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  #1  
Old 03-07-2010, 03:02 PM
astro astro is offline
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How did people actually live 50,000 - 100,000 years ago? Were there clans & tribes & language?

I'm having trouble picturing life 50,000 - 100,000 years ago. Was it wandering tribes with complex interpersonal relationships as seen in the African Bushmen or Australian aborigines ... or more "2001 - A Space Odyssey" style semi-apeman type groups or what?
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Old 03-07-2010, 04:25 PM
Wendell Wagner Wendell Wagner is offline
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It's generally agreed that human language is at least that old. The societies of the time didn't have cities and there wasn't agriculture yet. They were hunter-gatherers. Their societies were perhaps on the level of the Australian aboringines just before European colonization. Please note that, although their culture might be called "primitive," they were as intelligent as modern human beings.
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Old 03-07-2010, 04:41 PM
bardos bardos is offline
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it was pretty much nomadic until overpopulation (shortages of grazing lands) led to settled agriculture and animal husbandry. Tigris - Euphrates etc...
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Old 03-07-2010, 08:40 PM
HorseloverFat HorseloverFat is offline
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Short write up here:

http://neurohack.com/earthguide/History.html
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Old 03-07-2010, 09:07 PM
Springtime for Spacers Springtime for Spacers is offline
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While hunter gatherers of the present day and recent past do live a life style that fits with what we know of ancient hunter gatherers they generally differ in one important respect: they live in marginal lands that agriculturalists and urbanites don't want. With the choice of real estate fifty thousand years ago their lives would have been rather easier.
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Old 03-08-2010, 08:22 AM
kimera kimera is offline
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No one knows for sure other than we hunted and gathered. We do know that we probably lived in small groups that travelled around, searching for foods sources. We had complex interpersonal relationships, just like capuchin monkeys, chimps, and bonobos. We don't know about the sexual division of labor, although we do know that we were a species that tended towards monogamy with some polygamy. We know that Homo sapiens sapiens (modern human anatomy) arose 200,000 years ago. The migration out of Africa (or India, as some people believe) occurred sometime around 60,000 BP so we were spreading across all types of environments. In the Late Pleistocene (~70,000) we seem to have undergone a huge population bottleneck that some people believe was due to the eruption of a supervolcano at Lake Toba in Indonesia.

Unlike the Neanderthals, we were less picky about our food types. Rather than mostly focusing on big games, we ate a lot of small, wide spread stuff such as seafood, rabbit, etc. We could've lived in fission-fusion type groups, with individuals coming and going based on resource density and distribution. We could've also lived in stable groups centered around a male or female lineage, although we currently don't know which sex that was favored to (if any). Most modern societies are male philopatric (the male stays while the female leaves), but there's some evidence that our ancestors were female philopatric at one point (such as menopause, which most benefits and would have the greatest selective pressure on the female's female offspring). Either way, our group sizes were most likely small, and most research suggests that they were smaller than expected based upon body size (15-100 individuals), which suggests that we ate relatively high quality food that was widely dispersed across the landscape.

Compared to our Neanderthal cousins, we travelled more and wandered farther. We probably also had greater contact with distant groups which enabled us to trade objects and ideas far and wide. We had boats, clothing, elaborate stone tools, snares and hunting traps, pet dogs, art, jewelry, grave goods, leather goods, music and a complex language (arguably, some other primate species have language).

You can't really look to modern HGs for too much of a comparison because many of them were not HG originally and they tend to live on extremely marginal land.
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Old 03-08-2010, 09:16 AM
septimus septimus is online now
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Originally Posted by Springtime for Spacers View Post
While hunter gatherers of the present day and recent past do live a life style that fits with what we know of ancient hunter gatherers they generally differ in one important respect: they live in marginal lands that agriculturalists and urbanites don't want. With the choice of real estate fifty thousand years ago their lives would have been rather easier.
This is a very good point, I think. The life-style of a hunter-gatherer-(fisher) may have been much more pleasant than that of a farmer. (Even today, what do people want to do when they retire? Go hunting, gathering, and fishing!) People didn't switch to farming because it was "better"; the switch just followed from the higher population densities allowed: clans that didn't switch were later outnumbered. (This is my amateurish opinion; any expert response?)

