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Hunters Must Have Been Smart, They Invented Agriculture: A Review of Jack Brink's "Imagining Head-Smashed-In" and George Frison's "Survival By Hunting"
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February 1, 2011
4:47 am
First-Eater
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February 22, 2010
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One of the primary conceits of history is that nothing happened before agriculture. The Great Leap Forward! Between the Tigris and the Euphrates, the cradle of civilization! Page 1 of any sixth-grade world history textbook.

And before that?

Nothing, as far as we're told. Unremitting savagery, a life nasty, brutish, and short, cavemen killing each other with clubs and dragging women by the hair. A life not worth a chapter, or even a page, to describe it.

Yet an awkward fact remains: these 'savages' were modern humans. In fact, they were taller,…

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February 1, 2011
6:16 am
Cornelius
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J.S.

Thanks again for another great article. I would just like to point out a couple of things, however. You mention illness regarding us Indians as hunter-gatherers. Illness was actually rarely a problem for my ancestors. Things like obesity, diabetes, heart disease, cancer, and so on were unknown, as they didn't have the modern day poisonous western diet to contend with. My ancestors ate healthy food; mostly buffalo organs and fat. Most of the actual meat (muscle) they would dry into jerky and save for later. They also didn't live in today's antiseptic environment, with anti-bacterial wipes, soaps, over-prescribed antibiotics, and so on. Their immune systems were kept strong by regularly being challenged, and illness was usually either avoided or quite serious. It was pretty much either-or. Either you got a life-threatening illness, or you were healthy. Illnesses were very rare, though. (At least before the Europeans showed up) By far most premature deaths were caused by injury.

On a less local level, of course knives made from flint, obsidian, or other stone suitable for knapping would not only be able to cut through elephant hide, but could do so easily. Such knives can have edges that are only a molecule thick or so, and are usually much sharper and harder than the sharpest of modern steel blades. Their only problem, of course, is that they are brittle, but handled properly they will make short work of the toughest of hides. Skilled knappers made blades for every purpose, from basic butchery to skinning and flensing. For those people who doubt this, they only need think of how sharp the edges of shattered glass are. Same thing. Wicked sharp.

I really don't mean to argue with you at every turn here. It just seemed to me that since you were asserting that my ancestors weren't quite as dumb as some people seem to think, you might want to have a couple additional facts.

I really do like your articles. Please keep up the good work. Who knows, you might even save a life or two along the way. If even one is saved, it is all worth it.

Sincerely,

Cornelius.

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February 1, 2011
8:41 am
Bodhi
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Thanks for bringing these books to our attention and reviewing them. They look like they would be interesting reads. I think we are now more than ever becoming interested in hunter-gathers and educating ourselves about them. The discovery of Gobekli Tepe is helping to change the view of the paleolithic era. I hope that more site like it will be discover.

http://www.smithsonianmag.com/history-archaeology/gobekli-tepe.html

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February 1, 2011
1:29 pm
Tim
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Great reviews. I actually had 2 courses with Dr Frison at UWyo. Wish I'd had this "paleo" world view then! I live in the Black Hills of SD, most recently Lakota lands, and there are a few mass-kill sites of bison within an easy drive. I will be paying those a visit and using a different view to the details having read these works.

The great "Mammoth Site" is just an hour away as well, but I don't think human cut marks have been found on bones there, still neat to see mammoth bones.

As it is 20 below here today, I was reflecting what a well-supplied aboriginal camp might be like right now. Pretty good living I'd think.

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February 1, 2011
1:35 pm
Tweets that mention
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[...] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Tim Rangitsch, Kenneth Younger III. Kenneth Younger III said: Hunters Must Have Been Smart, They Invented Agriculture: A Review of “Imagining Head-Smashed-In” & “Survival By Hunting” - http://sfoc.us/6a [...]

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February 8, 2011
6:14 am
First-Eater
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February 22, 2010
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Cornelius:

Diseases of civilization are a whole another topic...and that's one reason we're here, yes?  To figure out how to live in 'civilization' without suffering the negative consequences, mostly of unrestrained overindulgence?

As far as obsidian, yes, it's the best knife material...but I think the problem is that it's not very common.  Most places you're lucky to find an exposed outcropping of flint or chert, and even they are few and far between in landscapes dominated by sandstone and limestone.  One of Frison's findings was that a typical stone biface would cut elephant hide handily...but also dull incredibly quickly, such that a tool would have to be resharpened several times just in the course of butchering a single animal!  Most likely this happened later and many would be brought and used...which explains the profusion of stone tools at archaeological sites.  They were basically single-use items, and since resharpening makes them smaller, they could only be reused so many times.

I appreciate the additional information. May I ask your tribal affiliation, or is that too personal?

Bodhi:

IHSA especially is a dramatic read, and since it's available for free there's really no reason not to read it.  As far as Gobekli Tepe, it's an extremely interesting site because it's transitional: it seems to indicate that the drive to create cities and monuments predated the domestication (but not the use) of cereal crops.  I have my theories about why this is -- but that's an entire book, not a comment.

Tim:

You took classes from Frison?  Wow.  What was that like?  I'd love to read some of his textbooks, but $90+ is a bit out of my book budget.

