Ancient civilisations

  • Thread starter Andre
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  • #1
Andre
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Lost Ancient civilisations

That's always a hot topic, sometimes leading to less scientific ideas and indeed it's hard to keep it on the straight and narrow path. If only we knew which path that was; hence heated debates. The aim of this thread is to find that path and stay on it, although I realise that this ambition is rather far fetched.

Anyway, the essential question here appears to be:
andre said:
If ancient H sapiens ~200 Kya, was anatomically similar to the modern version, how come that he apparently never seem to bother developing complicated civilisations, whilst the modern men needed only some 4-6 Kya to accomplish that.

Moonbear added some valuable notes.
Moonbear said:
But my understanding, which may be wrong, is that formation of stable civilizations accompanied the transition from nomadic hunter/gatherer societies to stable agrarian societies. The key to forming the agrarian societies would be the ability to domesticate animals. Not just any animal can be domesticated easily, as we know from the difficulty of raising and breeding zoo animals or other wild-captured animals in captivity.

So, assuming my premise is correct that the accepted consensus is that animal domestication occurred along with the formation of stable civilizations (as opposed to nomadic tribes, which may leave little evidence of their presence due to the short time spent in any one location) I would be tempted to argue that formation of civilizations had less to do with a dramatic change in the communication/language/skills/intelligence/social organization of early humans and more to do with the discovery of/increased association with a species of ungulate that could be domesticated, or at least tamed, sufficient to begin living around the captive herds rather than following herds as they migrate.

But the question still seem to stand, why didn't that happen 5-10kya, or something, after the appearance of H. sapiens? SelfAdjoint has a good point too:

selfAdjoint said:
Yes it could be that what was thought of as a transition in humanity was actually just due to the better preservation of more recent paintings and fragile artifacts like bone needles and flutes. There could have been a lot of kit that just couldn't survive for 100,000 years.

And it's evidence that count. Not our imagination of course. Now it's getting really delicate but I agree there are a few (more or less disputed) features that may point to unknown ancient civilisations indeed.

Like:
http://www.asahi-net.or.jp/~yf5f-wtnb/moai_idx/tongariki/moai6_04.jpg
http://www.civilization.ca/civil/egypt/images/arch25b.jpg
http://www.marsearthconnection.com/cuba.html, discussed here

So, what else is there to say? Could there have been unknown civilisations like the Egyptian, Greek or the Roman empires but say anywhere around 150,000 years ago, give or take some 50,000 years?.
 
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  • #2
selfAdjoint
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I absolutely don't agree that our previous thread had anything to do with "lost civilizations". The modern human species spent a long time in the lower stone age, with a stone kit that didn't change at all for thousands of years. Then came the Cro-Magnon cultural explosion, which was way pre-agriculture and pre-domestication, except dogs. Like 25,000-35,000 years ago versus less than 10,000 years ago for neolithic with domestic animals and/or agriculture. After 10,000 years ago you have towns in the fertile crescent and its surrounding uplands, and also in Egypt and the Indus valley. Nothing unknown or lost about that.
 
  • #3
Moonbear
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selfAdjoint said:
I absolutely don't agree that our previous thread had anything to do with "lost civilizations". The modern human species spent a long time in the lower stone age, with a stone kit that didn't change at all for thousands of years. Then came the Cro-Magnon cultural explosion, which was way pre-agriculture and pre-domestication, except dogs. Like 25,000-35,000 years ago versus less than 10,000 years ago for neolithic with domestic animals and/or agriculture. After 10,000 years ago you have towns in the fertile crescent and its surrounding uplands, and also in Egypt and the Indus valley. Nothing unknown or lost about that.
Right, we weren't talking about lost civilizations, but the development of civilizations. What I wasn't certain about was what we were defining as a civilization. I based my comments on the assumption that by civilization, we mean forming stable settlements, not necessarily the cultural developments that preceded that. But, it's possible that civilization here is being defined as a shift in culture, such as development of stone tools or cave paintings rather than a shift from a nomadic/migratory existence to a more permanent settlement centered around agriculture.

Are there indications of more permanent settlements pre-dating agriculture? Were there non-nomadic hunter-gatherers? If so, this would completely toss out my ideas about needing to stumble upon appropriate species for domestication (plant or animal) as critical for formation of civilizations.
 
  • #4
wolram
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Originally Posted by andre
If ancient H sapiens ~200 Kya, was anatomically similar to the modern version, how come that he apparently never seem to bother developing complicated civilisations, whilst the modern men needed only some 4-6 Kya to accomplish that.

