3: The Human Era Begins

3: The modern human Era Begins

 

What term do we use to refer to ‘ourselves?’ 

Until recently, the answer was simple: 

We are the species ‘homo sapiens.’  We are human beings.  We all knew what this meant.

This worked until we found out that other beings, which we don’t consider ourselves to be, have to be put into the same category, to satisfy the accepted scientific definitions of terms.  DNA analysis has shown that both neanderthal and denisovans are ‘homo sapiens.’  Since the term ‘human beings’ is defined as ‘homo sapiens,’ they are also ‘human beings.’  

If we want a term that includes ‘us’ but excludes ‘them,’ what do we do? 

For this book, I need a term to represent ‘us,’ where people can relate to the term ‘us.’  I need a term that means something they can accept as ‘the people who live on the world today, including the reader.’   It is not a mixture of DNA profiles or numbers on a chart.  The term will represent beings that, if we met them, we would recognize them as the same kinds of beings as we are. 

This book is about history.

How can we understand ‘our history’ if we can’t agree on what the term ‘our’ means?  How can we study the way we got into the situation we are no win if we can’t agree on the definition of the term ‘we?’ 

I want to use the very simple term ‘modern humans’ to refer to ‘us’ where ‘us’ includes the kinds of people that are alive today on earth that we would call ‘people,’ but excludes the ancient humans who happen to have DNA that is close enough to ours to make reproduction possible, if we were to have sex with them.   To show that I am using this term to represent this very specific concept, I will put it into a unique font when I use it.  (In other words, the term ‘modern humans’  does not mean ‘a human who wears modern clothes and uses the most up-to-date lingo.’) 

 

The Era of Modern Humans Begins

 

First, let’s consider the difference between modern humans and regular humans.  We can’t really tell the difference by looking at DNA, because our DNA is compatible.  If modern people were in the same place as homo sapiens neanderthalis or homo sapiens denisovan they could have babies with them.  (These babies might not have all of the intellectual capabilities modern humans have, but they would be sexually viable themselves and could reproduce with the subspecies of either of their parents.)  

If we want a reasonable definition of the term modern humans , we need to leave DNA analysis behind and look at the differences in the different groups of humans that have lived on earth from a different perspective.  We might start by considering the way researchers defined ‘us’ before DNA tools were available. 

The most common method they used defined ‘us’ by artifacts of behaviors that were presumed to have be beyond the capability of primitive beings, including human precursors. 

There are certain things that the ones they considered to be ‘humans’ can do, but that other animals, including the animals that are our evolutionary ancestors, can’t do.  We can look through historical records to find the earliest dates that we see evidence of these behaviors.  We can then use these dates to represent the beginning of the human era and the people who lived after that era began were modern humans

 

Pleistocene Era Extinction Events

 

There is one category of past events that stands out in this regard.  It is called the Pleistocene Era Extinction events.  These events are a ‘wave’ of extinctions of what biologists call ‘megafauna’ that happened in the era called the ‘Pleistocene era.’  

These extinctions started in north Africa about 50,000 years ago.  They then spread to the rest of the world.  In these events, certain very specific categories of animals suddenly went extinct in a kind of ‘wave’ that started in Africa and then spread everywhere else.  The first appearance of this ‘wave’ in each area coincided with the earliest actual human artifacts found in that area.  Most of the animals that went extinct were those that we would expect that humans would have wanted to be gone from this world from the very first. 

Early humans probably tried to wipe out these animals long ago.  Homo erectus lived in China 1.2  million years ago.  They would have wanted the most dangerous predators of their species to be gone even then.  But they didn’t have the capability to manipulate large scale variables or work together in an organized enough way to make this happen. 

About 50,000 years ago, the people in Africa became capable of making these things happen.  They cleared the world of animals they wanted gone.  Then, they either migrated and moved this ability with them, interbred with others in Europe and Asia and the rest of the world and spread this ability by spreading their seed, or they somehow imparted the necessary skills to others.  The wave of extinctions spread to the rest of the inhabited world. 

 

Why Wipe Out Animals?

 

You might understand why early humans would want to wipe out certain animals.  Humans are very fragile and would have been easy prey for most predators. We have thin skin, easily pierced by the claws or teeth of even small animals.  We can’t run very fast, swim very fast, or climb very well, at least compared to predators that might want to eat us.  We are not very strong, we tire very easily, and we spend about a third of our lives in total helplessness, when we are sleeping. 

No other animals have these limitations. 

We would be easy meals for predators. 

We could wait until they attack one of us and then fight off one attack at a time.  We may succeed some of the time or even most of the time.  But this won’t make us safe.  It won’t allow us to leave our children more than a few feet away from us or to travel and explore without fear of attack.  The only way we can really be safe from the most serious predators would be to wipe them out entirely. 

Our pre human ancestors would have been highly motivated to do something about these predators.  But they didn’t have the intellectual ability to organize a campaign to wipe out every last animal. 

At a certain point, this changed. 

There was a change in the condition of humans that allowed us to work together, in activities that involve everyone or almost everyone in very large areas, to accomplish this goal.  Genetically, the humans before this time were close enough to those who came after it to interbreed with them.  But they had different capabilities. 

 

You don’t have to have the same intellectual capability to breed and have babies.  Many extremely intelligent women have had babies with extremely stupid men, and vice versa.  You don’t even have to share a language or be able to communicate abstract concepts to have babies. 

 

Starting about 55,000 years ago, a series of events that anthropologists call ‘pleistocene megafaunal extinctions’ began in Africa.  These extinctions spread in a kind of ‘wave’ through Asia and Europe.  By about 50,000 years ago, the great majority of predators that would threaten humans, were gone in Afro Eurasia.  Many other animals were gone as well (we will look at this shortly).  This ‘wave’ then spread down through the Indonesian archipelagos (the island chains that separate Asia from Australia).  By about 44,000 years ago, the megafauna were gone there too.  They extinction wave started in Australia, about 42,000 years ago and, by 40,000 years ago, the megafauna wee gone there also. 

They spread to the far northern part of the American land mass about 26,000 years ago.  By about 18,000 years ago, all megafauna were gone from the Americas. 

Major predators disappeared. 

But this isn’t all. 

