The Invisibility of Reactive Foragers and its Implications for Traditional Ecological Knowledge

Author(s): Erana Loveless

Year: 2015


"Reactive foragers" are people who switched to intensive foraging in reaction to crises. They are largely a people without history because their turn to foraging decreased their archaeological visibility and increased their remoteness from the centers of civilization where written history is concentrated. Ironically, while colonialism was often a driver for reactive foraging it also introduced the keys for reactive foragers to succeed in some cases. Reactive foraging can explain the loss of technologies among dispersing groups, ethnographically and perhaps archaeologically. This work explores past and present examples of reactive foraging globally, as well as conditions in which reactive foraging is most likely to have developed. Reactive foragers often succeeded when able to learn subsistence skills from marginal groups that maintained traditional ecological knowledge (TEK). Thus, while reactive foragers became more marginalized themselves, it was often pre-existing marginal groups that made this survival tactic possible. Preservation issues and archaeological biases have resulted in an invisibility of reactive foragers which diminishes our understanding of the historical utility of TEK. The ability to cycle adaptively through subsistence strategies can improve the resilience of a group facing adversity. However, for this ability to persist, both ecological resources and TEK must also survive.

SAA 2015 abstracts made available in tDAR courtesy of the Society for American Archaeology and Center for Digital Antiquity Collaborative Program to improve digital data in archaeology. If you are the author of this presentation you may upload your paper, poster, presentation, or associated data (up to 3 files/30MB) for free. Please visit for instructions and more information.

Cite this Record

The Invisibility of Reactive Foragers and its Implications for Traditional Ecological Knowledge. Erana Loveless. Presented at The 80th Annual Meeting of the Society for American Archaeology, San Francisco, California. 2015 ( tDAR id: 395670)