Posts Tagged ‘paleoanthropology’

The Pleistocene Massacres

The Pleistocene Massacres

by Ken Fischman, Ph.D.

History and pre-history are often best told in stories or narratives. There  are two alternative stories to explain the extinction of North American megafauna around 10,000 years ago.
In one story, it was the advent of a land bridge from Siberia to North America, created by the waning of the last ice age, that enabled Siberian hunters to enter and people the Americas. These selfsame hunters hunted the megafauna into extinction.(Martin, 1967).
In the other story, climate changes, transitioning from the last Ice Age, set in place complex ecological forces, which were responsible for the disappearance of mammoths, giant sloths, megabison, dire wolves, and other large mammals (Allen, 2010).
I believe that it matters greatly which of these stories you believe because they enter our cultural consciousness and are responsible, at least in part, in how we see the world. Our understanding of how the world has come to be, in turn influences how we react to and treat the Earth.
Therefore, it is my intention to examine each of these narratives, stating the evidence for them as fairly as I can, while recognizing that I, though a scientist, cannot be perfectly objective, and then to come to some conclusions about them.
In the interest of transparency, I want to state from the beginning that I have a bias toward the climate change theory, but I will endeavor to present both arguments as best I can. I cannot promise though, to present them with the same tone.
So, let us begin. In the first story, which I call the “Pleistocene Massacre” theory, there are two kinds of evidence, one chronological and the other material.
The end of the last ice age, the formation of a land bridge, called Beringia, between Siberia and North America, the movement of human beings into this continent, and the disappearance of megafauna all seem to have taken place at around the same time. This evidence forms the chief argument of the proponents of the massacre theory. This is impressive evidence, but is it sufficient to make definitive conclusions about what happened?
Let us examine this evidence, piece by piece. First, there is the statement that the migration of Siberian hunters to North America and the extinction  of large animals occurred simultaneously. When events occur concurrently, there are at least two possible explanations:
In one, there is cause and effect at work. For instance, if a blizzard were to hit your town and a number of automobile accidents ensued, you might fairly assume that the icy conditions made it more difficult to control vehicles, thus causing more accidents.
Sometimes two events occur at the same time and/or change at the same rate, but it is mere coincidence. For example, a recent scientific paper concluded that people who take large doses of vitamins have a greater mortality, thus showing cause and effect. However, another possibility remains. Did the vitamins cause these deaths or is it possible that people in poor health take more vitamins” How we distinguish between the two in our case is the challenge.
In the so-called hard sciences, like physics and chemistry, the way to distinguish between two such possibilities, is to search for a plausible, and hopefully testable, statistically significant mechanism. Alas, in anthropology and paleontology we usually have less evidence to go by and the opportunity to test these theories is much more limited.
My father used to tell me about the routine of a pair of old-time vaudeville comics. The first one would often recite an improbable story, a whopper, and the other would challenge him. The first would reply “Vas you dere Charley”? Well, we were not there 10, 000 years ago and under most circumstances cannot reproduce the conditions to test them.
I actually do know of one case however, in which a long ago occurrence was tested. Coincidently, it involved one of the animals whose disappearance we are examining here, so I may permit myself a slight divergence to tell you about it, both because of its relevance and because it illustrates the astounding potential of molecular biology to uncover long lost information.

Painting of a Woolly Mammoth

An Artistic Representation of a Wooly Mammoth

The animal in question was the woolly mammoth (Elaphas primigenius) . As most readers know, some of these animals have been recovered intact from Siberian ice, and carefully examined. One of things noted about them was the intense network of capillary beds in their feet. Scientists reasoned that oxygen, carried in blood, was released in their feet to protect the animals from frostbite at temperatures that sometimes dropped as low as – 60 degrees F. However, how could this occur when hemoglobin (Hb), the blood molecule that carries oxygen, releases it only grudgingly at low temperatures?
The scientists speculated that mammoth Hb was different from Hb of contemporary mammals. But, how could they prove this? First they tried the comparison method. They looked at Hb in the Indian elephant (Elaphus maximus indicus), a modern relative of mammoths. No luck. Elephants have the same Hb that we have. Then they had an outlandish idea. Why not attempt to reconstruct mammoth Hb, using DNA, which they obtained from mammoth tissue, samples? The DNA would contain the gene for constructing mammoth Hb.
They grew the Hb gene in bacterial plasmids, gave it the appropriate precursors of Hb and wondrously produced mammoth Hb. They then proceeded to test the oxygen-carrying capacity of mammoth Hb at low temperatures. They discovered that the mammoth version of Hb gave up its oxygen at much lower temperatures than ours does, and thus would have protected mammoths from frostbite. (Yuan et al., 2011). What shall we call this amazing feat? Molecular Paleontology, or the Lazarus method?
In the absence of an analogous method by which to reconstruct the post-Pleistocene environment, and thus prove or disprove the massacre theory, we are left to sift the evidence, little and conflicting as it is, and to speculate, a lot.

More Evidence for the Massacre Theory:

In addition to the chronological situation, the most convincing evidence for the massacre theory seems to be that there have been finds of enormous numbers of mammoth bones along Siberian rivers and on Arctic islands like Kotelnoi and Liakoff, off the north coast of Siberia. However, there are little or no signs of human activity associated with these bones. Nevertheless, these troves of mammoth bones are often cited as evidence of the destructive tendencies of Paleolithic man. It would seem more likely that some cataclysmic natural event, such as a flood or storm can better account for these phenomena (Vereshchagin, 1967).
As stated previously, the main evidence is the assumption that when man first came to North America, the megafauna disappeared. In order to bolster their case, the proponents of this theory also declare that the Aborigines accomplished the same kind of faunal exterminations in Australia shortly after they arrived there, some 30,000 years ago.
In addition, according to Jared Diamond in his book, “Collapse,” the Polynesians wiped out many native animal species when they colonized South Pacific islands between 400 – 1100 A.D. (Diamond, 2005).
One of the consequences of this line of evidence is that ideologically oriented scholars and media have used it to argue that mankind is inherently predisposed to damaging its environment and exterminating many animals.
With regard to the times that various animals went extinct in North America, there is actually a great difference. For example, Martin cites the demise of the giant short-faced bear (Arctodus sp.) in both North and South America at 20,000 BP (Before the Present). However, among several others, he also lists the American mastodon (6-8,00 BP). He also cites the horse (Equus sp.) as the most common bones associated with man, but states that it became extinct at 18,000 BP (Martin ,1967). Therefore, there is a spread of 14,000 years during which these extinctions may have occurred and some of them happened long before the 11,000 BP Clovis Horizon that supposedly marks the entrance of Siberian hunters on the North American continent.
There is yet another line of evidence, derived from eyewitness accounts of native behavior that appears to strengthen this line of reasoning.
There have been historic accounts from European explorers, traders, and travelers, recounting that they saw Indians set fire to prairies and drive bison off cliffs. According to many massacre proponents, these acts establish that Native Americans were bloodthirsty, wasted thousands of animals, were clearly capable of wiping out North America’s megafauna, and are therefore no better people than we are today. As this story goes, the only reason that they did not totally destroy this continent was that they had not perfected the sophisticated technology with which our society has quickly accomplished that sort of destruction, both in North America and elsewhere. This is what I call evidence by analogy.

Evidence Against the Massacre Theory:

Eiseley’s Rebuttal
Loren Eiseley, was a respected anthropologist and author of many popular science books, like “The Immense Journey” and “The Star Thrower.” At the time when he was the Chairman of the University of Pennsylvania Anthropology Department, he issued a rebuttal to the massacre proponents. (Eiseley, 1943). Here are some of his most persuasive points:
(1)  Not only megafauna died in these extinctions. Many smaller fauna, such as birds, mollusks, and frogs also perished. It is hard to conceive that fires, drives, spears, and atlatls could have killed off such animals. Eiseley emphasized, in particular, the 12-13 species of woodland songbirds that perished (cf.). That extinction certainly cannot be accounted for by the work of big-game hunters.

(2)      Eiseley also points out that many grazing animals survived, such as regular bison, antelopes, deer, elk, and moose.

(3)  Most tellingly, Eiseley states that that there is no evidence of any contemporary hunter gatherers, or even tribal people, using traditional means, significantly decreasing or extinguishing any species.

(4)  Predators and their prey almost always adjust to each other’s numbers, with one increasing while the other decreases and vice versa.  [Classic examples of this dynamic equilibrium are that of snowy owls and arctic hares, and also wolves and moose on Ile Royale National Park, isolated on Lake Superior. To this I  would add the population swings of wolves and elk in Yellowstone National Park which have been intensively studied by Mark Hebblewhite and Doug Smith head of the Yellowstone Wolf Project (Hebblewhite & Smith, 2010).] It is hard to understand why the Paleolithic hunters and their megafaunal prey would not also obey the age-old natural law that no predator can manage to kill off its prey because it depends on the prey for its own existence.

(5)  According to the Bering Straits land bridge story, the Siberian hunter gatherers migrated over it to the New World. Yet, there is no evidence that these Siberian hunters eliminated many of these same beasts where they came from, in Siberia. The same is true for the European Stone Age hunters, Why would they have been able to do so in North America, using the same technology as their Old World cousins?

