The New Palgrave Dictionary of Economics

2018 Edition
| Editors: Macmillan Publishers Ltd

Hunters, Gatherers, Cities and Evolution

  • Paul Seabright
Reference work entry


Human beings evolved in hunter-gatherer bands, and tended to flee from or to fight with strangers. They have subsequently learned to live in cities among a multitude of such strangers, at levels of violence far lower than those that characterized prehistory. The key to this development was the adoption of agriculture, which obliged humans to become sedentary to and to develop institutions to manage their encounters with strangers. We describe the evolution of the psychological preconditions for the agricultural revolution, and its consequences for social life.


Agricultural revolution City Cooperation and its evolution Division of labour Equality Evolution Group selection Hierarchy Hunter-gatherers Learning Other- regarding preferences Population growth Reciprocity Repeated games Signalling Slavery Trust Urbanization 
This is a preview of subscription content, log in to check access


  1. Bar-Yosef, O., and A. Belfer-Cohen. 1989. The origins of sedentism and farming communities in the Levant. Journal of World Prehistory 3: 447–497.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Becker, G. 1983. A theory of competition among pressure groups for political influence. Quarterly Journal of Economics 98: 371–400.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Bellwood, P. 2005. First farmers. Oxford: Blackwell.Google Scholar
  4. Binmore, K. 2005. Natural justice. Oxford: Oxford University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Boehm, C. 1999. Hierarchy in the forest: The evolution of egalitarian behavior. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.Google Scholar
  6. Cavalli-Sforza, L., P. Menozzi, and A. Piazza. 1994. The history and geography of human genes. Princeton: Princeton University Press.Google Scholar
  7. Cohen, M.N., and G.J. Armelagos. 1984. Paleopathology at the origins of agriculture. New York: Academic.Google Scholar
  8. Cosmides, L., and J. Tooby. 1992. Cognitive adaptations for social exchange. In The adapted mind, ed. J. Barkow, L. Cosmides, and J. Tooby. New York: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  9. Deacon, T. 1997. The symbolic species: The co-evolution of language and the human brain. London: Allen Lane.Google Scholar
  10. De Waal, F. 1989. Peacemaking among primates. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.Google Scholar
  11. Ember, C. 1978. Myths about hunter-gatherers. Ethnology 17: 439–448.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Fogel, R., and S. Engerman. 1974. Time on the cross: The economics of American negro slavery. New York: Little Brown.Google Scholar
  13. Frank, R. 1988. Passions within Reason: The strategic role of the emotions. New York: W.W. Norton.Google Scholar
  14. Gellner, E. 1994. Conditions of liberty: Civil society and its rivals. London: Hamish Hamilton.Google Scholar
  15. Ghiglieri, M. 1999. The dark side of man: Tracing the origins of male violence. Cambridge, MA: Perseus Publishing.Google Scholar
  16. Gintis, H. 2000. Strong reciprocity and human sociality. Journal of Theoretical Biology 213: 103–119.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Gintis, H., et al. 2006. Symposium on Ken Binmore’s natural justice. Politics, Philosophy and Economics 5(1).Google Scholar
  18. Hall, P. 1998. Cities in civilisation. London: Weidenfeld & Nicolson.Google Scholar
  19. Hamilton, W. 1964. The genetical evolution of social behaviour. Journal of Theoretical Biology 7: 1–52.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Henrich, J., et al. 2004. Foundations of human sociality. Oxford: Oxford University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Hirshleifer, J. 1989. Conflict and rent-seeking success functions: Ratio vs. difference models of relative success. Public Choice 63: 101–112.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Ibn Khaldun, A.Z. 1377. The Muqadimmah, trans. F. Rosenthal. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press. 1969Google Scholar
  23. Jacobs, J. 1961. The death and life of great American cities. New York: Vintage Books. 1992.Google Scholar
  24. Keeley, L. 1996. War before civilization: The myth of the peaceful savage. Oxford: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  25. LeBlanc, S. 2003. Constant battles. New York: St Martin’s Press.Google Scholar
  26. Mithen, S. 1996. The prehistory of the mind. London: Thames & Hudson.Google Scholar
  27. Nieboer, H.J. 1900. Slavery as an industrial system. New York: Burt Franklin. 1971.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. Richerson, P., R. Boyd, and R. Bettinger. 2001. Was agriculture impossible during the pleistocene but mandatory during the holocene? A climate change hypothesis. American Antiquity 66: 387–411.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. Robson, A. 2005. A bioeconomic view of the neolithic and recent demographic transitions. Mimeo, Simon Fraser UniversityGoogle Scholar
  30. Seabright, P. 2004. The company of strangers: A natural history of economic life. Princeton: Princeton University Press.Google Scholar
  31. Seabright, P. 2006. Warfare and the multiple adoption of agriculture after the last ice age. Discussion paper, Centre for Economic Policy ResearchGoogle Scholar
  32. Sterelny, K. 2003. Thought in a Hostile world: The evolution of human cognition. Oxford: Blackwell.Google Scholar
  33. Tomasello, M. 1999. The cultural origins of human cognition. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.Google Scholar
  34. United Nations. 1999. World urbanization prospects: The 1999 revision. New York: Population Division, United Nations.Google Scholar
  35. WHO (World Health Organization). 2002. The World Health Report 2002. Statistical Annex Table 2. Online. Available at 2.xls. Accessed 28 Nov 2006.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Macmillan Publishers Ltd. 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  • Paul Seabright
    • 1
  1. 1.