Farming led to a sedentary life, new social and political structures, and it was all downhill from there.
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Old 03-08-2010, 12:22 PM
John Mace John Mace is offline
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Originally Posted by bardos View Post
it was pretty much nomadic until overpopulation (shortages of grazing lands) led to settled agriculture and animal husbandry. Tigris - Euphrates etc...
We don't really know that. There is evidence that agriculture may have predated permanent settlements. In any event, it's more likely that agriculture lead to "overpopulation" rather than the other way around.

There are a number of competing hypotheses about why agriculture started where and when it did, but we don't really know for sure which is correct (or if there is only one correct reason).
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Old 03-08-2010, 12:29 PM
John Mace John Mace is offline
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Originally Posted by astro View Post
I'm having trouble picturing life 50,000 - 100,000 years ago. Was it wandering tribes with complex interpersonal relationships as seen in the African Bushmen or Australian aborigines ... or more "2001 - A Space Odyssey" style semi-apeman type groups or what?
There's a lot of space between those two examples, but the evidence we have indicates it was very similar to the former. We're not 100% certain when the bow and arrow were invented, though, but I think most anthropologists would doubt it existed 50k years ago. That would be one significant difference.

There are also different schools of thought about when "fully articulate language" developed. Some scientists will say it wasn't present 100k years ago-- that it evolved some time around the time when H. sapiens migrated out of Africa (50 - 60k years ago). Others would push that back at least the origin of our species (at least 200k years ago).

So, depending on who you ask, you might get a different answer for 50k vs 100k years ago.
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  #10  
Old 03-08-2010, 12:36 PM
aceplace57 aceplace57 is online now
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It's my understanding that archeology hasn't found any trace of humans beyond 5000 BC.
Stonehenge is only 4000 years old. That's 2000 BC.
http://www.time.com/time/magazine/ar...857253,00.html

The oldest Pharaohs in Egypt date to about 3000 BC (5000 years ago).

We may have been swinging in the trees 50,000 years ago. But, there's no record of how these people lived.
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  #11  
Old 03-08-2010, 12:44 PM
John Mace John Mace is offline
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Originally Posted by aceplace57 View Post
It's my understanding that archeology hasn't found any trace of humans beyond 5000 BC.
Absolutely incorrect.

Quote:
Stonehenge is only 4000 years old. That's 2000 BC.
http://www.time.com/time/magazine/ar...857253,00.html

The oldest Pharaohs in Egypt date to about 3000 BC (5000 years ago).

We may have been swinging in the trees 50,000 years ago. But, there's no record of how these people lived.
No. We were not "swinging in the trees" 50k years ago.
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  #12  
Old 03-08-2010, 02:08 PM
Ol'Gaffer Ol'Gaffer is offline
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Originally Posted by aceplace57 View Post
It's my understanding that archeology hasn't found any trace of humans beyond 5000 BC.

<snip>
I'm an archaeologist in California and I just finished writing a report about a site in Santa Barbara County we excavated several years ago. We have four radiocarbon dates (two ash, one shell, one bone) from the earliest component at the site, all of which significantly pre-date your "5000 BC" date.

That's one report, from one site, from one small section, of one county, in one state. Rest assured, there is plenty of evidence of humans before 5000 BC.
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  #13  
Old 03-08-2010, 02:52 PM
Malthus Malthus is offline
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Originally Posted by John Mace View Post
We don't really know that. There is evidence that agriculture may have predated permanent settlements. In any event, it's more likely that agriculture lead to "overpopulation" rather than the other way around.

There are a number of competing hypotheses about why agriculture started where and when it did, but we don't really know for sure which is correct (or if there is only one correct reason).
My impression is that agriculture started with the natural human tendency to 'improve' the gathering process by weeding out competing, inedible species of plants. This is easy to do - just rip out encroaching bushes from shading 'good' patches of plants you like.