(6)      It is hard to imagine how small bands of hunter gatherers, estimated at the present time to be less than 2,000 individuals at one point, could have accomplished this task. We know that these small groups existed because molecular biologists have detected bottlenecks in our own DNA (Amos & Hoffman, 2009).  It does not seem likely that the migrating hunters, using traditional weapons and methods, could have even made a dent in these extensive animal populations. It is hard to imagine that they would even attempt to tackle them as long as more vulnerable animals also abounded.)

(7)  When European explorers arrived in the North American continent, they described the land as teaming with game, and the rivers literally overflowing with fish. Just to read the Journals of Lewis & Clark is eye-opening and thrilling. [One explorer in the 17th century walked through what was later named Pennsylvania and described trees throughout his journey so huge that they shut out the sunlight and reduced the understory, making it easy to traverse the entire state. What he was describing was basically a temperate rain forest.]

(8)  The Bartram brothers were naturalists who travelled throughout the southeast of what was to become the United States. One particular episode struck Eiseley in such a fashion that he never forgot it. William Bartram in 1774 was crossing the Saint Johns River in Florida and described it as being so filled bank to bank with alligators that he could practically step on them (Van Doran, 1928).

(9)  In the West, explorers and mountain men found the prairies, forests and mountains were in great shape. Were they exaggerating, as they often did in their stories? The amazing amounts of furs, which they often brought back, testifies to the truthfulness of these statements. [How can this abundance of wildlife be accounted for? Did these Indians lose the skill and blood thirstiness of their predecessors?]

(10)     Large predators, such as saber toothed tigers, dire wolves, and spectacled bears (Tremarctos ornatos) also died during these extinctions. It is hard to imagine that the Pleistocene peoples would have hunted them down for sport, as some massacre advocates have speculated. For example, Steadman (PNAS, 2005), cites evidence on Caribbean islands that sloths went extinct at about the same time, around 11,000 years ago, that Pleistocene hunters entered the Americas as indicative that humans killed them off. Once again, was this cause and effect or association?

(11)     He also failed to take into account that animals are more prone to go extinct on islands because there is little chance that their numbers could be reinforced by in-migrations from other areas as would be the case in mainland North America (c f Quammen, 1996).

(12)     Martin, in a fanciful tale, even went so far as to suggest that little Indian boys shot giant ground sloths, 8 -9 feet tall, for fun(Deloria, 1997). [This does not fit with the eyewitness descriptions I have read about contemporary hunter gatherers. For example, the children of South African Bushman were given toy bows and arrows (without arrowheads) and proceeded to use them on rabbits and other small game, with surprising accuracy] (Fischman, 2012). Needless to say, rabbits and squirrels make more likely game than giant ground sloths for eight year olds.

As stated previously, it is not even certain that man’s first appearance in North America and the disappearance of its megafauna were concurrent  events. It is quite possible that these two events occurred as much as several thousand years apart (cf.). Scholars argue over the dates incessantly and it is clear after examining the literature that methods for dating long-ago events are neither standardized nor agreed upon. We shall see however, that some dates can be established with more reliability than others and that the sequences of some occurrences can be accepted as true with some degree of certainty.
For example, the age of the first North American human migrations continues to be pushed further back into the past than the so-called “Clovis Horizon” hunters, indicted by massacre proponents, at 11,000 years ago. Signs of a pre-Clovis culture, at the Aucila River in North Florida at 14,000 years BP showed well-dated animal bones, and butcher marks. At Paisley Five Mile Park Caves in Oregon there are feces and seeds, demonstrating the existence of a foraging economy at 14,400 BP (Jenkins 2012). The Buttermilk Creek Complex in Texas contains pre-Clovis tools dated 15,500 years BP (Waters et al., 2011). The site at Monte Verde in Chile, (8,000 miles south of the Bering Straight), is now authoritatively dated at about 14,400 – 16,000 years BP (Wikipedia, 2012). There may be even older sites at Meadowcroft, PA, Saltville Valley, VA, etc., but their dates are still in dispute.
The significance of these earlier dates of human occupation is that it raises an important question of why these pre-Clovis hunters were unable to eradicate the megafauna, given their at least twenty five hundred year head start. On the other hand, it could be argued that their cruder lithics (blades, scrapers, and choppers) indicated that their culture was not as technologically (and perhaps strategically) as advanced as that of the Clovis people, and that this made them less proficient at hunting.

Hunting Large Animals:

To my knowledge, no one who claims that Siberian migrants killed off North American megafauna has ever attempted to kill a large and powerful animal, in the open, armed with nothing more than a stone-tipped wooden spear, stone clubs and stone knives.
It is important to realize that these Pleistocene hunters did not have bows and arrows or atlatls (spear throwers), and were not mounted on horses. On the contrary, according to the hypothesis, they were supposed to have also killed off these fleet stallions 18,000 years ago (Martin, 1967) while hunting them on foot.
As I previously pointed out, no contemporary observers were there while these events were supposedly taking place, so how do we know if this sort of hunting is possible, and if so, how efficient it is? Here we are on firmer ground because: (1) some hard evidence of ancient hunting methods does exist, and (2) we can also turn to present day surviving hunter gatherer and tribal cultures to see how they go about their hunting tasks.

A Bushman Hunting Grazing Animals with a Throwing Spear

Bushman, throwing a spear

Bushman Hunting With A Throwing SpeaThere are many eyewitness accounts in the one continent where large herds of grazing ungulates still exist, and smaller relatives of mastodons, woolly mammoths, and rhinoceroses still roam free. I am speaking of the savannas and rain forests of Africa.

There are many eyewitness accounts in the one continent where large herds of grazing ungulates still exist and smaller relatives of mastodons, woolly mammoths and rhinoceroses still roam free. I am speaking of the savannas and rain forests of Africa.Famous European explorers of Africa in the eighteenth century, like Burton and Speke, gave many accounts of the hunting of these animals by African natives, armed with much better weapons than Pleistocene man had at his disposal.
Africans used metallurgy as early as 2,000 B.C.E., and produced iron-tipped spears and knives by 500 B.C.E. They had invented bows and arrows long before European observers arrived on the scene. They coordinated their hunts, using hunting techniques, some of which were borrowed from their observations of jackals, hyenas, and other predators.
North American Pleistocene hunters probably borrowed techniques from wolf packs. Later on, Native Americans admired and definitely copied wolf tactics. For instance, the Pawnee Nation’s scouts were called the “wolf scouts” by other admiring tribes, due to their uncanny proficiency.
By all accounts, hunting large animals on the African plains was dangerous, frustrating, time consuming, and energy depleting. The majority of attempts met with failure. By the way, this is true for most predators, no matter who or where they are.
We have accounts of iKung (African Bushmen from  Botswana) hunters tracking prey wounded by their poisoned arrows for over a day until they literally ran them down (Van der Post and Taylor, 1984).
People who observe predators closely, whether wolves in Yellowstone or lions on the Serengeti, have noted that nine out of ten attacks on prey on the average meet with failure. That is an enormous expenditure of energy and time for rather poor results.
Stone age man might have been more successful than animal predators, due to his strategic abilities and weapons, but he too undoubtedly met with more failures than successes in such difficult undertakings.


An ABO had to be a jack-of-all-trades

Only a few animals were likely to be killed in such hunts, certainly not enough to even put a dent in large ungulate herds, which sometimes numbered in the tens of thousands. Such animals, in Africa, even when poached with rifles these days, restricted in territory by the fences and other obstructions of agriculture, and challenged by periodic droughts, have obviously managed to survive in large numbers.
This brings us to the subject of buffalo jumps. Some massacre proponents have cited these as examples of “primitive” people’s ability to employ systematic and efficient methods of killing large numbers of prey animals. These jumps were usually cliffs over which American Indians would attempt to stampede bison herds, in order to drive them to their deaths. Apparently, there were a good many such places in the American West, and we know of some of their locations. Using these tactics, hunters were able to kill large numbers of bison with less effort than hunting them from horseback, with bows and arrows, a method, which was at any rate, not available to Paleolithic hunters.
Some scholars also point out the waste of such a method, often leaving many more dead animals than the hunters could butcher and use for food. In this way, these critics get to make two anti-Pleistocene hunter criticisms at once, one, that these hunters were indeed capable of killing large numbers of animals and two, that they wasted resources.
An amusing story, derived from a Blackfoot legend by Joseph Campbell, illustrates both the difficulty of such endeavors and the reverence and respect in which the Native Americans held Bison, who are accused by some of indiscriminately slaughtering them. (J. Campbell, 1988).
The trouble with these accusations is that they do not appear to stand up to scrutiny. The critics state that these methods were widespread. If so, how successful were the Indians in wiping out the bison? By all accounts, enormous herds of bison, from a population which some have estimated at 50 million animals,(Nowak, 1983) still roamed the American West, even in the 1800s. Obviously, the Indians’ methods were insufficient at the least to eliminate the bison.
In addition, why should we assume that the Siberian Neolithic migrants to North America, who were the predecessors of American Indians, and who had a much smaller population than the Indians, perhaps as little as 2,000 at one point (cf.) , had been more successful in exterminating much larger, and presumably more dangerous, bison (Bison antiquus ) when their ancestors had been unable to do so in Siberia?
And, how did these Neolithic hunters accomplish the permanent demise of dozens of other megafauna? There is no evidence that other animals, such as wooly mammoths  and giant sloths, were susceptible to these stampede methods. How did the paleohunters, for instance, wipe out the large ungulates, such as Bison antiquus, when horse-mounted Indians were unable to do so with their smaller descendents, Bison bison ? Were their Pleistocene predecessors cleverer than they? Hardly likely. In fact, some scholars have argued that ancient Hunter Gatherers were intellectually inferior to us and lived in a sort of preconscious state ( James, 1976), although there exists considerable evidence to the contrary (Fischman & Johnson, 2010)
As for the charge of wasting the meat from animals killed at buffalo jumps, none of the critics have explained how the Indians could have limited the numbers of animals killed, using this crude but effective strategy. Needless to say, our European/American ancestors, shooting bison for sport from moving trains, could have easily limited the numbers killed by that method, but they did not. In fact, they left the corpses of thousands of bison to rot on the western plains as their trains moved on.
( Nature, 2011).

