Cultural Evolution and
I. Cultural Evolutionary Advances
development of complex technology depended upon the advances of Upper
Paleolithic tools. These included implements for individual tasks (e.g.,
a variety of stone tools for different purposes), tools of multiple
materials (e.g., carved wood, baskets and woven bags, bone), and compound
tools that combined several different materials (e.g., stone and bone/wood
harpoons and sickles). Most were used to procure natural resources for
food or clothing. Others to transport these materials from the point of
origin to the place of consumption. And still others for cooking or the
chemical transformation of natural materials into forms that could be used
for other purposes, e.g., adhesives or dyes.
technological devises, which were developed in the Upper Paleolithic,
became the bases for more complex tools of subsequent periods Neolithic,
Bronze, and Iron Ages.
course we have examined, and will continue to do so, those forces
natural and cultural that can change the environment. From a cultural
perspective we must consider:
1. Technological Developments
a. Efficient Tools
tools that conserve human energy when they are used, those that conserve
natural material when they are made, and those that are most effective to
procure natural resources.
b. Fire could be
used to transform natural products, e.g., cooking food, or changing the
composition of material, e.g., clay to pottery, or e.g., ore to metal.
Fire can also be used to transform the natural environment.
2. Domestication of Plants and
and animals are artifacts. Humans for the purposed they desire determine
their form. Humans select the necessary genetic changes. Domesticated
plants and animals are dependent upon humans for breeding, for their care,
and in short for their vary survival. Domesticated organisms allowed
people to predict where they would be found and in what quantity. They
reduced the risk of failure or low return during food quests.
3. Complex Social Organizations
There are many forms
of social organization. Each organizes human populations for different
tasks, for the resolution of disputes, and for providing services
essential for particular ways of life.
Kinship is the basis
of organization for the smallest population units. It is augmented by
people from within the group with particular skills, e.g., hunting or
mid-wives, experiences, often based on age.
classify social organizations many different ways. One simple way is to
use population size and institutional functions that support it.
BANDS. These are
the smallest units of population (10-50) that reside together but usually
on the move from one patch of plant and animal foods to another. The
basic economic mode is hunting and gathering. Most social functions
relate to subsistence, social continuity (marriage, socialization), and
physical and spiritual well being. There is no overarching authority or
even permanent leaders. Disputes or feuds are often resolved by simply
moving away from another family.
TRIBES. These are
larger population units (up to 500) that reside together most of a year.
Kinship is still the basis of social life but many families may live
together. Integration is achieved by special task groups drawn from
related families, e.g., clans, or sodalities that cross-cut families to
assure group survival, e.g., hunt or war societies. The economic base
depends to a major part or agriculture or a domesticated landscape,
gatherers who manage extensive stands of wild plants to assure a minimal
level of production. Leaders emerge from kin groups but depend
appreciably on achievement to benefit society.
CHIEFDOMS. Chiefs hold inherited positions that distinguish them as superior to
others in the population. Chiefs hold together groups of several thousand
permanent residents. The chiefs often have important religious functions
to assure crop production and good health in the community. The economy
is based on agriculture but also managed products from different
ecological areas within the dominion of the chiefdom. The chief and his
associates redistribute these products. Special symbols are used to
distinguish the ranks of people and the respect they deserve. Some of
these are exotic goods that are reserved for higher ranked individuals
organize large numbers of people, many from different ethic groups, and
effect internal tranquility through permanent institutions. These
include a legal system, standing army, taxation, currency, craft
specialists, markets, and bureaucracy. The geo-political area is often
very large and ecologically diverse. Although cities may be present,
other sized residential units are also occupied, especially those that
provide special products for the market, e.g., firewood.
EMPIRES. These are
large units of millions of people that have been able to conquer other
states. Their geographic hold can be intercontinental.
B. Responses to Constellations of
When we examine complex
societies (Chiefdoms, States, Empires), we find that they usually respond
to a constellation of drives, e.g., several simultaneously. In some
situations we will find a single driver is important but it is usually a
catastrophic event natural (volcano, El Nino, drought) or cultural
(world war, nuclear event).