Naturally, once you start doing that, you get a feedback mechanism happening: you have patches you have 'improved' in this manner, you have more reason to hang around in one area (to scare off herbavores for one); they produce more food; greater hanging-around plus more food eventually = less need for birth-spacing (a wandering mom typically can only handle on infant at a time) meaning higher population; higher population = more muscle around to scare competing bands outta your territory ...

What is really remarkable is that there is, as far as I know, no evidence of agriculture prior to around 10K BP or so, yet modern humans were around a lot longer than that.
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  #14  
Old 03-08-2010, 04:02 PM
John Mace John Mace is offline
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Originally Posted by Malthus View Post
My impression is that agriculture started with the natural human tendency to 'improve' the gathering process by weeding out competing, inedible species of plants. This is easy to do - just rip out encroaching bushes from shading 'good' patches of plants you like.
Possibly. I was just trying to give a factual answer in response to some factually incorrect information that had been posted. There are a number of hypotheses, but no one knows which one is correct, or if there is only one correct answer.
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  #15  
Old 03-08-2010, 04:06 PM
Fear Itself Fear Itself is online now
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Originally Posted by aceplace57 View Post
It's my understanding that archeology hasn't found any trace of humans beyond 5000 BC.
The Aurignacian culture of Europe and Asia was producing fertility figurines and musical instruments between 36,000 and 40,000 years ago. They also painted some of the earliest cave paintings.
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  #16  
Old 03-08-2010, 04:36 PM
mack mack is offline
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Originally Posted by Springtime for Spacers View Post
With the choice of real estate fifty thousand years ago their lives would have been rather easier.
With the exception of there being more and bigger and nastier natural predators. I suspect their dreams weren't entirely of feasting and nookie
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  #17  
Old 03-08-2010, 04:41 PM
Maastricht Maastricht is offline
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Astro, you mean to tell me you haven't read the novels of Jean Auel yet? Try "the Mammoth Hunters" for starters.
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  #18  
Old 03-08-2010, 04:43 PM
Alessan Alessan is online now
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They'd live in an area until their population became too big for it to support, and then they'd starve until their numbers dropped. Just like every other species.
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  #19  
Old 03-08-2010, 06:27 PM
kimera kimera is offline
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According to my Prehistoric tech class, the oldest examples of spears are from 400k years ago and found in Germany. However, spears are far more efficient as hunting weapons than most people believe! According to my professor, the Inka soldiers could throw a spear all the way through a Spaniard wearing steel chain metal, while a bow can't do that. Atlatls came next with the oldest 25k years old from Northwest Africa. Bows and arrows don't show up until about 12k years ago, as far as we know. They replaced spears because they were easy to carry, use, aim, and faster to fire. They also enabled a hunter to take game entirely by themselves, while spears and atlatls were often used by groups.
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  #20  
Old 03-08-2010, 07:01 PM
lynne-42 lynne-42 is offline
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Originally Posted by aceplace57 View Post
It's my understanding that archeology hasn't found any trace of humans beyond 5000 BC.
My husband has been on a dig at Lake Mungo, NSW, Australia, looking at artifacts which date to more than 40,000 years ago. There are at least 80 skeletons from the site, the most famous being the one nicknamed "Mungo Man". It's a dry desert now, but was a flourishing lake system back then.

Last edited by lynne-42; 03-08-2010 at 07:02 PM..
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  #21  
Old 03-08-2010, 07:02 PM
Kimstu Kimstu is offline
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Originally Posted by Alessan
They'd live in an area until their population became too big for it to support, and then they'd starve until their numbers dropped. Just like every other species.
Huh? Are you saying prehistoric humans didn't practice nomadism and migration to relieve population pressures? That's news to me.

