“The production of charcoal is an aspect of metalworking that is often ignored.62 Charcoal was the ideal fuel for furnaces prior to the advent of coke because it promotes a strongly reducing atmosphere in the furnace, consisting as it does of almost pure carbon, and on burning creates an oxygen-starved atmosphere, essential if oxygen compounds are to be removed from the metal being worked. The forcing of air into an enclosed charcoal-burning furnace raises the temperature rapidly; charcoal has a calorific value about twice that of dried wood. To make charcoal, cut timber is ignited in a sealed heap or pit and allowed to smoulder; only sufficient oxygen is admitted at the start to get the fire going, after which the process continues without the addition of oxygen. By this means combustion is incomplete, no ash results, and almost everything except carbon is removed from the wood. Considerable quantities of timber would have been needed in the most prolific metal-production areas. It has been estimated that to produce 5 kg of copper metal one would need at least 100 kg of charcoal, which would in turn have required some 700 kg of timber, a considerable requirement in terms of labour.”
From European Societies in the Bronze Age (Cambridge World Archaeology), by A. F. Harding. I’ve roughly read the first half of this book today, and so far I like it – if it continues along the same lines, I’ll probably give it three stars on goodreads (where the average rating is currently 3.8). It’s easy to read and it has a lot of interesting stuff about things I do not know much about. Below I’ve added some wikipedia links to stuff related to what’s covered in the first six chapters – they should tell you a bit about what kind of stuff’s covered in this book.
i. Currently there’s a really high profile chess tournament being played in Norway – I guess most of the people who’d be interested in such matters already know, but just in case you didn’t here’s a link.
In marginally related matters, I recently managed to get into the top 100 list of players on the Playchess tactics trainer rating list. I’ve done a lot of tactis sessions over time, and it has paid off – I’ve become a pretty strong tactician, and even though I know it’s silly to do so I actually feel a bit proud about this. My level is comparable to 2100+ elo rated players like this, this and this, and literally only a handful of players on the list have higher average performances than my highest performance (for example my best performance, 2341, is much higher than the average performance – 2181 – of GM Evgeny Romanov, who has a 2640 elo rating – and with 56 tactics sessions on his part this is not due to small sample size).
ii. Some pictures of what bureaucracy looks like around the world (via MR).
iii. Do “Ultraconserved Words” Reveal Linguistic Macro-Families? I should point out that back when I was reading THP the linguistic evidence presented always seemed less convincing to me than did stuff like bones, old middens, and genes.
iv. A wikipedia list of unsual articles. I don’t want to pick out examples – this article is awesome, just go have fun! I’d read quite a few of the articles linked there, but it’s a very long list and there’ll be a lot of stuff in there you haven’t seen before even if you’ve spent a lot of time on wikipedia in the past.
“This paper reviews quite a few heavy metal contamination related studies in several cities from China over the past 10 years. The concentrations, sources, contamination levels, sample collection and analytical tools of heavy metals in urban soils, urban road dusts and agricultural soils were widely compared and discussed in this study. The results indicate that nearly all the concentrations of Cr, Ni, Cu, Pb, Zn, As, Hg and Cd are higher than their background values of soil in China. Among the cities, the contamination levels of the heavy metals vary in a large range. The geoaccumulation index shows that the contamination of Cr, Ni, Cu, Pb, Zn and Cd is widespread in urban soils and urban road dusts of the cities. Generally, the contamination levels of Cu, Pb, Zn and Cd are higher than that of Ni and Cr. Agricultural soils are also significantly influenced by Cd, Hg and Pb derived from anthropogenic activities. The integrated pollution index (IPI) indicates that the urban soils and urban road dusts of the developed cities and the industrial cities have higher contamination levels of the heavy metals. The comparison of the IPIs of heavy metals in urban soils and urban road dusts of Shanghai, Hangzhou, Guangzhou and Hongkong reveals that the contamination levels of the metals in urban road dusts are higher than that in urban soils in the cities. Moreover, the main sources of the metals in urban soils, urban road dusts and agricultural soils are also different.”
The English in this article is occasionally, well, horrible. But the findings are interesting:
“According to the IPI [integrated pollution index], approximately 65% of all the cities have high or extremely high contamination levels of heavy metals in urban soils and urban road dusts. This indicates that the urban soils and urban road dusts in the cities have been significantly impacted by heavy metals derived from anthropogenic activities. [...] the concentrations of Cd, Cu, Pb and Zn in the urban soils in all the cities exceed their background values. [...] The concentrations of Cr, Cu, Pb, Zn and Ni in urban soils in Shenyang, Baoji and Jinchang are much higher than their PTE-MPC ["“maximum permissible concentrations of potential toxic elements (PTE-MPC)” for agricultural soils according to soil quality standards of China (CEPA, 1995)"]. The highest concentrations of the metals are also found in the three cities. This may be attributed to the urban soil samples which were mainly collected from industrial areas in Shenyang, Baoji and Jinchang. The concentrations of Cd in the cities are all higher than their PTE-MPC with an exception of Taicang and Beijing.”
“We find that, to a large extent, hue perception is invariant with age; the direction but not the magnitude of the small observed age-related hue changes are predicted by the yellowing of the lens. [...] Our main finding is that colour appearance mechanisms are to large extent unaffected by the known age-related changes in the optical media (yellowing of the lens) whereas the ability to discriminate between small colour differences is compromised with an increase in age.”
vii. A gradient of childhood self-control predicts health, wealth, and public safety, by Moffitt et al.
“The need to delay gratification, control impulses, and modulate emotional expression is the earliest and most ubiquitous demand that societies place on their children, and success at many life tasks depends critically on children’s mastery of such self-control. We looked at the lives of 1,000 children. By the age of 10 y, many had mastered self-control but others were failing to achieve this skill. We followed them over 30 y and traced the consequences of their childhood self-control for their health, wealth, and criminal offending.”
The findings are what you’d expect – people with poor impulse control as children did worse on a lot of metrics (health, substance abuse, SES, crime, …) as adults. As it’s an observational study (though an impressive one; “we report findings from the Dunedin Multidisciplinary Health and Development Study, a longitudinal study of a complete birth cohort of 1,037 children born in one city in a single year, whom we have followed from birth to the age of 32 y with 96% retention”), I’d say the policy implications of the findings are not clear.
I really hope you know who wrote the book.
I’m reading the second/1845 edition. I’m exactly half way through at this point (p. 225 out of 449). This book is awesome. Some quotes, the first two from the introduction and the rest from the book itself:
i. “You care for nothing but shooting, dogs, and rat-catching,” Dr. Darwin had said, “and you will be a disgrace to yourself and all your family.” (‘Dr. Darwin’ = Charles Darwins’ father. Who did he say this to? Well…)
ii. “The Beagle was a small ship, only ninety feet long, and it left England carrying 73 people.”
iii. “Not a single plant, not even a lichen, grows on this islet; yet it is inhabited by several insects and spiders. [...] The often repeated description of the stately palm and other noble tropical plants, then birds, and lastly man, taking possession of the coral islets as soon as formed, in the Pacific, is probably not correct; I fear it destroys the poetry of this story, that feather and dirt-feeding and parasitic insects and spiders should be the first inhabitants of newly formed oceanic land.”
iv. “As the moon rose early, we determined to start the same evening for our sleeping-place at the Lagoa Marica. As it was growing dark we passed under one of the massive, bare, and steep hills of granite which are so common in this country [Brazil]. This spot is notorious from having been, for a long time, the residence of some runaway slaves, who, by cultivating a little ground near the top, contrived to eke out a subsistence. At lenght they were discovered, and a party of soldiers being sent, the whole were seized with the exception of one old woman, who, sooner than again be led into slavery, dashed herself to pieces from the summit of the mountain. In a Roman matron this would have been called the noble love of freedom: in a poor negress it is mere brutal obstinacy. We continued riding for some hours. For the last miles the road was intricate, and it passed through a desert waste of marshes and lagoons.” (notice how he just carries on with ‘the main story’, sparing only a few sentences for such a gruesome event. It will become obvious to you why this is so if you read the book – there are far too many gruesome events taking place for all of them to get the attention they deserve.)
v. “While staying at this estate, I was very nearly being an eyewitness to one of those atrocious acts which can only take place in a slave country. Owing to a quarrel and a lawsuit, the owner was on the point of taking all the women and children from the male slaves, and selling them separately at the public auction at Rio. Interest, and not any feeling of compassion, prevented this act. Indeed, I do not believe the inhumanity of separating thirty families, who had lived together for many years, even occurred to the owner.”
vi. “I first visited the forest in which these Plenariae were found, in company with an old Portuguese priest who took me out to hunt with him. The sport consisted in turning into the cover a few dogs, and then patiently waiting to fire at any animal which might appear.”
vii. “this retired part of the country is seldom visited by foreigners. I was asked whether the earth or the sun moved; whether it was hotter or colder to the north; where Spain was, and many other such questions. The greater number of the inhabitants had an indistinct idea that England, London, and North America, were different names for the same place; but the better informed knew well that London and North America were separate countries close together, and that England was a large town in London!”
viii. “To the northward of the Rio Negro, between it and the inhabited country near Buenos Ayres, the Spaniards have only one small settlement, recently established at Bahia Blanca. The distance in a straight line to Buenos Ayres is very nearly five hundred British miles. The wandering tribes of horse Indians, which have always occupied the greater part of ths country, having of late much harassed the outlying estancias, the government at Buenos Ayres equipped some time since an army under the command of General Rosa for the purpose of exterminating them.”
ix. “The duty of the women [belonging to the tribes of Indian allies of General Rosa] is to load and unload the horses; to make the tents for the night; in short to be, like the wives of all savages, useful slaves. The men fight, hunt, take care of the horses, and make the riding gear.”
x. “My guide told me, that two months before he had a most narrow escape of his life: he was out hunting with two other men, at no great distance from this part of the country, when they were suddenly met by a party of Indians, who giving chase, soon overtook and killed his two friends. His own horse’s legs were also caught by the bolas; but he jumped off, and with his knife cut them free: while doing this he was obliged to dodge round his horse, and received two severe wounds from their chuzos. Springing on the saddle, he managed, by a most wonderful exertion, just to keep ahead of the long spears of his pursuers, who followed him to within the sight of the fort. From that time there was an order that no one should stray far away from the settlement. I did not know this when I started, and was surprised to observe how earnestly my guide watched a deer, which appeared to have been frigthened from a distant quarter.”
xi. “A few days afterwards I was another troop of these banditti-like soldiers start on an expedition against a tribe of Indians at the small Salinas, who had beeen betrayed by a prisoner cacique. The Spaniard who brough the orders for this expedition was a very intelligent man. He gave me an account of the last engagement at which he was present. Some Indians, who had been taken prisoners, gave information of a tribe living north of the Colorado. Two hundred soldiers were sent; and they first discovered the Indians by a cloud of dust from their horses’ feet, as they chanced to be travelling. The country was mountainous and wild, and it must have been far in the interior, for the Cordillera were in sight. The Indians, men, women, and children, were about one hundred and ten in number, and they were nearly all taken or killed, for the soldiers sabre every man. The Indians are now so terrified that they offer no resistance in a body, but each flies, neglecting even his wife and children; but when overtaken, like wild animals, they fight against any number to the last moment. [...] This is a dark picture; but how much more shocking is the unquestionable fact, that all the women who appear above twenty years old are massacred in cold blood! When I exclaimed that this appeared rather inhuman, he answered, “Why, what can be done? they breed so!”