Many other animals that humans would have wanted gone also disappeared.  Some species ate the same foods that humans use as dietary staples.  These animals disappeared at about the same time.  Some animals are fairly easy for humans to hunt:  they have defenses that work for other hunters but do not protect them from a coordinated attack by hunters with complex tools and the ability to communicate complicated tactics, plan an attack, and carry it out.  These animals also went away. 

There is no controversy over whether these extinction events occurred:  they did.  But ever since anthropologists verified that these megafauna extinctions took place, people have argued about whether they were caused by humans or some other events.  Many people wanted to claim they could not have been caused by humans because, they argued, there could not have been any humans there, or at least not enough to have any impact on the large-scale environmental conditions. 

Evidence could be found that humans were in the area at some time.  But we didn’t have sophisticated enough dating techniques to determine exactly when.  Further, standard theories held that the populations that may have been alive at that time were far too small to accomplish these total extinction events.  As the 20th century faded into the 21st century, dating techniques got more and more sophisticated.  We now have a great many different tools to date artifacts, that rely on a great many different technologies.   These tests showed that the extinction events in areas that were not inhabited until within the last 50,000 years (like the Americas, Australia, and New Zealand) coincide exactly with the earliest human artifacts in this area.  Further, scientists are challenging the ‘extremely low population’ claims (which are mostly due to attempts to rectify history with religious stories) and finding more and more evidence populations that are easily high enough to account for the observed data. 

There is still resistance to accepting the modern human era goes back this enormous length of time.  But the people who propose it does have more and more evidence to back their position and the people who claim otherwise find it harder and harder to make it appear they are right.  As I write this, the majority of scientists accept that the extinction events were caused by humans.

 

What Happened?

 

The last chapter ended with the largest continent on earth already populated by beings that have to be defined as ‘homo sapiens’ or ‘humans.’  So I can tell them apart, I want to use the term ‘early humans’ to refer to the people who lived before 50,000 BP and modern humans to refer to those who lived after 50,000 BP.  What is the exact difference between them? 

I don’t think we can really understand a long chain of events unless we can at last get some general idea about the way the links fit together.  If we don’t have complete information about a crucial link, it helps if we try to work out what was most likely to have happened and what was most likely responsible for the changes.  This gives us a general feel for the flow and helps to understand how it most likely unfolded. 

We can create what we may think of as a ‘working theory’ about the cause of the event.  I am not talking about speculating on evidence here:  we accept the evidence we have.  We are simply trying to get a mental understanding of the reason this evidence exists. 

The most likely difference between early humans and modern humans involves the use of complex language skills.  The people who lived now clearly have these skills.  We can put together complex thoughts into the things we call ‘words,’ each of which represents a particular component of the complex thought.  We have categories of words that have certain uses.  For example, nouns are used to represent people, places, and things, verbs tell us what the nouns are doing, various other ‘parts of speech’ allow us to modify or alter the meaning of nouns and verbs, and some allow us to put together complex ‘fragments’ of sentences in various ways to make incredibly complex ideas. 

Many animals have simple language skills.  Dogs, for example, pull sleds and can understand the words the drivers say.  Here is a link to a site that has a dictionary of terms that dogs are trained to understand everywhere dog sleds are used.  If you look at it, you will see that they understand a lot of words and even a few short phases.  The most important four are

 

1.  ‘Mush’ means go

2.  ‘Woah’ means ‘slow down’ or ‘stop’

3.  ‘Gee’ means turn right

4.  ‘Haw’ means ‘turn left.’

 

You don’t have to be a modern human to understand simple language, including single word commands.  Dogs learn then quickly; chimps are even smarter, and early humans would have almost certainly understood a great many more words than even the smartest chimp can learn.

But you can’t string the words together in a complex way to make a ‘thought’ and then transmit this entire thought to the dog or a chimp.  You can’t say something like this and expect them to understand it:

 

‘Mush until you get to the place we turned off last week, then, rather than going gee, go haw, mush again.  Then mush 2 miles and woah.  Wait for me there and I will be along with your dinner by nightfall’ 

 

They just don’t have the mental ability to do this.  Humans appear to be the only animals with these mental abilities.  Almost certainly, most neanderthals or denisovans wouldn’t have been able to understand these instructions either. 

If we want to understand modern humans, and follow the history of these beings (ourselves) we need to have some idea of their/our capabilities.  We know that all people we interact in the world today have at least some ability to understand complex language.  Not all are equally smart and not all could understand the instructions above quickly or on first hearing.  But if you took enough time, you could get just about anyone in the world today to understand the above instructions.  (This is particularly true if they were hungry and understood that if they followed instructions they would get dinner.) 

You could spend the rest of your life talking to the smartest dog, gorilla or chimp in the world, however, and probably wouldn’t be able to get them to understand the instructions well enough to follow them. 

I think it would help to understand and accept that this was probably the main difference between early humans and modern humans if we give some thought to the way such a change may have taken place.  Hundreds of thousands of years ago, neanderthals and denisovans lived in Afro-Eurasia.  Neanderthals (homo sapiens neanderthalis) lived almost entirely in the areas shown in the map in Chapter Two:  Europe, the Middle East, and a few places along the southern edge of the glaciers that entombed eastern Europe at the time.  They were sedentary and didn’t travel much.  Denisovans lived in the other areas.  They were migratory or semi-migratory people, who were comfortable with traveling long distances and didn’t like the idea of living in enclosed and protected areas (the areas where the neanderthals liked to live). 

These two groups lived separately and evolved separately.  Different auditory and visual skills would bring benefits to these two different subspecies.  The neanderthals lived in enclosed areas where large numbers of people were stuffed into relatively tight quarters.  They would be surrounded by noise almost constantly. They would have to be able to filter out most of this noise and not even realize it was there.  But there were certain sounds they would have to be able to recognize even at very low levels in noisy conditions.  For example, war is a part of the neanderthal experience.  Soldiers would have to be able to tune out the screaming of the wounded and dying people around them so they could hear the sounds that would allow them to detect attacks and carry out military operations. 