1. Increased Population. There are many
reasons for population expansion and in the terms of this course the
drivers include technological change, the security of new (exotic) crops,
and social organization to accommodate the new people.
2. Globalized Biodiversity. The drivers of
this post-AD 1500 environmental change are new technology for transoceanic
navigation and transportation, exploration and colonization sponsored by
empires, the deliberate introduction of new plants and animals, and the
accidental arrival of weeds, insect and animal pests (rats and mice), and
3. Anthropogenic Ecosystems.
Several drivers enabled the globe to become a mosaic of anthropogenic
ecosystems (human configured and controlled landscapes). These included
fire, the technological means to clear forests, dependence upon
domesticated plants and animals, and social organization to link expanding
or colonizing groups together.
CASE STUDY: Prehistoric Forest Clearance in
The Elm Decline this radical
change in forest cover ca. 500 years ago was noted in pollen records
across northern Europe more than a half century ago. The prehistoric
people who ocupied the area at the time were farmers who possessed
Neolithic technology domesticated plants
and animals that originated in the Near East, new tools in the form of
ground stone ax to clear large trees, and pottery to cook grain and meat.
Once the loss of elm forest cover was correlated with climatic change to
Atlantic/Sub Boreal cool and wet period as the cause but no more.
More recent pollen records from across
Europe reveal that this event did not happen simultaneously and is
difficult to correlate with a single climatic cause. From France to
Scotland forest change occurred from 5000 to 3000 years ago as a wave
rather than a single event.
In Denmark the idea was proposed that the
elm decline resulted from pasturalists cutting branches to feed nutritious
leaves to cattle.
A closer examination of the pollen records
reveals that as the elm pollen declined there were many more herbaceous
(weed) pollen types and cereal grain pollens than before the decline. The
explanation is that the elm decline is a result of farmers clearing the
forest extensively to plant grain and to raise animals in the fallow land
that became pastures. This has been the prevailing interpretation of the
pollen diagrams from Europe. They reflect the emergence of extensive
anthropogenic ecosystems and a transformed landscape.
Now some argue for Dutch Elm
Disease as the cause of the elm decline. There is some tantalizing
evidence but from most sites spores from the fungal agent or damaged wood
are absent. This hypothesis remains to be substantiated.
4. Human System Maladaptation
All human interactions with the environment
are not beneficial in the long run. Humans can use many drivers to adapt
to the land but find they cannot sustain a successful way of life over
time. The results can be studied best in colonized habitats.
Easter Island was contacted by Dutch
explorer Jacob Roggeveen in 1722. His crew found a barren volcanic island
of 64 square miles surrounded by the sea. There were virtually no trees
and agricultural production was marginal. The inhabitants were miserable
starving, fighting, living in caves. Yet there were some 200 standing
carved volcanic statues (moai) 2-10 meters tall, 20-50 tons; on
platforms and some had heavy red stone hair caps. What they had to do
with the residents was a mystery to them. Only 4 leaky, 10 foot canoes
that not seaworthy served for transportation and kept the 2000 inhabitants
bound to their impoverished land.
The misery continued in 1774 when Captain
Cook arrived. He found all statues already uprooted and the population
had declined to 630.
What do archaeologists tell us?
By using plant and animal
remains, pollen, and artifacts, archaeologists can reconstruct past
environments and human lifeways. People arrived by large sea-going canoes
(cataman-like) ca. AD 400. Some speculate that just a few boats arrived
with a small founding population of 40-50 people. Their language,
artifacts, DNA points to Polynesians from Marquesas in the eastern Pacific
as the source of the original population. The island was forested with
80 tall Chilean palm trees, other trees with some yielding quantities of
bark for rope, many land based nesting birds. Very fertile land was a
paradise for growing taro, bananas, sweet potatoes, and sugarcane they
brought. They carried chickens with them and inadvertently Polynesian
AD 400-800 They cleared the land to
grow taro and other food but needed protein from porpoises and seabirds
procured with boats made from the palm logs. Their population grew and
the island provided bountiful harvests. To organize the population, they
imposed the religious and social organization ideas they brought with
AD 1200-1500 Complex Chiefdom evolved with
extensive resource redistribution across island. Clan rivalry expressed
itself with ever larger moai.
