Toys as Teachers: A Cross-Cultural Analysis of Object Use and Enskillment in Hunter–Gatherer Societies

Journal of Archaeological Method and Theory Vol/Iss. 30 Springer Published In Pages: 32-63
By Riede, Felix, Lew-Levy, Sheina, Johannsen, Niels N., Lavi, Noa, Anderson, Marc Malmdorf


The article discusses the role of toys and tools in the development of skills and cultural transmission in hunter-gatherer societies. The authors present a cross-cultural inventory of objects made for and by hunter-gatherer children and adolescents, finding that toys and tools were primarily handled outside of explicit pedagogical contexts, and there is little evidence for formalised apprenticeships. The authors suggest that children's self-directed interactions with objects, especially during play, have a critical role in early-age enskillment. Both boys and girls tend to use objects in work and play that emulate the gendered division of labor in their communities, and many objects made by and for children had full-scale counterparts. Finally, the authors argue that the peer group is crucial to skill acquisition in hunter-gatherer societies.


Sample Used Coded Data Comment
eHRAF World CulturesResearchers' ownUsed to identify and categorize tools and toys made for and used by children, associated sex and age of the children, and purpose of the objects

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