A Pile of Bison Skulls, Almost Twenty Feet High

This Pile Contains Probably Thousands of Bison Skulls

In addition to these senseless killings, it is well known that the wanton killing of American bison was a deliberate and overt tactic employed by our government to remove an animal absolutely essential to the lifestyle (and spiritual well being) of Plains Indians (IUCN, 2010). The loss of the bison forced them onto reservations and opened up the plains states to private property, ranching and agriculture. (Gates et al., 2010). No such motivation can be attributed to the paleohunters, who were just looking for meat.
Observations of native African hunters affords us another opportunity to evaluate these methods, this one of comparison: How did these hunters fare?
Prior to the advent of Bantu agriculturalists and white European explorers and colonists in the 19th and 20th centuries, the Bushmen inhabited the entire region of South Africa. There is recent genetic and archaeological evidence that the Bushmen are descended from the oldest line of human evolution (Gibbons, 2009; Henn et al., 2011). Therefore they have hunting experience in this region for tens of thousands of years.
As previously mentioned, Bushmen hunted large ungulates on foot and employed bows with poison-tipped arrows as early as 24,000 years ago (Zorich, 2012). (The poison used then was the deadly ricin, derived from castor beans). That would seem like a neat, efficient way to dispatch large ungulates, but as they say, the devil is in the details.
Bushmen first had to stalk near enough to edgy herds in order to use their weapons with any kind of accuracy. The poison, now usually made from toxic beetle grubs, worked slowly. The hunters, therefore had to follow or track the wounded animal for hours and sometimes even days before the animal died. I have seen a film of bushman actually running after these animals all day until they exhausted and cornered them (Foster. C. & Foster D.,2000) The stamina of Iron Man competitors and ultra marathoners pales in comparison to that of these hunters. They were then faced with the task of killing and butchering the animal on the spot, and thus heavily laden, had to carry the meat back to their extended families at their temporary encampments.
Keep in mind that the Bushmen are little fellows, most of them barely over five feet tall. Any elk hunter, who has ever shot an elk on top of the mountain or far off the road, can testify as to what a challenging task this is.
Congolese forest pygmies still hunt in their own unique traditional style. The Babenzele pygmies (Mbouti) of Zaire’s northeastern rainforests, have perfected a neat way to hunt in heavily forested areas. It is a cooperative hunt, using nets, made from nicusa vine (Manniophyton) cordage.  The entire group, which is actually an extended family, participates (Sarno, 1995). Each nuclear family is responsible for one section of net, about as high as a volleyball net, but much longer, which they must keep in good repair.
     They put the nets together end to end, the entire apparatus in the form of a horseshoe-shaped trap, covering several acres, by tying it to trees and bushes.

Ituri Forest Pygmy with a Hunting Net

Pygmy with NeThe rest of their families then drive the animals into the open end of the trap, shouting, pounding trees with sticks and altogether making as much noise as possible. In this manner they can trap and kill small animals, such as pygmy deer and duikers, in an efficient manner (Sarno,1995). You could consider this method as a rain forest equivalent of a buffalo jump, but it is certainly no way to wipe out the entire forest fauna, and obviously, hunting in this way for millennia  if not longer, they have not done so.

Pygmies are genetically related to Bushmen, and like them, are  also descendants of the longest human lineage in the world (Wade, 2012).
It should be mentioned in this regard, that Anthropologists had long suspected pygmy ethnic antiquity from examining their language and culture. In addition, DNA studies have lately confirmed the ancient lineage and racial interrelationships of the various pygmy groups, such as the Baka and Mbouti, even though these aforementioned groups are separated by more than a thousand miles of forest. (Verdu et al., 2009). This is a testimony to the cohesiveness and relative exclusivity of their cultures and lineage.
Pygmies are also reputed to be efficient and courageous hunters of forest elephants (Loxodonta cyclodis ), which they hunt with spears. These animals are a smaller version of those in large herds ( Loxodonta africana ), which roam the African Savannah.
Australia: Massacre proponents recite virtually the same scenario for the continent of Australia as they do for North America. That is, when humans arrived in Australia, they wiped out the widespread and varied marsupial megafauna. They cite the demise of animals such as the giant wombat, Diprotodon, the largest marsupial to ever exist (Martin, 1967).
However, there is a good deal of evidence accumulating that these two events, the marsupial extinctions and the arrival of Australian aborigines, did not even come close to occurring simultaneously. These megafauna became extinct around 46 – 51,000 BP. However, by some accounts, man has inhabited Australia as far back as 61,000 BP (Brook, 2002,). That would make 10-15,000 years of overlap before these animals went extinct.  It is hard to understand why the Aborigines were able to coexist with the megafauna for such a long time and then suddenly developed methods and desire to wipe them out in a relatively short time. There is no evidence of a change in aboriginal technology.
It is important to note, that like the Bushmen and Pygmies, the Australian Aborigines were hunter-gatherers, who wandered on foot, in small groups of related people, over a landscape, which is mostly a desert, with a fragile ecology. Note, for example, how a recent and continuing drought (Chancellor, 2012) has wrecked havoc with the agricultural and herding economies of that land, despite the availability of modern technology. Australia is almost the size of the USA.
No one knows for sure what the Aboriginal population was before the arrival of Europeans on that continent. The best estimate at the time of first contact was 318,000. (Wikipedia, 2012)
The area of Australia is 2,967,892 square miles. This would have averaged out to one Aborigine/9.3 square miles. For comparison purposes, the least populous state in the US is Wyoming, which has 13 persons/square mile. In other words, it would have taken 121 Aboriginal Australias to match Wyoming’s present population density.
Even assuming that Australia’s population near the coast was much greater than in its desert interior, it is hard to believe that such a tiny population, using Middle Paleolithic technology, could have killed off all of these large animals.
Polynesia: Here the massacre proponents, at first glance, appear to be on firmer ground. The accounts of Polynesian islanders wiping out many species on the islands they colonized are probably true. Nevertheless, this situation may not be relevant to the North American and Australian experiences. It is necessary to put these events in context by examining the special circumstances in which they occurred.
Perhaps the difference that most distinguishes the Polynesian experience, is that these people were agriculturalists, not hunter-gatherers. Their ancestors had migrated down into the Pacific islands from mainland South East Asia (Kumar et al., in press, Kayser, 2008).
They produced large amounts of food and stored it, thus enabling their populations to become much more dense than those of hunter-gatherers. They were prone to population explosions, which put a strain on the carrying capacities of the islands they colonized (Diamond, 2005). It was indeed, their propensity to outgrow their islands’ biological carrying capacities that impelled their long voyages of discovery.
The unique circumstance effecting the Polynesians were their finite resources. They lived on islands, many of them quite small, and when they had used up the local resources, they could not just pick up a few belongings and move to a more promising region as do contemporary hunter-gatherers, like the Hadza in Tanzania and the iKung of the Kalahari Desert. In fact, most of Polynesia was probably colonized from other overcrowded, over-taxed islands. Thus, the impressive, long Polynesian voyages of discovery were probably voyages of necessity.
For example, Easter Island is 3,000 miles from most Polynesian-populated archipelagoes, and despite the romantic notion that these were voyages of exploration and adventure, it is not likely that such arduous and potentially dangerous voyages would be undertaken except in a desperate search for new territory to exploit.
In fact, these overcrowded conditions leading to heavy exploitation of their natural resources were among the primary factors in stimulating new voyages of discovery, as groups of marginalized or land-poor islanders searched for new islands to exploit. Islands have finite resources.
One of the main reasons that many extinctions occur on islands is that once a faunal or floral population drops below a certain level, there is not much likelihood that they will be “rescued” by in-migration. In fact, there is a well-known phenomenon of island dwarfism, by which many species, isolated on islands have a tendency to become much smaller than their mainland relatives (Quammen, 1996). This may be due, in part to the evolutionary pressures brought on by limited resources. Obviously, a smaller version of a rhinoceros or deer would have an advantage in needing less energy. This would be especially true of those living on islands in which their natural predators were never present or had been eliminated, so that their need to grow to a size large enough to defend themselves or flee predators was eliminated.
An extreme example of this principle is the development of flightless birds on many islands., like the Dodo (Raphus cuculatus) of Mauritius Island and the Guam rail (Rallus owstoni). Both of these birds are now extinct due to human activities.
On the other hand, the island of Guam is literally crawling with an introduced predator, the brown tree snake. These snakes originated in New Guinea, and probably got to Guam as non-paying passengers in freighters. The lack of natural enemies allowed this snake population to explode, much the same way as did Yellowstone’s elks after the last member of its original wolf population was killed in 1926.
Human population pressures resulted in a kind of hopscotch invasion of more islands as the Polynesians pressed ever onward towards the Eastern Pacific, until they reached  islands like Easter and Mangareva, which were distant from most of the other islands. The Polynesian’s profligate ways led to starvation and sometimes their extinction when they continued them on such isolated, hard-to-get-to islands (Diamond, 2005).
It is important to compare the Polynesian’s ever-increasing populations with those of Hunter Gatherers, Although we cannot be certain about the life styles of North America’s Pleistocene hunters, we know from geographical, archaeological, and DNA studies that their numbers were relatively small and sometimes led to population bottlenecks of only a few thousand souls. (Amos and Hoffman, 2010). For example, the “Out of Africa “ migration of Homo sapiens to the Near East and Eurasia was calculated to contain only about 2,000 persons.
In fact, Hellenthal et al. (2008), found genetic evidence of at least two migrations, both small, from Siberia to America, the earlier one eventually reaching South America and the later, larger one, arriving in the northwest corner of the continent.
We can also examine the populations and reproductive behavior of these North American migrants’ present day equivalents. Although they are scattered all over the world, and usually have been forced into challenging and impoverished environments by tribal and western technological cultures, hunter-gatherer cultures are remarkably similar in many respects. Their populations, in contrast to those of agriculturalists, like the African Bantus, horticulturists, such as the New Guinea highlanders, and migratory herders like Mosaic and Fulani in Africa, are remarkably stable, both between areas and down through the centuries during the time in which they have been studied.
Their groups usually consist of basically extended families of 10 – 30 persons, who move from one area to another and back again, depending on season and availability of resources such as water, edible plants, and game.
Their numbers are self-limiting, due to biological constraints and their use of a variety of birth control techniques. For example, in ways similar to the game they hunt, they reproduce more abundantly under ideal conditions, and much less so under conditions of stress, such as lack of food and water resources. They also practice late marriage. For instance, among the iKung (Namibian Bushmen), girls do not usually reach menarche and marry until their late teens, while those of tribal agriculturists often do so even prior to puberty.
Pygmies and Bushmen also breast feed their children up to the ages of four or even later. Breast-feeding liberates hormones, such as oxytocin, which block ovulation. This is a natural method of birth control, which has the effect of spacing children so widely that few hunter-gatherer mothers have more than three or four offspring. Contrast this with the families of agriculturalists, who often have as many as ten children. The more the merrier. It takes lots of hands to run a farm, or at least it did until the advent of modern technology. This trend toward large families has persisted even in our culture, into the twentieth century. Witness all the older, large Victorian houses you see, with four, five, even six bedrooms, in rural towns as well as farms.
Hunter-gatherers use other techniques to limit families, which are less savory to our western moralities. They use particular plants for their abortifacent qualities, and have been known to leave newborns to die of exposure, when conditions are particularly desperate for them, choosing to try to save their other children and not add to the stress on them.
So many other, non-game animals disappeared at the end of the Pleistocene that it is hard to argue that the Siberian migrants wiped them out. The extinction of many predators, like the dire wolf and the Miracinonyx, a cheetah-like animal, which relied on its speed to run down its prey, is hard to understand, especially with many herds of smaller ungulates still extant at the time.