Could it that there simply was not enough of them, and those that did exist,
"may be in small groups", defended there patch from intruders.
What was the life span back then 30, 40 yrs ?
An what about the gene pool ?
 
  • #5
Andre
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Hold it, my question was
If ancient H sapiens ~200 Kya, was anatomically similar to the modern version, how come that he apparently never seem to bother developing complicated civilisations.

Which would imply that we should be certain that he didn't do that in the first place. I simply challenged that. There seems to be no need to wait hundreds of thousands of years with domesticing stock, invent fire and/or the wheel, steel and concrete. But there must be evidence first before you can start up the scientific method.
 
  • #6
selfAdjoint
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If ancient H sapiens ~200 Kya, was anatomically similar to the modern version, how come that he apparently never seem to bother developing complicated civilisations.

Andre said:
Which would imply that we should be certain that he didn't do that in the first place. I simply challenged that. There seems to be no need to wait hundreds of thousands of years with domesticing stock, invent fire and/or the wheel, steel and concrete. But there must be evidence first before you can start up the scientific method.

It's not as if we don't have plenty of sites from these people. Maybe their fine arts didn't survive, but there are no domesticated animal bones, surely no trace of the wheel, or towns, and as I keep repeating the stone implements were crude and unchanging for thousands of years. You ain't going to turn that into a civilization by any real defnition.

Something happened to those people around 35,000 years ago that doesn't show up in their physical remains.
 
  • #7
Nereid
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How did permanent human settlements, of more than a dozen or so families, first form? When? Why?

As SA has already indirectly mentioned (and Moonbear directly), it seems to be related to domestication of plants and animals (hunter-gatherer social units needed - and still need - a fairly large territory to avoid starvation). That begs the question of what was domesticated (first), when, and how. One can also get a handle on this by looking at places where there never was (apparently) any domestication.

IIRC, at least one popular book explores the factors that lead to large settlements once domestication of plants (especially cereals) got going - it was a sad day (apparently it lead to social stratification, much more work, lower life expectancy, and so on), but once on the treadmill, the only 'way back' was population collapse (a.k.a. mass starvation).

So why did domestication take so long, even where all the conditions were favourable?

[edit: added attribution to Moonbear's post]
 
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  • #8
Andre
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Domestication, how? The easiest way would probably be caring for orphans. No knowledge about this but on Animal Planet TV, I’ve seen a lioness taking care of a baby gazelle under natural conditions. So what chances are there that a primitive females, who maybe just lost a baby, cared for a young orphan animal after a successful hunt?

the only 'way back' was population collapse (a.k.a. mass starvation). the only 'way back' was population collapse (a.k.a. mass starvation).

I believe that archaeology and history give an abundance of serious regressions. How many empires have collapsed? Olmecs, Inca, Phoenicians? How about the sea people, the dark middle ages, etc. What happened to the Moai Statue builders of Eastern island?

Have those statues or other features like that ever been dated? Now, this would seem to be useless in the past, since that would only reveal when the rock was formed. However, nowadays there are several dating methods that show exposure to light (opto-luminescence) or cosmogenic radio-activity, (10Be/26Al, 36Cl, etc). This could give an indication when the statues would have been sculpted.
 
  • #9
everneo
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Developing a civilization has something to do with the ability of the society of sustain the progress. A lot of factors like war, natural disasters, beliefs of the society etc could destabilize a budding civilization in its infancy. But it was also possible that an advanced civilization faced a calamity of largescale, their place forsaken and buried deep in the sands of time until someone discovers it.
 
  • #10
Andre
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Tales of children

everneo said:
But it was also possible that an advanced civilization faced a calamity of largescale, their place forsaken and buried deep in the sands of time until someone discovers it.

Curiously enough that discussion seems to be at least 2350 years old:

Plato

Whereas just when you and other nations are beginning to be provided with letters and the other requisites of civilized life, after the usual interval, the stream from heaven, like a pestilence, comes pouring down, and leaves only those of you who are destitute of letters and education; and so you have to begin all over again like children, and know nothing of what happened in ancient times, either among us or among yourselves. As for those genealogies of yours which you just now recounted to us, Solon, they are no better than the tales of children.

Not claiming anything but just pondering; haven't we seen the streams of heaven somewhere else?
 