Every one here is fully convinced that this is the most just war, because it is against barbarians. Who would believe in this age that such atrocities could be committed in a Christian civilized country? The children of the Indians are saved, to be sold or given away as servants, or rather slaves for as long a time as the owners can make them believe themselves slaves; but I believe in their treatment there is little to complain of. [...]
Not only have whole tribes been exterminated, but the remaining Indians have become more barbarous: instead of living in large villages, and being employed in the arts of fishing, as well as the chase, they now wander about the open plains, without home or fixed occupation.”
xii. “We passed a train of waggons and a troop of beasts on their road to Mendoza. The distance is about 580 geographical miles, and the journey is generally performed in fifty days.”
xiii. “A small green parrot (Conurus murinus), with a grey breast, appears to prefer the tall trees on the islands to any other situation for its building-place. A number of nests are placed so close together as to form one great mass of sticks. These parrots always live in flocks, and commit great ravages on the corn-fields. I was told, that near Colonia 2,500 were killed in the course of one year. [...] Animals are so abundant in these countries, that humanity and self-interest are not closely united; therefore I fear it is that the former is here scarcely known. One day, riding in the Pampas with a very respectable “estanciero,” my horse, being tired, lagged behind. The man often shouted to me to spur him. When I remonstrated that it was a pity, for the horse was quite exhausted, he cried out, “Why not?—Never mind—spur him—it is my horse.” I had then some difficulty in making him comprehend that it was for the horse’s sake, and not on his account, that I did not choose to use my spurs. He exclaimed, with a look of great surprise, “Ah, Don Carlos, que cosa!” It was clear that such an idea had never before entered his head.”
xiv. “The results of all the attempts to colonize this side of America south of 41°, has been miserable. Port Famine expresses by its name the lingering and extreme sufferings of several hundred wretched people, of whom one alone survived to relate their misfortunes. At St. Joseph’s Bay, on the coast of Patagonia, a small settlement was made; but during one Sunday the Indians made an attack and massacred the whole party, excepting two men, who remained captives during many years. At the Rio Negro I conversed with one of these men, now in extreme old age.”
xv. “The second day after our return to the anchorage, a party of officers and myself went to ransack an old Indian grave [...] We undermined the grave on both sides, but could not find any relics, or even bones.
xvi. “If I had space I could prove that South America was formerly here cut off by a strait, joining the Atlantic and Pacific oceans, like that of Magellan. But it may yet be asked, how has the solid basalt been moved? Geologists formerly would have brought into play, the violent action of some overwhelming debacle; but in this case such a supposition would have been quite inadmissible [...] Although we know that there are tides, which run within the Narrows of the Strait of Magellan at the rate of eight knots an hour, yet we must confess that it makes the head almost giddy to reflect on the number of years, century after century, which the tides, unaided by a heavy surf, must have required to have corrode so vast an area and thickness of solid basaltic lava. Nevertheless, we must believe that the strata undermined by the waters of this ancient strait, were broken up into huge fragments, and these lying scattered on the beach, were reduced first to smaller blocks, then to pebbles and lastly to the most impalpable mud, which the tides drifted far into the Eastern or Western Ocean.” [I've cut the description short here, but I hope I haven't cut too much. Remember that they had basically no clue how old the Earth was at this point in time. This is written decades before Kelvin came up with his '20-400 million years'-estimate.]
xvii. “While going one day on shore near Wollaston Island, we pulled alongside a canoe with six Fuegians. These were the most abject and miserable creatures I anywhere beheld. On the east coast the natives, as we have seen, have guanaco cloaks, and on the west they possess seal-skins. Amongst these central tribes the men generally have an otter-skin, or some small scrap about as large as a pocket-handkerchief, which is barely sufficient to cover their backs as low down as their loins. It is laced across the breast by strings, and according as the wind blows, it is shifted from side to side. But these Fuegians in the canoe were quite naked, and even one full-grown woman was absolutely so. It was raining heavily, and the fresh water, together with the spray, trickled down her body. In another harbour not far distant, a woman, who was suckling a recently-born child, came one day alongside the vessel, and remained there out of mere curiosity, whilst the sleet fell and thawed on her naked bosom, and on the skin of her naked baby! These poor wretches were stunted in their growth, their hideous faces bedaubed with white paint, their skins filthy and greasy, their hair entangled, their voices discordant, and their gestures violent. Viewing such men, one can hardly make one’s self believe that they are fellow-creatures, and inhabitants of the same world. It is a common subject of conjecture what pleasure in life some of the lower animals can enjoy: how much more reasonably the same question may be asked with respect to these barbarians! A night, five or six human beings, naked and scarcely protected from the wind and rain of this tempestuous climate, sleep on the wet ground coiled up like animals. [...] They often suffer from famine [...]
The different tribes when at war are cannibals. From the concurrent, but quite independent evidence of the boy taken by Mr. Low, and of Jemmy Button, it is certainly true, that when pressed in winter by hunger, they kill and devour their old women before they kill their dogs: the boy, being asked by Mr. Low why they did this, anwered, “Doggies catch otters, old women no.” This boy described the manner in which they are killed by being held over smoke and thus choked; he imitated their screams as a joke, and described the parts of their bodies which are considered best to eat. Horrid as such a death by the hands of their friends and relatives must be, the fears of the old women, when hunger begin to press, are more painful to think of; we are told that they then often run away into the mountains, but that they are pursued by the men and brought back to the slaughter-house at their own firesides!”
xviii. “During our stay at Port Famine, the Fuegians twice came and plagued us. As there were many instruments, clothes, and men on shore, it was thought necessary to frigthen them away. The first time a few great guns were fired, when they were far distant. It was most ludicrous to watch through a glass the Indians, as often as the shot struck the water, take up stones, and, as a bold defiance, throw them towards the ship, though about a mile and a half distant! A boat was sent with orders to fire a few musket-shots wide of them. The Fuegians hid themselves behind the trees, and for every discharge of the muskets they fired their arrows; all, however, fell short of the boat, and the officer as he pointed at them laughed. This made the Fuegians frantic with passion, and they shook their mantles in vain rage. At last, seeing the balls cut and strike the trees, they ran away, and we were left in peace and quietness.”
“…the really significant development in the evolution of any civilization is the increase of societal size and internal heterogeneity, that is, the emergence of class and occupational divisions; and this is a process, not an invention to be diffused from place to place” (Sanders 1972, 152)”
The title of the post is a combination of the titles of chapters 16 and 17 in THP, and the quote above is from the first page of chapter 16 (no, it doesn’t mean that e.g. technological diffusion doesn’t matter – the importance of diffusion was underlined immediately before this quote in the text, and I omitted one word from the quote, the word ‘But’ which was right in front of it). Anyway, I’ve almost finished the book now (one chapter to go), and so this may be my last post about the book – unless I can’t find anything else to write about in the next days, in which case I’ll probably add a post about ‘Complex Societies in North America’ or some other similarly silly subject. I read Métraux a while back so not all of the stuff covered in chapter 17 was new to me – but a lot of it was. Even so, it’s nice to have some context – it makes it easier to remember stuff and to arrange things in the right order. It’s hard to get the big picture from wikipedia articles like the ones below alone, but they’re also rather meant to just spark interest; there’s a huge amount of interesting stuff covered in the book, and if you wanted to I’m sure you could spend years reading about all these things (without even paying much for it, unlike a lot of the people who choose to do just that at universities around the world).
Some articles about stuff covered to some degree in the two chapters:
i. Mesoamerican chronology (also have links to many of the articles below).
ii. Teotihuacan. (this doesn’t have a ‘good article’ rank, but it is a good article)
iv. Lost-wax casting.
v. Maya civilization.
vi. Tikal (‘good article’).
viii. Human sacrifice in Aztec culture.
And from the chapter about South America:
ix. Cultural periods of Peru (not good, but the tables are better than nothing. Only the later preceramic periods are covered in this chapter; a previous chapter dealt with the earlier periods mentioned. The article contains links to some of the articles below).
xii. Nazca Lines.
xiii. Sican (/Lambayeque) culture.
xiv. Chan Chan.
xv. Inca empire.
xvi. Swidden agriculture.
xvii. Terra preta.
The post title is the title of chapter 15 in The Human Past. I read it a while ago but I figured I might as well write a post about it. Well, when I say ‘write a post about it’, I mean…
Some links that deal with stuff covered in that chapter:
Lower Xiajiadian culture.
(Early history of) Zhengzhou.
Spring and Autumn period.
Chinese bronze age.
Great Wall of China.
The three Kingdoms of Korea.
The Silk Road.
Art of Champa.
I’ve been postponing writing a post like this about the book for ages. I didn’t really know how best to approach it. In the end I decided that I had to at least post something, and the stuff below’s where I ended up:
I guess the first thing to note is that the book is not just about ‘the fall of Rome’, even though I’ve frequently mentioned the book in that context here on the blog. Mostly it’s a book about migration patterns. The place is Europe, the time-frame covered is from the last part of the (western) Roman Empire up to the end of the first millenium. The (very) short version of the first 2-300 (?) pages is this:
(it’s the very short version!)
Keyword: Völkerwanderung (Danish: folkevandring). Before going any further, do read Razib Khan’s review of the book here (the image is from that post).
After Heather is finished talking about the migration patterns of Germanic ‘peoples’ (it’s necessary to add the ‘…’ He spends quite a bit of time talking about what the migration units most likely looked like, but I’ll not spend time on that here); Goths, Vandals, Franks etc. – I’d never even heard about half of the groups he mentions in the first part of the book – he talks about Slavic migration patterns, and after that he also spends quite a bit of time on the behaviour of the Vikings. I really liked part of the last bit of the book, the part about the early state formations in Central Europe (and beyond) and how these, according to him, were linked to immigration and development. I don’t know if Heather has read Mancur Olson, but he certainly reads as if he has and this most certainly does not make me like the book any less. As mentioned Heather’s treatment stops around the end of the millenium, though he does talk a little about later medieval migration patterns and -developments. Technically, the way I started out the paragraph could give you the wrong idea about how the book is structured so I should clarify. Heather rarely completely stops talking about group X or Y after he’s moved on to group Z, rather he always keeps coming back to stuff he’s previously covered, comparing the patterns observed; making arguments for why and how the experiences of groups X and Y were similar, which motivational factors the groups shared or didn’t share, or perhaps how the consequences of the different (?) migration strategies compared to each other. Sometimes it becomes a little repetitive, but he’s very thorough, and I liked that aspect because it also made it easier to remember the differences between Lombards, Sueves, Heruli and Sarmatians, to name but a few of the groups in question.