The Climate Hypothesis:

The alternative explanation for the disappearance of these large and small animals, interestingly enough, is one that many people today still have difficulty in wrapping their minds around – climate change. In the present case, the reasons for denying the realty of these changes are clear enough. They are first, that these have been mostly predictions of things to come and secondly, accounts of some things that are happening now, but to other people.
In an infamous remark, while he was talking to the chief climate scientist in the world, James Hansen, the renowned TV interviewer, Larry King, asked Hansen when some of these changes would occur. When Hansen told him that some would happen as soon as fifty years from then, King snorted “No one gives a damn about what will happen fifty years from now.” Lamentably, he was undoubtedly right. Humans have apparently evolved to react to present dangers, such as an attack from a saber-toothed tiger, or an algebra test tomorrow morning, and not from future dangers that they may not be around to encounter.

In the case of the Pleistocene, at least no one challenges the reality of these past climate changes, but frustratingly enough, the power of their effects are downgraded in the estimation of the massacre proponents.

Are the Beliefs of Earth-Based Peoples a Valid Guide to Their Behavior?

When we study past cultures, we usually take only so-called hard evidence, such as bones, implements, and ruins seriously. We even define whether a people had something called a “civilization” in such a way as to discount any people unless they had monumental ruins, a written (and decipherable) language, hierarchical social orders with separable skills and duties, and whether or not they made war.
Nevertheless there is additional evidence, which indicates that North American hunters did not exterminate the megafauna. This might be considered “soft” evidence, but I am impressed by it. It takes the form of the spiritual beliefs and lifestyles of contemporary hunter gatherers all around the world, about which we have collected considerable knowledge. As previously stated, I do not think that we attach sufficient significance to the beliefs and observed behavior of Earth-based peoples.
Laurens Van Der Post wrote several books, such as “The Lost World of the Kalahari “and “The Heart of the Hunter,” describing his interactions with the San Bushmen in the Kalahari desert in the 1960s. (Van Der Post; 1958, 1961). Anthropologist Elizabeth Marshall Thomas wrote of her early adventures with these people in “The Harmless People,” and her recollections of her life with them in “The Old Way.”(Thomas, 1958, 2006).
David Abram has written “The Spell of the Sensuous” about the traditional Balinese people (Abram. 1997). James Cowen spoke of the lives and beliefs of Australian Aborigines in “Letters From A Wild State” and “Messengers of the Gods” (Cowen, 1991, 1993), as did Bruce Chatwin(1987) in “Songlines.”
Anthropologist Colin Turnbull turned his attention to the Congo Pygmies in “The Forest People,”and Robert Wolff (2001) wrote movingly of his experiences with the Sng’oi of Malaysia and other aboriginal hunter gatherers in that part of the world, in “Original Wisdom.”
This is only a partial list, and I only have space to summarize a few stories and legends to give you an idea about people who found a way to tread softly upon the Earth and  to live in communion with the world.
I will begin with an Australian aboriginal legend called “The Kadimakara,”as retold by Cowen (1991)
“According to the Aborigines, the desert they must cross to reach the oasis at Cullymurra water hole was once a vast region of fertile plains and forests. traversed by rivers flowing into lakes. The bones of ancient animals which we call Diprotodons scattered en route  were the surest proof that conditions had changed since that primordial moment …
The present clear sky above had once been filled with dense clouds of dust, which perpetrated tropical downpours at regular intervals. Great Gum trees reached high into the sky, supporting a complex interlace of green life which shut out all sunlight.  From this arboreal vault a group of monsters known as the Kadimakara descended in order to feed on the fruits below. Once these creatures had tasted the fruits of the Earth their appetites became insatiable.  In time they had eaten all the shrubs, trampled the Earth hard, and finally had resorted to eating the giant trees down which they had come. In an ironic twist of fate they had destroyed their one escape route to the heavens!
As a result, the Kadimakara were forced to remain on Earth.  They wallowed in the lakes, drinking up the water.  They ate everything before them.  Soon the canopy of trees overhead had been destroyed, revealing one continuous hole of blue sky.  The tribesmen named it Pura Walpinina, or the great hole. Meanwhile, the Kadimakara began to die of starvation  now that they had eaten every shrub and bush.  In the heaving marshlands of putrefying earth which had once been rivers and lakes the monsters lay down to die.  One by one they expired, their bodies slowly petrifying in the relentless sun, which their destruction of the natural environment had released upon the Earth.  Their bones, the bones of the Kadimakara, littered the dry earth as somber reminders to the surviving tribesmen of what can happen when the natural environment is treated as an inexhaustible larder The Kadimakaras’ insatiable appetites had been the direct cause of their own extinction.
Perhaps the aborigines were warning themselves that if they exceeded the carrying capacity of this fragile, barely livable area, they would suffer the fate of the Kadimakara.
On the other hand, perhaps this cautionary tale is meant for ears other than those of aborigines who have lived in harmony with the Earth for so long.  Perhaps this myth is of more recent origin, say since the days of first contact with Europeans and observation of their peculiar appetites.”
Here is another story, from a very different place. This legend was told to James Cowen by an islander, living in the Torres Strait, between New Guinea and Australia. His family was reputed by other natives to “own” the Pleiades (Seven Sisters) constellation (Cowen, 1993). How can one own a constellation? Read on and find out.
“Tagai was a man.  He owned a canoe, along with his friend, Kareg.  One day they were out fishing with a crew made up of Usiam and Seg people.  To you these people are the Seven Sisters and the stars in the belt of Orion.  Anyway, while Tagai and Kareg were paddling along, the Usiam and Seg people decided to eat all the food and drink all the water on board.  Kareg saw this happening and called out to Tagai, who was in the bow of the boat.  So Tagai strung the Usiam together and tossed them in the sea.  He did the same to the Seg people.  Only Tareg, his friend, remained with him in the boat,”
“Yeah, the story of the stars belongs to me. I must interpret it for others, to remind them that all of us must take care not to act like the Usiam and Seg people.  By drinking too much, by eating too much, we forget to leave some over for others.  The food and water on Tagai’s boat represents nature. If we use it up without thinking, we run the risk of exhausting our food supplies on the voyage.”
I have trouble with people who tell me that the only reason that Native Americans and other indigenous peoples did not destroy their environments just as thoroughly as we seem on our way to doing, is that they lacked bulldozers and insecticides.
I find it hard to believe that people who regarded the rivers as their sisters, would have raped them by pouring toxic waste into them, or their forests as brothers, would have clear-cut them. Explain to me how people who looked at wolves as older brothers and whose scouts emulated them, like the Pawnee and Cheyenne did, would have turned around and shot them from helicopters if only they had they possessed such equipment
Every one of these sources, without exception, tell the same story. These hunter gatherers are remarkably like ourselves. In fact, they are us. Biologically, we are still living in the Pleistocene. They are not Rousseau’s “noble savages”. They were capable of anger, envy, voraciousness, and all the other dark emotions  that people of our society exhibit. However, by both happenstance and planning, they created a lifestyle that discouraged those darker behaviors and valued the best human qualities, like cooperation, egalitarianism, and community.  These qualities enabled them to tread lightly upon the Earth and to live lives of integrety. We have much to learn from them.