  • #11
Nereid
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If it is domestication of at least some plants and animals (i.e. just domesticating one species may not be enough) is the prerequisite for permanent settlements of any significant size, which itself is a prerequisite for developing agriculture, then we've morphed Andre's question to something like "why did Homo sap. take so long to get around to domesticating {insert list here}?" where 'so long' is at least 50 k years, and maybe as many as 150 k years.

Perhaps there were climate triggers for domestication? Or that domestication wasn't possible with the animals and plants in Homo sap.'s home, so had to wait until enough members of the species migrated to locales where there was a favourable combo?
 
  • #12
Andre
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There are more variables though. How about fishing. Some river deltas could have yielded an abundance of fish around the year. The invention of the fishing net or another fishing device may have been the most important start of a more permanent settling.
 
  • #13
selfAdjoint
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Long term fishing communities are easy to spot, by the mounds of fish bones they have discarded over time. Unlike hunting communities, they can't move around, but are stuck at the shoreline features where coastal fish are found.
 
  • #14
Andre
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Sure, we have excellent and detailed examples here around the North Sea, especially Danmark, late Pleistocene. But it the problem is when paleo-sea levels appear to vary almost a kilometer (and not the nice 127 meters of the ice age), from ~700m down concerning the Cuban megalithic site, for what it is worth, to +150m for the South Chinese sea and Beijing <80 kya
 
  • #15
arildno
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selfAdjoint said:
Long term fishing communities are easy to spot, by the mounds of fish bones they have discarded over time. Unlike hunting communities, they can't move around, but are stuck at the shoreline features where coastal fish are found.
This is not wholly true, there exist exceptions to your for the most part correct rule:

At Iceland (and probably the Norse settlement in Greenland), they prepared the bones into a mush and ate them as well.
Thus, you find very few fish-bones there.
This is how they did it:
They made a large vat of milk in which fishbones were placed after they'd eaten the fish. After some time in the milk, the fishbones became soft and could be eaten.

It is a meager diet, but in a culture bordering on starvation, everything that can be eaten is eaten.
 
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  • #16
hypatia
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The first farming, appeared in [the Middle East ] the Fertile Crescent some 12,500 years ago, and shortly thereafter in China. These places had the greatest variety of wild plants and animals suitable for domestication. Only a tiny fraction of wild plants and animals were both useful and possible to domesticate.
Location may have something to do with it being possible to make a community, some areas of land simply did not have the types of grains and animals to experiment with.
 
  • #17
Andre
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Assuming that "12,500 years ago" is carbon date then it would convert to ~14,200 calendar years, putting it into the "Bolling Allerod stadial" or regional the African Wet Period, when the Sahara and Middle East were forested. I yet have to see the first paper explaining why the Hadley cell mechanism, which causes the deserts around the solstices, was not working in that period.
 
  • #18
hypatia
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I've not seen one either, I guess I have would assume there were too many changes going on with the earth for it to become stable enough for the cell to form. Or perhaps things like ElNinos were far to strong.
And of course, weather conditions, would have a role in what plants and animals could survive long enough to be domesticated.
 
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  • #19
Nereid
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Whether it's 12 kya, 14 kya, or even 30 kya, it's a very long time after Homo sap. arrived on the scene!

The Fertile Crescent and the major river valleys in China (Yellow, Yangtze) were places where there were both a major domesticable cereal (wheat/rye, rice) and several domesticable animals (goats, sheep, pigs). Perhaps there was also a nice climate window?

Maybe humans came 'late' to areas where there were both domesticable plants and animals? This may be so for the Americas, Australia (plus New Guinea), and many islands, but amh have been in Eurasia - certainly the 'good' parts - for a very long time, and they originated in Africa.

While there were permanent agricultural settlements in the New Guinea highlands a long time ago, there were none in Australia - it lacked the right plants and animals (amh arrived in both places long before the New World was peopled).

So the key question still seems to be - why did amh take so long to domesticate plants and animals in places where they could have done so (Ethiopia, West Africa, Fertile Crescent, major river valleys in south and east Asia)? Did the climates change too fast? Was there no 'magic combination' of factors anywhere in north Africa/Eurasia before ~15 kya?

Fishing is interesting - certainly the technology (barbed hooks, nets; maybe boats) seems to have been invented not long after amh arrived. Is there something 'missing' in fishing that is 'present' in agriculture? Some virtuous circle perhaps? e.g. something that allows a dozen generations of significant population growth (so trade networks and social hierarchies can get going among the much larger, cross-group dependent populations)? Maybe fishing communities are like islands - there are rather strong limits to growth?
 