Denisovans spread out over the land.  They spend time in relatively small groups, or alone.  They don’t need to be able to tune out the sounds of other people because there aren’t any other people around most of the time.  they would need other specialized skills that wouldn’t be of much use to neanderthals.  They would have to be able to communicate with others in their party without alarming animals.  (Some sounds soothe animals.  They would have to learn them.)   Over many centuries, the denisovans that had the most beneficial wiring for their auditory signal processing would have advantages over other denisovans without this wiring.  The same would be true for neanderthals. 

We would expect the same process to cause their visual skills to evolve:  different visual skills help people living in nature who migrate than help those who stay in the same places their entire lives.

These different groups of humans lived in entirely different areas.   This meant they generally wouldn’t come into contact with each other and therefore wouldn’t breed very often.  But the DNA evidence shows that these two subspecies did, in fact, have sex and babies.  About 70,000 years ago, we see the mixtures.  By 50,000 years ago, the mixed denisovan/neanderthal became the dominant genetic structure in Afro Eurasia. It was this mixture that later spread to the Americas so all of the native people in the Americas were mixtures of neanderthals and denisovans. 

Their visual, auditory, and verbal abilities developed in relative isolation for hundreds of thousands of years.  Different thinking abilities would benefit the two groups.  When they started to come together, these different abilities got mixed in various different ways.  The babies of mixed parents had mixtures of the mental capabilities of their parents. 

Scientists are now doing a lot of research on the complex verbal and visual capabilities that are unique to modern humans.  They can put people into MRI machines which map the electrical activities in their brains.  They can then put the through various different tests to determine exactly where each different kind of signal is processed.  They are finding that listening, understanding, formulating answers, and speaking, require complex interactions between many different brain components.  The denisovans had some of the  components needed for complex speech but they probably didn’t have all of them.  The neanderthals had others. 

When these two subspecies mixed, some of the babies had capabilities that neither of their parents had.  They could put together thoughts in ways that their parents couldn’t.  They could mentally create the things that we call ‘sentences.’  If you pause for a second to reflect on how you are understanding these words, you will realize that they get transmitted into your brain as words.  You both see the words you are reading and, in another part of your mind, hear them as if someone were saying them to you.  Your mind is processing all of these signals separately, then putting them together in a way that turns them into thoughts.  Your mind is able to see the same things that my mind is seeing.  

This appears to be the main difference between modern humans and early humans.  We have this ability (where ‘we’ here refers specifically to modern humans).  They may have been able to understand a lot of words and simple single-word concepts, like eat, drink, sleep, blanket, tent, fire, and cook.  But if they did have the ability to put together these ideas into complex sets, this ability was not nearly as refined as that of modern humans.  If you could go back more than 50,000 years ago and talk to the people you met, you would probably find them to be extremely stupid compared to modern humans.  They could think and communicate well enough to meet their basic needs, but they couldn’t solve complex problems that required compartmentalize mental subroutines (like combining math with social plans).  We can do this.  They couldn’t. 

This may not be the exact difference between early humans and modern humans, but I think it helps us to visualize the way the world would have looked about 50,000 years ago, when the realities of existence for humans were going through dramatic changes and humans were gaining new capabilities, if we accept the working theory that this was the key difference. 

 

Population

 

I want you to be able to get a kind of mental picture of the realities of life for humans going back to a few thousand years after the era of modern humans began.  To do this, you have to have at least a basic idea of how many people were around.  You have to have some idea about the forces that determine the population levels of a group of thinking beings that have wiped out all major predators and all major animals that compete with them for the things they eat. 

This is where we will hit another major difference between conventional histories and the things science tells us.  Conventional historians claim that, for some reason, humans who lived before about 6,000 years ago were never able to have more than very tiny populations. 

For practical purposes, they claim that the population of humans was zero, or so close to zero that any difference isn’t important for practical purposes.  They then claim that the main innovations that allowed populations to finally start to grow took place around 6,000 years ago. 

I think a lot of this has to do with an attempt to make the histories they tell fit with the histories of people who accepted the religious ideas that claimed humans didn’t even exist more than 6,000 years ago.  If there are no humans, there is no reason to even think about human history before this time.  In fact, most history books that I read don’t even call anything before 6,000 years ago ‘history,’ they say these events were ‘prehistoric.’  They took place before history began and, therefore, historians have no obligation to consider them. 

Even in Darwin’s time, scientists had plentiful evidence that the religious ideas about the beginning of history were wrong.  But the traditionalists pointed out that they had no actual proof.  Until we have proof that the ideas that have been accepted for thousands of years are wrong, we have to presume they are right.  Over the last 150 years or so (since Darwin’s time), science has developed techniques that allow us to see that the religious views can’t possibly be wrong.  We would have to reject the evidence of our own eyes, many times over, to accept them. 

This creates a problem for historians.  They have never considered what may have happened in history before 6,000 years ago.  Now they have to do this.  Whatever information they get about the early picture of the experience of modern humans is going to be the foundation for their understanding of everything that happened after.  If they change the foundation, they have to change everything that rests on that foundation to make it fit.  They would have to basically get rid of everything know in their field, and start all over.  They don’t want to do this.  they want to find a way to make the things that historians proposed before the scientific era began fit with the new information.  The best way to do this is to simply claim that everything before 6,000 years BP is irrelevant.  Yes, there were humans before this time.  They have to accept this:  the evidence is overwhelming that it is true.  But they can make these activities irrelevant by claiming that humans lived only in very tiny populations.  There were people, but only a few.  There were so few that they had no impact on anything.  They can then claim that the first time humans began to have a large enough population t have any real effect on anything was 6,000 years BP.  They can accept that traditional historians understood everything important and that it makes sense to advance their science. 

There are problems with this. 

First, it conflicts with the information we have from artifacts.  There were a lot of people alive before 6,000 BP. 

Second, it is biologically impossible. 

Let’s consider the second factor first: 

If food is plentiful and conditions suitable for raising young, the population of all animals must expand.  The reason is simple:  there will be times when food is not plentiful and conditions not suitable for survival.  Conditions change.  They get better and worse.  During hard times, the population will decline.  If the population declines in  bad times, but does not grow in good times, the animal will go extinct.  The homo sapiens species (humans, including neanderthal and denisovans) did not go extinct.  This tells us that their/our populations grew during good times. 

This basic biological law holds for all animals. 