The Tale of The Blind Men and the Mammoth:

Some respected researchers, like William Ripple of Oregon State University, who first opened our eyes to the dynamics of wolf/elk interaction in Yellowstone, believe that human predators may have been involved in the extinction of the wooly mammoth. Ripple and Van Valkenburgh (2010), presented evidence that mammoths may have fallen victim to trophic cascades some 10,000 years ago.

Trophic cascades are ever-widening, usually top-down effects brought about by interactions between living organisms in ecosystems, particularly originating with predator/prey relationships. Interestingly, we are at present witnessing damaging cascades which are caused by a world-wide loss of predators. This, in turn, is mostly due to human disruption of ecosystems, such as the effects of shark slaughter on fisheries.
Ripple and his co-workers examined wear and fracture rates of fossil carnivore teeth and from growth rates of their prey, Heavily worn and fractured teeth are an indication of bone consumption, which predators avoid except when there is prey scarcity. There was little indication of such wear. Their evidence suggests that there were no serious food shortages in northern America 10-15,000 years ago.
They believe that a range of predators, such as the dire wolf, lions, and saber toothed cats (Smilodon sp.) reduced the number of fauna. This system was balanced but dominated by the predators. When humans arrived however, they provided increased competition for these predators.         Giving an example of a modern equivalent of this situation, these authors state that in contemporary Alaska, human hunting of moose caused wolves to switch to sheep, which in turn, resulted in a precipitous decline, not only of sheep, but eventually of wolves and moose. [Ripple et al. make it clear that this trophic cascade started with that apex predator, man].
The Pleistocene predators, now desperate for food, may have finally driven their prey to extinction. This conclusion, however, goes against one of the primary dicta of wildlife biologists, which is that predators never cause extinction of their prey.  Before that could happen, the predators themselves would decrease in number from lack of sufficient prey to sustain themselves (cf.).
The authors argue by analogy that human whale hunts have resulted in Orcas switching to seals and sea otters. This, in turn has led to an explosion in sea urchin populations and a decline in kelp forest ecosystems, in another contemporary trophic cascade.

Dwindling green Pastures:

Allen and his colleagues, however, recently reported that a massive reduction in grasslands and the spread of northern forests may have been the cause of the Pleistocene decline in mammals. This occurred during  and after the height of the Ice Age, 21,000 years ago, and dramatically reduced available food.
It resulted in the reduction of large mammals across northern Eurasia and North America by 11,400 years ago, although some held on for several thousand years longer in limited localities, termed “refugias,” in which both climate and food supplies were more amenable to their survival. Migratory hunters were also restricted to these areas by availability of these mammals for their own food supply. Several refugias have been identified, strung along the coast of what is now called Alaska and British Columbia.
These researchers have reconstructed the environment from ancient pollen records and noted which major megafauna became extinct and which survived. The wooly mammoth, cave lion, giant deer, wooly rhino and cave bear went extinct. The brown bear, elk, moose, reindeer, saiga antelope, and musk ox survived (Allen et al., 2010).

We are all connected:

Another group of scientists, (Nogues-Bravo et al.,2008) have accomplished what amounts to a synthesis of the last two views. They used climate models and examined fossil distribution, concluding that change in global climate was exacerbated by human pressures to drive the mammoths and other megafauna to extinction.
These researchers used a number of climate models, ranging from 6,000 to 126,000 years ago. Clearly, the environment was much worse for mammoths 126,000 years ago, yet the animals survived. They showed though that there was a catastrophic loss of habitat 6,000 years ago so that only 10% of the former habitat remained.
They also considered the effects of temperature changes and rainfall. They then compared these parameters with age and distribution of fossils.
Nogues-Bravo and his colleagues say that mammoths faced rising temperatures and increased hunting pressure at the same time. They argue that that these animals had faced previous temperature increases without going extinct and that the only difference was that this time there was human influence.
They came to the conclusion that  it was a combination of climate change and human hunting that was responsible for these megafaunal extinctions.


Well, I have come to the place where I need to sum up the evidence and tell you of my conclusions. However, it is not as easy to do as I first thought. I started out on this journey pretty sure of myself. I was on the side of the angels – at least they were my angels. I was pretty sure that the massacre proponents had at best exaggerated their case and at worst had become prisoners of their ideological propensities. .
The last few papers I have cited impressed me, both with their approach and their reasoned arguments. I was most impressed with the work of with Ripple and his co-workers because they had a novel approach to this difficult subject, and due to my respect for Ripple’s past work.
Perhaps you will be surprised that when I evaluated  the worth of these publications, I took into account who wrote it. At first sight that does not seem to be objective, so I will let you into a little secret of science. It matters who did the investigation. In over 30 years of scientific research I found out that not all the facts are published and that the devil is often in the details. I that learned that I could trust the intelligence, thoroughness, and integrety of some researchers more than others.
Ripple is one of these. As I mentioned previously, his salient work was accomplished by tracing trophic cascades in Yellowstone National Park from wolves to elk and to their widespread and important effects on the rest of the ecosystem. Ripple showed that the elk population explosion, that occurred after the last wolves were exterminated in 1927, had deleterious effects that ranged from the disappearance of riparian flora to decreases in bird, fish, and scavenger populations, and that the wolves, reintroduced in 1996, have been an important factor in restoring balance to the entire system.
Nogues-Bravo and his colleagues seem to have nicely combined the ideas of Ripple with those of Allen et al., who emphasized the important role of climate change.
Nevertheless, despite Ripple’s analysis, I think that the preponderant evidence supports the idea that humans were not responsible, or played only a small roll in the demise of these animals.

The following points sum up the basis for my conclusion:

• Human signs were usually not associated with the massive troves of mammoth bones found on Siberian islands.
• The extinctions took place over a very long period, some of that including times when man was apparently not present on the continents of North and South America.
• It was not only the charismatic megafauna that became extinct during this period, but so were other animals, that were unlikely to have been eliminated by hunters. One example of this is the dozen or so species of woodland song birds that went extinct.
• The direct ancestors of these hunters did not eliminate many of the same animals in Siberia.
• It is hard to believe that such a small number of people, around 2,000 at one point caused by genetic bottlenecks, could have killed off so many animals.
• Later on, Native Americans, with much more advanced technology available to them, put hardly a dent in the populations of megafauna, especially the immense herds of bison, whose numbers may have reached as high as fifty million animals.
• North America was occupied by these Siberian migrants over a much longer time than previously thought, at least 14,000 years, and so the question arises over why it took them such a long time to eliminate the megafauna.
• African megafauna have survived native hunters, who had much more advanced technologies than the North American migrants did.
• Australian aborigines were also few in numbers. They entered that continent much earlier than massacre proponents thought, and coexisted with the marsupial megafauna there for 15 – 20,000 years.
• The Polynesians, who exterminated many native fauna, were islanders and agriculturalists, two factors that make extinctions much more possible.
• Hunter gatherer beliefs and spirituality make it improbable that they would treat their environment in as ruthless a fashion as our culture does.

In conclusion, I do not think that that the last word has been said in this controversy by any means, but the idea that the demise of the megafauna was due, not to one, but to a combination of factors, including climate change and perhaps anthropogenic action, seems like a more likely answer to this vexing question.

Are the Beliefs of Earth-Based Peoples a Valid Guide to Their Behavior?

Are the Beliefs of Earth-Based Peoples a Valid Guide to Their Behavior?

Ken Fischman, Ph.D

Jon Young with Bushmen in Botswana

Jon Young with Bushmen in Botswana

Is there any validity to the oral histories of indigenous peoples? Typically, the avatars of western culture do not put much stock in the legends, stories, and myths of indigenous peoples. Being people of technology and the written word, we especially look down on those who have no written language, regarding them as “primitive,” and therefore not worthy of being taken seriously if we bother to study them at all.

When we study another culture, we usually take only so-called hard evidence seriously. Evidence such as bones, implements, hieroglyphics, and ruins can be touched, photographed, categorized, and put in the form of graphs and tables. We even define whether a people had something called a “civilization” in such a way as to downgrade the importance of  any people unless they had monumental ruins, a written (and decipherable) language, hierarchical social orders with division of labor, and whether or not they made war.(Guess which one counted highest.)