As I was reading the book, one thought that frequently crossed my mind was: ‘you have to start somewhere.’ The truth is that I know nothing about most of the stuff covered in the book – how much do you know about the migration patterns of Early Medieval Europe? – and I’ve only read one book now, so I still don’t know much. There’s a little overlap with other stuff I’ve read, but not much – The Classical World stops at Hadrian, and that’s a long time before the Goths really started taking to the road. Heather was a place to start, and I don’t think it’s a bad place to start. But it’s hard to evaluate the accuracy of an account when you don’t know which sources the author has excluded and basically don’t really know anything about the subject matter – you need to take some stuff on faith, and that’s harder to do when the evidence is sparse. And the evidence you need to rely upon when covering stuff during this period of European history is, it turns out, not what most historians would call optimal – as Heather puts it himself:
“The archaeological reflections of many first-millenium migratory processes [...] will often be straightforwardly ambiguous in the sense that you could not be absolutely certain, just on the basis of archaeology alone, that migration had occurred.”
And often, archaeological evidence is almost all you have, even though we’re dealing with stuff taking place little more than 1000 years ago. I did not know that so few historical sources exist, but that’s apparently the way it is. Sometimes the most detailed piece of evidence that you have available for analysis is a description written by the worst enemies of the group you’re interested in knowing more about; a description written by someone who most likely was never neither within 500 kilometres nor within 100 years of any of the people whom he described. Most parts of Slavic Europe was basically prehistoric until some time after the end of the first millenium, something I most certainly didn’t know.
Heather’s account is compelling, though some parts of it I find more compelling than others; like Razib I feel a bit uncertain about the proposed link between the proportion of females within the migratory unit and long-run language transmission, but then again linguistics is yet another subject I know next to nothing about so that link may be eminently plausible to people more well-versed in such matters. I also find it a bit hard to see why the link between pottery types and language should be as strong as he would like to make it, making some of the conclusions he draws less certain than he’ll have them be. I consider this to be more of a minor point though, because it’s not obvious to me either why language similarities should necessarily carry more weight than should similarities in material culture when thinking about how to model and stratify populations of the past optimally; it depends on what you want to achieve with your model. Stated another way, I don’t see why it’s all that important which languages the people implementing the Korchak material culture spoke; the cultural diffusion was significant whether the people involved were at that point Germanic speaking or Slavs. Heather includes a few genetic data in his treatment of the western Viking diasporas, but he doesn’t even mention DNA evidence when dealing with the Slavs, which I find problematic (full disclosure: The comment #3 at Razib’s post linked to above was close to making me not buy the book). You get the feeling that Heather has set out to tell a Grand Narrative, and a natural inference to make then is that this means that he’s probably also subconsciously weighing the evidence in a manner that makes his Grand Narrative more likely to be true and, vice versa, competing models less likely to be true. But people who’ll be complaining for many years to come about what he’s supposedly written in his great work will likely get a lot of things wrong, because the argument he’s trying to make is in fact not as strong as you’d probably think from just reading about it – as he puts it himself in his last concluding chapter:
“migration should generally be given only a secondary position behind social, economic, and political transformation when explaining how it was that barbarian Europe evolved into non-existence in the course of the millenium.”
Heather is not the ‘migration is everything’-strawman that will likely be knocked down many times in the years to come, he’s not denying that a lot of other factors were likely even more important than migration – he states this fact explicitly in his book! But his book also just happens to be about migration, because he thinks immigration was important too. And to someone who does not know a lot about the subject matter, he makes a strong case for that general point. Though people who know more about the period may find his arguments less convincing than I did.
The book is well written and even though I’d have liked to read more about e.g. the material culture of the various migration units, the book is probably long enough as it is (618 pages + 76 pages of maps and notes). If you want to know more about ‘why people migrate today, in the year 2012′ this may not be the best book to get (on the other hand you could also do a lot worse), but it does contain a rather neat description of the (‘a?’) theoretical framework of modern migration studies as well as several examples of how to apply the framework in question. I’ll quote a few key passages related to this point from the last part of the book below:
“Comparative studies provide two basic points of orientation when thinking about the likely causes of any observable migration flow. First, it is overwhelmingly likely that a substantial difference in levels of economic development between adjacent areas will generate a flow between the two, from the less-developed towards its richer neighbour. [...] The second point is equally basic. In the vast majority of cases, the precise motivation of any individual migrant will be a complex mixture of free-will and constraint, of economic and political motives. [...] Taken together, what both of these observations stress above all is that migration will almost always need to be understood against prevailing patterns of economic and political development. [...] Understood properly, and this is the central message screaming out from the comparative literature, migration is not a separate and competing form of explanation to social and economic transformation, but the complementary other side of the same coin. Patterns of migration are dictated by prevailing economic and political conditions, and another dimension in fact of their evolution; they both reflects existing inequalities, and sometimes even help to equalize them, and it is only when viewed from this perspective that the real significance of migratory phenomena can begin to emerge.”
I included this quote also to point out just how wrong-headed it can be to look at immigration as an isolated phenomenon that you can just analyze separately from other important societal phenomena. This is part of why immigration is important, and it’s a point Heather repeats again and again – the fact that this variable interacts with and is dependent upon so many other important variables of interest, and that development and immigration patterns in particular are very closely connected. A lot of people implicitly know this to be true, but many people also don’t know that they know this (or don’t know that they know that they know it…).
This is the part I haven’t said yet, but this is probably all you really need to know: I recommend the book. It has a lot of good stuff and you’ll learn a lot from it even though you have little to no background knowledge.
This will be the last post about the book. I could easily write another, but this will have to do – I should have given you enough by now to make you realize whether you want to read it or not. Quotes from the remaining part of the book:
i. “The years from 200 to 170 saw a surge of new Roman colonies in Italy which extended up into rich northern farmland near the river Po. It has been estimated that as many as 100,000 settlers were sent out to take up a million acres of land; great Italian sites like modern Parma or Bologna began their ‘Roman’ history in these years.5 The settlements were an outlet for poorer Roman citizens, who were a possible source of social tension at Rome. Once again it was a classic transformation of an ancient economy, in which war multiplied income and assets, and land-settlements changed the conquering state’s social profile. [...]
Between 168 and 146 Roman power was forcefully exercised against remaining ‘enemies’, the king of Macedon (Perseus in 168), the Seleucid king in the Near East (Antiochus IV in 165), tribes on the Dalmatian coast (156) and both the Achaean league in Greece and the remaining territory of Carthage in North Africa (146 BC). The most important of these engagements was the defeat of the Macedonians, ending the power which they had enjoyed for nearly two centuries. [...] When they declared war (as in 156 BC) they were careful to give out a ‘just’ pretext for public consumption, although the real reasons lay elsewhere. By following these pretexts, modern historians have sometimes argued that Rome was only drawn step by step into Greek affairs, that her attacks were usually in self-defence and that, as she did not immediately form her conquests into new provinces, she began with no fixed aim of exploiting them. Fascinating problems of chronology and evidence can be brought against this interpretation, quite apart from the reported views of contemporaries.”
ii. “Inevitably, the new fashions and new imports [from Greece] activated traditional Roman fears of ‘luxury’. Several laws to limit it are attested within fifty years, although they were not the first in Roman history. They fitted with deeper Roman attitudes. Austerity and parsimony were admired in the stories which were told about the receding seventh to fourth centuries BC. Roman fathers were expected to emulate them and educate their sons in restrained conduct. The censors, two magistrates, had acquired the duty of supervising public morals: when the lists of Roman citizens were periodically drawn up, they could place a ‘black mark’ against anyone whose behaviour had been disgraceful. [...] We must remember Cicero’s comment: what Romans disliked was private luxury, whereas public display was munificence, and not disagreeable.”
iii. “During the second century BC Romans developed their rule over conquered peoples by sending out magistrates as governors with standing armies to help them. These individuals became focal points for their subjects’ petitions and disputes. As always, many cases gravitated to a new source of justice which had suddenly become accessible in their midst. On the other side, however, the individual governors saw new possibilities of enrichment, and their misconduct was still very loosely regulated. Until the 120s the most they might suffer for ‘rapacity’ (‘extortion’) was a ruling that they should repay what they had taken. The new scope for gain abroad would have crucial implications for individuals’ capacity to compete for pre-eminence back at Rome.
Most Roman warfare abroad in the third and second centuries BC had already had economic motives: one obvious result of victory for Roman individuals was ever more slaves and plunder. [...] Collectively, too, Romans began to receive regular yearly tribute from their conquests. [...] No single uniform system of tax was imposed as yet on all provinces, but from 146 onwards Rome’s subjects in north Africa are known to have paid a tax on ‘land’ and also a poll tax. Those two taxes would become the mainstays of Roman taxation in the early Empire: they were mainstays under Hadrian too.”
iv. “One result of this populist approach was a reform in the method of voting at Rome. Secret ballots were introduced, first for elections (139 BC), then for public non-capital trials (137 BC) and then for legislation (131/0 BC). [...] In the Greek world, at Athens and elsewhere, secret ballots had been the accepted practice for particular types of trial, but the extension of them to votes on law-making is a Roman innovation.”
v. “Some 910,000 adult citizen-males were registered in the census of 69, about three times as many as in the 130s. The composition of the citizenry had also changed markedly. Even in Rome, very few of the citizens had any ancestral link with Roman voters of the fourth or third centuries BC; outside Rome, they now had none.”
vi. “In 51 BC a discontented Cicero found himself sent east to a miserable province, Cilicia, in southern Asia Minor [...] through his letters, we have our first prolonged view of a Roman governor at work abroad, applying justice to the local affairs of his province.13 Cicero went on the customary assize-tours round the province’s main towns; he issued the usual ‘edict’ on taking office and chose to base it, wisely, on the edict of an admired predecessor, the lawyer Scaevola. In general, he wished the Greek-speaking locals to settle their disputes between themselves, but if he found that these disputes involved Romans or foreigners or points of importance under Roman law, he would judge them on the lines of the Roman praetors’ edicts at Rome.
