Wednesday, April 6, 2016

Hunter-Gatherers in Morillo’s Tri-Sectoral History: Part 1

Rhinoceroses, ca. 32,000 years old, Chauvet Cave, France















V AST time scales can be easier to comprehend if they are spoken of in terms of human generations as well as in terms of years. So in discussing hunter-gatherers, this post will supplement historian Stephen Morillo’s dates.

Thus about 6500 fathers ago, or as Stephen Morillo puts it, 200,000 years ago, anatomically modern humans, Homo sapiens, first appeared on the earth. Morillo makes that statement in his 2014 textbook, Frameworks of World History.  The latter is the first such work to focus systematically on the changing nature of the three-way relationship between politics, economics, and culture throughout the whole course of human history.

Near the beginning of the book, where Morillo discusses hunter-gatherers and human origins, he suggests that out of the 200,000 years during which Homo sapiens have existed, the first 130,000 (or about 4200 generations) never witnessed many more than 10,000 of us alive on the earth at one time. (pp.13, 20)  During that long span, Homo sapiens did not create art, play music, bury their dead, or possess self-consciousness, Morillo writes. They lacked a symbolic culture and language as we know it, and lived in a form of awareness that was in some sense more concrete. (p.14)

Then about 2300 generations ago (70,000 years ago), a cognitive linguistic revolution made symbolic culture and self-consciousness possible, along with an inventiveness that permitted rapid population growth and enabled Homo sapiens to begin spreading out of Africa to many other parts of the earth over a period of tens of thousands of years.

From the point when Homo sapiens first appeared 200,000 years ago, up to about 20,000 years ago (or 650 generations ago), the largest societies, according to Morillo, were small bands that consisted of as many as eighty people but sometimes amounted to only a single nuclear family. Such bands generally remained on the move to follow and hunt herds, and to gather wild foods. (pp. 21, 24, 31)

From Morillo’s perspective, how did culture, economic life, and political life generally function within these pre-historic hunter-gatherer bands?

Part 2 of this series of posts will look at that.

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