  • #20
Andre
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Did the climates change too fast? Was there no 'magic combination' of factors anywhere in north Africa/Eurasia before ~15 kya?

Certainly there were. Hippos were supposed to be roaming the UK and The Netherlands during the so called http://members.cox.net/biome/EES142ClimaticOptima.html
 
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  • #21
selfAdjoint
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Andre said:
Certainly there were. Hippos were supposed to be roaming the UK and The Netherlands during the so called http://members.cox.net/biome/EES142ClimaticOptima.html


Sorry, the links you give were behind a pay wall. If it was about the ice ages of the holocene, of course they did. The unimaginative humans were in North Africa, and at this same time of course, the Neandertal humans were in Europe facing the ice. Their ranges overlapped in the Middle East. They may have interbred there, though that's contraversial.
 
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  • #22
Andre
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Not paid, Science magazine gives abstracts and older articles for free. Just get a free registration and a new world will open.
 
  • #23
Charles Brough
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I am puzzled as to why everyone agrees that it took a long time for mankind to discover agriculture and animal husbandry. For tens of thousands of years, man the hunter was successful and muliplied all over the world. He did not need to change faster.

Finally, however, a population crash threatened because he had been such a good hunter he had exterminated most of the species he lived off of. So, agricultural and animal husbandry technology were developed. We are a resourceful species.

We then experienced some 6-7,000 more years before the rise of the Egyptian and Sumerian societies and civilizations. Before that, we lived in communes. Some were large, such as Jerico, but none of them had the rich culture achieved by the well-organized, stratified societies of those two civilizations.

So why did they arise? Because the communes became unwieldy as they grew in size. There emphasis was on the feminine fertility principle and the egalitarian way led to a growing chaos. There was growing disorder. They could not rise disciplined armies, store food for lean times, organized fortifications. They lacked great leaders.

The Egyptian and Sumerican system was based upon patriarchal monogamy. That was passed on to India and China which then also developed civilizations. The Greeks and romans also and later on. To be nostalgic about the loss of the egalitarian communal system is just regression. Karl Marx tried to make that backward longing into science. It is regression. Our secular system also tries to negate it.

Even so, civilization itself depends entirely upon the building up of heirarchies.

Unfortunately, however, since we are not a monogamous species, the patriarchal monogamous heirarchal societies are cursed with a cyclical nature. They begin with idealism and then eventually grow pathological and finally collapse.

Ours in on its last leg!

charles



So,
 
  • #24
matthyaouw
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I believe that necessity may have been one major factor in developing civilisation. Lets say that x hunter gatherers can be supported on x acres of land. If 10x hunter gatherers were to occupy 10x acres of land, it could support them in isolated groups, each with a small home range, but if they were to live together in one settlement, the ease of gathering food would decrease, as they would have to travel further and further to capture their prey. This would serve to keep groups small, as less effort would be required to survive. Supposing groups had relatively little interaction (maybe due to isolation, maybe due to competition between groups), new techology and ideas would be slow to spread, if they spread at all.
As long as the wild herds etc are sufficient to sustain the populations, the hunter-gatherer lifestyle would persist, and it is only after the human population became too big, or the food sources too depleted, that domestication & cultivation would be nessecary.
 
  • #25
Andre
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Let's say that the well known archeologic evidence of Europe and North Asia from the last 40,000 years does not support those large scales. There are only a few remains of settlements on the wealthy megafauna steppes. Intensive investigation of the North sea area, especially around Danmark supports that small scale.
 
  • #26
matthyaouw
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Apologies, I wasn't aware of evidence for population density at that time.
Could you point me towards anywhere where i could read up on this?
 
  • #27
Andre
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Sure, the literature that should back my statements:

Submarine prehistoric archaeology of the North Sea: research priorities and collaboration with industry
Edited by N. C. Flemming
CBA Research Report 141 (2004) English Heritage/Council for British Archaeology
ISBN 1 902771 46 X

last book here: http://www.britarch.ac.uk/pubs/prehist.html [Broken]

Articles:
http://www.cq.rm.cnr.it/elephants2001/pdf/363_366.pdf [Broken]
http://www.cq.rm.cnr.it/elephants2001/pdf/718_721.pdf [Broken]
http://www.cq.rm.cnr.it/elephants2001/pdf/714_717.pdf [Broken]

Last sentence of the last one:

Thus, we have no evidence to suggest that human hunting pressure
had a significant, effect on Siberian mammoth populations.

huge site: http://archaeology.miningco.com/
 
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  • #28
Charles Brough
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It seems some are happy to regard agricultural villages as "civilization." The standard seems to be that if people gave up nomadic life and settled stable villages, they had become "civilized." Well, I do have to admit that it would be hard to base civilization on a nomadic way of life!

