Nomadic and Sedentary Peoples – Differences and characteristics

We explain what nomadic and sedentary peoples are, the characteristics of each one and the differences between them.

nomadic and sedentary peoples
Although sedentary lifestyle began 9,000 years ago, nomadism still exists.

What are nomadic and sedentary peoples?

Nomads are the peoples whose model of life is wandering. Conversely, sedentary people are those who choose only one place to live and settle down. These two models of life can be found today in different human communities, although sedentary lifestyle is the main and most widespread way of life of our species.

The leap from the original nomadism of the primitive human horde, to the typical sedentary lifestyle of civilization, took place during the so-called Neolithic Revolution of around 9,000 years ago, when agriculture was discovered and spread among human communities. That is to say, agriculture allowed the beginning of sedentary lifestyle.

The possibility of sowing and tilling the land to obtain food in large quantities revolutionized everything: it was no longer necessary to travel through nature in search of food (harvesting), but one could stay in the same place, protect it well and, if the crops they were plentiful, free time could be arranged. These are the foundations of human civilization.

However, this transition also implied sacrifices: the change towards sedentary lifestyle separated us from nature, giving rise to a way of life typical of human beings that soon spread to other animals, through domestication. It also impoverished our diverse and varied diet, typical of omnivorous animals, making it more dependent on grains and meats.

Characteristics of nomadism

nomadic and sedentary peoples prehistory
Prehistoric nomadism allowed the human being to spread almost all over the world.

Nomadism is characterized, fundamentally, by a wandering way of life, without a fixed and determined home. Which also has the following characteristics:

  • It is necessary to constant displacementSince once the resources of the occupied region have been consumed, another available one must be sought.
  • The constant movement prevents the formation of overly elaborate communities politically, socially and economically.
  • Nomads acquire a exhaustive knowledge of geography, of the nature that surrounds them and the roads traveled.
  • Your diet and activities in general adapt to available resources in the area where they are.
  • In prehistoric times, they could cover vast amounts of territory as they wandered, colonizing new continents and expanding the human presence to every corner. However, his movement was not random: tended to move cyclically between different known territories.

Characteristics of sedentary lifestyle

nomadic and sedentary peoples first cities
The sedentary lifestyle gave rise to the appearance of the first towns and cities.

A sedentary lifestyle is characterized, first of all, by the permanence of the human group in the same and only place, which happens to become your permanent home. Sedentary communities establish themselves, take root, and eventually develop a sense of belonging to the place where they live. This also implies other characteristics:

  • By staying for generations in one place, strong communities are formed and with a sense of community belonging.
  • Sedentary life allows the development of more complex economic, social and political dynamics, thanks to the division of work since they do not invest time to move and to reestablish.
  • Sedentary communities are largely sustained by agriculture and the possibility of accumulation of goods.
  • Sedentarism founds a clearly human social and biological space, that is, directed by our species, which eventually led to the first cities.

Differences between nomadic and sedentary peoples

nomadic and sedentary peoples differences
Nomadic peoples do not usually accumulate many belongings.

The differences between nomadic peoples and sedentary peoples are as follows:

Nomadic peoplesSedentary peoples
They constantly migrate from a known territory to others, at the rate of consumption of available resources. They do not have a fixed and determined home.They remain in the same place that they condition to be their home for generations. They produce what they need right there.
Its main economic activities are gathering, hunting and fishing.Its main economic activity is agriculture, but it is then joined by an immense variety of activities possible thanks to the continuous flow of food.
They have societies that are less politically structured and dependent on blood and family for their cultural identity.They have more politically and economically structured societies, in which the notion of geographical belonging arises (which later will be the idea of ​​”nation”).
They build houses that are fragile and easy to disassemble, or take advantage of caves and other available places.They build homes made to last over time and to withstand the onslaught of the elements.
They are in intimate relationship with their natural environment.They inhabit a purely human environment, with the exception of domesticated animals.
They have little capacity to accumulate (and little desire for it, since they will have to move quickly). They always carry the bare minimum with them.They have a great capacity to accumulate goods and food, which translates into the ability to survive the most difficult climatic seasons, to obtain free time to devote to other activities, and to feed large exchange networks.