Historically, societies were small, rural, and mostly dependent on local resources before the Industrial Revolution and the widespread use of machines. The amount of labor available for economic production was limited, and there were few specialized occupations. Hunter-gatherers were the first occupations.
Hunter-gatherer societies are the most reliant on their environment out of the various types of preindustrial societies. Up until about 10,000–12,000 years ago, human society was based on kinship or tribes. Hunters-gatherers hunted wild animals and foraged for uncultivated plants for food based on their surroundings. Whenever resources became scarce, the group moved to a new area to find sustenance, making them nomadic. There were many of these societies until several hundred years ago, but today only a few hundred remain, like indigenous Australian tribes sometimes known as “aborigines” or the Bambuti, a group of pygmy hunters and gatherers in DR Congo. Hunting and gathering groups are fast disappearing as the world’s population explodes.
Where appropriate, changing conditions and adaptations led some societies to domesticate animals. Around 7,500 years ago, human societies began to realize that they could tame and breed animals and grow and cultivate their own plants. As a resource for survival, pastoral societies rely on the domestication of animals. As opposed to hunter-gatherer groups that relied entirely on existing resources to stay alive, pastoral groups were able to breed livestock for food, clothing, and transportation, creating an abundance of goods. Due to the fact that they were forced to move their animals to fresh feeding grounds, herding, or pastoral, societies remained nomathis time, specialized occupations were developing and societies began trading with local groups.
In parallel with the development of pastoral societies, another type of society developed, based on the newly developed capacity of people to grow and cultivate plants. Pastoral societies were forced to relocate in search of food sources for their livestock when their crops or water supply ran out. There were horticultural societies in areas that grew stable crops due to rain and other circumstances. As with hunter-gatherers, they were heavily dependent on the environment for survival, but since they were able to start permanent settlements since they did not have to move from one place to another to search for resources. As a result, the first revolution in human survival was fueled by greater stability and more material goods.
Agricultural societies relied on permanent tools for survival, unlike pastoral and horticultural societies that used small, temporary tools like digging sticks and hoes. A new technology explosion known as the Agricultural Revolution made farming possible around 3000 B.C.E. Farmers learned how to rotate the types of crops they grew on their fields and to reuse waste products such as fertilizer, resulting in better harvests and higher food surpluses. Digging and harvesting tools were made out of metal, making them more effective and durable. Settlements grew into towns and cities, and especially bountiful regions developed as centers of trade and commerce.
At this time, people were also able to devote more time and comfort to contemplative and thoughtful pursuits, such as music, poetry, and philosophy. A lot of people refer to this period as the “dawn of civilization” due to the development of leisure and the humanities. A crafter could support himself or herself by producing creative, decorative, or thought-provoking objects and writings.As resources became more plentiful, social classes grew more polarized. More affluent people developed into nobility and were able to afford better living. Social differences between men and women widened. Resources were increasingly important as cities expanded.
The ninth century gave rise to feudal societies. In these societies, a strict hierarchy of power was based on land ownership and protection. Vassals were put in charge of pieces of land by the nobility, known as lords.Vassals promised to fight for their lords in exchange for the resources provided by the land. Fiefdoms were individual plots of land cultivated by the lower classes. Peasants were guaranteed a place to live in return for maintaining the land and protection from outside enemies. Power was passed down through family lines, with generations of peasants serving lords. The feudal economic and social system would eventually fail and be replaced by capitalism and the technological advances of the industrial age.