By such piecemeal decisions, the Romans’ own laws on such topics as inheritance or defaulting debtors would come to apply to subjects outside Rome: there was no single act or decree imposing them.”
vi. “In the Italian countryside, the plight of the poor was certainly no better than in Rome, yet here too there were no ‘peasants’ revolts’ in the 50s [BC]. Rather, more and more of the poor were being recruited, or forced, into the army for a long service abroad. Soldiers’ wages, though meagre, did at least exist: the problem was that, once in the army, soldiers looked to their generals, not to any ‘republican’ values. What had ‘the Republic’ ever done for them anyway? Here, indeed, was a cause of crisis. [...] tensions arose from the very conquests by which much of this empire was still being won.”
vii. “After the concluding banquet on the fourth day, Caesar, still in slippers, was escorted from his newly planned Forum by a popular crowd and even by elephants bearing torches. It was all hugely expensive, and when a few of his soldiers protested, they were put to death: the heads of two of them were nailed up by priests on the ‘royal house’ in the Forum. So it was as well that there were to be massive payments for the soldiers (an entire lifetime’s pay) and even a payment for every single citizen. Loot from the provinces was paying for them, not least the plunder which had been collected from Spain and Asia in the Civil War of the past two years. The spending was to exceed even the final year of Alexander the Great, a tribute to Caesar’s massive plundering.” [he doesn't actually sound all that nice, does he?]
viii. I decided to quote quite extensively from chapter 41, ‘Morals and Society’, because stuff like this really makes you realize how much has happened over the last 2000 years, and how different life was like back then:
“The crowning law [of Augustus' 'morality laws'] was a notorious law against adultery. Previously, adultery had been a private matter, to be settled by the husband or father within the Roman household. In 18 BC Augustus made it a public crime, which was to be tried in court. The scope of this law is still disputed, but much of the detail is clear enough. The most extreme case was nicely considered. If a father caught his daughter and her boyfriend in the act on family premises, he could legally kill his daughter on the spot. [...] Only if the father killed his daughter could he then kill the adulterer too (‘adultery’ is derived from the latin ‘to another person’, ad adulterum, not from ‘adult behaviour’). Husbands’ right to kill was even more restricted. If the husband caught the couple, he could not kill his wife. He could only kill her boyfriend if the offender was of ill-repute. [...]
These extreme penalties were more hypothetical than an everyday reality. Much more importantly, the husband had to divorce his wife and prosecute her within sixty days if he had caught her in the act. Even so, without a head-on discovery, it might seem that couples could agree to live privately with their affairs and do nothing. However, a third party could prosecute within another four months if no action was being taken, and the husband could be prosecuted too. [...] in some cases, husbands would have been condoning a wife’s affair so that they could take money or favours off her boyfriend in return. That sort of connivance was now made criminal. So was the aiding and abetting of adultery by providing a room, for instance, for the impatient couple. Similar penalties applied to men who had sex with a single woman of respectable status.
What was at stake here was not male fidelity. Like all ancient societies, Rome was highly stratified. If a man had sex with a slave-girl (or a slave-boy), a prostitute or a low-grade woman of infamy, he was not penalized at all. There was a ‘double standard’, one for men, and a stricter one for respectable women. [...]
Husbands or wives convicted of adultery lost up to half their property (and part of the wife’s dowry) and were banished to an island. An adulterous wife was forbidden to remarry [...]
Reported trials for adultery are quite rare in Tacitus’ histories, but the fact remains that the laws continued to be applied and clarified in connection with the ever-growing number of Roman citizens. In AD 190 more than 3,000 prosecutions for adultery were found to be pending in Rome.”
I recently left a comment on another blog (it happens quite rarely these days), and after thinking a bit about it I decided to reproduce the comment here and add some more details. It seems that I already take a lot of the knowledge I’ve only quite recently acquired for granted, and that I’m sort of implicitly assuming other people know this stuff too. I think it’s quite interesting that I do this, but the post will not be about that angle – I may explore that later – but rather it will be a post with a few important nuggets of information about what the human past looks like. First, the comment (but do read the post as well) – the first paragraph is a quote from the original post, the rest is my response:
“”I venture to say that we are biologically compelled to hold these attitudes. Evolutionarily speaking, it would be a desirable strategy to mate with people who possess very different genes, in order to ensure genetic diversity and to improve your offspring’s chances of survival. But mating a partner significantly older than yourself increases the health risks of your children, and should therefore be discouraged. These evolutionary-friendly instincts are so deeply ingrained that couples in May/December relationships who do not want children nevertheless still face criticisms just by virtue of the age differences.”
This sounds like a just-so story to me. One could look for cross-country data, but a simpler way to figure out what’s going on is, I think, to just go back in time and see if ageism was always as widespread as it is now (you’d expect that if biology/genes is driving behaviour). This is most certainly not the case. In most societies in the past, age differences have mattered much less than they do in modern societies today; for example, in ancient Greece the ‘usual marriage’ seem to have been between a female at the age of 10-15 and a male twice that age. What we might now consider child brides were common in many prehistorical societies across the world, because the alternative – waiting to have children until the age where people have children today (close to 30 in Denmark) – was not an option because of very high mortality rates (if females didn’t start have children relatively early in their lives, the populations would go extinct).
I also really don’t see why age discrimination would necessarily be adaptive, given that a) most people in prehistoric societies never got old enough to live to experience age-related infertility and b) most of the period of human history where selection has taken place has been a period where humans, both males and females, have had relatively small avalable mating pools. High mortality rates combined with low mobility and low population densities made sure that there were never a lot of potential partners around. These days mating pools are enormous, and so people react the way you’d expect, by becoming increasingly more critical of the partners which are available to them. If you have a lot of options, you can afford to be picky, and I think this is a main driver of ageism and similar effects. Ageism was probably unheard of 10.000 years ago, and I really doubt it had much influence on partner choices 150.000 years ago.
It has generally been the case that in societies which have obtained a sufficient level of organizational complexity to display non-irrelevant income variation across individuals (i.e. societies with surplus food), older males have had an advantage compared to younger males in the mating game, because they had had more time to gather ressources. And so, generally speaking, males have been older than their female partners and the more ressources you would be able to gather in an additional year as a non-mating male, to some degree the larger you’d expect the acceptable age-gap between partners-to-be (ceteris paribus).”
A very general notion here is that the world we live in now is very different from the world your ancestors lived in. Most people don’t think much about the changes that have taken place because they don’t know the ways in which the past was different in any amount of detail (they probably know that people who lived in the Neolithic didn’t have airplanes, but…), but that also means that they will sometimes make assumptions which are flat out wrong about the way the past ‘worked’. I touch upon some of the ways people might be wrong in the comment above, but I thought I should make some more general comments here:
First, a note on human population and population densities in the past. The number of humans pre-farming was, compared to today, very low. One estimate of the total world human population just 12.000 years ago: 1 million individuals. In the entire world. These 1 million people lived in areas as far apart from each other as Australia, Tierra del Fuego in South America, Japan, southern Europe, South Africa… Pre-farming, the carrying capacities of the areas humans inhabited were, to put it mildly, not very high – because it actually takes a lot of calories to keep a human alive. There weren’t a lot of people around, so you couldn’t afford to be all that picky – neither when it came to what to put into your mouth, nor when it came to whom to have children with. An interesting note here is that John Hawks some time age pointed something out to me which I did not know/had not thought about: That many prehistoric human females were either pregnant or lactating most of their adult lives. This is likely part of the reason why females are smaller than males and why their basal metabolic rate is lower than the basal metabolic rate of males; when you add the extra calories needed to carry a child to term or feeding it afterwards, the energy expenditure of females probably weren’t all that different from the energy requirements of males. They needed roughly the same amount of calories but used the calories differently.
Most people today live in areas where the population density is far, far higher than anything prehistoric humans could have even imagined. This factor relates, as I mention in my comments, to mating behaviour – but it relates to a lot of other behaviour too. For example, the food procurement strategies prehistoric humans made use of meant that the threat of exclusion from the tribe was a much, much more serious threat in the past than it is today; if you were kicked out of the band, in all likelihood you’d simply face starvation and death. Other factors which are to some extent contingent upon population density are ‘ingroup-outgroup dynamics’ (if there are no other tribes around nearby, intratribal competition dominates intertribal competition), ‘societal complexity’ (closely related to degree of specialization), and ‘speed of transmission and likelihood of fixation’ (this goes for both technological innovation and for genetics – if both population density and mobility are lowered, then both transmission speed and arguably also the likelihood that substitution will actually take place will also be lowered, at least unless the effect size is very significant).
I’ve touched upon this one before as well, but it’s important because people often get the scales wrong. Human (pre-)history is much longer than most people probably think, and it looks quite a bit different from what most people think. The earliest bipedal hominins emerge in the fossil record somewhere around 6-8 million years ago. The human past looks nothing like a tree with branches, unless the tree looks quite different from most trees; you need to include several branches which overlap and some twigs which jump back to other branches, or perhaps even the trunk. I recommend this bloggingheads episode with Razib Khan and Milford Wolpoff if you want a much more detailed treatment of this subject. Here I’ll just list the species in the table of early hominins in chapter 2 of THP and add some general remarks. The list: Sahelanthropus tchadensis, Orrorin tugenensis, Ardipithecus kadabba, Ardipithecus ramidus, Ardipithecus anamensis, Ardipithecus afarensis, Ardipithecus garhi, Ardipithecus africanus, Australopithecus (Paranthropus) aethiopicus, Australopithecus (Paranthropus) boisei, Australopithecus (Paranthropus) robustus, Homo sp. indet. (possible early Homo, indeterminate species), Homo habilis, Homo rudolfensis. Many of these species display some level of overlap with another one of them – some of them were around simultaneously. These species had all died out or evolved into different species by 1 million years ago, most of them much before that. There were a lot of branches on the ‘human evolutionary tree’, and many of them died out along the way. We have left a lot of failed experiments behind us in the past. An interesting notion here is that we’re not even completely sure in all cases which species actually died out and which ones instead evolved into the other guys we’ve found to have been around later on – making that distinction sometimes requires a bit of educated guesswork. The farther back in time you go, the murkier it gets.
The cranial capacities of the listed species are often unknown, particularly when it comes to the oldest lineages, but an estimate (based on one specimen) of the cranial capacity of Sahelanthropus tchadensis, a(n assumed bipedal) species estimated to have been around somewhere between 7-6 million years ago, pegs it at around 320-380 cc. This is not different from the brain size of chimps. Most of the australopithecines for which data exists are also in the 400-550 cc neighbourhood. Brain size increased over time, Homo rudolfensis, which was around from perhaps as early as 2,3 million years ago (this is contested) to around 1,8 million years ago, had a brain volume of 600-800 cc – around 55-60% of that of an average modern human. We separated from the chimps a very long time before we ever got that far – and H. rudolfensis didn’t exactly do a lot of cool stuff with that extra brain power.
Now, I think it’s important to note here that if you take human (pre-)history to be the time period from when we split apart from the other apes and then up to the present point in time, these species just mentioned make up most of human history. And the fact of the matter is that most of them were not very smart – as in, most of the first ones were not significantly smarter than chimps. Around 2,5 million years ago some of them started making stone tools. But aside from primitive stone tools – well, that’s pretty much it. They haven’t left anything more complicated than that behind, something that the few people I’ve talked about this with find to be somewhat surprising. Stone tools. That’s it. Then again: “Clearly, much of the material culture of early hominins would have been made from organic, perishable materials such as wood, bark, and horn, or would have made use of unmodified materials that would leave little if any visible traces in the archaeological record to identify them as tools.” (THP, p.66) So it’s hard to tell just how advanced they actually were. But even so, it remains the case that for hundreds of thousands of years the only sort of ‘technological progress’ we can track relates to how these early humans applied their increasingly larger brains to making better stone tools. Mind you, the making of stone tools was a good idea and there was quite a bit of progress along the way. Stone tools made hunting more efficient. And they got better at making them over time. But still, this isn’t exactly super impressive, is it?
