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    Hunter-gatherers were sometimes very labor-efficient
    A Grasshopper in Every Pot

    By David B. Madsen
    published in Natural History (New York). July 1989. pp. 22-25.


    In the spring of 1985, "millions" of
    grasshoppers (the migratory grasshopper, Melanoplus sanguinipes) were
    found lying along the eastern shore of the Great Salt Lake. Madsen,
    state archaeologist in the Antiquities Section of Utah's Division of
    State History, says, "enormous numbers of the insects had flown or been
    blown into the salt water and had subsequently been washed up, leaving
    neat rows of salted and sun-dried grasshoppers stretched for miles along
    the beach." The hoppers, coated with a thin veneer of sand, were in as
    many as five rows in some places, with the widest rows ranging up to
    more than six feet in width and nine inches thick and containing up to
    10,000 grasshoppers per foot.


    A year earlier, while digging in Lakeside Cave which is at the western
    edge of the Great Salt Lake, Madsen and co-workers had discovered
    thousands(and estimated millions)of grasshopper fragments in the various
    strata of the cave floor. The hopper fragments, in a matrix of sand,
    were also found in the majority of samples of dried human feces found in
    the cave. The connection between beach and cave was obvious. Lakeside
    Cave has been visited by Great Basin hunter-gatherers intermittently for
    the past 5,000 years. It served only as a temporary base because it is
    far from fresh water. Obviously, the cave was used as a winnowing site
    for removing sand from the grasshoppers which were scooped up at the
    beach and most of which were then hauled elsewhere.


    Madsen and colleagues found that one person could collect an average of
    200 pounds of the sun-dried grasshoppers per hour. At 1,365 calories per
    pound (compared with about 1,240 calories per pound of cooked
    medium-fat beef and about 1,590 calories per pound of wheat flour), this
    amounted to an average return of 273,000 calories per hour of effort
    invested. According to Madsen, "Even when we took a tenth of this
    figure, to be conservative, we found this to be the highest rate of
    return of any local resource. It is far higher than the 300 to 1,000
    calories per hour rate produced by collecting most seeds (such as
    sunflower seeds and pine nuts) and higher even than the estimated 25,000
    calories per hour for large game animals such as deer or antelope."




    Madsen also investigated the rate of return per unit of effort expended
    in collecting Mormon crickets (Anabrus simplex), another food of early
    Native Americans. Crickets were collected from bushes, grass, etc., at
    rates of 600 to 1,452 per hour, an average of nearly two and one-third
    pounds or, at 1,270 calories per pound, an average of 2,959 calories per
    hour. The crickets often reach greatest densities along the margins of
    streams or other bodies of water which lie in their line of march and
    which they will attempt to cross. In two such situations, they were
    collected at the rates of 5,652 and 9,876 per hour, an average of nearly
    18 1/2 pounds of crickets or 23,479 calories per hour. The first number
    (2,959 calories per hour) surpasses the return rate from all local
    resources except small and large game animals, while the latter compares
    favorably even with deer and other large game.


    Madsen places cricket collecting in a modem context by saying, "One
    person collecting crickets from the water margin for one hour, yielding
    eighteen and one-half pounds, therefore, accomplishes as much as one
    collecting 87 chili dogs, 49 slices of pizza, or 43 Big Macs." He
    concludes, "Our findings thus showed that the use of insects as a food
    resource made a great deal of economic sense."