Friday, April 8, 2016

Hunter-Gatherers in Morillo's Tri-Sectoral History: Part 3

Franz Marc, Tower of Blue Horses, 1913, oil on canvas

Charcoal Horses, Chauvet Cave, France,
ca. 30,000 years or 1000 generations ago

HOW does Stephen Morillo's Frameworks of World History portray the functioning of culture, economic life, and political life within the pre-historic hunter-gatherer bands discussed in the last few posts?

As in Parts 1 and 2 of this series, the present post will translate the dates Morillo gives into generations.

According to Morillo, when Homo sapiens, anatomically modern human beings, first appeared about 200,000 years or 6500 generations ago, and up until the Cognitive-Linguistic Revolution about 70,000 years or 2300 generations ago, people probably lived in a mimetic culture (using gesture, imitation, rhythmic movement, and vocalizations varying pitch and rhythm), and lacked language as we know it.  They did not bury their dead.  They lived in a rolling present with little awareness of past events or future possibilities.  Consequently their capacity for hierarchy could not go much beyond the episodic and immediate kinds of dominance present among many animal groups. In general they lived communally and cooperatively. (pp. 12-13, 17)

Here is Morillo on ancient hunter-gatherer politics after the Cognitive-Linguistic Revolution, when in his view the evidence shows that Homo sapiens probably first became self-conscious and started burying their dead, making art, and using symbolic language.  Human beings usually lived in bands of no more than 80 people, and multiple bands were often connected with one another by networks of trade and communication.
All or almost all members of a band tended to be closely related. Bands were egalitarian in terms of decision making, with few if any permanent distinctions of status except perhaps by age, and without any pattern of gender dominance. Bands settled internal disputes informally, though not always nonviolently: interpersonal violence was undoubtedly unavoidable, even in the most cooperative of communities…There probably was a differentiation of gender roles, with males doing most of the hunting and females the gathering. But differentiation did not produce dominance, in part because gathering almost always provided significantly more of a band’s nutrition than hunting did. [p.24]
Morillo provides a further argument in support of the claim that male dominance did not occur in hunter-gatherer bands: there is no evidence in the archaeological record of warfare during the hunter-gatherer period. Male dominance, he suggests, emerged together with the Agricultural Revolution and the invention of warfare about 10,000 years or 325 generations ago.  From around that time, the first archaeological traces appear of mass burials of bodies wounded by weapons (in Iraq). (p.58)  Male dominance appeared because when wars arose, men became war leaders and elite status was militarized. (pp. 25-26) 

Morillo contends that hunter-gatherer bands were “egalitarian” in decision making also because in a group of such small size (usually 80 or fewer), security and defense of the group could be managed fairly informally, as could economic life and internal conflicts.  There was no need of the significant hierarchy much larger groups require for a number of purposes: to make collective decisions quickly when necessary; to redistribute goods efficiently, and to resolve disputes. (p.24)

Finally, Morillo argues that hunter-gatherer bands' decision making was relatively egalitarian because bands were mostly nomadic, which meant no member could store or accumulate much wealth.  Later, by contrast, settled cultures made accumulation possible, and those who possessed wealth could distribute it as gifts in order to obligate receivers.  The giver could then call in those obligations and thereby build a political hierarchy. (p.33)

Part 4 in this series of posts will look briefly at Morillo's account of the economic and cultural side of hunter-gatherer bands, and the post after that will consider whether such bands' political, economic, and cultural life was fused to some degree into one, or if the three aspects were relatively independent of one another.

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