What the hell were our ancestors thinking?

In this other thread Shagnasty brought up something I’ve been wondering about for a while.

So I said:

My thinking is, you can freeze to death, pretty easily actually, on a cold day. You can’t easily catch fire on a hot day. Yes, there’s heatstroke and stuff like that, but that’s much less likely to happen than all the awful things that can happen in the cold.

So people had to invent clothes and all this other new technology to be able to survive the cold, just so they could… what? What was so fucking attractive up here that made it worth facing deadly cold every year? Were they stupid or what?

My ancestors came from the vicinity of the Arctic Circle. :stuck_out_tongue:

They were following food sources.

I don’t think the concept of wearing clothes had anything to do with moving to cold environments, as most people in warm climates wear clothing.

Well, suppose you’re a hunter-gatherer. It’s getting a bit crowded where you live, so you decide to move. Do you move north, or south? If it’s even more crowded in the south, moving south isn’t going to help the crowding situation. But wait! There’s plenty of empty space up north where no one lives. So you move up there, even though it’s a bit nippy at times. A couple of generations later your descendants are feeling crowded, they can move either to the crowded but warm south, or the empty but cold north. Which way do they move?

If you look at maps of global population density, you’ll see that the vast majority of people in the world live in warmer areas–India, Europe, the Chinese heartland. Really cold places are very sparsely populated. But that’s not so much because people don’t like the cold, it’s because cold areas don’t support intense agricultural production.

I’m pretty sure your ancestors came from Africa, just like mine. Your recent ancestors came from the Arctic Circle, maybe. But how did they get there? That’s what blows my mind.

Well, they don’t really have to. They choose to.

I’ve also heard that it wasn’t always so cold in Europe, North America, and the cold parts of Asia. Could our ancestors have migrated there during a warmer period, and then when it got cold again they were stuck there for some reason?

The time scale involved is fairly large, compared to a human’s life span. And the distances involved for each individual move do not have to be large.

Picture this:

You’re living in a small clan, and times have been good. There are now 50 people living in an area that used to have 20. Then some bad weather happens, and food is scarce.

Do you move
a) 20 miles south, where there is even more crowding and different hostile clans
b) 20 miles north, where there is better hunting/potential farmland, and it is really not THAT much colder

Next generation, some more folks move another 20 miles north. Really not THAT much colder.

Next generation, 20 miles north again. Not THAT much colder.

Each generation does not really notice that much difference in climate. However, in only 50 generations (around 1200 years), they have moved 1000 miles north, and they are living in a colder conditions than their ancestors. But each individual generation did not really notice much of a change.

It’s not like your ancestors picked up and moved 1000 miles north in one single move.

My (recent) ancestors moved to California. So I think they might have agreed.

But then I moved to the Midwest. :stuck_out_tongue: Snow isn’t that big of a deal.

I’ve wondered the same thing especially with settlers in North America. Why settle areas like the Northeast? Shouldn’t they have been densely packing places like North/South Carolina? You read about the harsh winters settlers had to go through where many died and you think “move south dummy”.

And even if it is THAT much colder, it’s probably better to be cold a few months out of the year than to have to fight other tribes. And 20 miles away may not be that different; one tribe might range almost that far normally, so it might not be enough. But seventy miles away (only a week’s travel at a reasonable ten miles a day) might be a river delta, or a nice bunch of watering holes, or some other natural resource.

ETA: So why don’t you move back to Africa? Don’t let the mere chance of dying from unstable regimes, or the fact that there’s probably not a good job for you there stop you! Or you could move to Southern California, where it’s warm most of the time! Or is that too overcrowded?

Yes, people freeze to death in the cold sometimes, but staying warm when it’s cold is an easier problem to solve than cooling off when it’s too hot.

Imagine humans travel into space sometime to colonize - what’s going to be easier - creating a warm space on a planet too cold, or creating a cooler space on a planet too hot?

I also think moving into cold climes put a healthy evolutionary stress on early humans that drove technology.

Well, wasn’t the Mayflower supposed to take them to Virginia, not Massachusetts?

Right. I live in New York, and sometimes I think “Why does this city exist?” They knew about the winters when they settled it, there’s simply no excuse.

If the Spanish had remained the dominant colonial power in North America, maybe the Southeast would be full of international capitals of trade and power, and the Northeast would be a bunch of historic shipbuilding and fishing villages.

I had the same thought visiting the Hopi. You’re in a desert, you live on top of a mesa to avoid attack, and you have to haul scant water and crops to the top of it every single day. Guys, you’re a couple weeks’ walk from the fertile lowlands of Colorado… move!

I just finished watching the TV documentary version of Guns, Germs and Steel last night. One takeaway lesson from that is that the plants and animals you farm, as well as your own natural resistance to pathogens, is tied to the latitude at which your and their ancestors have lived. Migrating east-west is easy, migrating north-south isn’t.

One of my colleagues used to make the same argument about Buffalo. “Why they didn’t leave after the first winter, nobody knows,” he used to say.

I’m sure this is the answer. It’s not like they were lazing around toying with the concept. They woke up hungry every day. If the food crossed the Bering Strait, so did you.

They stayed for the wings, obviously.
There was money to be made in fur trades and the like too. It wasn’t always about food.

They didn’t want to piss off the Utes.

I think people adjust to climate change fairly quickly. I live in the Midwest, and I’ve had friends move to warmer climates, South or West. Every winter, they call me, giggling, to tell me that the news is saying to bring in the dogs, it’s going to get down to 40 degrees. But if they visit in what I consider early summer, they complain that they’re cold and want a sweater.

About early ancestors wearing clothes in warmer climates, I’ve always thought that eventually someone decided that it might be nice to have something covering your bits when you sat down to do some chore, or eat dinner. We had clothes before furniture. :smiley:

Discovery of how to reliably start a fire pretty much negates the necessity of living in warmer climates.

Along with clothes and shelter