started doubling each century 0.3% per year or =
developing countries; some claim 20,000 but more likely 7000-10000 maximum.
statues some 200 using log sleds pushed over rollers to sea-facing
ceremonial locations where they erected them on platforms. This was
an island activity with human labor and simple tools, not the works
of South American Indians or extraterrestrial beings with lasers to
quarry stone! As some archaeologists have claimed.
AD 1500 Ecological destruction
underway- forests gone; no palm for
Stone quarries abandoned leaving some 700
unfinished; no new
No porpoise meat because no wood to build
seaworthy boats. Warfare prevailed with weapons abundant in the
archaeological record. Warriors became social leaders in place of the
heredity chiefs of old. Human fertility down with little food and chickens
and rats the main protein.
AD 1680 Biodiversity gone no insects, no
land birds, seabird breeding ground decimated , forest destroyed (people
cut, burned, and pollinators gone), soil eroded to degree it would not
Food shortage cannibalism, no porpoises,
birds decline, eat rats, famine
Population crash: 1722=2,000; 1774=630;
1877=150 (small pox brough by sailors added to woes)
As an example of systemic maladaptation.
Eastern Islanders did not correct practices on the landscape as they
progressively destroyed it and their culture. Lesson: ecological overshoot
exceeded carrying capacity of land and could not reverse it. Degraded
environment, famine, warfare, social collapse, and population decline.
Norse arrived from Iceland ca. AD 985 as
herders, farmers and resource traders (ivory and hides). The climate
Medieval warm ca. AD 800-1250 5-6 degrees warmer enabled successful
farming and open sea navigation.
The colonizing Norse experienced and
successful adaptation to the environment and a cultural Peak 1000-1260.
They were part of regional economic system that allowed them to stay
economically and socially connected to other Norse settlements. Colonists
owned land and had slaves to help work. Overall they were part of a
political hierarchy that did not include the colonists at the top but they
were quite comfortable according to the sagas and archaeological evidence.
Population expansion to some 5,000 allowed
new settlements up West Coast of Greenland. By AD 1000 some had tried to
Then things changed in the face of
climatic change designated the Little Ice Age AD 1250-1500. Summers were
shorter and colder. Social order economic system broke down. Farmers lost
land because of debt to absent landlord-client system. Stressed economic
life in all phases sailing became difficult with more sea ice and farming
was problematic on low fertility and eroded land. Their economic crisis
led to loss of local decision-making. Evidence from beetles and insects
indicate that hay for livestock was of poor quality. Starvation was at
hand and they were forced to eat the last of their cattle and hunting
dogs, which they needed to hunt caribou.
AD 1300 Norse kept trying to live a
traditional life and died out through starvation and migration..
Cold conditions limited farming and pack ice
Cultural system maladapted for adapting to
severe climatic change.
AD 1350 abandoned Greenland.
However, a model existed for them to cope
with these changing conditions. By way of culture contrast Inuit Thule
Eskimos also lived in western Greenland.
They used same area but had technology to
hunt deep-sea resources baleen whales and holes in sea ice for seals and
fish skin clothing, harpoons rejected by the Norse helped they to
II. Evidence for
Global Environmental Change
When discussing the past or time series trends, scientific evidence is
required to substantiate any claims. This is particularly true to
comprehend climatic changes that can be imperceptible to the average
person. Beyond written records, evidence commonly derives from two
sources biological and ice cores. With the exception of tree rings that
can yield precise annual dates about precipitation, most biological
evidence is relatively dated and is not precise enough to monitor actual
events. Ice cores, on the other hand, for the most part consist of ice
varves that can be counted backwards and give reliable calendrical dates
for climatic events.