My point here is that I do not think that we attach sufficient significance to the beliefs of Earth-based peoples. Imagine if you can, that a future historian dismissed the Declaration of Independence and the United States Constitution as not having any bearing on the way people lived in North America during the past 200 years. I think that you would agree that such an attitude was ludicrous and showed sloppy scholarship indeed.

Yet, in a very real sense, this is what many scholars do when it comes to the beliefs and behavior of people whose traditions are oral. I believe that we should take these beliefs more seriously and give them more weight when we attempt to reconstruct events in pre-history. I came across the following story some years ago and found it a good example of this principal.


The Legend of Mount Mazama

 (As told by a Klamath elder to a soldier in 1865. Retold by Ella E. Clark In: Indian Legends of the Pacific Northwest, Berkeley, University of California Press, 1952.)

The story begins when the spirit of the Below-World fell in love with the chief’s daughter and demanded that she marry him. This overture was denied and the rejection did not sit well with the spirit, who threatened to destroy the people. “Raging and thundering, he rushed up through the opening and stood on top of the mountain.”

The spirit of another great mountain now intervened and the two mountains began some sort of combat. “Red hot rocks, as large as the hills hurtled through the skies. Burning ashes fell like rain. The chief of the Below-World spewed fire from his mouth. Like an ocean of flame it devoured the forests on the mountain and in the valleys. On and on the curse of the fire swept, until it reached the homes of the people. Fleeing in terror before it, the people found refuge in the waters of Klamath Lake.”

The Klamaths decided that someone should sacrifice him- or herself to appease the spirit. Two medicine men climbed the mountain and jumped into the opening [Caldera?}

“Once more the mountains shook. This time the chief of the Below-World was driven into his home and the top of the mountain fell on him. When the morning sun arose, the high mountain was gone.” Then, according to the Klamaths, rain fell. For many years rain fell in torrents and filled the great hole that was made when the mountain fell …”

Note: This legend appears to be describing the simultaneous eruptions of two volcanoes. The very language seems to be evocative of volcanic eruptions. The Klamath’s legend appears to be about Mt. Mazama in Oregon, and its twin, Mt. Shasta in northern California, as having spirits who lived in them, and openings [vents?] which led to a lower world through which the spirits passed. The Klamaths apparently knew when the mountain was active because when he [the spirit] came up from his lodge below, his tall form towered above the snow-capped peaks [smoke, steam?].

volcano erupting


After all, how would the Klamaths know about such things unless they had actually witnessed them? The only trouble with believing that this legend was a kind of transposition of an eyewitness account is that there have been no volcanic eruptions in the Pacific Northwest since Mt. Mazama blew its top three thousand years ago. Could the story have been passed down from generation to generation for such a long time period?

Before you dismiss such an idea as fanciful, consider the part about the rain filling the great hole made when the mountain fell. It seems to be describing Crater Lake, which was formed in exactly that fashion when Mt. Mazama collapsed.

Our culture, which depends on the written word and now also on electronic bytes, can hardly conceive of such prodigious feats of memory. However, many other cultures, which depend on oral history to keep accounts of their people’s stories, developed this capacity over millennia.

Crater Lake, Oregon

One startling example of this capacity is cited by anthropologist Wendy Doniger O’Flaherty in her delightful book, Other People’s Myths. O’Flaherty states “ India has two sorts of Sanskrit classics, typified by two great texts, the Rig Veda and the Mahabbarata.  The Rig Veda is a massive collection of hymns, a text of over 350,000 words (as long as the Iliad and the Odyssey combined); it was preserved orally for over three thousand years. The Mahabbarata is one of the two great Sanskrit epics (the other being the Ramayana), a text of over 100,000 verses, or three million words (almost ten times as long as the Rig Veda, and fifteen times the combined length of the Hebrew Bible and the New Testament); it was preserved both orally and in manuscript form for over two thousand years. “

These texts were recited flawlessly in villages from one end of the Indian subcontinent, to the other without a single mistake. Doniger tells the perhaps apocryphal story that it was only when these classics were translated by an English Consul into print that mistakes began to appear.

Navaho “singers” are capable of memorizing three-day ceremonies so flawlessly that no mistake creeps in. In fact, these ceremonies are never written down, but are passed from one singer to another down the generations. Joseph Campbell, the great mythologist, tells the amusing story of one such singer, Jeff King, who, in 1966, recited his ceremony and made a sand painting for a distinguished audience at the New York Museum of Natural History. When he had appeared to finish, he was confronted by one very knowledgeable woman, who insisted that he had left something out. “No” he said. “Yes” she said, and insisted that he put it in. “I cannot, he said, if I did so, every woman in Manhattan would become pregnant.” As Campbell put it, “Those Navaho ceremonies had power!”

(Jeff King Sand painting below)

In sum, I believe that western scientists and anthropologists are mistaken to dismiss the oral histories of these people. In doing so, they are losing a lot of valuable knowledge, that may have at least as much validity as Carbon 14 isotope studies.

The reason why I emphasize that oral histories should be taken more seriously is that I have trouble with people who tell me that the only reason that Native Americans and other indigenous peoples did not destroy their environments just as thoroughly as we seem to be doing, is that they lacked bulldozers and insecticides.

On my side, I find it hard to believe that people who regarded the rivers as their sisters, would have raped them by pouring toxic waste into them, or thought of their forests as brothers, would have clear-cut them. Explain to me how people who looked at wolves as older brothers and whose scouts emulated them, like the Cheyenne did, would have turned around and shot them from Cessnas if only they had they possessed such equipment.

Wildlife Services airplane displays killed wolf decals on engine cowling


The Tracks In Chauvet Cave

The Tracks In Chauvet Cave

by Ken Fischman, Ph.D.



The two sets of tracks were side by side.  One of them was  that of a young child, and the other of a wolf.

What if I were to tell you that these tracks were found deep within Chauvet Cave, high above the Ardeche River in France, a cave, which contains some of the most glorious Stone Age art ever found? Some of the paintings on the walls of Chauvet date back to at least the Upper Paleolithic period, some 32,000 years ago. Among them are unforgettable scenes of mammoths, rhinoceroses, ungulates of all kinds, and even a leopard. One of the most striking scenes is that of a group of nervous, hard breathing horses, with the adjacent wall showing a pride of maneless lions intently stalking them.

Chauvet Horses

The Nervous Horses

My story begins a few nights ago, when my wife and I were viewing Werner Herzog’s film, “The Cave of Forgotten Dreams,” on NetFlix. The film is a documentary about Chauvet. Herzog and his crew were the first non-scientists or technicians allowed in the environmentally fragile cave. As the film crew, shooting as they went, descended deep within the cavern, we were enchanted by the beauty of the cave itself as well as the artistry of the painters. The cave, with its paintings had afterward been sealed like a time capsule, due to a rock fall some 20,000 years ago. It was rediscovered in 1996.

The entire cave is about eighteen hundred feet long, and consists of several rooms, some large, some small, connected by passages. Most of the rooms are filled with stalactites and stalagmites interspersed with curtain like sheets of sparkling limestone. At one point the camera panned along the cave’s dusty floor, showing bones of various animals strewn haphazardly across it. We also saw numerous cave bear skulls (Ursus spelaeus).

And then, within the stygian depths of the cave, the camera came upon the tracks of the boy and the wolf. I forgot everything else at that point and focused on these like a laser.

Maneless lions, Stalking Horses?

Chauvet Lions Painting

To understand my fascination with these tracks, I need to tell you a little about myself.

I grew up in Brooklyn, New York, and spent most of my adult life among the bricks and cement of New York City. I earned a Ph.D. in Genetics, and worked in a laboratory right in the middle of the Big Apple. Despite my upbringing and profession, I always had a great love for the out of doors and have spent a great deal of my spare time in the woods and on rivers.

In the nineteen eighties, following our bliss, as Joseph Campbell would say, my wife Lanie and I took our first class in primitive skills with Tom Brown, the noted wilderness survival teacher. We went on to participate in several of his tracking and wilderness awareness classes, and taught in his school. Since then, Lanie and I have created various programs and primitive skills classes ourselves.

One of our passions has been tracking. We even tracked weasels under the snow in Manhattan’s Central Park and pheasants in Inwood Park at the northern tip of Manhattan.

After we moved out West, I became interested in protection of endangered wildlife, especially the wolf. Living here in the Idaho Panhandle, a few miles from Canada, I have learned a great deal about the biology and behavior of wolves, and we have even tracked them in Yellowstone National Park.

Herzog, who served both as director and narrator of the film, again panned his camera over the wolf and human tracks. Yes, I could see that they were side by side, and was able to get an idea of their sizes and gaits (i.e. manner and pattern of walking), but the camera was too far away to see much detail. Herzog posed some provocative questions. “Was the wolf stalking the boy?” he asked, “or were they walking side by side as companions”? He also pointed out that the tracks may have been made simultaneously or a thousand or more years may have separated them in time.

Tracks can tell fascinating stories if you know how to read them, but these were enigmatic. Herzog’s questions intrigued me and set me to thinking.

Unfortunately, the chances of anyone ever inspecting and measuring the tracks from in close are not good. Herzog was filming from a metal walkway, laid down some years ago, about ten feet from the tracks, and he was not allowed to step off the walkway and get closer to them. Too bad. Although it is possible to track at a distance, and I once witnessed Tom Brown spot and identify fox tracks across a pond from him, you can tell much more about the animal or person who made the tracks from in close. However, the representatives of the French government, who control the cave, have “rules of engagement” that preclude anyone from seeing a lot of it at close quarters, for fear that they would disturb or destroy something vital. This is especially true of the cave’s floor, which has a thick layer of dust on it, which they do not want to disturb.