Sure, some early humans starved due to population pressures, but some simply picked up and moved elsewhere when the home turf got too crowded. In fact, AIUI, this phenomenon is how humans became a global species in the first place.
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Old 03-08-2010, 07:09 PM
lynne-42 lynne-42 is offline
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Originally Posted by aceplace57 View Post
Stonehenge is only 4000 years old. That's 2000 BC.
http://www.time.com/time/magazine/ar...857253,00.html
That article is WAAAAY out of date. It was published in 1952! Stonehenge is a continuously changing complex of monuments. The dating sequence has been reassessed continually, with the most recent being published in Antiquity, March 2009. And they've added a new stone circle and some hedges since then. The original bluestone circle in what are known as the Aubrey Holes, now considered Stage 1, is dated at about 3000 cal BC.

Last edited by lynne-42; 03-08-2010 at 07:09 PM..
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  #23  
Old 03-08-2010, 08:29 PM
John Mace John Mace is offline
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Originally Posted by Kimstu View Post
Huh? Are you saying prehistoric humans didn't practice nomadism and migration to relieve population pressures? That's news to me.

Sure, some early humans starved due to population pressures, but some simply picked up and moved elsewhere when the home turf got too crowded. In fact, AIUI, this phenomenon is how humans became a global species in the first place.
That was my first reaction, except that "lived" can mean "lived as nomads until the the available area filled up beyond the carrying capacity". Of course, humans have an ability to adapt quickly to differing climates that few, if any, large mammals do.
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Old 03-08-2010, 10:13 PM
AHunter3 AHunter3 is online now
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The most thorougly accessible tome that sheds good light on the OP's question is Guns, Germs and Steel by Jared Diamond.

It has a surprising amount of congruence with the theories of agrarian patriarchy I was taught in feminist theory, but be that as it may, Diamond has no axe to grind, or at least none discernable to anyone who didn't come in believing that different races of people were intrinsically superior or inferior to others.

He's extremely readable (you don't need to be an anthropologist or archeologist to follow, and frankly I found it to be one of those "can't put it down" books, which is a wee bit rare among anthro theory tomes)

If you haven't read GG & S, do so.
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  #25  
Old 03-08-2010, 10:52 PM
Kimstu Kimstu is offline
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Originally Posted by John Mace
That was my first reaction, except that "lived" can mean "lived as nomads until the the available area filled up beyond the carrying capacity".
True, but AFAIK such conditions in prehistoric societies also seem to have sparked reappraisals of what qualified as "available area".

When the population pressure really starts to bear down, all of a sudden crossing that deadly desert or that inaccessible mountain pass or that interminable ocean starts to look like not such a crazy idea after all.

And that, kiddos, is how prehistoric humans ended up all over the freaking world from Madagascar to the Bering Sea to Tierra del Fuego. Have you ever watched the "Journey of Mankind" applet? I don't know quite how chronologically accurate it is but it sure is cool to see.
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  #26  
Old 03-09-2010, 01:36 AM
Wendell Wagner Wendell Wagner is offline
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Incidentally, Guns, Germs, and Steel is practically part of the SDMB required reading list since it's mentioned so often on the board.
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  #27  
Old 03-09-2010, 01:47 AM
Walther Ego Walther Ego is offline
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Hunter-fisher's life sure is easier than farmer's. When the farmer goes to shovel shit to his fields, the hunter takes his bow and goes to the woods for a walk. And if he gets a moose he doesn't need to walk for days unless he wants to. But cereals are easy to store, so if after 10 years of happy meat eating, the year with absolutely no game comes around, he'll have to go begging to the farm. This could be the reason for either spread of agriculture or how it got started

Considering the traditional big caveman stereotype with a huge club, big stupid Conan-type men probably came useful with agriculture. There's quite a lot of grainsack logistics going on and a farmer doesn't need to run necessarily anywhere. On the other hand, to be big you need to have sufficiently food every single year of your life, so maybe everybody was just thin.

In contrast, it's hard to see any benefit for a big clumsy idiot when you're trying to catch game, except maybe mammoth. Anyway the stupid caveman came originally from popular culture and had never traction among scientists anyway. And the club is just equilly useless to everybody, even comic characters trying to hit Flash Gordon.
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  #28  
Old 03-09-2010, 01:50 AM
Alessan Alessan is online now
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Originally Posted by Kimstu View Post
Huh? Are you saying prehistoric humans didn't practice nomadism and migration to relieve population pressures? That's news to me.

