The natural habitat of humans...if we couldn't use tools?

Suppose that humans were almost physiologically the same as now (same level of hair growth, metabolism, resistance to heat and cold etc) EXCEPT they had never developed enough higher thinking processes to use tools of any kind - so no clothing, no man-made shelters, no ability to start fires - nor would they ever do so, where on the planet would be our most suitable habitat?

And as a bonus question, is there any evidence that since humans began wearing clothing we’ve become less able, when naked, to deal with temperature extremes?

We’d probably still be in Africa. Humans left Africa about 85,000 years ago by building rafts or boats and crossing the Gates of Grief (the straight between Djibouti and Yemen). Without tools, we couldn’t have built the rafts. (See here for a site about the expansion of humans across the world. The crossing of the Gates of Grief is on about the 5th page, 90,000 - 85,000 years ago.)

The Sahara became a grassland at the end of the last ice age, so it’s possible humans could have crossed it then. But then we’d be resticted to Africa and southern Asia. Without tools, we are a tropical animal. Europe and northern Asia would be outside our habitable range. Australia would require boats and you need to go through northern Asia to get to the Americas.

I sorta feel that if we couldn’t use tools we would not be humans.

Given that, probably the best environment for plains apes would be the African savannah, with some sylvan opoulations.

I’m interested in this question as well; my guess would be the same habitats as chimpanzees, which is wet savannas in Africa, where our diet would have to be mostly fruit and vegetables since without tools I think we’d struggle to kill for meat or farm crops.

I’d like to see some evidence for this claim. People lived in Southern Tasmania for over 5, 000 years with no clothing and no ability to make fire. This is an environment with a climate comparable to Northern France. So I’m having a hard time believing that Mediterranean Europe would be outside our habitable range.

1)Our most recent non-tool using ancestors were already inhabitants of the dry savannas, so it’ seems incredibly unikely that modern humans couldn’t live in that habitat.

  1. Uncooked vegetables are largely undigestible to humans. So unless you’re saying that fire isn’t a tool, we ain’t gonna be eating a lot of vegetables.

  2. Our pre-tool using ancestors were already utilising a high meat diet, judging by their dentition and guts. So it seems a bit of stretch to say that modern humans would revert to a meat free diet.

  3. Meat doesn’t mean elephants. Much of the meat eaten by HGs was in the form of eggs, fish, vermin etc.

  4. People are probably better able to obtain animal large food without tools then vegetable food. People can and have regularly run animals to death without the need for any tools at all. Obtaining vegetables with only the finger to dig with is very close to impossible.

As far as the OP goes, the question doesn’t make alot of sense. The physiology of the modern human has been shape din large part by our tool use. Asking where we could live without tools is like asking where a tortoise could live without a shell.

We can address the basic physiology of the question. As noted earlier, people existed for millenia with no clothing in a climate equivalent to Northern France, so we could physical exist over most of the world’s surface even without tools.

Addressing the capability is much more difficult. It’s probable that a turtle without a shell couldn’t survive anywhere at all, it’s simply to dependent on that adapatation. Similarly a human without tools might also be unable to live anywhere at all. It may simply be impossible. While a human can survive the environment in most locations without tools of any sort, our ability to find food of any kind is severely limited. We can run down large animals, but it’s going to be tough to even breach the skin without tools. Without tools we can’t dig for plant food, or even forage on the ground for grubs. We can;t crack nuts. Without the ability to use even a simple digging stick our ability to obtain any food at all almost nil.

We are even more hopeless when it comes to defence. Without tools our ability to defend ourselves from predators is extremely poor. In a world where humans had no tools, it’s tough to see how we are going to deal with big cats or packs of dogs and hyaenas. Our only possible defence would be to stay in large groups (>5 individuals) all the time, but very few environments on Earth can sustain humans trying to obtain their food in that manner. None at all could sustain humans without tools trying to live like that.

If we had to find the most suitable habitat, it would presumably nee to be a very large tropical island with no predators. The only possible place I can think of is Madagascar.

[quote=“Blake, post:5, topic:526084”]

I don’t consider eggs as meat, and how do you catch a lot of fish or vermin without tools? Plucking fish from a river or catching mice with your bare hands doesn’t sound particularly easy.

So you really think this would be the main form of human diet? Running animals to death? I know there’s some tribes that run specific animals to death, in specific environments (if they can isolate a sick or straggling deer-type animal, they can run it to death on a flat, dry savannah, if they’re very fit). But even then they tend to kill it with spears. How do you run other animals to death? Most large mammals will fight before running themselves to death, at which point we’d lose, and most small animals would quickly disappear into undergrowth, up trees, into the ground or simply outpace us.

Without any tools whatsoever I don’t see how humans would be effective enough as hunters to survive on a diet consisting only, or mainly, of meat.

Tasmanian Aborigines had stone-age tools, and they definitely made and wore clothing, as a glance at any early description of them will demonstrate. I’ve been to Tasmania, and I can tell you from personal experience that hunter-gatherers in that environment would have needed clothing.