However, it would also be hard to base it on stone tool technology and a culture without writing!

People who read world history generally gain the impression that "civilization" started with the likes of the Egyptians and Mesopotamians. The Greek-Romans, the Chinese and the Hindus all had similar systems and were all, certainly, civilizations. It seems a travesty to me to include the burrow-building European fishermen society of more than 5,000 years ago as "civilization." It is a sort of insult to the Egyptians and Sumerians-Babylonians!

Besides, the civilizations mentioned above were all based upon a new and revolutionary social system which, indeed, was what made their progress, their civilization, possible. They were set up as the first patriarchal-monogamous social systems. Ever since, every civilization has been based on that same system.

charles
http://humanpurpose.simplenet.com [Broken]
 
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  • #29
EnumaElish
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arildno said:
At Iceland (and probably the Norse settlement in Greenland), they prepared the bones into a mush and ate them as well. [...] It is a meager diet, but in a culture bordering on starvation, everything that can be eaten is eaten.
I believe that the demise of the first European settlers in Iceland and in North America shows how difficult it was to maintain a cultured life in a new land even as an "extension" of already existing cultures.
 
  • #30
EnumaElish
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Charles Brough said:
Unfortunately, however, since we are not a monogamous species
Speak for your species, Charles.
the patriarchal monogamous heirarchal societies are cursed with a cyclical nature. They begin with idealism and then eventually grow pathological and finally collapse.

Ours in on its last leg!
You are confusing explanation with prediction. History is a unique science that can produce eloquent explanations and it should stick to them, lest it will try to become prophetic and fail.

Of course, this is only a prediction.
 
  • #31
arildno
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EnumaElish said:
I believe that the demise of the first European settlers in Iceland and in North America shows how difficult it was to maintain a cultured life in a new land even as an "extension" of already existing cultures.
I think you meant Greenland, rather than Iceland!
It is true that Irish monks preceded the Norsemen in establishing colonies at Iceland; however, these monkish societies cannot really be regarded as settlers since there were no women there; it was simply a retreat for middle-aged monks.
When the Norsemen came, these were killed/enslaved, and hence, the demise of the independent Irish colonies was due to warfare, rather than starvation. (celtic blood, however, is quite present in modern-day Icelandic lineages, due to the extensive (ab-)use of Irish thralls in Viking societies).


As for why the settlement at Greenland died out, the theory most favoured today is the following:
1. The main commercial product from Greenland was walrus teeth.
2. There was no forest on Greenland, and not wealth enough there to support indigenous merchants.

Hence, the Greenlanders were completely dependent upon the circumstance that Icelandic merchants took the hazardous journey to Greenland to trade (the Greenlanders would get livestock and other types of products they couldn't produce themselves)

Therefore, as the European interest in walrus teeth declined after the Great Plague (1348-1349), no Icelandic merchant bothered to take the journey, and the colony of Greenlanders withered away.
(I think our last reference to the population there is from the early 15th century)
 
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  • #32
EnumaElish
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Charles Brough said:
Unfortunately, however, since we are not a monogamous species
How does one come up with this statement in a social science forum? Why not also exclaim:

"We" are not a childless species
"We" are a rural species
"We" are a species that do not live in the basement
"We" are a moviegoing species
"We" are not a drinking species
"We" are a driving species
...

P.S. Thank you, iansmith.
 
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  • #33
EnumaElish
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"We" are not an equestrian species.
"We" are a species that rein the horse with one hand only.
 
  • #34
loseyourname
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He has a point, though, Enuma. It could just be that humans never developed civilization for such a long time because they had no reason to. They were perfectly happy living as hunter/gatherers. Not that I know anything about the psychological states of pre-historic man, but it seems to be a possibility that no one is even considering.
 
  • #35
EnumaElish
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They were perfectly happy living as hunter/gatherers. Not that I know anything about the psychological states of pre-historic man, but it seems to be a possibility that no one is even considering.
You mean, some were happy as h/g, those who weren't happy were gently nudged by the alpha male to fall in line or else.

Meanwhile, the high point of alpha male's every fourth day was finding six more edible seeds than the usual handful in pachyderm excrement.

But, I am digressing. You were saying ... what, exactly?
 

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