A. Biological Evidence
pollen, paleontological plant and animal fossils, and archaeological date
of plants and animal remains. Together these can be used to reconstruct
B. Ice Cores are drilled from
glaciers or major accumulations of ice. The individual carves can be
examined with precise instruments to identify and to measure the amount of
gases trapped in the ice, isotopes of oxygen to measure temperatures, and
aerosol dust. Ice core results can be compared from many global
11,900 or 420,000 years Summit and Dyes 3, Greenland back to 110,000
years Peru, Bolivia, China, Russia
Ice cores demonstrate numerous
temperature fluctuations. Most cultures actually adapted to these
fluctuations land use, trade, redistribution, migration.
Confirmation of Rapid Climatic Change
Younger Dryas ca. 11,000-10,000 years
ago. This severe cold interrupted the post-glacial melting phase. It was
first recognized in pollen records but the ice core evidence is more
precise and narrows the beginning and termination to a few decades at
most. The ice cores from Greenland reveal that climate can change rapidly.
Cold glacial melt water from the Great Lakes
flowed out St. Lawrence into the North America and covered warm salt water
in North Atlantic. Shut down and changed position of conveyor belt
bringing warm, tropical water North.
Ice cores reveal many
temperature fluctuations that could stress a cultural system if they
persist for several years. Some were known from other sources but the ice
cores add new evidence.
Mesa Verde, Colorado. Decades ago
dendrochronology (tree ring dating) revealed that a major drought existed
in this region between AD 1276-AD 1298. Ice cores also suggest that the
temperature was reduced because of the Little Ice Age. This double
climatic situation stressed high elevation farming and led to final
abandonment of the area as solution. The inhabitants migrated to
better-watered areas in northern New Mexico
Akkadian civilization in Middle East faced
2200BC severe warm period.
Maya in Peten, Guatemala, AD 800 faced a
cold, dry period culture on edge and such an event could have stressed
this civilization further leading to migration and political turmoil.
CASE STUDY : Greek/Roman Metallurgy (500
Ice cores show first anthropogenic pollution
with lead and copper dust in the ice from metallurgy during Roman and
Greek times. Removal of silver from lead ore cupellation led to
atmospheric pollution of a measurable quantity.
Industrial Revolution detectable in
Greenland ice cores. Here can witness rise of lead in gasoline as driving
became more frequent. The core also shows its reduction with the
systematic elimination of leaded gas.
||Lead deposition at
Summit (central Greenland) over the last 30,000 years. R.J. Delmas
and M. Legrand, 1998
Other changes in the core reveal the
beginning of the Industrial Revolution beginning ca. 1790 and major
industrial pollution starting ca. 1900
Ice cores record Global environmental
changes volcanoes that impacted weather
Remember Global Anthropogenic Environmental
changes are recent and happen after the Industrial Revolution.
III. Global Change Consequences
A. Anthropogenic Environmental Changes
If we examine the human impact
on the environment through biological and ice core records, it is quite
minimal until two centuries ago. Prior to that we find no human produced
change until Homo sapiens entered Australia and used hunting and
fire to transform the biodiversity. With agriculture as the major mode of
subsistence after 10,000 years ago in the Middle East, we get evidence for
land clearance and the creation of patchy habitats. Human dominance of
the global biodiversity begins ca. AD 1500 with the intercontinental
exchange of exotic food plants and animals and other biological
organisms. Hints of potential changes in atmospheric chemistry begin with
silver metallurgy by the Greeks but it becomes global in scale with the
Industrial Revolution and continues to today.
B. Population Trends over Time
Human population growth was
very slow until 10,000 years ago. Prior to then we are concerned with
migrations by Homo erectus to tropical and warm temperate regions
outside Africa. In the Old World we have the beginnings of plant and
animal domestication, improved subsistence security, and sedentary living
to help store food surpluses. As the population grew society became more
complex. The social organization of empires fostered and new
technology fostered colonization and the global spread of non-native
foods. These permitted agriculture in previously marginal land and after
AD 1500 in Asia and Africa we get new population explosions.
for this lecture.
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