Tasmanians - Economy

Subsistence Activities. The Tasmanians were hunters and gatherers who had no agriculture and no domesticated animals but exploited nearly all animal and plant foodstuffs available to them. Kangaroos, wallabies, wombats, and seals were speared; snakes, lizards, snails, insects, eggs, scallops, and other mollusks were gathered; and root, fungus, berries, and native root crops were picked and dug. There is some evidence of communal hunting of kangaroos and birds and gathering of plant foods. For the most part, however, food acquisition was a matter for the household unit of a man, a woman, and their children. The most interesting and perplexing aspect of Tasmanian subsistence practices was the absence (during the last 4,000 years of their existence) of fishing and consumption of scaly fish. Why they gave up fish is not clear, and a variety of explanations citing religious factors, isolation from the mainland, and the difficulty of catching fish have been suggested.

Industrial Arts. The Tasmanian tool kit was limited largely to objects made from wood, stone, and shell. Wooden spears and throwing sticks were the main weapons, and flaked stone knives and scrapers were used for shellfish gathering and food preparation. Shellfish shells served as cooking vessels, along with kelp baskets and baskets and nets twined from grass, reeds, and bark.

Trade. There is no record of trade between Tasmanian societies nor between Tasmanians and peoples of Australia or other Pacific islands.

Division of Labor. Men made the wood and stone tools, hunted for large animals, and fought in wars with other island societies. Women did most everything else, including building the windbreaks and huts, gathering water, and hunting possums by scaling trees.

Land Tenure. Weapons, ornaments, and other objects could be owned individually, though there was no individual ownership of land. Evidence suggests that each community in each society controlled access to a 300- to 5,600-square-kilometer territory. Use of another community's land without permission was the primary cause of war, particularly between communities from different societies.

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