According to some accounts the natives didn’t make fire, but they certainly did have permanently maintained fires.

So, they had stone-age technology. Not “no tools”, just primitive tools, the same set of tools that human beings everywhere survived with for tens of thousands of years. Europe was just as habitable with those tools as Tasmania, and just as uninhabitable without them.

Please don’t characterise native Australians as naked savages, they were no more primitive than any other group of human beings in a stone-age hunter-gatherer society, including the ancestors of modern Europeans a few thousand years ago. Exactly the same, and racist fantasies about them being “inferior” to Europeans really ought to have gone out of fashion a long time ago.

It’s going to be a hell of a lot easier than obtaining vegetables using just your fingernails.We know that it’s possible to pull a rat out of a hollow log or break up a termite mound or tickle a fish without tools. It’s very close to impossible to dig up a yam.

Well no, I don’t, because as I noted, I question whether humans could survive anywhere at all without tools. But in terms of getting food without tools, it’s probably the best option we have available to us.

First off the technique doesn’t require or even usually target sick animals. It actually works better on healthy animals.

Secondly the spears are used to kill the animal, but they are unnecessary. the animal will die from exhaustion. In addition Indians in Mexico and the Southern US captured wild horses by running them to exhaustion and then choking them into unconsciousness. So a method of rapid killing at least exists without tools. In contrast digging up tubers buried several feet underground just isn’t possible at all.

I’m not sure what you mean by this. Most large animals won’t fight before running themselves to death. The only ones I can think of are the carnivores and the pigs.

But even if it were most, so what? Enough other large animals won’t to make this a viable hunting technique worldwide.

And I’m not sure what the vegetation type has to do with anything.

At least we know that in theory it is possible to do so. In contrast it seems it would be completely impossible to obtain vegetables in a savanna without the ability to dig. The only above-ground vegetables will be leaf vegetables, which have almost no food value. Soft fruit is so seasonal and so rare that it simply can’t provide enough food. Nuts are effectively impossible for humans to open without tools. There’s a good reason why most of our vegetable foods are root vegetables and nuts. But without tools root vegetables and nuts really aren’t an option for humans.

And this is the problem. While it is going to be damn hard to obtain meat without tools, it’s going to be even harder to obtain vegetables. I really have to question whether a modern human could survive at all without tools.

Cite. because this contradicts everything i have ever read about the Tasmanians in over 20 years of amateur research.

So if you can provide any evidence at all that Tasmanians made clothing then i would be very interested in seeing it.

Great, you give me your credible reference to the effect that the Tasmanians made clothing an we will both be very happy. And of course this news will shock the anthropological community.

Oh what a load of crap.

One thing that every single anthropologist in the world agrees on and always have agreed on is that the Tasmanians were vastly more “primitive” than any other group of human beings in a stone-age hunter-gatherer society.

That “primitive” state was secondarily derived, but it is indisputable that the Tasmanian toolkit was vastly reduced compared to any other humans group. Not only did they completely lack clothing, they lacked any hafted weapons at all aside form spears, they lacked fishhooks, they lacked microlith tools. The toolkit was out of date by at least 60, 000 years. That is how primitive it was

Dude when you present your evidence for the risiculous claism you just made then you can call me racist.

Specifically your claim that Tasmanians wore clothing and your claim that they were not vastly more primitive than any other HG group in the last 60, 000 years.

Politically correct bullshit doesn’t belong in GQ buddy.

I don’t have time to do that right now, but I’ll see what I can find later. My knowledge tends to come from books more than websites, but I’ll see what I can do.

I’ve been to Tasmania, I’ve read a lot of Australian history in book form, and I’ve personally met and known quite a few Aborigines, including descendants of Tasmanian aborigines - have you ever met one? I suspect that whatever it is you’ve read, it’s way out of date and not particularly reliable.

I’m not saying they were technologically advanced, but they had the same primitive tools that every human group started out with. They hadn’t advanced from there, but the very fact that they were there and doing OK until Europeans showed up proves that they had what they needed to survive.

They weren’t somehow “more primitive” than any other group, they were exactly as primitive as every other human group when humans first started being human.

It’s not political correctness, it’s experience of those people as actual human beings, not as some kind of exotic footnote to history. They were not “vastly more primitive than any other HG group in the last 60, 000 years” and since you’re calling for cites, show me any reliable modern source that says they were.

They were on the bottom rung of technology, but there have been, in historical times, plenty of other groups that were no further along, and my point here is that saying they had stone-age tools is a long way from saying they had no tools. They had the tools they needed to survive. My cite is the fact that they did survive.

Seriously, you’re acting like you’re an expert here because you’ve read books, I’ve *been to *Tasmania and I’ve met descendants of the actual people in question. Perhaps, instead of reading some biased old colonial version of history, you should read something current. I don’t know why you’re convinced that Tasmanian Natives are some kind of special case that are different to the rest of humanity just because they were technologically isolated, but I can assure you, they’re modern human beings, no different to you or me.

