feature in the post, A Cross-Cultural Perspective on Childhood. Researched blog posts from eHRAF Highlights are fully referenced for academic use.

Keep an eye on eHRAF Highlights for more ethnographic examples in context. And don’t forget to follow us on Facebook to keep up with our latest posts.

Hunter-Gatherers in eHRAF (database content – members only)

HRAF members have even greater access to a wealth of information about hunter-gatherer and foraging groups around the world, from historic and prehistoric times to contemporary cultures. Here are some of the ways you can zoom in on materials relating to hunter-gatherers from within eHRAF.

Searching eHRAF for ethnographic materials relating to hunter-gatherers is easy, with various paths you can take depending on what you want to find out. The following is just a brief explanation; for a full guide to searching eHRAF, view the comprehensive User Guides.


If you are interested in one or more specific hunter-gatherer groups, you can begin by browsing the database by culture name to retrieve all the documents that are held in eHRAF for those cultures only. To get started, refer to the following tables showing which hunter-gatherer cultures are represented in eHRAF (or, equally useful, which cultures in eHRAF are hunter-gatherers!)

Click on the column header for subsistence type to sort the table. Pro-tip: you can type “hunter-gatherers” into the box at the top right corner of the tables above the header to exclude all other entries quickly (see screenshot below). Unrelated culture names will disappear from the list as you type.

Table of eHRAF cultures narrowed by subsistence type

Note that there are two subsistence type category labels in eHRAF that are relevant to foragers: “hunter-gatherers” and “primarily hunter-gatherers”. See this classification key for more information.

Once you have found the culture names that interest you, go to the Browse Cultures tab within eHRAF to find a Culture Summary and list of Documents in eHRAF for each culture. You can also use these culture names when creating a custom search in eHRAF (see below). Browsing eHRAF by culture is a useful research method if you are looking for a general overview of a hunter-gatherer group or a particular text by a specific author. However, researchers should make use of eHRAF’s powerful cross-cultural searching capabilities to find comparative ethnographic data about hunter-gatherers around the world.


If you have a research topic in mind – such as food preparation (searchable terms like “bread” or “fish” might come to mind) or gender roles in hunter-gatherer society – you can begin with a simple keyword search in Basic Search. For more complex queries, an Advanced Search lets you choose selected culture names and enables you to add subjects from a list of coded topics as well as provide your own keywords. How to search eHRAF is covered in our User Guides.

Once you have decided on your search topics and keywords, start searching! The first search results page will give you the option to narrow your results by subsistence type to include “hunter-gatherers” or “primarily hunter-gatherers”.

Subsistence Types

Check the boxes to narrow your search results by subsistence type in eHRAF

Interested in hunter-gatherers, but still looking for research topic ideas? Refer to the Outline of Cultural Materials (OCM) list for topics covered in eHRAF. Our analysts have coded all the ethnographic data in eHRAF at the paragraph-level from over 90 major subject categories and over 700 subcategories based on the OCM.


Contribute to this page

Have you used eHRAF for any research on hunter-gatherers or foragers, past or present? Drop us an email at to let us know so we can add a link to your work.