Sure, some early humans starved due to population pressures, but some simply picked up and moved elsewhere when the home turf got too crowded. In fact, AIUI, this phenomenon is how humans became a global species in the first place.
Sure, some humans would migrate to relieve populations pressures - those humans who happened to live at the fringes of human settlement. But what about a tribe of humans whose hunting grounds were surrounded by other inhabited areas? It's not as if they would decide to pack everything up and wander a thousand miles or two until they found a suitable wilderness. No, they either displaced their neighbors, or they starved.

Last edited by Alessan; 03-09-2010 at 01:50 AM..
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  #29  
Old 03-09-2010, 01:53 AM
Mosier Mosier is offline
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Originally Posted by John Mace View Post
There is evidence that agriculture may have predated permanent settlements.
How can you grow food unless you live nearby? Unless I'm misunderstanding the definition of "agriculture" to mean "deliberately growing some stuff so you can eat it later".
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  #30  
Old 03-09-2010, 02:05 AM
Alessan Alessan is online now
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Well, herding is also a form of agriculture. I'm not sure that's what he meant, though.
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  #31  
Old 03-09-2010, 02:06 AM
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Not exactly a good cite, but on TV a month or so back, there was a program about archaeology in Russia or Georgia. They showed that the residents of 30K years ago had artefacts that had come from many hundreds of miles away, thus showing an extensive trade system.
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Old 03-09-2010, 08:29 AM
Malthus Malthus is offline
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How can you grow food unless you live nearby? Unless I'm misunderstanding the definition of "agriculture" to mean "deliberately growing some stuff so you can eat it later".
Heh, any stealth pot-grower these days can tell you that one: you can easily prepare a patch of plants (or "encourage" some that are growing naturally, by pulling out weeds etc.), leave 'em alone and hope for the best, comming back later to see if anything useful has grown.

(My dad owns some tree-lot land north of Toronto, and every few years he finds a plot of pot teens try to grow on his land in a hidden nook in this manner).

Naturally this method loses a lot to herbavores, other humans (and in some cases annoyed dads ), but it does not require full-time supervision of the crops.

I'm willing to bet that the origins of agriculture were a natural progression - nomads "preparing" or helping plots of useful plants, doing their nomad thing, and returning to check on them when they were ready to harvest. Though as pointed out upthread, there are lots of theories, this makes intuitive sense to me - agriculture could not have originated "full blown" and there must have been an inbetween stage when people did a bit of both.
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Old 03-09-2010, 08:46 AM
Kimstu Kimstu is offline
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Originally Posted by Malthus
I'm willing to bet that the origins of agriculture were a natural progression - nomads "preparing" or helping plots of useful plants, doing their nomad thing, and returning to check on them when they were ready to harvest.
Yeah, that's my understanding too. It's thought to have been a continuous (though not necessarily always gradual) transition from

1) gathering anything useful you happen to come across

2) noticing that some particular useful stuff reappears every year at some particular time/place in your annual migration

3) helping the useful stuff grow by clearing or pruning, and deliberately sowing seeds elsewhere to get more useful stuff

4) saying, during some particularly warm and abundant gathering season of the useful stuff, "Holy Og, look at all this food! We don't even need to move south to the lake this winter, we would be fine just staying here!"

to---ta-daaa!---sedentary agriculture.
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Old 03-09-2010, 09:04 AM
Alessan Alessan is online now
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There had to be a few more steps along the way, though, like figuring out how to store grain, or how to bake it into bread.
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Old 03-09-2010, 09:12 AM
Malthus Malthus is offline
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There had to be a few more steps along the way, though, like figuring out how to store grain, or how to bake it into bread.
The first beneficiaries of proto-agriculture were probably stuff eaten more or less on the spot, or preserved by simple methods like drying that don't require heavy fixed infrastructure that can't be taken along by nomads (like storage pottery or grainaries).

