- Jul 2022
21:27 - We are just as smart now as we were in the ice age
Our neurophysiology has not changed much since the ice age. In other words, were an ice age descendent were transported by a time machine and were born in our current era, (s)he would have the same cognitive capacity as a modern human.
Peter mentions that we came out of our caves and begun agriculture. There is an interesting research paper that hypothesizes that over a period of the last 1.5 million years, human hunters in the Southern Levant successively extirpated the largest species by overshooting hunting over many generations, until the wild fauna population could no longer support human populations, at which point, humans may have turned to agriculture out of necessity. If true, this would support the idea that nonsustainable practices have been with us for a long time and we were out of balance long before Adam Smith wrote about it.
Dr. Ben-Dor: "Our findings enable us to propose a fascinating hypothesis on the development of humankind: humans always preferred to hunt the largest animals available in their environment, until these became very rare or extinct, forcing the prehistoric hunters to seek the next in size. As a result, to obtain the same amount of food, every human species appearing in the Southern Levant was compelled to hunt smaller animals than its predecessor, and consequently had to develop more advanced and effective technologies. Thus, for example, while spears were sufficient for Homo erectus to kill elephants at close range, modern humans developed the bow and arrow to kill fast-running gazelles from a distance." Prof. Barkai concludes: "We believe that our model is relevant to human cultures everywhere. Moreover, for the first time, we argue that the driving force behind the constant improvement in human technology is the continual decline in the size of game. Ultimately, it may well be that 10,000 years ago in the Southern Levant, animals became too small or too rare to provide humans with sufficient food, and this could be related to the advent of agriculture. In addition, we confirmed the hypothesis that the extinction of large animals was caused by humans -- who time and time again destroyed their own livelihood through overhunting. We may therefore conclude that humans have always ravaged their environment but were usually clever enough to find solutions for the problems they had created -- from the bow and arrow to the agricultural revolution. The environment, however, always paid a devastating price."
This is a fascinating claim with far reaching consequences for modern humans dealing with the Anthropocene polycrisis.
Technological development seems to have been related to our resource overshoot. As we extirpated the larger prey fauna which were slower moving and able to be successfully hunted with crude weapons, our ancestors were forced to hunt smaller and more agile species, requiring better hunting technologies.
Agriculture could have been the only option left to our ancestors when there was insufficient species left to support society. This is the most salient sentence:
"we confirmed the hypothesis that the extinction of large animals was caused by humans -- who time and time again destroyed their own livelihood through overhunting. We may therefore conclude that humans have always ravaged their environment but were usually clever enough to find solutions for the problems they had created"
This is a disturbing finding as technology has allowed humanity to be the apex species of the planet and we are now depleting resources not on a local scale, but a global one. There is no planet B to move to once we have decimated the environment globally.
Have we progressed ourselves into a corner? Are we able to culturally pivot and correct such an entrenched cultural behavior of resource mismanagement?
- early farming
- early agriculture
- early extinction
- early progress trap
- progress trap
- early hunting
- resource management
- resource depletion