This situation was frustrating to me as a tracker, used to examining tracks on my hands and knees, and seeing subtle aspects of them that give clues, even about the animal’s state of mind and intentions. None of that was of course possible from such a distance, but still some information could be obtained from the quick look we were afforded.  Besides, it does have the advantage of leaving me free to speculate about the tracks without fear of contradiction by uncomfortable facts that may be uncovered later. In this I am in the common position of an Anthropologist, who my son, a science journalist, says use 5% facts and 95% speculation.

So, freed from those putative facts, I plunge into my own “cave of forgotten memories.”

First, you should understand that careful exploration of Chauvet had previously shown that although cave bears and other animals had obviously used it, no human ever lived in this cave. It was probably entered by humans only for the purpose of making the paintings, and using them for rituals and initiations. The child’s tracks however, were found deep in the cave. What was a young child doing there?

The nether regions of the cave were normally pitch black. Until recently, there was no light in those parts of the cave except intermittently, coming from torches carried by humans. Carbon traces from these torches have been found on the walls, which have been carbon dated to 28,000 years ago.

Due to the necessity for light, it is almost certain that the perhaps eight-year-old boy or girl was not alone in the cave. The child must have been accompanied, at the very least, by one adult. Given the youngster’s age, whoever accompanied him or her, was undoubtedly well known to the child, and was most likely a parent. So, I think that we may all give a sigh of relief, confident that the wolf did not “get” the youngster. Adding to this inductive reasoning is the fact that no child’s bones have been found in the cave either. This should give us even more assurance about his or her welfare.

As for Herzog’s question of whether the child and wolf were there at the same or different times, I am fairly confident about that situation too. First, the cave is basically dry. It is situated high above the present course of the Ardeche River, so that is likely that the only water that could have reached it was through a spring or springs trickling along tree roots, through the rock. We know that the tracks were made at least twenty thousand years ago. That is guaranteed by that rock fall, which sealed the cave until its rediscovery in 1996. The preservation of the tracks for at least the intervening 8,000 years, attests to the fact that no water, mud, or flood had ever reached them during that very long time.

Because of that, it appears that the wet conditions, necessary for making these tracks, must have been a very rare occurrence in the history of the cave. For these reasons, I feel pretty sure that the wolf and the boy had not been walking the cave thousands of years apart. That would have been too great a coincidence. Most likely, they strolled together, or had been there within a few days of each other.

I lean toward the companion theory for several reasons. For one thing, even the cursory sight we were afforded, showed me that both the wolf and the child were just walking along at a normal pace. There was no sign that either of them were running, galloping, or had even lengthened their strides. There was no sign of fear or panic on the part of the child.

Another aspect that I noticed was that the tracks never crossed each other or overlapped. If the tracks were made at different times, it is likely that they would have coincided, at least in part. After all, the cave is fairly narrow, and places where someone could walk are quite confined. There would not have been much room for their tracks to not come in contact except if they had been walking, aware of each other, side by side.

Furthermore, from what I know of wolves, if this one had been stalking the child, it would have literally walked in his tracks. For example, when a wolf pack walks in the snow, they step in each other’s tracks and do so with remarkable precision. This has the effect of breaking the trail, making it easier for the other wolves to follow the leader. Groups of human cross country skiers and snow shoers do this too, and for the same reason. It saves energy.

In this behavior, by the way, the wolf differs from human trackers, who on the contrary, are careful to not step in the tracks they are following. They do this as a courtesy to others, who also may want to examine and follow this set of tracks. Wolves apparently are not as courteous, but are more pragmatic than we are.

This wolf behavior reminds me of the flying wedges of geese, who essentially are “drafting“ the leader as racing cars do. The following geese switch places with each other from time to time in a systematic fashion so that they each take turns leading.  This has the effect of distributing the hard task of leading fairly equally among the flock.

I do not know if members of a wolf pack tracking prey, change places from time to time, but I have been assured by wolf biologists that wolves definitely track their prey, thus showing that they understand that tracks signify that particular types of animals have passed that way. For instance, they would not waste their time and energy tracking a grizzly bear.

By the way, I wonder if wolves can distinguish fresh or recent tracks from older ones? A good human tracker can “age” tracks visually, just by examining them closely. Such an ability would certainly be of value to wolves, because, once again, following old or “stale” tracks (especially if they were a thousand years old!) would be a waste of their energy. Conservation of energy is one of the prime characteristics of wild animals’ behavior. Your pet Labrador retriever might fetch a stick out of the water for you dozens of times, but you can bet that you would not be able to get a wolf to do that.

A wolf can probably track both visually and olfactorially, having a much keener and more discriminating sense of smell than we have.

To return from this digression to the question at hand, it seems to me that the parallel tracks indicate that the child and the wolf were aware of each other’s presence.

Whether they were companions is a more difficult question to answer. Present day dogs are the descendants of wolves, but the information we have at present, mostly from DNA studies, indicates that the transition from wolf to dog took place in at least two different areas of the world at about the same time, some 12,000 years ago. One of these birthplaces was in China and the other in the Near East, both far from Chauvet cave in the Ardeche region of south-central France. So, both in space and time, it seems unlikely that this transition was taking place near Chauvet at the time the tracks were made there.

Nevertheless, we must consider, for our purposes, that the transition from wolf to dog must have started, not with animal husbandry, but with the taming of wolves. This was most likely to have occurred by humans stealing or removing cubs from a wolf den. I know of no instance of an adult or even yearling wolf pup being tamed by humans. One of the most striking characteristics of wolves is their fierce wildness.

Aesop’s fable of the Wolf and the Dog indicates that this wolfy independence was a known and admired fact, way back in Roman times.

However, wolf breeders know that if they obtain a pup early enough, it will regard them as its parents and will bond to them for life. Present day hunter gatherers and other Earth based peoples are keen observers of their natural surroundings, and especially of animals. The wonderful stories and myths that have come down to us from Native Americans testify to that knowledge.

We can assume with confidence therefore that the Cro-Magnons of Chauvet were very familiar with this aspect of wolf behavior, and could have manipulated it to their favor, perhaps using such tamed wolves as guards or even aids in hunting, as present day Botswana Bushmen do with wild dogs.

Another important consideration is that human beings are not the normal prey of wolves. There have been only one or two authenticated wolf attacks on humans on this continent in the last two hundred years. This is true at least of North America. Admittedly, Of course I cannot vouch for this situation with respect to Paleolithic Europe.

All of these bits and pieces of information and speculation have painted a picture for me of a child and a wolf, wandering together through Chauvet cave while the adults were painting other pictures. It is a nice image, and I aim to keep it unless not yet revealed facts arise to contradict it.

Chauvet cave is a marvel indeed, opening to us not only a window on the considerable artistic abilities of Paleolithic man, but also on his inner life, and perhaps in the case of the child and wolf, on his connections to the natural world.

I suspect that the story of the tracks in Chauvet cave will always remain mysterious. After all, we are talking about events that happened a long time ago. Despite our careful analysis, it is still 5% facts and 95% speculation. Perhaps that is what it should be. Sometimes a mystery is more fun than its solution.

The Rhinoceroses of Chauvet

Wall paintings in Chauvet, showing two rhinoceroses






Ancestors Of African Pygmies And Neighboring Farmers Separated Around 60,000 Years Ago

Ancestors Of African Pygmies And Neighboring Farmers Separated Around 60,000 Years Ago

Etienne Patin, et al. (2009) PLoS

ScienceDaily (Apr. 11, 2009) — All African Pygmies, inhabiting a large territory extending west-to-east along Central Africa, descend from a unique population who lived around 20,000 years ago, according to an international study led by researchers at the Institut Pasteur in Paris. The research concludes that the ancestors of present-day African Pygmies and farmers separated ~60,000 years ago.

Pygmies are characterized by a forest-dwelling hunter-gathering lifestyle and distinctive cultural practices and physical traits (e.g., low stature). Two groups of Pygmy populations live in the African rainforests: the “Western Pygmies” and the “Eastern Pygmies”. The common origins of the two groups of Pygmies, separated by thousands of kilometers, have been long debated, and their relationships with neighboring farmers remained obscure.

The researchers, led by Lluis Quintana-Murci, studied the genetic profile of twelve populations of Pygmies and neighboring farmers dispersed over the African continent, using sequence data from non-coding regions of their genomes. Using simulation-based procedures, they determined that the ancestors of Pygmy hunter-gatherers and farming populations started to diverge ~60,000 years ago, coinciding with a period of important human migration both within and outside Africa. Much later, ~20,000 years ago, Western and Eastern Pygmies separated, concurrently with a period of climate change leading to large retreats of the equatorial rainforest into refugia.

The common origin of all Pygmies unmasked in this study led Etienne Patin, one of the leading authors, to conclude that “they have probably inherited their distinctive shared physical traits, such as low height, from a common ancestor, rather than by convergent adaptation to the rainforest”. However, complete genome-wide profiles of these populations are now needed, both to characterize more precisely their demographic history and to identify genes involved in the adaptation of these populations with different lifestyles to their specific ecological habitats.

