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Summary: The Human Web, a Bird's-eye view of world history
Te gebruiken bij
Auteur(s): McNeill & McNeill
Druk/Jaar van uitgave: 1, 2004
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Chapter 1: The human apprenticeship
Communication has always been a key element in the creation of human history. Communications and connections between people often results in relationships, which usually influence people’s future behavior. Such relationships could be considered the source of trade, the invention of certain technologies, the evolution of ideas and much more. However, such communication between people is not always positive and also has negative connotations such as the exchange of deadly diseases.
The Source of Change
It is important to note that this process of exchange could be seen as one of the reasons for the historical creation of small communities, which later on discovered similar communities and started interacting with them. The interaction between such groups was mostly sporadic and limited to the exchange of goods and tools used to aid the members of both communities with their daily lives. On the other hand, the discovery of agriculture and the gradual change in the density of the existing communities, created the basis for the creation of even bigger groups of people. These groups of people could now gather food from the land they were living on and with that the need to resort to hunting-gathering techniques was reduced significantly. Later on, communities became even tighter and denser with the improvement of the means for exchange of goods and information. Such denser collections of people first emerged in the territory of modern day Iraq with the creation of the first urban metropolitan communities. With their creation, these communities started spreading, the process of which resulted in these communities reaching their boundaries and creating a global community, in which the circulation of ideas on an international level was now possible.
Looking at history from “The Web” perspective
Before discussing history based on web perspective, it is important to point out several significant features of this net-based representation of history. Networks of societies are mostly based on collaboration and rivalry. Collaboration is expressed in the fact that people who have specialized in a certain area can gather with others with the same set of skills for the sake of maximal production. Such a way of operation, however, tends to be the root of inequality in society Cooperation between the members of one social group often results in competitiveness with the members of others. Rivalry is one of the reasons for improvement and increasing the efficiency of the current societal structure. Collaboration in this context was only possible because of communication, which was the basis of the entire group structure. One of the issues regarding big groups, which managed to overpower others is that they had the capacity of growing so much that communication could be undermined, and with it social cohesion as well. The first reason for such growth were the advantages that living in such a group offered, the economic benefits, and last but not least the epidemiological advantages because people were more likely to become resistant to certain illnesses when they lived in big communities. The price for such benefits often included increased chances of poverty as caused by specialization of labor, insecurity, and exposure to epidemics, which made the residents more resistant. The second reason for the expansion of such communities is the personal interests of their leaders with regard to expansion. By having the societies expanded the leaders could follow their personal desire for power and prestige.
Thirdly, technology also played an important role in the expansion of communities. The exchange of information was further facilitated by the invention of writing, printing, railroads, and big sailing ships. By having all of these tools for transportation communities could now actively expand their ideas.
Since societal networks included collaboration and rivalry the more members the had the tighter and more powerful they became. Furthermore, the spread of ideas within densely compacted societies was far easier, which resulted in the quick adaptation to new inventions. The expansion of these societal networks further facilitated the transmission of inventions and ideas, which made it much easier for people to discover new things.
It is important to understand, when trying to depict the lives of the first humans that everything that could be discovered abut them should be regarded as provisional and unconfirmed.
One of the first discoveries is that early humans lived in African savannas, grasslands with many drought-resistant trees that could have offered safe sleeping places. One of the key features of the early humans is that they were very versatile when it comes to nutrition, as omnivores they were able to eat a very large range of foodstuffs. Another important trait is the fact that our ancestors were able to use tools such as stones and sticks for protection and utility. Another important feature was the discovery of fir, which was crucial for human adaptability. It is evident that a flexible diet and the use of tools were the most essential characteristic of early humans.
The Homo Erectus’ ability to adapt
Homo erectus groups were able to travel and discover vast areas of land. They were able to venture beyond the boundaries of their usual habitat, which means that Homo erectus was able to adjust to various climates and natural conditions by molding their surroundings through tools, clothing, and shelter. Our direct ancestor, Homo sapiens, however, surpassed Homo erectus with his enlarged braincase and certain changes in his skeleton composition. By 10,000 years ago the ever growing exploration of the world by humans resulted in them spreading around the whole globe except for certain islands and ice-covered areas. The importance of communication comes back when one looks at the fact that human adaptability and exploration were only a result from it. Communication can be regarded as the foundation of a social way of life, which without doubt must have facilitated the sharing of ideas, and this lead to the creation of different tools used by the community in the process of adaptation. The importance of language is so strongly related to the early human will to change that one can easily see, even nowadays, the existence of a discrepancy between words and reality and more importantly the desire to adapt reality to spoken language. Intelligible speech was of key importance in the creation of communities based on cooperation as it allowed the coordinated movement of a large number of individuals. The interaction between these individuals created a network of both exchange of ideas at an improved level of accuracy and range. Communication aided early humans with the exchange of ideas, but communication is often the source of misunderstandings and frictions. Therefore, a key landmark in the solving of these newly evolved issues is the creation of song and dance. Singing and dancing had a very distinct function in these communities as they had the capacity to dissolve disagreement and diminish the negative effects of rivalry, which comes as a result of cooperation.
The rapid expansion of human control over the globe in the period between 40,000 and 10,000 years ago, probably led to territorial rivalry between different groups over food and shelter. In that period of massive expansion, food and shelter could be considered the main resources for further exploration and sustenance.