Brain size increased quite a bit over time, but it was a gradual process – the history of human evolution is to a large extent the history of the increasing encephalization of a species and the consequences of that encephalization. And the combination of two important observations here makes for another important point, one I’ve mentioned before: Human brains evolved to the ridiculously large size it is today over a very long period of time, but we had huge brains for a very long time before we started to actually ‘doing much with it’. Homo heidelbergensis, which lived from 600.000-400.000 years ago, had an estimated cranial capacity of 1225-1300 cc, not significantly different from the cranial capacity of modern humans (even though the cranium looked a bit different; for example they had quite large browridges). That’s around half a million years ago. These guys had huge brains, but behaviour was extraordinarily primitive. What we usually associate with modern human behaviour didn’t become firmly established until around 50.000 years ago. Stuff like the construction of dwelling structures; burials; textiles; the making of baskets to store stuff. Much of it comes much later than that. First art? Around maybe 65.000 years ago.
This is the point where you realize how important culture is, when it comes to behaviour. How important it is that you are able to share your knowledge with others, perhaps even with people who are no longer alive. How important it is that you don’t need to get all the good ideas yourself and how many ideas you take for granted without thinking about them. Ideas like: ‘if I build a shelter to protect me from the rain, I will not get as cold and wet when it rains.’ This is actually an important idea, and it took a lot of time for people with brains roughly the same size as yours to get it – like, it took them many tens of thousands of years!
You are the descendant of those people. Their brains had roughly the same potential as your brain has. This is a humbling thought. It’s easy to think that they were just incredibly stupid, but the truth of the matter is probably rather that they just didn’t know any better. And if you had been born at that time, you probably wouldn’t have known any better. I started out this monologue by saying that the world we live in now is very different from the world your ancestors lived in. This is true. But it’s worth having in mind also, in particular when you think about ‘what was being selected for’ over the course of human evolution, that even if you limit your analysis to anatomically modern humans of the Sapiens variety, the humans themselves were different back then. They were very much like us, but also so very different. Despite the name we’ve given ourselves, for a long time we weren’t very wise (some current members of our species would surely argue that we still are not).
I mentioned the chapter in a previous post, but I didn’t cover it in any detail and I thought that I probably should, even if it’s not – in my opinion – one of the better chapters in the book. I’m currently finishing the chapter after that one, chapter 15, about ‘Complex Societies of East and Southeast Asia’, which covers stuff taking place in that region during the time period from the 3rd century BC up to the end of the Khmer Empire.
Having some background knowledge about the stuff that’s covered in a specific chapter, a situation I’ve been in a few times, can truly impact reading experience, and I’m not sure I’d have read the book quite the same way if I’d read it some years ago. Generally, if you know stuff from other sources it’s easier to realize just how much stuff is actually covered in a book like this. Robin Lane Fox used more than 700 pages in his book The Classical World to cover what The Human Past spends, what, 4-5 pages on? Similarly, Gernet spends more than 100 pages on the developments taking place from the early Warring States period of Ancient China to the end of the Han Dynasty – a much more condensed version is naturally presented in THP. Heather’s book? Well, here’s what THP has to say about one of the main subjects covered in that book, THP page 429:
“In eastern Europe, the River Danube formed the frontier of the empire. Over the centuries that followed, extensive interaction took place between the Roman provinces and the territories beyond, in the form of trade, cultural and technological borrowing, diplomatic exchange, and military action, until the Roman/non-Roman division dissolved in the late 4th and 5th centuries AD.”
That’s one way of putting it. Or you could write a book about it. Or several books, many have been written about that topic. Something I have thought of as rather interesting is how the book is actually, the scope of the material covered taken into consideration, quite focused on the evidence and the specifics – main sites, findings, etc. There’s less room to spare for ‘the big picture’ than you might have thought, even if it is fundamentally pretty much nothing but a book about big picture stuff. But a lot of the big picture stuff that is included is big picture stuff that has been made plausible by presenting or at least talking about some the evidence first – you don’t see many conclusions you don’t know how the authors arrived at. ‘After having looked closely at the middens found (you’d be surprised how much you can learn from old middens) at these three sites, we can see that the number of sheep bone fragments increase over time and that the number of gazelle bone fragments decrease over time, indicating that (something about domestication and decreased reliance on game as a protein source)’ – no, that’s not a quote from the book, but most of the book is conceptually like this: What did the people living at that point in time leave behind, and what can we conclude based on what they left behind? It’s fascinating how much stuff can actually be covered in such a manner in such a short amount of space, all things taken into consideration.
I expect to have another one of those ‘I’ve read about this before’-experiences when I read chapter 17 (From Village to Empire in South America), given that I’ve previously read Metraux. It should be mentioned that having read other stuff about a subject also makes the newly acquired knowledge easier to put into context and recall afterwards but you guys probably already know that. It’s great if the authors disagree about something, because then you start to feel a need to remember what the other guy said, leading to a more critical reading of both materials. The fact that I hadn’t read anything about the prehistory of South Asia before may be part of why I didn’t much like the chapter, but it’s not the only reason. Anyway, with all that out of the way; I’ve added some links to the type of stuff that’s covered in chapter 14 below. I’ve tried to select only somewhat-substantial articles:
The post title refers to the titles of the chapters 13 and 14 in The Human Past. I read the first chapter earlier today and expect to finish chapter 14 later this evening (though I’m now starting to think that may be a bit optimistic). They are both 40+ pages long, so there’s a lot of stuff covered here. Given that each chapter here corresponds to at least half a book in many other contexts, I figured I might as well blog my reading of this stuff more regularly than I’ve done so far. I’ve added some links to stuff covered in chapter 13, the one about the Mediterranean World – the time period covered is roughly the period from early 3rd millenium BC to the fall of the Roman Empire. I haven’t read all the articles so I can’t say if they agree with the book, but I’ll assume for now that many of the same themes are covered. It’s not unlikely that I may have linked to one or two of these before in my wikipedia articles posts, as this is (generally) stuff I’ve read about before, on more than one occasion (some of this stuff was part of the high school curriculum):
Greek Dark Ages
Philip II of Macedon
Alexander the Great
Forum of Trajan
First Jewish–Roman War
So, as I’ve also tweetet I read quite a bit of stuff in The Human Past during this weekend. I know some of you are probably sick and tired of hearing about this book and wondering when I’ll finish it and move on to something else; those of you who feel this way will probably be happy to learn that I’ve now read more than half of the book (10 of the 19 chapters).
However the likelihood that I’ll give the book a rest is not very high. I find some of this stuf just incredibly interesting, and I don’t really feel like stopping half way through. The chapters I’ve read over the last week or so have mainly been about the rise of agriculture in various parts of the world and the consequences thereof (names of the chapters I’ve read over the last week: ‘The World Transformed: From foragers and farmers to states and empires’; ‘From foragers to complex societies in Southwest Asia’; ‘Origins of food-producing economies in the Americas’; ‘Holocene Africa’; ‘Holocene Europe’. The book also has a chapter about East Asian agriculture and one about Holocene Australia and the Pacific Basin, but I haven’t read those yet).
One of the interesting things about a book like this is that it makes you realize how much you didn’t know that you didn’t know. I touch upon my own ignorance a lot in this post, and I do it in part to make the readers perhaps start asking themselves some of the same questions I’ve been asking myself: How much do I actually know about this stuff? And how much of that ‘knowledge’ is actually mostly just sh*t I have made up along the way? I never really got a ‘what were you thinking? How could you be so stupid?’-type reaction along the way, but I probably ought to have had it and only my self-pride shielded me from it.
I have never really thought much about how farming came about; whether ‘plants or animals’ came first and which factors impacted this; how agriculture spread, from where and how fast; why it sometimes failed to spread to a specific area or region? How much it might have mattered that some specific places of the world are better suited to this food-production stuff than other places? All kinds of questions pop up once you start thinking about these things. At some specific loci on my knowledge map, I realized while reading the book that my own almost complete lack of knowledge about the subject had not in fact stopped me from having formed quite strong preconceptions about the way things were ‘supposed to have worked’ in the past. You form narratives in your mind, and often those narratives will be dead wrong because they are too simplistic, based on lack of information or perhaps just plain stupid if you give them even a moment’s thought. But you don’t, so the ideas stay where they are until they can be replaced by something else. I had no idea that Sahara was relatively fertile land some millenia ago, I had no idea that the spread of one small bug likely impacted the feasibility of cattle herding in Africa significantly in prehistoric times. I hadn’t thought about how risky the adoption of agricultural practices might have been in some marginal areas with, for instance, significant (long-term) variation in rainfall, nor had I thought about the fact that some places probably were very well suited for the hunter-gatherer way of life and actually didn’t ‘need farming’ to form what was at that point relatively complex societies. In my mental model agriculture used to be the ‘always obviously better choice’ for food procurement, so it didn’t occur to me that the food output of foraging groups some places could locally surpass that of agricultural societies. I also didn’t think about how farming and traditional food procurement strategies could be combined in various ways and how scales and degrees are probably better ways to think about these things than are zeros and ones. It did not occur to me when I started reading this that the process from foraging to farming wasn’t actually just a one-way street; in some places, farming came and then went away again because of climatic- or other factors which impacted food production enough to cause people to give up on that new way of life and go back to what used to work (this last one I actually consider quite embarrasing given my knowledge about Ancient China – I knew this already! Only I didn’t, really. But I ought to have known: “The northern frontiers of the Chinese world formed a zone where the opposing modes of life of the farmer and the herdsman mingled and combined. Down the centuries sometimes the pasturages would advance and the cultivated land shrink, sometimes the arid lands would be conquered and developed by the sedentary peoples. Just as certain tribes of herdsmen changed over to agriculture, so some Han adopted the nomads’ mode of life.”).
I have actually never really thought about how the process of animal domestication (and plant domestication, naturally…) probably depended crucially on which animals were actually around to be domesticated in the local areas, or about just how differently the continents, and local regions as well, were endowed on that score when these ideas first took hold (let’s just say that, for instance, there weren’t a lot of horses in South America pre-1500). Before I read these chapters, I never really thought of farming as some process which gradually developed over thousands of years, where hunter-gatherers played a very significant role in the evolution of the food-production process – I usually (wrongly) sort of assumed that some guy somewhere (perhaps several guys, living in different places) got this Great Idea, ‘and the rest is history’. I always wondered why nobody got that Great Idea a lot sooner, and I guess I’ve sort of gotten that question answered by now.
The last week’s reading has made me think long and hard about which other stupid ideas with no basis in facts I may have put into my head without realizing it. I’m sure there are a lot of them. I think that if you’re asking yourself questions like those after you’ve read some stuff, this is a good indicator that you’ve actually learned something. Ignorance, and its close friend stupidity, is incredibly easy to overlook, because there’s so much of it that you don’t even know where to look for it. You need to know something about X to figure out what you don’t know about X.
i. My birthday is in two months, so I’ll probably be sending out a wish list in a couple of weeks (the kinds of books I usually want have to be sent from other parts of the world and that takes a lot of time…). Which means that now is a good time for you to recommend books and other stuff to me.
