Wednesday, July 25, 2018

REVOLUTION IN THE SOCIAL SCIENCES


The changes in our understanding of pre-history during the last two decades are really quite astounding. We are undergoing a virtual revolution in thought, greater than anything since the founding of the social sciences 150 years ago.

Denisovians, Hobbits, such complexity of human development, not a single line as once thought. Hominids "out of Africa" 2 million years ago have been discovered on the Caucasus. People may have inhabited Australia as far back as 70,000 years ago, which means homo sapiens migrated from Africa earlier than once thought.

Just recently, Neanderthal cave paintings were discovered, which means symbolic thought preceded homo sapiens. The fact that homo erectus had to have constructed some sort of water craft to have colonized some of the outer islands of Indonesia also points to symbolic thinking occurring in the distant past among other non-sapien hominids. We also know that the people of 30-40,000 BCE had musical instruments, star maps, calendars, tailored leather clothing and hair styling. (So much for the popular image of the cave dwellers as shuffling, unkempt ape men.)

We also now realize that some people were sedentary as far back as 30,000 BCE. It seems there were summer villages and winter was spent in the caves. The gathering, parching and grinding of grain goes back more that 20,000 years. It is quite likely that humans always modified their environment to guarantee a plentiful, local food supply. This involved selective burning, pruning and weeding, a kind of pre-historic permaculture.

I suspect the idea that early humans wandered around looking for food like cattle was a spin-off from the racist assumptions used to dispossess Aboriginal people. ( The imperial rationalization was that since they supposedly wandered around all over the place, they did not actually have title to the land, hence the Europeans could take it and this wasn't stealing) The division of civilized people vs. uncivilized is also fake and another racist rationalization. Without exception, all so-calleed primitive human soceties are ordered, have common customs, rituals, an acknowledged territory, and a vast knowledge of the natural world. What people lack in technology, they make up for in complex customs, rituals and beliefs.

With the discovery of the megalithic architecture of Geza Tepi in Turkey, dated 11,000 BCE we find that, not only did sedentary life preceed agriculture but so did the building of monumental structures.

The "ice free corridor" that supposedly allowed people from Asia to settle in the Americas is now seen an archeological folk tale, not a fact. People were living in ice free areas on the British Columbia coast by at least 13,000 BCE and they must have gotten there by boat. The homeland of these immigrants was recently discovered. They were not Asians as was once thought, but Eurasians, living in an areas straddling the two continents about 40,000 years ago. Some of the early inhabitants of North America seem to be related to the Australian peoples. These people, once thought to have inhabited Australia for "only" 40,000 years now seem to have been there at least 60,000 years, if not longer.

The whole question of when people arrived in the Americas keeps getting pushed back. In the 1920s it was thought to be 4000 years, then the 10,000 BCE dogma with the ice free corridor was the rule for several generations (and worth your academic career to challenge it) The discoveries in Chile and British Columbia finally put the boots to that dogma. But Brazilian archeologists claim to have discovered human remains dating back more than 40,000 years. And, speaking of Brazil, the 'experts' had long denied the existence of anything other than small populations of foragers and slash and burn farmers. It turns out that Amazonia was thickly populated ( at least two million people) with villages using intensive agriculture based upon the use of charcoal. (European diseases killed them off in the mid 16th century, leaving only remnant populations.

Agriculture and urbanism does not necessarily lead to state formation and the resulting tyranny. Examples of non-statist civilizations include, Catal Huyuk, Old (neolithic) Europe, Tiahaunaco, Amazonia. Nor were all proto states highly inegalitarian dominator societies, Early Sumer, Indus Valley, Teotihuacan. The world is far, far, more complex than once thought.

Climate change has been a driving factor. The Anasazi, Maya, Tiahuanacan and Greenland Viking cultures were all destroyed, at least in part, by climate change, the first three due to persistant dought, the latter by cooling. The violence of Iron Age Europe was largely due to the coming of a cold, wet climate about 1000 BCE. Drying occured 4000-2000 BCE forcing herders into the Nile Valley, Mesopotamia and Old Europe, giving rise to class rule and state formation.

Early writing. Roots may go back to the Mesolithic. Definite writing in Vinca Culture (Old Europe) circa 5000 BCE. But these early forms were elated to spiritual aspects of the culture. (How like the bourgeois to think that writing arose from bookkeeping!)

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