However, there is one area where modern humans differ from all other animals.  There is one check on population that works for all other animals, but does not operate for modern humans:  Predation.  Remember how we are defining modern humans:  These are members of the species homo sapiens that have evolved to the point where they can manipulate environmental variables enough to wipe out their major predators and competitors for food. 

All other animals have predators.   As their food supply grows, their population grows.  This provides more food for predators.  This allows the population of predators to grow.  Eventually, the a combination of predation and greater competition for the limited food will cause the population of the primary animal to stabilize.  Scientists have studied this system and have shown that it won’t just cause the population to stabilize, it will cause the population to fall:  Predators will have had lots of babies (when prey was plentiful) who will grow up and continue to hunt.  They will eventually starve from a lack of food but, before this happens, the population of the prey will have fallen a great deal. 

 

The classic example used in college math classes involves rabbits and foxes.  The example starts with an area with a stable population of both.  The first year, rains are heavier than normal and there is more grass than usual.  The rabbits eat a lot and have a lot of babies.  Their population increases very rapidly. 

Foxes eat rabbits.  More rabbits mean more food for foxes.  If foxes have more food, they will have more babies and their babies will grow up healthy and have babies of their own.  Their population will grow rapidly.  As long as there are plenty of rabbits, the fox population will grow.  At some point, there will be so many predators and so much competition for food that the rabbit reproduction rate won’t expand any more.  The population of rabbits will stabilize.  The foxes still have hungry puppies to feed.  They will keep hunting and, soon, the rabbit population will start to decline.  Soon there won’t be enough rabbits to support the existing fox population.   Both populations must now decline. 

The field that studies the process above is called ‘differential equations.’  The fox and rabbit example is a simple one that most people who take classes in differential equations learn the first day.  Differential equation math has a great many different uses and is a very important field.  (You can’t really do the math required to build nuclear bombs, for example, without understanding the recursive and interactive effects of neutron decay, which requires an understanding of differential equations.) 

The math is very, very hard, but the bottom line is this:  nature is very good at finding a balance. 

 

Predation provides a natural check on the population of all animals other than modern humans.  The population can go up, but it can’t ‘explode’ because predator populations will expand enough to prevent this. 

If there are no predators, what happens? 

The rabbit population will continue to grow.   Eventually, it will reach the limit of its food supply.  It can’t get any higher than this. 

What happens to humans?  In the absence of predation, the population grows to the limit of the food supply.  Since there is plenty of food to support extremely high human populations, the population of humans had to have begun to increase very dramatically after modern humans evolved and became capable of controlling predator populations.

 

Population Growth Rates 

 

For more than two centuries, the definitive book in population is Thomas Malthus book ‘An Essay on the Principle of Population’.   

hours

 population

0

                       1

 1/3

                       2

 2/3

                       4

1   

                       8

1 1/3

                     16

1 2/3

                     32

2   

                     64

2 1/3

                   128

2 2/3

                   256

3   

                   512

3 1/3

                1,024

3 2/3

                2,048

4   

                4,096

4 1/3

                8,192

4 2/3

              16,384

5   

              32,768

5 1/3

              65,536

5 2/3

            131,072

6   

            262,144

6 1/3

            524,288

6 2/3

         1,048,576

7   

         2,097,152

7 1/3

         4,194,304

7 2/3

         8,388,608

8   

       16,777,216

8 1/3

       33,554,432

8 2/3

       67,108,864

9   

     134,217,728

9 1/3

     268,435,456

9 2/3

     536,870,912

10   

  1,073,741,824

10 1/3

  2,147,483,648

10 2/3

  4,294,967,296

11   

  8,589,934,592

Malthus points out that all animal populations grow at a rate he called ‘geometric rate.’  Mathematicians have renamed this rate of growth since Malthus time and now use the term ‘exponential rate’ to refer to it, but these words mean the same thing.  A key feature of a geometric/exponential rate is that it has something called a ‘constant doubling time.’  This means that if a population starts at one, and grows at a rate with a constant doubling time of 1/3 hours per doubling, it will grow at the rate shown in the chart to the right.

Bacteria have a doubling time of 20 minutes (1/3 of an hour) under ideal conditions.  This means that if you start with 1 bacterium, after 20 minutes, you will have 2; after another 20 minutes four, and so on, as shown by the chart to the right. 

Note that after six hours, you will have more than a quarter of a million bacteria.  After 8 hours you will have more than 16 million, and after  10 hours you will have more than a billion.  This should tell you why you have to be very careful leaving meat outside of a refrigerator:  bacteria love meat and it provides a perfect medium for growth for them.  Bacteria are in the air and, within a few minutes, it will get onto the meat and begin to grow.  Within a few hours, there are easily enough to make you very sick.  (Cooking kills bacteria, so if you cook it properly, it will be safe to eat.  But uncooked meat is very dangerous because of bacteria.) 

Human populations grow at an exponential rate.  Of course, the doubling time is much longer and, in normal conditions, human populations to double every 25 years or so. 

One generation is 25 years.  If women have 4 babies that live long enough to have babies of their own, the woman and her mate will have produced 4 people to replace two of them, meaning their population will double. 

In the best possible conditions, growth rates can be far higher and doubling times much lower.  Before the age of birth control, women frequently had more than 8 babies over their lifetimes.  If all 8 live long enough to reproduce, the population will double every 12.5 years.  I want to use the lower figure, however, because I want to be conservative.  For most of history, only about half of all babies survived long enough to reproduce so, a doubling time of 25 years is reasonable. 

The chart to the right shows the human population level, starting with 2 at year zero, over several centuries:

Chart 3.2

 

centuries

 population

0

                         2

 1/4

                         4

 1/2

                         8

 3/4

                       16

1   

                       32

1 1/4

                       64

1 1/2

                     128

1 3/4

                     256

2   

                     512

2 1/4

                  1,024

2 1/2

                  2,048

2 3/4

                  4,096

3   

                  8,192

3 1/4

                16,384

3 1/2

                32,768

3 3/4

                65,536

4   

              131,072

4 1/4

              262,144

4 1/2

              524,288

4 3/4

           1,048,576

5   

           2,097,152

5 1/4

           4,194,304

5 1/2

           8,388,608

5 3/4

         16,777,216

6   

         33,554,432

6 1/4

         67,108,864

6 1/2

       134,217,728

6 3/4

       268,435,456

7   

       536,870,912

7 1/4

    1,073,741,824

7 1/2

    2,147,483,648

7 3/4

    4,294,967,296

8   

    8,589,934,592

Note that after 3 centuries, the population will be more than 8,000.   After 800 years, the population will be so high it will be at the limit of the food supply (over 8 billion, which is far more than the earth would have been able to support given the production methods used at the time and won’t be able to grow any more. 