In an Australian context, calling them “the most primitive people on earth” was the excuse for dispossessing them and for various terrible things that were done to them. It was, to a great extent, a very convenient fiction that allowed our 19th century predecessors to come close to wiping them out without having to take the blame for it. Now, people who accuse colonial Australia of deliberate “genocide” are talking politically correct bullshit - it was never official policy, and generally more harm was done trying to help Aborigines than by deliberate attempts to harm them - but calling them “the most primitive people on earth” is no different in Australia to calling them untermensch. A: false, and B: racist.

If you’ve never lived in Australia, you really shouldn’t assume you know about local history in the same way as someone who grew up here. I know the context of those statements, it doesn’t look to me like you know anything more than some outdated and racist material.

They were no lower on the scale of humanity than anyone else, whatever the level of technology they had. They adapted to harsh environment and survived. The fact that they did it with only the most basic of tools is a credit to them.

You seem quite angry about all this Blake. There’s much more important things to be angry about! All I was suggesting is that without tools it would become very difficult for humans to hunt game (granted persistence hunting and strangling is one method, but it’s difficult and requires very specific environmental conditions. Catching and killing fish or vermin with the hands is also difficult but possible), so I would imagine we’d have to focus on eating other foods like fruits, nuts, berries, eggs, insects and certain vegetables more than real hunter-gatherers did. Either way the question is hypothetical and moot.

Just to clarify - and I really should be doing more productive things right now - the people that claimed Tasmanian Aborigines didn’t have clothes were mistaken, if not lying.

Having - as I keep saying - actually been to Tasmania (I spent a fair bit of time with relatives there when I was younger) - I can tell you anything you wish to know about the climate. It does get cold there, though not to the point of snow anywhere except up in the mountains. For much of the year going naked wouldn’t be any more of a problem than doing it in any other temperate place. So Tasmanian Aborigines were naked most of the time.

But that’s a lot different to saying they didn’t have any clothing. They did: animal skin cloaks, which they used when it was particularly cold. Early explorers assumed that the natives didn’t have any clothing because it fitted in with the idea that these were “the most primitive people on earth”, but there are eyewitness accounts of them using animal skins, and there are - I’ve seen them - examples in museums, as well as illustrations done by later explorers.

I’ve caught fish with my bare hands, I’ve also caught birds that way. All it takes is being sneaky.

As to the OP. If by “natural” habitat you mean something like “original habitat”, it’s a strip from the rift valley, down through the subtropical East African coast, along the South African coast & interior to the SW Cape. That’s where we find evidence of both primitive hominids and anatomically modern humans, as well as the oldest evidence of modern human thought and behaviour. I know from experience it is possible to live most of the year near-naked in the South Cape, as long as you can take getting rained on.

But I think the OP is misguided - “humans without tools” is a ridiculous premise, considering monkeys, otters, birds, hell, even octopuses, use tools. You’d restrict our ancestors way beyond the bounds of their own predecessors.

ETA: I meant “apes”, not “monkeys”

You got a problem with me using tools, MrDibble?

On a more serious and scholarly note, monkey tool use has been observed and a good article is here

Blake, it’s pretty easy to find cites for Tasmanian Aborigines wearing (unsewn) skin cloaks. Hell, you can even find paintings of them.

But the fundamental error you’re making is in assuming that the state of Tasmanians found at contact represented their highest level of cultural achievement. This is not the case. From Flannery’s “The Future Eaters”:[

So it is more right to call the culture of contact-era Tasmania “degenerate”, I think, rather than a snapshot of the state of the art 60 000 years ago, as you seem to imply.

:slight_smile: I would never argue with an armed monkey

That’s cool, thanks - I only knew about chimp & bonobo use for certain, which is I corrected myself, but that’s good to know.

Then do so.

The fundamental mistake you are making is not being able to comprehend plain English.

“That “primitive” state was secondarily derived, but it is indisputable that the Tasmanian toolkit was vastly reduced compared to any other humans group.”
Damn good thing you pointed out my mistaken assumption that this state wasn’t secondary. Or something.

Yet again, pointless, erroneous content free sniping from Mr Dibble directed at me.:rolleyes:

I already posted one cite. But here you go, knock yourself out,and I’ll just note that so far *you *haven’t posted anything to back up your “amateur research”.

So - the references to 60 000 years, the repeated use of “primitive” with and without quotes, these are not chosen to invoke a certain image in the reader’s mind that the Tasmanians now use the same toolset they would have used 60 000 years ago?

Why the hell is “secondary” supposed to jump out at me more than your repeated use of “primitive”? I take back that you didn’t address it, but still take issue with you characterising the Tasmanian material culture as “primitive”, a word which has *continuity *connotations that words like “degenerate”, “devolved” or “attenuated” wouldn’t have. You did say “reduced”, which is better, but totally overwhelmed by all the “primitives”.

So you keep up enough with the literature to know there are finds of a more sophisticated toolset, but not enough to know about their wallaby-skin cloaks?

Take it to the Pit.

Apologies -I see now that I hadn’t hyperlinked the word “paintings” in my earlier post. I meant to link it to this painting.