After reading this article on ‘The Real War 1939-1945′, (it’s quite long, don’t start reading it if you have but 5 or 10 minutes at your disposal – and thanks for linking to it Gwern!) I decided to add this book to my list. The author died just 6 days ago.
iv. A paper on the effects of alcohol on behaviour which some readers might find interesting.
v. Another one of Steven Farmer’s pharmacology lectures – Antimicrobial Agents 1:
vi. I read two whole chapters in The Human Past today, as well as part of a third. It’s a textbook, so (2,3-2,4?) chapters corresponds to ~10 hours of reading or so (one of the chapters was quite short). I decided to just add some related links from wikipedia below, in no particular order. This is some of the stuff I’ve been reading about:
Domestication of the pig
Talheim Death Pit
Linearbandkeramik (LBK) / Linear Pottery Culture (LPC)
Lindow Man (featured article)
Ötzi the Iceman (people who read Razib Khan regularly will probably remember his posts on this one)
The climate-related stuff I found fascinating, but there’s only so much of that kind of stuff you can put into a book about ‘the human past’ so naturally the treatment of this subject was not as detailed as I’d perhaps have liked. Did you know that before the end of the last ice age, Japan wasn’t separated from the Asian mainland? Or that Tasmania was part of Australia? That you could walk from Britain to France? Do also read the articles on Sundaland and Doggerland and recall that not that long ago, you could walk from Asia to America… Also, “faunal evidence indicates the presence of domesticated cattle in the central Sahara by at least the 5th millenium BC. Only during the 3rd millenium BC did climate patterns change and the Sahara begin to take on the desert-like character it has today” (p.181) The world isn’t what it was, it’s very different, and you don’t actually need to go very far back in time to get very surprised at what has happened and how much things have changed.
Sorry for the infrequent updates.
I’ve mentioned John Hawks’ anthropology lectures on the twitter, but I don’t think I’ve blogged about them. As I know that some (most?) people who read the blog don’t read my tweets, I thought it would be a good idea to give you a heads up. Yesterday I had some time to myself, and I spent a few hours watching this stuff. The category ‘lectures‘ on his blog unfortunately at this point does not include all his lectures. Some of the missing ones on that list are: Milk (actually most of it is not about milk, but rather about the energy expenditure differences between the sexes and related stuff like gender dimorphism), Premolars, Ears, Eyes and Hemoglobin.
The format is not completely optimal yet. Sometimes when Hawks talks about a specific slide it can be hard to follow because you can’t see what he’s pointing at. When a student answers one of his questions along the way, most of the time it is impossible to hear what the student is saying (however Hawks often repeats the answer to the class, ameliorating this problem somewhat). But these things aren’t a big deal, and I love the fact that lectures such as these are available for free online (which I’ve also told Hawks directly – the mail he quotes here was from me). If you’re interested, go have a look.
i. “Civilizations die from suicide, not by murder.” (Arnold Toynbee)
ii. Hobbes: “Whatcha doin’?”
Calvin: “Getting rich!”
Calvin: “Yep. I’m writing a self-help book! There’s a huge market for this stuff.”
Calvin: “First you convince people there’s something wrong with them. That’s easy because advertising has already conditioned people to feel insecure about their weight, looks, social status, sex appeal, and so on.”
Calvin: “Next, you convince them that the problem is not their fault and that they’re victims of larger forces. That’s easy, because it’s what people believe anyway. Nobody wants to be responsible for his own situation.”
Calvin: “Finally, you convince them that with your expert advice and encouragement, they can conquer their problem and be happy.”
Hobbes: “Ingenious. What problem will you help people solve?”
Calvin: “Their addiction to self-help books!”
Calvin: “My book is called, “Shut up and stop whining: How to do something with your life besides think about yourself.”"
Hobbes: “You should probably wait for the advance before you buy anything.”
Calvin: “The trouble is… If my program works, I won’t be able to write a sequel.” (Calvin and Hobbes)
iii. “No one finds fault with defects which are the result of nature.” (Aristotle)
iv. “humans are a status-based social animal and higher-status individuals are given more deference when it comes to following social rules than lower-status individuals. People behave accordingly. When their status permits them to get away with things, they tend to take advantage of it, and the kicker is that they don’t even notice they’re doing it — brain imaging studies have shown THEY DON’T EVEN FEEL BAD ABOUT IT. Their status apparently subconsciously suppresses the guilt/shame response. But it’s wrong to see this as a stable personality trait. People have varying levels of status depending on the domain, and you can expect them to behave according to the level of status they feel they’re operating with.” (Slocum, here)
v. “Use thy youth so that thou mayest have comfort to remember it when it hath forsaken thee, and not sigh and grieve at the account thereof. Use it as the spring-time which soon departeth, and wherein thou oughtest to plant and sow all provisions for a long and happy life.” (Walter Raleigh)
vi. “The reason that educated religious people stay religious, I suspect, is that when they doubt, they are subconsciously very careful to attack their own beliefs only at the strongest points — places where they know they can defend. Moreover, places where rehearsing the standard defense will feel strengthening. [...] More than anything, the grip of religion is sustained by people just-not-thinking-about the real weak points of their religion. I don’t think this is a matter of training, but a matter of instinct. People don’t think about the real weak points of their beliefs for the same reason they don’t touch an oven’s red-hot burners; it’s painful.” (Eliezer Yudkowsky. The same dynamics are at work when it comes to politics.)
vii. “the archaeological record associated with each lineage [Homo erectus, H. neanderthalensis and H. sapiens] nowhere reveals a striking behavioral advance that might reflect abrupt brain enlargement. Instead, even between 500,000 and 250,000 years ago, when average brain size was everywhere within the modern range, humans in both Africa and Eurasia remained extraordinarily primitive in their behaviour. They produced a relatively small range of stone artifact types, their artifact assemblages varied remarkably little over long time spans and vast areas, they rarely, if ever, produced formal (standardized) artifacts from bone, ivory, antler, or similar organic materials, they left little or no evidence for art, and they failed to build structures that would leave an unambiguous archaeological trace. In all these respects, the people differed little from their immediate successors between 250,000 and 50,000 years ago [...] Archaeologists agree that the pattern changed sharply after 50,000 years ago, when formal bone artifacts, art, housing remnants, and other items associated with historic hunter-gatherers appeared widely for the first time. It is thus only after 50,000 years ago that fully modern behaviour became firmly established.”
(The Human Past, p. 122. I find it fascinating to think about that behaviour lagged brain size, so to speak, for tens, if not hundreds, of thousands of years. Ancient humans were basically geniuses (just like modern humans are geniuses, compared to other species) walking around behaving like morons who had no clue how smart they were. I wonder how many times throughout the history of the Earth that species not too different from our own have evolved which never even knew how big a potential they had before they went extinct? It’s worth remembering that biology isn’t everything.)
Here’s the first post in the series. There are lots of interesting ‘bites of an apple from the tree of knowledge’ in the book, so I’ll just go ahead and post some of them here. From the first three chapters (~100 pages) :
i. “Two centuries after Captain James Smith (five four, perhaps) dropped anchor at Jamestown in 1607, the average U.S. male had gained two or three inches, depending on whose data you use.”
ii. This explanation neglects the problematic hair on my head, though. The best theory here relates to my massive brain [...]. Theory goes: The head of my ancestral hominids, as they reared upright, was exposed to the tropical sun. As the brain of hominids evolved larger, this head fur grew in importance. A brain is a steaming wad of fat, a three-pound radiator. It’s vulnerable to high temperatures and will fry out at 107.6°F (42°C). So it’s insulated against the sun with a mop of fur, and it’s cooled with a surfeit of sweat glands. That’s the predominant theory, anyway: We shucked the body fur in order to cool our bodies better, but kept the head hair to prevent the brain from baking. My tresses shield my brain from the sun, the way a sheep’s fleece keeps it cool in the desert. And the rest of my skin is open to the wind so I can sweat cool as I sprint after hamburgers on the plains of South Portland.”
iii. “Until you give the human animal tools, it is pitifully armed, and not dangerous. This isn’t normal, among primates. Cousin Chimp’s weapon of choice is his large teeth. [...] Gorillas and orangutangs, as well as the other primates, also rely primarily on their teeth to wound and kill their rivals [and prey]. [...] I don’t believe my jaws are up to the challenge of biting off human fingers, let alone severing an ankle. Humans don’t fight much with our teeth. Generally, we prefer metal tools, and generally the longer the reach of the tool, the better. When a human does tangle without tools, the weapon of choice is the hands. [...] the male fist is the most common cause of broken jaws. [...] In my culture, only one killing in fourteen is accomplished without tools.”
iv. “A running chimp is as graceful as a tumbling brick.”
v. “This animal [humans] perceives the world foremost with its eyes. As in many predators, the eyes are forward oriented. This produces three-dimensional vision but narrows the total field. Inside the eye, the human (like many of its fellow primates) has three cones rather than two, producing color vision much richer than that perceived by most mammals. [...] Taste and smell, the chemical senses, are rather weak. The tongue can, however, identify poisons with passable accuracy and is sensitive to high-calorie sugars and fats. [...] Females demonstrate a slight edge over males in the speed at which their brains process sensory information – especially during the fertile phases of their menstrual cycles.”
vi. “The eyes of all animals had a humble beginning. Some single-celled somebody probably got the vision thing rolling when a DNA flub granted it a light-sensitive chemical. This dab of chemistry may have allowed an ancestral Mr. Microbe to eat better, or to better avoid being eaten, and thus he [it] thrived. And everyone who evolved from him was grateful for his revolutionary photopigment.
Today, each species packages its photopigment a little differently (or a lot differently), but the general rule is the same: You collect a subset of the light spectrum and use the data to plot your next move. You don’t even require a brain to do this – the marine brittle star is paved with crystals that detect a predator’s shadow and signal its five arms to scramble for shelter. [...] As for processing speed, my eyes are rather indolent. When I sit watching a movie, the series of still images blends together to form motion. But to a fly, a movie plays like a plodding slide show. [...] A fly can process two hundred different images in a second. I can handle twenty before they start to blur.”
vii. “Just as my predator’s eyes leave me blind behind, my ears leave me with a “deaf spot.” Humans have trouble locating noises that are directly fore, aft, or above our heads. [...] As for ear location, I’m pretty normal. Most mammals separate their ears to maximize their triangulating potential. Still, they keep them handy to the brain that processes sound data. [...] My own ears are so far apart that a sound wave registers first in one, then a split second later in the other. The sound level drops, too, in the time it takes to reach the second ear. Between the time lag and the pinnae’s input, my brain can calculate where to point my eyes.”
viii. “the male and female human perceive pain differently – even after accounting for the COMT gene. The sex hormones that soak our respective brains seem to dictate how each sex will experience life’s cuts and contusions. Generally, females have a lower threshold: It takes less burning, freezing, poking, or pinching to make them yelp. They also have a lower tolerance for pain: They’re quicker to capitulate and pull their hands from a bucket of ice water or a heat beam. (These are common tools of torture for pain researchers.)
Other differences hint at the separate ways that male and female bodies react to pain. During painful times, a male’s heart beats faster but not the female’s. A male’s cortisol and endorphins (stress chemical and painkiller) rise, but for some reason, a female brain neither stresses out nor self-medicates for pain. [...] Why? Most theories cluster around a female’s role in reproduction: She must avoid harm “for two,” so to speak.