As far as comforts go, tipis work well if they don't leak or blow over.  Winter is about preparation: if you've got everything repaired and ready over the summer and accumulated a good supply of pemmican, you'll be able to wait it out without too much trouble.  If you didn't or couldn't, well, you'll have problems.  My main question is how the hell they dragged all that stuff around before horses: tipi poles and enough bison hide to cover them has to weigh a lot, not to mention the buffalo robes and blankets.

I have to admit that indoor plumbing is a nice convenience.  I think that's my least favorite part of winter camping: having to get out of the sleeping bag and go outside in order to pee, whether in the middle of the night or in the morning.

JS

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March 5, 2011
4:42 am
jmo
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Oh, you guys forget the more recent hunter gathers that didn't get pushed out of their way of life until the 1950's to 1970's. And according to the sample of archaeology data I went though for a class, lithic tools start out large and get resharpened as many time as needed, A biface becomes a knife, a knife becomes a small biface, a smaller knife, a blade tool, all the way down to discard or even possibly a dart point. Obsidian is all over the rocky mountains in N.America, chert and flint are all thoughout the midwest and plains...thats the extend of my geoghraphic knowledge on that, and when your looking at a paleo population, and you find obsidian in a midwest population, hey they were trading with someone, or walked a really long way. I'm in the midwest, and our paleo populations tell this story. But I'm not an archaeologist, but I play one sometimes in school. My focus is culture.

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March 5, 2012
9:40 am
dana pallessen
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my man and i live in wa. state. he hunts all the meat we have and i grow all the nuts, tubers and berries and fruits we eat. hunters gatherers are alive today. even if we lived in a town, it would be possible to live as our bodies require. all that crap that is supposed to be food that is sold in stores, in simply to make monies for the producers. i am a capitalist, but i do not believe people should be making money on ill-health and the deaths that are caused by not eating like your body requires. i also believe one should eat the foods where your gene pool comes from. i am scandinavian. i eat elk and the other plants that grow there. i am QUITE healthy.

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March 5, 2012
2:43 pm
First-Eater
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February 22, 2010
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dana:

That's wonderful!  Elk is my favorite game meat (of those I've tried).

And I would strongly argue that our current food production system is NOT capitalist:

"There isn't one grain of anything in the world that is sold in a free market. Not one! The only place you see a free market is in the speeches of politicians. People who are not in the Midwest do not understand that this is a socialist country." -Dwayne Andreas, ex-CEO of Archer Daniels Midland

Our current grain-based diet (and nutritional advice) is, I believe, primarily a consequence of our food supply being hijacked by Corporate America through government subsidies that encourage destructive industrial agriculture.  See "Real Food Is Not Fungible."  If we wonder why people eat crap, the first thing to do is to stop paying others to produce it.  

Anyway, I'm encouraged to hear that people are living as foragers even in the modern world, and that (as one might expect) the result is health and happiness.  I may ask you more questions via email, if you're disposed to answer.

Thank you for stopping by.  You're welcome here any time.  Have you read The Gnoll Credo?

JS

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March 5, 2014
5:55 pm
pzo
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I came across this page two months ago, then downloaded the PDF version of IHSI. In a sense, it has changed my intellectual life.

I took one physical anthropology class way back in 1969. My paleo involvement since 2009 and with the advent of the internet awakened old curiosities.

IHSI was an intellectual smörgåsbord. I'm still reflecting on the observations and stories.

Sadly, after reading it I started searching online for other sources. I even went so far as to do something like "vegetarian plains indians," not sure why. Well, lo and behold, there are vegans out there...with some undefined PhD.....claiming that the buffalo killing years of the plains Indians were a brief period after the introduction of horses. That before horses, they were vegetarian!

Right, at that latitude and with very little moisture! Lessee, berries and some arrowroot type tubers perhaps? Fueling human critters needing 3-7 thousands of calories a day?

I find such fantasies part of the vegan "MSU" mindset. Making Stuff/Shit Up. The facts are contrary? No problem! MSU!

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March 5, 2014
11:47 pm
First-Eater
Forum Posts: 2105
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February 22, 2010
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pzo:

IHSI absolutely changes your intellectual life.  Having that visceral understanding of just how difficult hunting was, how much thought and skill went into it (in addition to strength and endurance)...and realizing that solving those problems is what our big brains are for.  Nothing more, and nothing less.

Everything we are, mentally and physically, is because the demands of hunting selected us for it, for millions of years.

And yes, you're correct.  Veg*ans have carefully constructed an alternate reality for themselves in which they can avoid all the awkward facts which disprove their dogma...just like the "creation scientists".

JS

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May 18, 2015
11:29 am
Walter
Guest

Re: Large Brains for hunting sure and surviving harsh climate, but also for
living in large groups and even establishing long distance trading.

I would imagine that HSI would have required a gathering of the clans, which means not only cooperation in the hunt, but an equitable distribution that everyone could agree on and everyone knew would be enforced.

'The jump is in our territory." "We are providing the leader who are going to
jump over the cliff to a position of safety -- if they execute the maneuver correctly with a thundering herd of bison right behind. And so on, why each group thinks they should get a disproportionate share..

The politics alone are staggering.

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November 5, 2015
1:46 am
First-Eater
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Walter:

The "challenges" of agricultural civilization don't seem nearly as challenging in this light, do they?

JS

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