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What humans were doing for 200k years?

  1. Dec 9, 2012 #1
    if the first known human fossil is 200k years old why the earliest known human civilisation is just few thousand years old? Why there was no reasonable developments for a very large time like 190k years?
  2. jcsd
  3. Dec 9, 2012 #2
    It is not possible to know what factors that led to human civilization. One main factor would be development of agriculture (ability to grow our own food) which helped us to settle down in various parts of the world.

  4. Dec 9, 2012 #3

    jim mcnamara

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    Some bad environmental changes occurred during that period. Glaciation.
    Places that were not under ice had different climates then than now. The Sahara desert was not dry like it is now.

    For part of the time humans were dying off and migrating away from the last Ice Age.
    Things began to thaw about 11000BCE, and human populations began to recover afterward. As mentioned above, agriculture is a requisite for "reasonable developments". Most known artifacts of early human agriculture are pretty recent -- after the last Ice Age.
  5. Dec 9, 2012 #4


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    For most of that period, humans existed in hunter-gatherer societies. The formation of civilizations required a number of technological developments (e.g. agriculture, domestication of animals) that not only required time to develop, but also the right geographical circumstances. Jared Diamond's book Guns, Germs, and Steel discusses how these factors allowed for civilizations to develop in some places in the world (Eurasia) but not others (Africa and the Americas).
  6. Dec 9, 2012 #5


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    Spear points made 500,000 years ago have been found.



    Grinding stones for other substances have been dated 40,000 years ago.
    Last edited: Dec 9, 2012
  7. Dec 9, 2012 #6
    Are we talking about technology or civilization?

    Agriculture and animal husbandry allowed us to grow our own food. People have to work together in keep herds of animals together.

    Many large communities feed themselves through fishing. Fishing is often associated with high technology. Fishing was probably a large incentive toward technological development even during the last ice age.

    The major thing that changed is the end of the last ice age. Then agriculture, and husbandry became possible. However, some of the infrastructure for civilization started during the last ice age through fishing.

    The Clovis people developed a rich culture during the last ice age. Presumably, they developed it through fishing. They probably didn't have animal husbandry or agriculture.
  8. Dec 10, 2012 #7
    Another theory I read recently was that the limit was population density. Hunter-gatherers lived in small, widely spaced groups, making it harder for new ideas to spread. Once the population density of an area reached a level where groups met frequently, rather than just through traveling individuals, cultural and technological changes spread more rapidly. This, in turn, may have led to the development of "civilization", at least partly by the need for better conflict-resolution methods.

    For what it's worth, "civilization" originally meant "living in cities", which requires high population densities, at least locally. Of course, in modern usage, it's possible to be civilized without urban areas.
  9. Dec 10, 2012 #8

    Andy Resnick

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    Mostly they were spending all their time on social networks.
  10. Dec 10, 2012 #9
    thx all for your replies!

    haha...very funny:rofl:

    by this http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Timeline_of_historic_inventions i see the number of inventions are exponential for every 3k years...does it mean people are becoming exponentialy intelligent?ofcourse thats just a speculation!
  11. Dec 10, 2012 #10


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    Hunting/gathering is a very inefficient means of procuring food, so it is incapable of sustaining large, immobile societies. The development of animal husbandry and agriculture greatly increased the efficiency with which societies could produce food, allowing for larger population densities. More importantly, the increased efficiency of food production also enabled specialization. As only a small fraction of the population needed to work for food production, agrarian societies could dedicate a larger amount of the population toward non-food-producing pursuits such as government or science.

    This is of course a great simplification of what happened, but I think it offers a better explanation for the greater rates of technological innovation in agrarian societies versus nomadic societies than your population density argument.
  12. Dec 10, 2012 #11
    Ygggdrasil: Your point about hunter-gather cultures being unable to support large populations is quite true, and actually fits with the theory I mentioned, which wasn't actually my idea. If relatively dense populations are required for rapid advancement, H-G societies would be incapable of such advancement, both because of limited population (fewer people to have ideas, less free time to develop them), and because of limited contacts (each group would have to develop their own ideas, rather than borrowing from others).
  13. Dec 11, 2012 #12
    No, No No.... they were learning to make beer.

    Civilization all started when they developed a method to make a consistent brew.

    Then reasoned out that if they replanted the bigger grains, the field would produce more.

    ( modern agriculture - domestication of wheat )

    then some had to stay and protect the crop from herbivores, and while passing time, built a more permament shelter ( early villages )

    Plus a better method of storing the grain, and bigger vessels to brew and store it in (pottery)

    and then hunter gatherers came to barter for the beer, so the village expanded and planted more ( trade routes developed. )
  14. Dec 11, 2012 #13
    Jeannvk: That's probably at least partly true, as every culture ever to develop grain-based agriculture made beer from the grain, and apparently from the very beginning of the culture. Not only is beer fun to drink, but brewing it sterilizes the (often unsafe) water, and the yeast adds vitamins that aren't found in the grain.