Curiously, the human female’s pain sensitivity goes dull when her estrogen level rises toward the fertile days of her monthly cycle.”
ix. “Female siblings who live together will, like mice, rapidly synchronize their menstrual cycles in about half of cases studied. About one-third of close friends who spend lots of time together will synchronize, too.”
“Whenever biologists discover a new animal it’s their custom to crank the creature through a factual sausage grinder, producing tidy links of information. With academic detachment they tabulate the number of legs and teeth, note food preferences, and characterize habits of reproduction. [...] But I’ve never encountered a full description of the two-legged ape. We Homo sapiens, so eager to describe the rest of the world, have been chary about committing our own natural history to paper.
This seems unfortunate. For one thing, it reinforces the notion that we’re not normal animals. It lends the impression that we’re too wonderful to summarize; that although the giraffe can be corralled in paragraphs, the human cannot. That’s unfair to other species. On the flip side, it suggests we’re misfits, as animals go. It lends the impression that we’re not worthy to take our place beside the gemsbok and the gorilla; that we are excluded from the brotherhood of mammals. This is unfair to my species.
It also seems unnecessarily dour. What could be more fun than describing the human, after all?”
From the introduction. The book is quite funny and you learn a lot of new stuff. That said, it also gets a few things wrong, and I’ve gotten a bit annoyed a couple of times because she keeps repeating a common mistake people make when dealing with evolutionary bioloy: Assuming traits or behavioural strategies which are widespread today must necessarily have been advantageous in the past. It’s an easy mistake to make, but it’s the wrong way to think about these things: A general rule of thumb is rather that all it takes for a given trait to persist over time is for the trait to not be so costly as to give rise to a significant evolutionary disadvantage. Traits that impact the number of offspring in a positive way will generally spread (if certain other conditions are met), but neutral traits and adaptions can easily persist over time as well. Harmful traits are the only ones that generally have a hard time making it over time, and if you see the trait in individuals today and it’s been around for a while, the trait probably isn’t all that harmful – at least in terms of offspring impact, likelihood of mating ect.. She makes the mistake both when talking about traits more or less directly linked to genetics (‘color blindness has persisted because: “it gave hunters an advantage in spotting khaki-colored animals in the khaki-colored grasslands of human prehistory”) and also when talking about purely cultural adaptions (according to her, the new HIV study showing that circumcision reduces infection risk (slightly) might indirectly be part of the explanation why people thousands of years ago decided to cut off parts of the penis of their male children and keep doing it – “If circumcision does indeed reduce the risk of males contracting fatal diseases, that could well have kicked “cultural evolution” into gear long, long ago: Those groups of humans who practiced the cultural behavior would enjoy better survival rates.” My response would go somewhere along these lines: Sorry for asking, but what about wound infection risk 2000+ years ago? Risk of botched circumcision reducing number of offspring to 0? And just how big would the impact on transmission rates of i.e. sexually transmitted diseases have to be to actually offset these costs (the effect size in the HIV study was quite small)? Also, lots of fatal diseases one might come up with, including quite a few sexually transmitted ones, aren’t even impacting fitness to any significant degree despite the fact that they’re deadly (which is part of why there are so many of them still around) – if you die at the age of 35, after having had 10 kids, for all practical purposes the disease doesn’t really matter all that much in the big picture. To me, the interesting question is not how a cultural adaption like circumcision might have provided the group with an evolutionary advantage, but rather why it was not so disadvantageous to the group as to go out of style completely over time). In her book she’s finding ‘evolutionary explanations’ all over the place also in places where it seems rather obvious to me that really none need even exist – these are not the only examples.
Aside from this, it’s really quite good, interesting and fun – there’s lots of good stuff as well. I’ll post more on the book later on.
i. “A rich fossil record documenting the earliest hominins has now been discovered on the African continent, with perhaps a dozen hominin species identified as existing prior to 1.5 million years ago [...] The fossil finds were initially concentrated in South Africa, but in more recent years significant discoveries have extended to eastern Africa, and even further afield, in central Africa and the Sahara [...] New discoveries have also expanded the known time depth of the hominin lineage, to perhaps as much as 6 million years. [...]
Identification of early hominins that branched off since the last common ancestor of humans and African apes is usually based on one of two criteria: either (1) postcranial (referring to the skeleton below the skull) evidence of bipedality; or (2) derived dental characteristics that are shared with later hominins but not with apes. Prior to 4 million years ago, there is tantalizing evidence of this early stage of proto-human evolution in the discovery of pre-Australopithecus (“southern ape man”) fossils in East Africa and the Sahara.
The fossil finds from Chad, Sahelanthropus tchadensis, include a nearly complete cranium dating to between 7 and 6 million years ago, as well as fragments of lower jaws and some teeth. [...] Between 6 and 4 million years ago, new fossil forms that have been designated as early hominins (as they show a number of hominin features even while retaining ape-like characteristics), have been found in East Africa and the Middle Awash region of Ethiopia.”
ii. “The hominin fossil record becomes much better represented from around 4 million years ago, with the appearance of early australopithecines. A number of australopithecine species then appear over the ensuing 3 million years, with fossils attributed to the genus Homo appearing fairly late on the African scene, around 2 million years ago or slightly earlier.”
In the book the author of the chapter makes a distinction between ‘gracile australopithecines’ and ‘robust -ll-’. In fact it seems that there is some disagreement whether the two ‘types’ of australopithecines even belong to the same genus, but that a branching process took place in this timeframe (3-1.8 mya) is beyond doubt. Applying the gracile/robust framework, it seems likely that we, Homo Sapiens, are descendants of some form(/s) of the gracile australopithecines, whereas on the other hand the robust australopithecine branch went extinct about 1 million years ago. The early homo species didn’t really have ‘huge brains’ or anything like that, the brains were somewhat/significantly larger than that of the robust australopithecines but compared to our huge brains they are quite similar. Brain development was a gradual process and it is a very wrong way to think about the evolutionary process eventually leading to us, Homo Sapiens, as some sort of narrative about how much smarter species of apes outcompeted the ‘slow’ ones very fast and took over for a while, until some even smarter ones turned up and outcompeted the new dullards – or worse, like a process where a single species just got smarter and smarter over time. Many species of honinins lived simultaneously, and some of the species that eventually died out were around for a very long time – A. boisei were around for almost a million years, half of that time contemporaneously with the early homo species. Also, there were lots of different species around at the same time: “Between 2.5 and 1.5 million years [ago], a number of hominin species (perhaps eight) are found in Africa, including the “robust” large, cheek-toothed australopithecines, as well as more “gracile” forms, and Homo Habilis, H. rudolfensis and H. ergaster/erectus.” When it comes to brain size, robust australopithecines like A. boisei (2.3-1.4 mya) and A. robustus (1.8 to perhaps 1 mya) had cranial capacities of 500-550 cc, whereas “the cranial capacity of homo habilis [an early homo species] ranges between 510 and 687 cc.” – to compare, “the average for modern humans is about 1350 cc and around 450 for chimpanzees and gorillas”. There was still a long way to go when the first Homo species showed up. The book sums some of all this up like this:
“To recapitulate: the earliest bipedal hominins [2.10] appear to emerge in the fossil record by 6 million years ago. During the Plio-Pleistocene, a major bifurcation in the hominin lineage led to the robust australopithecines as one evolutionary branch, or clade, and to the genus Homo as the other. In addition to bipedality, other hominin traits that emerged included longer legs, shorter arms, more dextrous hands with a longer thumb, reduced canines and incisors (and in early Homo, reduced molars and premolars), and brain expansion, again especially in early Homo. In the Homo lineage, body size tends to increase and sexual dimorphism appears to decrease through time.”
iii. Tools! When it comes to tools, we have found quite a bit more than just a broken axe-head and a couple of bones lying next to it a few places:
“The Zinjanthropus site (FLK Zinj) is one of the richest Oldowan sites ever excavated, containing well over 2000 stone artifacts and over 3500 fossil animal bone specimens, with over 1000 of the bones identifiable to taxon (unit of zoological classification, such as species, genus, or family) or body part; more than 90 percent of these belong to larger mammals.” And it’s not the only one of its kind: “At one site FJ-1 [Fejej, Ethiopia], almost 2000 artifacts have been excavated from two major layers”. The Nyabusosi (Site NY 18) site in Uganda, “dated to 1.5 million years ago, contains an assemblage of approximately 600 artifacts”. Excavations at Senga 5A in DR Congo “have yielded hundreds of artifacts, along with many fossil animal bones.”
“The earliest archaeological sites found have been assigned to the Oldowan Industry, a term coined by Louis Leakey (1903-1972) and Mary Leakey (1913-1996), based on their work at Olduvai Gorge in Tanzania [...] The Oldowan is characterized by simple core forms (the parent piece of rock from which flakes are detached), created from river-worn cobbles and angular blocks of stone; the sharp-edged, angular flakes and fragments detached from such cores (debitage); often battered hammerstones; and occasional retouched pieces (usually flakes, the edges of which were further modified by striking off tiny chips to reshape or sharpen the edge) [...] Most archaeologists now group the Oldowan and Developed Oldowan into the “Oldowan industrial complex” (Isaac 1976)” – yeah, you got that right, ‘industrial complex’. These were toolmaking complexes.
So who made the tools? This is still a bit uncertain, but at the moment Australopithecus garhi is high on the list when it comes to the early Oldowan tools. The estimated cranial capacity of A. garhi is just 450 cc, i.e. comparable to gorillas and chimpanzees. “Many paleoanthropologists consider this species to be a probable maker of early Oldowan tools and a potential ancestor for the genus Homo.”
I’m behind on the book blogging, but it takes a lot of time and generally it’s a bit more fun to read the stuff than to reread sections in order to blog it. So anyway, I’ve mentioned the book before but I haven’t blogged any of it yet. The subtitle is ‘World Prehistory & the Development of Human Societies’ and it’s an archaeology/anthropology-textbook. I bought it at The National Museum, haven’t regretted that. As is usually the case with textbooks, it’s quite hard to quote from a book like this because there’s generally a lot of context you need to include for the quote to have any meaning, however I’ve tried to give some highlights from the first chapter and the first part of the second chapter (~first 60 pages) below:
i. “The first serious investigations of British prehistoric monuments began in the 17th century, with John Aubrey’s discriptions and plans of Stonehenge and Avebury in southern England. The first hesitant steps in the direction of proper archaeological excavation were made toward the end of the century, in northern France and Scandinavia, though much digging into ancient sites still had the aim of treasure hunting, with little or no attention to the contexts from which objects came (Bahn 1996). Systematic excavation began only in the late 18th century, when the concept of stratigraphy began to be understood. Stratigraphy – successive deposition of superimposed layers, either of natural or cultural material – laid the basis for chronological sequenses, since lower deposits should have been laid down earlier than overlying layers [...] These early archaeological enquiries were innovative for their time, but were unable to overcome the most fundamental problem of prehistory: that of chronology. [...] Archaeologists in the 17th and 18th centuries were increasingly able to recognize that many of the remains they were studying were pre-Roman in date, but had no way of establishing their true age. [...]