A modern-day example of this sort of thing I've seen up north, where a local Algonquin band deliberately burned over a small island to prepare it for blueberries (the bushes grow best a few years after a fire). Fires of course occur naturally, but it isn't a huge step to set then deliberately in places you know blueberries would likely grow.

Blueberries can of course also be dried and used in preserved foods like pemmican.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pemmican
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  #36  
Old 03-09-2010, 10:43 AM
John Mace John Mace is offline
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There had to be a few more steps along the way, though, like figuring out how to store grain, or how to bake it into bread.
There are granaries and grain grinding implements found in Jordan that predate agriculture/large settlements in that area by about 1k years. The remains of the grains found on the implements are from wild species found in that area, not domesticated versions.
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Old 03-09-2010, 11:57 AM
Quercus Quercus is offline
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Hunter-fisher's life sure is easier than farmer's. When the farmer goes to shovel shit to his fields, the hunter takes his bow and goes to the woods for a walk. And if he gets a moose he doesn't need to walk for days unless he wants to. But cereals are easy to store, so if after 10 years of happy meat eating, the year with absolutely no game comes around, he'll have to go begging to the farm.
Actually, it's more likely that after ten years of happy grain-eating, the wheat blight arrives, and the farmer goes begging to the hunter-gatherer (because even if the blueberry blight comes along, the hunter-gatherer is also eating acorns, rasberries, rabbits, etc.). Except there aren't any hunter-gatherers because the farmers have so many more kids that they've chased all the hunter-gatherers away.
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Old 03-09-2010, 01:38 PM
SlowMindThinking SlowMindThinking is offline
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Actually, it's more likely that after ten years of happy grain-eating, the wheat blight arrives, and the farmer goes begging to the hunter-gatherer (because even if the blueberry blight comes along, the hunter-gatherer is also eating acorns, rasberries, rabbits, etc.). Except there aren't any hunter-gatherers because the farmers have so many more kids that they've chased all the hunter-gatherers away.
Why did they have more kids? Because more survived and/or they were more fertile, both of which would be tied to higher caloric intake, even their diet was lower in protein. It is easier to raise a calorie than to find one or hunt one.

On top of that, it is not an either/or proposition: every farmer I know, hunts. I'd be pretty sure early agriculturalists hunted, and only stopped in areas where game was eliminated or someone had to political power to enforce a ban hunting.

I always figured domestic farming was forced on losers. As populations grew, some groups kept or took the best hunting gathering lands, and others were trapped or pushed onto lands that did not provide for their population, so with necessity being the mother of invention, they slowly developed true farming from earlier practices of encouraging favored species. As the calories per acre exceeded that of their neighbors, their populations grew and urbanized.
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Old 03-11-2010, 02:46 AM
Walther Ego Walther Ego is offline
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Actually, it's more likely that after ten years of happy grain-eating, the wheat blight arrives, and the farmer goes begging to the hunter-gatherer (because even if the blueberry blight comes along, the hunter-gatherer is also eating acorns, rasberries, rabbits, etc.). Except there aren't any hunter-gatherers because the farmers have so many more kids that they've chased all the hunter-gatherers away.
There are two ways of life here, one which leads to larger poulation than the other. My hypothesis is that that the first one lets people thru bad times better. I remember having heard that this is because stores but I have no site. Does anybody know how long grain can be kept?

Also, in traditional non-industrial farming, in good times you grow more than you can eat and your animals eat that. In bad times, you have too little food for all your animals so you eat some of them. In addition, the farmers many boys are standing by the blueberry fields with spears in their hands. How is the hunter and his son going to deal with it?

Anyway, agriculture has been so much mixed with hunting-fishing-gathering that my too simplistic example of putting the ways of life in direct contact is not very good. The Wikipedia in Finnish says Sumerians were the first culture of agriculture only diet but provides no site. That would mean that agriculture only way of life covers barely half of the history of agriculture. And hasn't really reached Finland yet. Every farmer here hunts and fishes and berry-picking isn't rare either.

Last edited by Walther Ego; 03-11-2010 at 02:47 AM..
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