    Whiskey making in Appalachia started for much the same reason. The settlers west of the mountains could grow a lot of corn, but it was hard to ship to the cities on the east side. Barrels of whiskey were easier to ship, and sold for more money, so they turned the corn into moonshine.
  15. Dec 12, 2012 #14
    Partially true. Alcoholic beverages made agriculture more practical.

    One couldn't become fully dependent on agriculture unless one had a way to preserve the food over the winter, spring and summer. You could supplement your diet using agriculture, but it wouldn't pay to become a full time farmer unless the food could be preserved.

    Alcoholic beverages can be kept for a long time. The alcohol kills microorganisms that would destroy the food. Of course, the alcohol also kills pathogens. So adding it to food protects one from food poisoning, somewhat. So they also make it possible to settle near water sources that aren't clean.

    Note that alcoholic beverages would be more important as a way to preserve food then as a recreational drug. If you want a recreational drug, opium and marijuana are probably much better to cultivate. So the humorous implication of your comment is a little bit wrong.

    Actually, I am not sure anymore. Were poppies and hemp cultivated earlier or later then food crops? Don't hunters and gatherers have their own recreational drugs which don't need cultivation? I know that some American Indians were smoking tobacco without cultivating it.
  16. Dec 12, 2012 #15


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    They drank beer for thousands of years because it was often the only safe source of "water". It wasn't strong beer and even children drank it in many cultures.
  17. Dec 12, 2012 #16
    Cannabis doesn't have to be cultivated. It grows very nicely on its own. Also, the original wild variety really wasn't much good as a recreational drug. It would make you a little mellow, but that was about it.
  18. Dec 13, 2012 #17


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    We should bear in mind that for a long time beer was fermented by naturally-occurring yeasts in the air. It is quite likely that the "bottom" (sediment) from such beers became the preferred leavening agent for the first risen breads. I like flat-breads, but after a few millenia of that, it must have been nice to have had access to some risen breads that were crusty and dependably chewy, not to mention long-lived and portable. Some of these developments in food-production were probably quite pivotal to allowing people to move longer distances and provision themselves during their travels.
  19. Dec 13, 2012 #18


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    Humans were brought to the brink of extinction about 70k years ago by the Toba supervolcano eruption. Chances are, that also erased whatever prior cultural advancements that had been achieved. A series of ice ages thereafter did little to improve the human condition until the end of the last ice age about 11,000 years ago. When you are fighting day to day for your next meal, pondering 'big' issues is not a priority. Writing did not emerge until around 7000 years ago, when priveleged members of society had the luxury of not worrying about their next meal. Knowledge that did not impart essential survival skills did not persist prior to that time. Humans have done a remarkable job of archiving knowledge since then.
  20. Dec 13, 2012 #19
    Turbo: I hadn't thought of that. I knew that beer and bread yeasts were basically the same varieties, but hadn't made the connection to leavened bread. Interesting thought.

    Chronos: The Toba eruption definitely had an impact, but the Ice Ages shouldn't have been an issue for humans in tropical and subtropical regions. Even the southern US had a temperate climate during the worst of them, and Africa was arguably better off than today.
  21. Dec 14, 2012 #20
    Uhm, I hope I'll be able to add something to the discussion. As far as I know, a society relies almost completely on specialists for the development of civilization (let's just pretend that technolical progress equals civilization development). The specialists are the people who are contributing to thier societies in a very specific way (as blacksmiths, warriors, priests, etc.), and often rely on other classes for their daily needs.

    My point is that for the hunter-gatherer societies (we still have a few to check on), there are no specialists, the reason being, as already said, population density and nomadic way of life. When you live in a small group of hunters, no one needs to be goverened (conflicts are resolved in a "friendly" manner), and everybody should know how to get provision for the group, otherwise you're a drag.

    Therefore, the question of "why hunter-gatherer societies didn't become technologically advanced over the past 200k years?" can be reduced to "so what stopped them from settling down?". And the answer to that one could be the huge amount of meat walking about for the past millennia (well, now I'm just openly quoting Diamond here).

    Disclamer: my major is far from humanities, so if I'm bending the facts, please do hit me with something heavy, preferably a text reference :)

    Offtopic-ish edit: Also, it would be very cool to write a heroic fantasy setting taking part directly before the Toba catastrophe. I think I now have an idea for a D&D campaign.
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