It was during the 19th century that the problem of chronology began to be resolved and the study of prehistoric archaeology was finally born (Daniel 1975; Trigger 2006; Diaz Andreu 2007). Early in the century it came to be realized that archaeological materials could be sorted into sequences by means of their technology: stone tools had preceded metal ones, and among the latter, bronze had preceded iron. Thus the three-age system of Stone, Bronze, and Iron was established. [...] Closer study of the artifacts led to increasing subdivision of the European “three ages” [...] Thus the Stone Age was subdivided into an Old Stone Age (with tools exclusively of chipped or flaked stone) and a New Stone Age (with tools of polished stone). In the 1860s these two periods came to be known as the Paleolithic (Old Stone Age) and Neolithic (New Stone Age). The Bronze Age and Iron Age, too, were each subdivided into Early, Middle, and Late.”
ii. “anthropologists continue to seek appropriate ways of classifying different kinds of human society, so that they may be better understood and compared. One widely influential scheme was that proposed by Elman Service (1962), in which he divided human societies into four major categories:
* Bands, characterized by small groups of 25-60 individuals who are related to each other through family and marriage ties – such societies are typical of mobile hunter-gatherers;
* Tribes, generally settled farmers or pastoralist herders, numbering from a few hundred to a few thousand individuals whose identity is based on a concept of descent from a common ancestor; they are loosely organized without central control or strongly developed social hierachy;
* Chiefdoms, which may number over 10,000 individuals, in which institutionalized differences of rank and status are embedded in a hierachy of lineages ruled over by a chief; a key economic feature of chiefdom societies is redistribution, in which subordinate sectors of society pay tribute to the chief who then redistribute it to his followers;
* State societies or civilizations, in which populations reach much greater levels of size and complexity, with a centralized and institutionalized control that overrides kinship ties, and in which differences of rank and wealth are fostered and protected.
early farming societies have often been considered to have been tribal in character, whereas hunters and gatherers are imagined to have been organized into smaller-scale bands. [...] Although useful as a general scheme [...] this classification of human societies must be used with caution.”
iii. “For some time it had been believed that the human evolutionary pathway involved a unique combination of traits that evolved more or less comtemporaneously, namely bipedal locomotion (walking on two feet), the making of stone tools, and significant increase in brain size.
The past few decades of research have undermined this scenario, however, producing evidence that these traits did not evolve together. Rather, their appearances were drawn out in a sequence over millions of years; bipedal walking preceded the first evidence for stone tools by millions of years, and brain expansion is evident only several hundreds of thousand of years after the beginnings of stone tools.
The fossil evidence indicates that bipedal hominins emerged in Africa from an ape ancestry by 6 million years ago. A number of different hominin species – possibly a dozen – are known to have existed between then and 1.5 million years ago; our own genus, Homo (a genus being a group of closely related species), emerged fairly recently, by at least 2 million years ago. Furthermore, the fossil record suggests that at many times during the span of this time more than one hominin species co-existed, indicating evolutionary complexity and possible niche separation during this phase of our evolution, with different lineages focusing on different foods and ecological habitats, rather than a single evolving hominin line. The earliest flaked stone tools are dated to between 2.6 and 2.5 million years ago”
iv. “The two major subgroups (suborders) of primates are sometimes referred to as the “lower primates” and the “higher primates”. The lower primates, the Prosimii, are observed to be somewhat closer in morphology and function to earlier primate species, and some of them even retain such “primitive” characteristics as an emphasis on an olfactory adaption, retention of claws on some digits, and less highly developed grasping ability than is seen among the higher primates. Examples of lower primates today include lemurs, lorises, and tarsiers.
The higher primates, the Anthropoidea, show morphological traits such as heightened enlargement of the brain and development of the visual senses, which emerged later in primate evolution and are considered more altered, or “derived,” from earlier, basal primate characteristics. [...]
Early primate evolution is observed in the fossil record during the early epochs of the Cenozoic period: the Paleocene and the Eocene.
The major evolution and adaptive dispersal of the primates occurred after the mass extinction event that happened 65 million years ago [...]
Between 60 and 35 million years ago, primarily during the Eocene epoch (which dates to about 55 million to 35 million years ago), primates emerged that show much more affinity than earlier types to some of the lower primates among modern groups, especially the lemurs and tarsiers. [...] As North America and Eurasia were still connected during much of this time, these early primates were widespread across the northern landmasses, as well as in Africa, where they may have originated. They are absent, however, in South America, since this continent had not yet joined with the North American continent. [...]
Although the origins of the anthropoids probably lie within the Eocene epoch, it was during the Oligocene (about 35 million to 22 million years ago) that distinct anthropoids begin to leave prominent traces in the fossil record. [...] Starting about 20 million years ago, during the Miocene, we see fossil evidence in africa for the emergence of distinct lineages of Old World Monkeys and apes. Apes (or hominoids, members of the superfamily Hominoidea) were dominant for the first several million years of this anthropoid radiation, dispersing first within the forested environments of Africa, and then into Europe and Asia, and evolving into a multitude of species over this geographic expanse. [...] Ape species began to dwindle during the Miocene as the climate cooled and forests declined, while monkeys, which had been less prevalent, spread and diversified. By the end of the Miocene, about 5 million years ago, ape species were relatively few and more geographically restricted than in early Miocene times, a trend that has continued to the present. It is from this diminished, later Miocene ape stock that early human ancestors were to emerge, branching off from our last shared common ancestor with the other apes (probably the chimpanzees) apparently sometime between 8 and 6 million years ago.”
The stuff in this chapter is so cool. How the hell is ‘God did it’ a better story than this? Of course, it’s not just a story. Books like these present big chunks of the data and the methods used to analyze them, in part because authors like these actually make their living analyzing that data and applying those methods they describe. There’s a lot of evidence (though we’d always like to have more!) and it’s pretty much all of it very useful – if new evidence raises new questions, whch is so often the case, those questions nevertheless still tend to improve our understanding of the past on net; because before we asked those questions we didn’t even know that those questions were out there somewhere, needing an answer.
v. “Most tests indicate that human DNA differs from that of the chimpanzee by only approximately 1.5 percent (see p.145). On a microscopic scale also, there is remarkable chromosomal similarity between humans and chimpanzees in terms of their number (23 chromosomes in humans, 24 in great apes, with human chromosome number 2 the probable result of fusion of two chromosomes inherited from the human-chimpanzee ancestor), as well as their appearance and banding.
Taken together, the results of these diverse studies converge remarkably on basically the same branching sequence in hominoid evolution, with gibbons branching off first from the rest of the apes, followed by the orangutan and, much later, the gorilla. The chimpanzee-human divergence is now evident as the most recent of all. The genetic distance results conform remarkably well with the classification system suggested here [...], with humans differing genetically from the chimpanzee by 1.5 percent, the gorilla by about 2 percent, the orangutan by 3 percent, the gibbon by 4 percent, Old World monkeys by 6 percent, New World monkeys by 12 percent, and prosimians by over 20 percent.”
vi. “There is growing evidence that changes in the earth’s climate had profound effects on the African landmass, altering temperature and rainfall and, subsequently, flora and fauna. Some of these major changes appear to relate to major changes in human evolution as well. [...] the mountain ranges of the African Rift created by tectonic uplift caused by movements of the earth’s plates gave rise to a rain shadow in much of East Africa, gradually leading to drier, more open environments, particularly after the mid-Miocene, around 14 million years ago [East Africa is important because most of the main sites with early homo-remains are located in East Africa, US]. [...] Early in the evolution of the African apes, by the beginning of the Miocene (around 22 million years ago), the African continent was quite different from how it is at present. Lush tropical forests and woodlands covered much of the landmass in tropical and subtropical Africa, and the Sahara Desert had not yet developed.”
(click to view in a higher resolution)
I went there today. “The National Museum is Denmark’s largest museum of cultural history” – and sadly, because of travel arrangements and real life stuff that came up, I had but 4 hours to spend there. Which is far from enough.
Given that I spent 4 hours there I naturally liked it a lot, it wasn’t that I couldn’t find the exit (there are signs in both Danish and English). It’s a great museum. If you don’t live in Denmark but happen one day to be in Copenhagen for some reason or another, consider wasting a full day here (or you can combine it with a visit to Glyptoteket – they are located very close to each other).
I took a lot of pictures along the way (250+), I’ve posted quite a few more of them below the fold (click the link with the Danish text: ‘læs mere’ to see the rest).
“The oldest remains from Australia, Mungo Man, has been dated to anywhere between 70,000, and 30,000, years before the present. If we took the older date then Australia would have been settled almost immediately after the expansion of non-African modern humanity. If we accepted the younger date, then the settlement of Australia would have been concurrent with the final replacement of Neandertals by modern humans in Europe. The current consensus seems to be that Mungo Man dates to approximately 46,000 years before the present. As the first dating of a particular individual from a species in a region is liable to miss earlier individuals who were not fossilized it seems likely that Australia was settled by anatomically modern humans on the order of 46,000 years before the present, but somewhat earlier than that date. That would imply that Australia was populated by anatomically modern humans at least 10,000 years before Europe. One should probably not be too surprised by this. Out-of-Africa humans were probably initially tropically adapted so lateral migration would have been easier, but also, there were no hominin competitors in Australia.”
This great post by Razib Khan has a lot more good stuff.
- 180 grader
- alfred brendel
- Arthur Conan Doyle
- Bent Jensen
- Bill Bryson
- Bill Watterson
- Claude Berri
- current affairs
- Dan Simmons
- David Copperfield
- david lynch
- den kolde krig
- Dinu Lipatti
- Douglas Adams
- economic history
- Edward Grieg
- Eliezer Yudkowsky
- Ezra Levant
- Filippo Pacini
- financial regulation
- Flemming Rose
- foreign aid
- Franz Kafka
- freedom of speech
- Friedrich von Flotow
- Fyodor Dostoevsky
- Game theory
- Garry Kasparov
- George Carlin
- george enescu
- global warming
- Grahame Clark
- harry potter
- health care
- isaac asimov
- Jane Austen
- John Stuart Mill
- Jon Stewart
- Joseph Heller
- karl popper
- Khan Academy
- knowledge sharing
- Leland Yeager
- Marcel Pagnol
- Maria João Pires
- Mark Twain
- Martin Amis
- Martin Paldam
- mikhail gorbatjov
- Mikkel Plum
- Morten Uhrskov Jensen
- Muzio Clementi
- Nikolai Medtner
- North Korea
- nuclear proliferation
- nuclear weapons
- Ole Vagn Christensen
- Oscar Wilde
- Pascal's Wager
- Paul Graham
- people are strange
- public choice
- rambling nonsense
- random stuff
- Richard Dawkins
- Rowan Atkinson
- Saudi Arabia
- science fiction
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- Terry Pratchett
- The Art of War
- Thomas Hobbes
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- walter gieseking
- William Easterly