 

A Perspective

 

I want to take you back, mentally, to 18,000 BP (before the present, or this many years ago.)   this takes us back more than 25,000 years into the era of modern humans

By this time, the human population would be already very high.  In order to understand how high, we need some idea how much food is available at the time and under the conditions.  Rather than looking at the entire world situation, let’s go to a particular place and try to see what life might have been like there 18,000 years ago. 

 

Faiyum

 

The image below is a satellite image taken of land in Egypt close to the Nile river.  It shows an area that is now densely populated.  It is very far from Unity and the oil fields, and about 200 miles from the place where the river empties into the Mediterranean sea at Alexandria.   

This is some of the most productive rice land in the world.  It currently produces more than 2 million kg of rice per square kilometer per year.   This means the rice alone that comes from each square kilometer is enough to meet the basic nutritional needs of 10,000 people. 

If you could go back in time many thousands of years, say 18,000 years in the past, in this same area, you would expect to see certain things. 

The Nile was still there.

The Nile has been there for millions of years.  The river would release about the same flows of water as are released today.  Long before humans evolved, wild rice grew in the low-lying areas along this river in great abundance.  Before humans arrived, this rice supported a diverse and healthy ecosystem.  Enormous flocks of migratory birds would stop over in these areas to feast on nature’s bounty.  Herds of buffalo, horses,  mammoth, camels goats, sheep, and other mammals lived along the river banks and migrated to graze on the grasses alongside the birds.  In the spring, when runoff flooded the valley, enormous schools of fish came in to eat anything the others left behind. 

Early humans who came to this particular valley would have found this to be a paradise.  Food is everywhere.  This land can easily produce enough to support population of 10,000 people per square kilometer.  It currently supports substantially more than this number.   Even in 18,000 BP this valley would have been very crowded with people everywhere.  

 

Early Societies  of modern humans in Rich Areas

 

What kind of societies might the people who lived here 18,000 years ago have had?

By this time, members of the homo genus had lived in this area for a very long time.  Homo erectus, the first primate to master the use of fire, moved through here about two million years ago.  (Remember, the Nile corridor is the only reasonable way to get from the tropics of Africa to ‘the rest of the world.’  Homo erectus were in the ‘rest of the world millions of years ago so they must have passed through this valley. 

But homo erectus descended from animals that were both genetically and culturally inclined to have what we may call ‘wanderlust.’  They didn’t form any particular attachment to any part of the world and didn’t consider anyplace to be their ‘home.’   They could have stopped in their travels when they reached this wonderful paradise and never left.  But we know they didn’t, because they left artifacts and remains in other places that were far away after having passed through this valley. 

Perhaps some of the descendents of homo erectus, the denisovans, found this valley and grew attached to it.  They may have lived here a while.  But eventually a group with a far more aggressive and violent disposition, and societies that facilitated war over land, would want this land.  They would move the mild-tempered, tolerant, and accommodating denisovans out just as easily as the highly territorial and aggressive Europeans (descendents of neanderthals) moved the mild-tempered, tolerant, and accommodating ‘Indians’ out of valleys they wanted to colonize just a few centuries ago. 

This prime land may be inhabited by passive, generous, tolerant, cooperative, and non-confrontational people for a time.  But eventually a group with the genes and cultural background that pushes them to claim land will arrive and force a confrontation.  If the group that wants the land is as aggressive as the people of the distant future who conquered the Americas, they will either remove the inhabitants or continue an unending struggle until the side that is the most capable in war gains total control.  These winners will then either subjugate (enslave), evict, assimilate, or exterminate the passive and tolerant people and make preparations to hold the land.

 

The Ricest Areas

 

The group that holds the land will realize they won’t be able to keep holding it unless they patrol the borders and prevent outsiders (members of their species that are not members of their own group) from crossing these borders.  They will act the same way the aggressive and highly possessive chimps do on land that has monopolizable resources:  they will patrol the borders and use whatever levels of force are necessary to keep outsiders out. 

They will be faced with far more capable opponents than the chimps.  These opponents won’t be stopped by boundaries marked by urine scents of the people who claim it.  To stop them, the defenders must build barriers of some kind. 

They may start with small walls. 

But small walls aren’t going to work to keep determined people out:  people can just climb over them.  The defenders will have to build larger walls.  Even fairly large walls, however, can’t stop people who are really determined and want to share the bounty of more productive lands. 

The picture below is an image of a border wall in the rich land near the valley of Faiyum, along the Nile river in what is now the nation of Egypt.  At one time, these walls were common in the Nile river valleys.  But due to innovations that started about 6,000 years ago (which we will examine in the next chapter), even these massive walls became ineffective.  When they no longer had any use, the people stopped maintaining them and they fell into ruins. 

This particular wall was left up and put back into its early condition as a tourist attraction.  You can get some idea of the steps these people were willing to take to keep outsiders from crossing into ‘their’ land by looking at this wall. 

 

Qqqq wall Egypt.

 

Note that the lowest parts of the wall are about 40 feet high.  This is too high people to scale without equipment that is likely to be detected and destroyed by border guards before it can be deployed.  Note that there are towers at regular intervals that rise another 40 feet.  Guards in these towers can keep watch and locate any foreign troops that might organizing outside to mount an assault. 

The walls are very thick and have a road that is 20 feet wide at the very top.  Troops housed in the barracks at the base of the towers can use this road to move to any trouble spots very quickly.  The road is surrounded by parapets that will protect the defending troops from arrows or projectiles that might come from below. Every 6 ft or so there is a slot in the parapet that allows the solders to fire arrows, burning tar balls, or other projectiles onto attackers, without any real risk to themselves. 

