Re: Intercourse /vs/ Offspring

Gerold Firl (
12 Dec 1996 21:11:40 GMT

In article <58oe0d$>, Douglas Kihn) writes:

|> I'm an historian and a
|> wanna-be-an-anthropologist-someday. My anthro research is not very
|> extensive, but this is something I intend to remedy over the next
|> couple of years.

I too am an anthro amateur; if the proper study of man is man, then
this is the place to be.

|> I certainly do not intend to imply that our pre-historical
|> ancestors lived in a Golden Age. Life was very tough and short - no
|> anti-biotics, no modern surgery, no agriculture to assure adequate food
|> supply. But culturally, to us, some aspects may appear to have been
|> golden. That's simply because the times we live in are so socially
|> disjointed and uncomfortable (but absolutely neccessary for the advance
|> of technology), and I don't believe evolution prepared us physically or
|> emotionally to live in class society for more than 6,000 years.

As wilson has persuasively argued, in _on human nature_, 99% of our
evolutionary background was formed within the hunter-gatherer
environment. That is still the lifestyle for which our instincts are
best adapted. Hunter-gatherers will resist giving up their way of life
for sedentary agriculture, and not just because of cultural
conservatism; in many ways quality of life, at equivalent technological
levels, is higher for H-G than for agriculture.

|> As late as the last century, it was generally believed in
|> scientific circles that women were merely repositories for sperm, which
|> supposedly carried the entire genetic potential.

Hard to tell how seriously such claims should be taken; surely stock
breeders who sought to maximise dairy production were aware that the
female line contributed just as much as the male.

|> It's quite easy to
|> visualize pre-technological people being mislead on this, especially
|> considering the incest taboo.

Can you explain the connection?

|> The incest taboo is the only sexual
|> taboo which is biologically and evolutionarily necessary - necessary to
|> expand the gene pool and resist parasites. In order to be successful,
|> people in clans must breed with strangers from other clans, especially
|> in nomadic societies. Does the evidence not indicate that our
|> ancestors were larely nomadic?

Depends on the environment, and what you mean by nomadic.

Prime sites were continuously inhabited for centuries; some shell
middens are immense. Of course, at different seasons of the year,
different locations might be optimal. Sort of like having a summer
house at martha's vineyard, and a winter residence in miami. Is that

It's estimated that the paleoindians of the southeast coast lived at
extremely low population densities; maybe a few hundred people in all
of north carolina, for example. They might shift location a few times
a year, depending on where the food was, climatic factors such as
temperature, humidity, and precipitation, and maybe even comfort
factors such as the presence of biting insects. I don't call that
nomadic, however.

|> A nomadic existence is precarious without animal husbandry.

The classic example of nomadism is the semi-arid steppe, where herds
must be moved to maintain sufficient pasturage. However, there is also
the example of the indonesian sea nomads, who live in their boats.
Then there is the example of the plains indians, after the
introduction of horses. They lived by hunting the buffuloe. Animal
husbandry can be very symbiotic with nomadism, but I'm not sure that
it's all that necessary. We could look at domestication as a pale
imition of the nomadic hunting life, analogous to the view of
agriculture as a grubby, shabby imitation of gathering.

|> our ancestors looking for food all day, then bringing it back to the
|> collective and dividing it up. Hand-to-mouth. I suspect that most of
|> the pre-tecnological peoples we are privileged to study are sedentary
|> or semi-sedentary. Which means some measure of success at food
|> gathering, and therefore often the beginnings of social stratification.
|> Therefore the beginnings of private ownership of children and sexual
|> rules that are not biologically necessary. What think you all?

Keep in mind that most H-G peoples today have been pushed off the
prime lands onto very marginal territories. Imagine the H-G lifestyle
on the nile or ganges, where a huge variety of food supplies were
plentiful. The quality of the cro-magnon cave art implies a pretty
high standard of living. Most H-G peoples around today don't bother to
store much food, because they know they can get it whenever they want
it. On the average, only a few hours per day are needed for
subsistance, allowing significant amounts of leisure time.

Take a look at turnbulls _the forest people_ for a wonderful portrait
of the H-G way of life among the mbuti pygmies.

|> Some questions to better-informed anthropologists than I. . .
|> Before 4500 BCE in Europe and the Near East:
|> 1. Were people (including men and women) buried in egalitarian graves?
|> 2. Were female fertility figures produced in all times and places?
|> 3. Were no fortifications built?
|> 4. Is there any evidence of male war gods being worshiped?
|> 5. Is there physical evidence that women waited any length of time
|> before getting pregnant in order to PREVENT overpopulation?

Good questions; I don't have my references here, but on the subject of
the female fertility figures I believe that they are found over most
of eurasia, though not in the far west. As I recall, they are absent
from the european atlantic coast.

Disclaimer claims dat de claims claimed in dis are de claims of meself,
me, and me alone, so sue us god. I won't tell Bill & Dave if you won't.
=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=---- Gerold Firl @ ..hplabs!hp-sdd!geroldf