Communication proved to be a superior weapon as it allowed the grouping of individuals that could now take down large game, with the use of common strategy and ingenious weaponry such as bows, arrows and javelins. By inventing these weapons humans could attack beasts without the need to expose themselves to danger by approaching them. This rapid development of human experience regarding combat possibly led to the extinction of a number of animals - horses and camels in America in particular.
The Need to Adapt
Human expansion around the world stimulated the need of new tools and inventions so that our ancestors could better adapt to the ever-changing environment. Among these tools fire appears to be the most useful with its capacity to thoroughly change the landscape of a certain area while breaking down organic material into the chemical nutrients required for the faster growing of new plants. By intentionally incinerating large areas of grassland in the African savannas humans managed to improve forage for the game they were after and change vegetation for long periods of time. While Australia was most affected by fires due to its dryness, tropical rain forests were nearly devoid of ground level resources; therefore these two areas were not among the most popular for human exploration. Another extension in the human arsenal of tools and instruments was the varied and more complex use and mix of constituents. The extension of the usage of certain tools through the addition of more components further expanded the human toolkit. An important example for that is the invention of bows and arrows about 30,000 and 15,000 years ago. Bows and arrows are a perfect combination of stone, wood, feathers and fibers, which allowed humans to fire at their targets as opposed to the previously exercised melee style of hunting. While hunting was an integral part of the human diet, its versatility was further supplemented by the incorporation of plants and berries. Gathering was another popular way of finding additional nutrition. As gathering further broadened human diet it also became the reason for the invention of priced stone weights and digging tools, which aided in the process of root collection.
The Emergence of Spiritual Guidance
As humans’ language skills improved spiritual experts came into existence. The function of the spiritual world was to explain everything that happened by means of language. The concept of a spiritual world could be seen as a result of humans’ improved communications skills as they could now share their inner problems and try to interpret them by discussing them with higher transient beings. Furthermore, the creation of the spiritual world is another way of linking the yet unexplored with human knowledge at the time. As the spiritual world played a major role in everyday life there was the need of experts in the area. Such experts could now communicate with higher beings, relieve anxiety, and give advice as to what needed to be done according to the higher spirits they communicated with by learning how to assist good and appease bad spirits.
Even though toolmakers and communities able to communicate could be seen as existing in most communities at the time, groups still remained relatively small. A relatively frequent societal occurrence at the time was that of splitting with the group in search of food. Sometimes a single or several families would split from their group for long periods of time but they would still remain accepted members of their group. Another feature of this concept is the fact that at times humans would meet with all of the bands that have split in order to dance, marry, and communicate. Such gatherings appear to be crucial for the exchange of information between different groups since the ones that split often have contact with others, outsiders to the original community. Furthermore, it is worth acknowledging the avoidance of harmful inbreeding through such festival encounters.
By expanding their knowledge of different landscapes and environments, humans started applying their accumulated knowledge in order to extract as much positive resources from their surroundings as possible in order to satisfy their wants and enlarge their ecological function.
A typical example of humans adapting to unfriendly environment is their settlement in areas close to receding glaciers. The consequences of such settlement were significant as they resulted in people being aware of some species’ migratory instincts, which enabled surplus hunting of such animals during the respective seasons. Furthermore, humans started investing in food storage in the face of, fish weirs, smokehouses, and general storage houses. With the amassing of goods people also improved their housing conditions as they now had leisure time.
Salmon fisheries are believed to have started about 8,000 years ago but techniques in that direction have been practiced for a long time before that date. The idea behind accumulation of food is crucial at this stage as it created the conditions for the initiation of trade and food guarantee, to a certain extend. In spite of that, one should not forget that such solid sources of resources could be considered as potential reasons for conflict and rivalry.
Early Human Adaptability Achievements
About 800 C.E. in the most unwelcome environment of the Arctic Ocean, the Inuit managed to develop successful methods for whaling. They used small eight-men boats and detachable-head harpoons, which made it possible for them to pursue and tire out migrating whales. Bearing in mind that a single whale could supply a large number of people with various goods such as meat, oil and bones, whale hunters usually had a really high social standing within their communities. This amazing achievement in the field of human adaptability and environment exploitation is remarkable but it also resulted in rivalry between the Inuit and the Norse Greenlanders, who were later overpowered by the far more successful whalers.
Another famous example of human ingenuity is the Magdalenian cave which dates back to 16,000 and 13,000 years ago. The cave is an example of how food storage can be an important fact in human adaptability. The inhabitants used a nearby reindeer migrating path to secure their food supply. Furthermore, the cave includes various elements of spiritual activity and cave art. Alongside all of this, there were numerous interesting tools and instruments crafted with both precision and understanding of their practical use.
Last but not least, comes another similar example from Southwest Asia. About 15,000 years ago, human communities in the area, called the Natufian, benefited from the moister and warmer climate by using the abundance of wheat in the region. The Natufian were remarkable in the sense that they built houses around their food source and also managed to domesticate dogs. Unfortunately, about 13,000 years ago the climate changed and caused the wheat to slowly disappear, which caused the demise of Natufian urban life, they were forced to return to the migratory hunter-gatherer way of life.
In conclusion, human ability to communicate ideas was a key factor in the creation of communities that resulted in cooperation and expansion of human exploration. This rapid expansion, combined with humans’ ability to adapt to different environments resulted in the settlement in various lands around the world. The most significant achievement in terms of settlement could be seen in the example of the Natufian sites in Southwest Asia, where grain farming started to develop.
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