Note that there are windows in the walls underneath the top roadway.  These windows are small, which means the defenders could easily block them, in the event enemies started to climb the walls and got high enough to enter.  But they are large enough to use as weapons bays.  The thick roof above the enclosed areas would protect the defenders from any assault that might make roof fighting impractical.  (For example, the attackers may get balls of asphalt tar, set them on fire, and send them onto the roofs with catapults.  The troops inside would not be affected.)  

The walls are faced with very hard rock.  This makes sense:  people can cut through mud walls with basic shovels and labor.  If the walls are faced with enormous rocks which are meticulously pieced together, attackers will not be able to cut through them without detection. 

If you could go to Faiyum in 18,000 BP (before the present), you would be arriving after this area had been through 32,000 years of continuous habitation by modern humans.  War or the threat of war was constant over this time.  The people who lived in these areas would gone to great lengths to defend their territory.  However, no amount of work would have been enough to provide total security. 

There would be times when enemies would be able to get across the borders and gain control of the land inside.  When they did, we would expect them to treat the still-living human defenders about the same way that the chimps treated defenders of territories they conquered. 

Each conquest would teach a new lesson to the people:  the defenses that were already there were not enough.   They needed to be fortified even more. 

 

The Precursors Of Modern States

 

How large were the defended areas?

The image below is a satellite picture of the Faiyum valley in the 21st century.  Note the clear circle that is labeled ‘the ring road.’  If you zoom in on the ring road, you will note it is a modern superhighway, with wide lanes, a wide median strip in the middle, wide shoulders on both sides, and enough land between the superhighway and the walls that mark the area outside of the right of way to allow for drainage, allowing the road to be used in all weather.  If you zoom in you will see that the area outside of the right-of-way of the modern superhighway is a jumbled mess of mud huts and fields with no apparent plan. The superhighway appears to cut right through this mess in an organized way, with a roughly circular pattern around the richest part of the valley.  The circle is about 5 miles in diameter and has a circumference of roughly 14 miles. 

The ring road was built where the ancient walls used to sit.  You will find these ring roads all over Afro-Eurasia.  There is a reason they are there.  The ancient walls no longer serve any purpose.  The governments in these areas want to attract industry so they can create jobs for their people.  The industrial corporations have to compete in global markets and they need modern infrastructure that can move massive amounts of cargo at high speeds to compete.  They won’t build in areas that don’t have this infrastructure.  The governments want to build the roads, but it is very hard to find real estate that can be used to build these roads.  Every square inch of land is in use.  Any infringement on the rights of the people using this land will cause massive resistance.  There is one exception however:  the land that contains the ruins of the ancient walls.  Governments can bring in modern equipment to remove the ruins and build roads in the area.  If you look at satellite images, you will find hundreds of areas with these circular roads, which are generally given the same name as the road around Faiyum:  they are called ‘ring roads.’   

 

Qqqq ring road

 

Local historians will tell you where the walls used to stand, and you can find books in the mosques and libraries that discuss this, but you don’t need to go to this trouble.  The ancient walls stood where the ring road now stands. 

If you look at the size of the wall in image 3.2 above, and then consider that this wall had to be 14 miles long, you will realize that this was a truly massive undertaking.  It would have taken immense numbers of workers many generations just to move the materials to use to make the walls, including the mud used to make the bricks for the interior and the massive stones that faced the outside of the walls. 

I need a term to refer to these walled areas.  Historians generally call them ‘city states.’  They are basically states (with all of the characteristics that the ‘states’ of the world had until the last 500 years, when they became ‘countries’) that are the same size as modern cities.  They are city-sized states. 

If you could go back 18,000 years, you would find several of these city states along the Nile river, including Aswan, Kom Ombo, El Kab, Cairo, and Faiyum.  Many of these city-states had existed for thousands of years before the period we are examining.  For most of this time, the areas inside of the walls would have been extremely crowded.  This is because people have babies and populations grow.  Even if women only had an average of four babies that lived long enough to have babies of their own, the population would double every 25 years and grow by a factor of 8x each century.  These lands had had modern humans for 32,000 years.  the land inside each of these city states was extremely crowded.  In most cases, the land inside the city states didn’t produce enough to keep everyone inside fed enough to remain healthy.  A large percentage of the people wouldn’t have enough to eat. 

 

They had two choices:

1.  They could stay and live in poverty.  If a lot of people chose this option, the poverty would get worse and worse.  Eventually, the poverty would be so severe that most of the people living in poverty would be living so miserably they were only a few short steps from death. 

2.  They could head out and look for some other place to live.  The wouldn’t be able to move to some other ‘country.’  The other countries had borders and were well defended.  The only goal of the defenders was to keep the outsiders on the outside.  If they wanted to leave, they would have to find some other place to colonize. 

 

The adjacent land would have been taken thousands of years earlier.  The island of Crete, just 200 miles from the mouth of the Nile, is a very productive land.  In his took ‘Odyssey,’ written at least 3,000 years ago (no one knows for sure) Homer says there are 90 cities: 

 

There is a land called Crete, in the midst of the wine-dark sea, a fair, rich land, begirt with water, and therein are many men, past counting, and ninety cities.  They have not all the same speech, but their tongues are mixed. There dwell Achaeans, there great-hearted native Cretans, there Cydonians, and Dorians of waving plumes, and goodly Pelasgians. Among their cities is the great city Cnosus, where Minos reigned when nine years old,2 he that held converse with great Zeus, and was father of my father, great-hearted Deucalion.

 

If  you go by boat about 50 miles past the island of Crete, you reach the closest parts of the mainland of Europe to the Nile, the Greek peninsula.  Travel from there to the north and you will find almost endless artifacts of fortified cities that used to be in this area. 

All of the ancient cities of Europe and the Middle east appear to have been well fortified with enormous walls.   In some cases, some sections of the walls have been restored as tourist attractions.  In others, they have been turned into ring roads as happened in Faiyum.  But many of the ‘ruins,’ as they are now called, were simply left out in the weather and have been wearing away for thousands of years. 

The people who lived in these areas descended from neanderthals.  (Virtually all of them have large percentages of neanderthal markers.)  Neanderthals descended from homo habilis, who descended from chimps.  The people who lived in these areas 18,000 BP had the same basic types of societies as chimps.  They divided themselves into groups.  The members of the group would work together to conquer or gain control of fixed territories.  They would then build borders to define protected areas, and patrol the borders, using any level of violence necessary to prevent outsiders (members of their species that were not members of their groups) from crossing.  They didn’t invent these societies.  This had been the way their ancestors societies had worked for millions of years before any modern humans ever existed. 

 

The Other Societies

 

If you could go back 18,000 years and just explore, you would find many of these enclosed city-sized states.  But most of the land you would see would not be in one of them. 

The land outside of the richer areas can still support some people.  But not as many per square kilometer.  If the land can’t support enough people per square kilometer to take care of production and to get the materials for the walls and to actually build the walls and to maintain the walls and to provide 24 hour patrols around the wall area and to keep a large army ready to reinforce the patrols if they are attacked and to provide the services for the defense workers that they can’t provide themselves because they are basically employed full time in defense, the land can’t support this kind of society.

People can live other ways.  We don’t have to sleep in the same bed every night and get up to the same job every day.  Even today, a lot of people make their living in ways that require them to travel from place to place.  If you could go back to 18,000 BP (18,000 years before the present), you would expect to find a lot of people who lived in areas that could support people, but couldn’t support them full time.  For example, there would have been a lot of herders, hunters, and seasonal harvesters who traveled to places where food was plentiful at certain times of the year, but scarce the rest of the year.  They would take what nature provided and move to another area. 

 

You can find many descriptions of people who lived like this in the references section marked ‘books about natural law societies.’  These books describe the way of life of the people the governments called ‘Indians’ before they were conquered.  One of my favorites is in ‘Alexander Henry’s Travels and adventures in the years 1760-1776.’  Henry was in a fort that was captured by the French in the Seven Years War (the ‘French and Indian War’ in United States history books).  The French announced  that they couldn’t feed the British prisoners that had surrendered so they would be executed.  Henry was good friends with a Pawnee family and asked if he could be adopted as a son.  This would make him a Pawnee, and an ally of the French.  He approached the French with his proposal.  They said that they would let him do it if he lived as a Pawnee from then on, not wearing European clothing, speaking the language, or interacting with other ‘whites.’  Henry agreed and, for the rest of the war, lived as a Pawnee.  After the war, he went back to New York and got a deal with a publisher to write a book about the experience.  He describes his experience in great detail.  The Pawnee didn’t just wander at random.  They were always going somewhere, a different place in each part of the year.  They would fish in the fall, cutting holes through the ice; they would ‘make sugar’ in the spring, tapping the maple trees, they would hunt and collect wild rice in the spring and summer.  They had regular arrangements to meet with other tribes at fixed times of the year to trade.  Games, celebrations, and feasts were normal parts of their lives.  They didn’t have fixed homes as we do now, and couldn’t go to the store to buy things they needed.  But Henry’s book makes it sound like they led very satisfying and enjoyable lives.   

 

Very large parts of  the world contain large plains that people can plant in certain crops that grow very fast, taking advantage of seasonal rains to place them where they would get the highest yield.  But for the rest of the year, it produces nothing at all.  You will find vast areas like this in eastern Asia the pampas of Argentina, and the great plains of north America.  Migratory people could plant some crops in the spring and leave people  there to tend the plants while they leave to hunt, fish, trap, or gather various foods that nature produces.  They could return when the crops are ready and harvest them, then have feasts and celebrations before they head for the spots where they will spend the rest of the time.

 

Again, you can find many descriptions of this kind of life in the books in  the References section.  The Autobiography of Black Hawk describes this ‘semi-migratory’ lifestyle as does the Autobiography of Plenty Coups of the crow.  The writings of ‘Chief Joseph’ of the Nez Pierce people discuss their herding and farming operations in the Wallowa valley (now Eastern Oregon) and their travels to their winter homes where game was plentiful in the mountains of what is now Idaho.  Lewis Morgan’s book ‘the Iroquois confederacy’ describes  the way of life of these people, who also were semi-migratory.

We don’t have a lot direct evidence about the way of life of the migratory and semi migratory people of Afro-Eurasia in the years between their evolution (about 72,000 bp) and the time the domestication of the horse changed their way of life (about 6,000 bp, discussed in the next chapter) but, most likely,  there wasn’t much difference between their way of life and the way of life of  the migratory and semi migratory people of the Americas before they gained access to horses.  

 

Life in Different Societies

 

If you had been born 18,000 years ago, your life would depend a great deal on the conditions of your birth.  If you had been born in one of the city-states, you would have a certain way of life and be raised to believe and accept certain things.  If you had been born outside of the walled city-states, you would have been raised with entirely different values and an entirely different point of view. 

The people born inside the city states are raised to believe that a part of the world is naturally theirs.  It is their ‘state.’  It provides wonderful things for them including freedom, justice, and liberty.  The state is like a stern but loving parent. 

The state keeps order.  It has laws and rules.  You don’t have to figure out what is right or wrong to order your life, you only have to know what is legal and what is not legal.  As long as you don’t do any of the things that are illegal, you can do whatever you want.  You don’t have to worry about morality.  It is not your problem.  The state decides what is moral.  If the state says it is moral, it is; if not, it isn’t.

The state provides a foundation for an economy.  As long as you have money or trade goods, you can go to a market and get the things you need.  The state makes sure these trades are orderly and at least superficially honest. 

The state protects your property, and particularly your home.  There are people from outside the border of your state that don’t respect your rights to this land.  If they were in charge, they would not let you have your home.  Luckily, the state goes to incredible lengths to make sure they are not in charge and will never be in charge.  It builds and maintains the massive walls that keep and their  armies out.  It supports the weapons industries that your state’s troops use to protect you and your home.  It provides the troops that patrol the borders 24 hours a day to make sure you are safe from these enemies. 

The state also protects your property from internal threats.  People inside the borders must respect your property rights.  Property is very valuable so many people would like to take it.  But the state has laws and rules to protect you from them.  Even the authorities can’t take your property without following strict rules. 

Because your property is safe, you can wealth in the form of property.  Most property in the cities generates income for the owners.  If you accumulate property, you accumulate the rights to get these income streams.  If you accumulate enough property, you may end up with enough income from the property to live in a mansion with servants catering to your every whim, without doing another day’s work the rest of your life.  You can pass your property on to your children and they will inherit your wealth. 

The state provides these things.  You must provide several things in return.  First, you must pay taxes.  (Money doesn’t have to exist to have taxes:  before money, taxes were paid in kind.)   Second, you must agree to give anything you have to defend and protect your country:  if it is conquered, it has no power or ability to grant any rights to anyone.  The state can only provide the things it provides if the people in it are willing to protect it, even if they must give up their own lives to do so.  Third, you must accept its rules, even if you disagree with them.  If the rules allow people to harm the world around you, and you don’t want this to happen, you must accept you are helpless and let those who the government has given the rights to destroy do whatever the rules allow them to do.  If the government says that that a certain city-state that was once your ally is now your enemy, and all the effort of your city state must now be devoted to destroying it and killing everyone in it, you must accept that this is the way things are, even if  you have personal friends or relatives in the city-state to be destroyed. 

People who were born into this system would have a hard time imagining how anyone could ever live any other way.  Yes, there is land outside of the walls.  Yes, there are people there.  But they are not like the people in the state.  They have no rights.  They want to come in (there are always people queuing up at the border checkpoints).  But they must meet strict requirements to get in and most of them don’t meet the requirements.  It is reasonable therefore to think of them as inferior.  They want what you have.  But the people who run the border stations have determined that they are not worthy.  Why would you even consider living the way they live? 

If people are trying to harm them, they have no police to protect them.  If a state tries to conquer them and take their land, they don’t have walls to protect them or organized armies to man the walls. 

They can’t own property because there is no way for them to enforce their property rights.  They need an organized government for this and don’t have one.  They can’t accumulate property for their children for the same reason.  They have no government to take care of them, to build roads for them, to provide welfare when times are hard.  They will not likely ever have a lot of money or personal wealth of any kind because there isn’t any way to keep it safe.  If there is no way to get rich, what is the reason we are living?  To people born and raised inside the walled states, these outsiders would seem like dogs, wandering from place to place to get scraps and sleeping wherever they can find shelter. 

If you were born into one of the states, you would probably think something like this. 

You are one of the lucky ones. 

You pity the outsiders.

If you were born outside, you would have been raised an entirely different way.  You would have been taught the incredible value of good personal relationships.  You can’t depend on any outside agent (like a government) to make people be good and honest and kind.  You must make them want to be good and honest and kind, at least when dealing with you.  

You have no government to protect you.  But if you deal with others in good faith, if you have a good reputation and people trust and respect you, you don’t need a protector standing above you with a weapon to have good dealings with others.  You will learn who you can trust and who you can’t.  Your people will help you if you need help. 

There is no government.  But is this a bad thing?  Many people don’t think governments are good entities at all.  Governments ‘govern’ people.  This means they make rules for people.  Having no government doesn’t mean you can do anything you want.  You need people to respect you if you want them to deal with you in good faith.  You have to figure out the right way to behave to make this happen.  Your people will help you with this.  They will teach you.  But, in the end, you have to be responsible for your own behavior.  You can’t do things that harm others and then claim that you have the right to do this because there is no law against it.  You have to figure out what is right and you have to do it. 

If you were raised this way, the idea of having an organization governing you would be offensive.  It would imply that you aren’t capable of knowing right from wrong.  If you had a chance to actually meet people who lived under these laws and talk to them, you will see that the laws often allow people to do horrible things to others.  This is not illegal and the government protects their rights to do these things.  Why would anyone want to have a government like this?  We should all learn what is right and act the right way.  It is insane to require people to follow made-up rules that everyone can clearly see are wrong. 

It is true you can’t own property if you live outside of the state.  You can’t protect rights that you claim to have if everyone else around you disagrees and claims you don’t have the rights.    But do the people in the city-states who think they own property really own it?  Can we really own a part of the world?  The world takes care of us.  It provides our food and water, fuel for our fires and a place for us to live.  We depend on it for our lives. 

If nature or the natural world doesn’t meet our needs at some time, we can’t order it to do so as if its existence depended on us and expect it to change.  The land doesn’t follow the directions of humans.  We don’t and can’t truly be the owners of nature or parts of the natural world.   The people in the walled city-states who believe they own parts of this planet are deluded.  If you had been born and raised outside of the city walls, you would probably feel sorry for them.

People inside the walls have to pay taxes.  They have to pay for their food, for shelter, for a drink of water, for a bath, even to grab an apple from a tree as they pass.  They have to pay for everything.  This means that they are not their own masters.  They have to work or have some other source of income or they have nothing to pay for the necessities and die.  People who have to work to avoid death are not really free.  People inside the walls can never really be free.  They are always slaves to the system, to money, and to the owners.  Their lives are not their own. 

Not everyone lives this way.  If you had been raised outside of the states, some 18,000 years ago, you would almost certainly have an entirely different point of view.  You would probably think of the poor deluded people who live inside the crowded, filthy, and disgusting city states as fools who are so out of touch with reality they don’t even realize how miserable their lives really are.   They are slaves to a dangerous, destructive, and incredibly oppressive system that uses them up and throws them away.  You would almost certainly pity them.

 

Possible Societes

 

This book is about the way the human race came to be on the path we are now on, the path that leads to our extinction.  There are various different forces that put us here and various forces that are pushing us down it.  If we want to understand how we can avoid being forced along a path that we don’t want to be on at all until we are pushed over the cliff to death, we need to understand that there are other paths.  We need to understand that people are capable of living other ways. 

I know it is hard for people raised in the highly territorial and loyalty-inspiring societies we have now to understand that true humans can live differently.  But this is one important reason to understand history:  it tells us what is possible. 

We are on a path that leads to extinction.  But we are not stuck on this path.  There are other paths.  How many total paths are possible for thinking beings with physical needs?  (This is the category that includes humans.) 

Are there any take us a place where we can live in harmony with nature and other people, but still have technology and progress?  I claim there are.  The more we understand about our past—not the endless stories of good states and bad ones fighting in endless wars, but a real history that explains what was important to real people in the past—the easier it is to see that we have both the right and ability to take control of our destiny.