Ancestors of African Pygmies Separated 60,000 Years Ago


ScienceDaily (Apr. 11, 2009) — All African Pygmies, inhabiting a large territory extending west-to-east along Central Africa, descend from a unique population who lived around 20,000 years ago, according to an international study led by researchers at the Institut Pasteur in Paris. The research concludes that the ancestors of present-day African Pygmies and farmers separated ~60,000 years ago.

Pygmies are characterized by a forest-dwelling hunter-gathering lifestyle and distinctive cultural practices and physical traits (e.g., low stature). Two groups of Pygmy populations live in the African rainforests: the "Western Pygmies" and the "Eastern Pygmies". The common origins of the two groups of Pygmies, separated by thousands of kilometers, have been long debated, and their relationships with neighboring farmers remained obscure.

The researchers, led by Lluis Quintana-Murci, studied the genetic profile of twelve populations of Pygmies and neighboring farmers dispersed over the African continent, using sequence data from non-coding regions of their genomes. Using simulation-based procedures, they determined that the ancestors of Pygmy hunter-gatherers and farming populations started to diverge ~60,000 years ago, coinciding with a period of important human migration both within and outside Africa. Much later, ~20,000 years ago, Western and Eastern Pygmies separated, concurrently with a period of climate change leading to large retreats of the equatorial rainforest into refugia.

The common origin of all Pygmies unmasked in this study led Etienne Patin, one of the leading authors, to conclude that "they have probably inherited their distinctive shared physical traits, such as low height, from a common ancestor, rather than by convergent adaptation to the rainforest". However, complete genome-wide profiles of these populations are now needed, both to characterize more precisely their demographic history and to identify genes involved in the adaptation of these populations with different lifestyles to their specific ecological habitats.


Journal Reference:

  1. Patin et al. Inferring the Demographic History of African Farmers and Pygmy Hunter-Gatherers Using a Multilocus Resequencing Data SetPLoS Genetics, 2009; 5 (4): e1000448 DOI:10.1371/journal.pgen.1000448

Recommended Books on Earth-Based Peoples and Animism



            Do hunter-gatherers have something to tell modern culture? A brilliant analysis by the most respected scholar on the subject.

DANCING WITH THE WHEEL. The Medicine Wheel Workbook.

            Sun Bear is of Chippewa descent. He founded the Bear Tribe, which welcomes natives and non-natives, and is located near Spokane, WA. His book shows how to apply the Medicine Wheel, based on natural cycles, to your life. Includes the 4 directions.

LETTERS FROM A WILD STATE. Rediscovering Our True Relationship to Nature. James G. Cowan

            Cowen is an Australian, who has spent much time with Australian aborigines as well as with several other indigenous peoples. He brings the lyrical mind of a poet to penetrate deeply into the mythical minds of these people.

MESSENGER OF THE GODS.  Tribal Elders Reveal the Ancient Wisdom of the Earth. James G. Cowan.

            Cowen gains much wisdom and insight from his contacts with the few remaining animists living on islands between Australia and New Guinea. They tell him their personal stories, myths, and legends.


            Shepard’s most profound work. Here he shows how the life cycle of an individual is intimately tied to natural cycles, and what happens when a culture  disconnects it.

ORIGINAL WISDOM: Stories of an Ancient Way of Knowing. Robert Wolff.

            A psychologist lives with the most remote people of Malaysia, the Sng’oi., and discovers remarkable things about these people’s abilities.

ISHMAEL. Daniel Quinn

             The transformative, award winning novel, depicting the contradictions between the animist and contemporary cultures. 

PROVIDENCE. The Story of a Fifty-Year Vision Quest. Daniel Quinn

            The autobiography of the prize winning author of Ishmael, Quinn’s dream as a seven year old and his vision in a Trappist monastery prefigure his inexorable path to his culminating work.

THE FOREST PEOPLE. A Study of the Pygmies of the Congo. Colin M. Turnbull.

            An anthropologist lives with Congo Pygmies. He admires their lifestyle and social organization, which they manage to retain despite the incursions of Bantu agriculturalists.

THE HARMLESS PEOPLE. Elizabeth Marshal Thomas.

            An anthropologist, as a teenager with her parents lived with South African Bushmen and describes a society that works – wonderfully. She returns 20 years later to see what effect our culture has had on theirs.

THE OLD WAY. Elizabeth Marshall Thomas

            The author, who lived with the Bushmen for several years, uses the perspective of her mature years to examine their  culture in depth. It is interwoven with personal experiences and insights, as well as with comparisons to our culture.


            The beautiful and insightful adventure of a South African WWII hero, who upon his return, searches for & finds the last remnants of the remarkable Bushmen. They are surviving in style in an inhospitable desert.

THE HEART OF THE HUNTER. Laurens Van der Post           

            Continues the story begun in Lost World of the Kalahari. It is an elegiac evocation of both the external & internal worlds of the last of the Hunter Gatherers, written by a keen observer.


            An anthropologist, turned subsistence hunter, goes to an island off the coast of Alaska to find deer and grizzlies. He develops an animist spirituality. This is an astonishingly beautiful book about the relation of a man to nature.

THE TRACKER. Tom Brown, Jr.

            The story of the apprenticeship of seven year old Tom Brown to an Apache scout and elder, Stalking Wolf, in which Tom learns a lot more than wilderness survival skills.


            The almost legendary master of tracking and primitive wilderness survival has written a manual on how to not only survive, but to flourish in Nature’s embrace. Tune into the man, who has reconnected thousands of people to the Earth and gain a little of his ethic and wisdom as a bonus.


            Swamp was the Peacemaker for the 6 Nations of the Iroquois. He was head of the Tree of Peace Society. This pamphlet, which is a classic example of Native American thanksgiving, and said on every occasion, can be obtained from John Stokes , of


         A scholarly analysis of the impressive technological and cultural achievements of our ancient ancestors.

OUR BABIES, OURSELVES: How Biology and Culture Shape the Way We Parent. Meredith F. Small.

         A Pediatric Anthropologist examines different cultures’ approach to parenting.

LIMITED WANTS, UNLIMITED MEANS. A Reader on Hunter-Gatherer Economics and the Environment. John Gowdy, ed.

         The interaction between Hunter-Gatherer economics and the environment. Describes a culture in harmony with the Earth.

Hunter Gatherers – Brutish Or Brilliant?




Neanderthals played music


by Ken Fischman, Ph.D. and Lanie Johnson, M.A.


(PF)  1. MUSIC (Bayaka track 1, women gathering mushrooms)


(K)    3.  THE END OF OIL

Q         Russia and the Ukraine have been in the news lately.  Can anyone tell me what it’s about?  (Discussion).  The first shot has been fired in what I call the Resource Wars.  Essentially, Russia turned off the spigot on the Natural Gas it pipes into the Ukraine, which is needed to heat homes during the Winter. You see, Russia wants to increase the cost by 400%.  Not nice.

         You may be wondering what this has to do with HGs.  A  lot.  You see, the world is running out of oil and Natural Gas, and this will change our economy and culture drastically.  We will be forced to reinvent a sustainable society.  Once upon a time, we did have a sustainable society.

         The present situation requires a little explanation.  Back in 1956, an oil Geologist by the name of L. King Hubbert published a paper in which he calculated that oil production in the US would peak in about 1972, and would drop every year thereafter. A lot of smart people derided Hubbert. After all, at the time, the US was the world’s leading producer of oil. 

         1972 was the year in which they stopped laughing at Hubbert.  US oil production did indeed peak in 1972, and it has dropped every year since then.  That year became famous in some circles as “Hubbert’s Peak.”

         Oil is a finite resource.  They aren’t making it any more.

         Hubbert’s students and followers have refined his methods and used them to predict when World Oil production will peak. Most of them say between 2008 and 2012.  A few say that we have already passed it.

         You may have noticed that the wholesale price of oil hit almost $70/barrel  a few days ago.  Some experts say that it is just a spike due to temporary conditions.  Don’t be fooled.  These are the same kind of guys who laughed at Hubbert in ‘56.  Some facts are simply too ugly to face, especially when your whole lifestyle is at risk.

         Try to imagine automobile gas at $10-20/gallon.  Our whole culture is built on cheap energy.  Autos and trucks, home heating, industry, medicine, food.  Agriculture runs on oil and NG – fertilizer, pesticides, transport to market, etc.

                   What will happen? Will we go back to the stone age?  I doubt it.  We                    will probably go back to the 1890s instead, and those days weren’t so bad.                     Small towns, local economies, extended families.  Are there ways to live a                  good life without buying lots of “stuff” and flying to Mexico every winter?                       You bet. 

Tonight we will look at a culture that did not depend on oil.  We can’t go back to the woods again, all 9.2 billion of us, but perhaps we can learn some lessons and extract some principles from these people that will be helpful to us.



•         “Primitive People were wild animals . . . (they) were not pleasant people. They were fearful and cruel creatures, who beat and killed and robbed whenever they had a chance.

         They did not have names like you and me. They had names like Umfa Umfa and Itchy Scratchy.

         Their only rule of life was hurt and kill what you can, and run from what you can’t. This is what we call the first law of nature—every man for himself. They knew if they didn’t kill they would be killed, for there were no laws nor police to protect them.”        

         –V. M. Hillyer, Headmaster of Calvert School; author of A Child’s History of the World


•          (in a state of Nature): “No arts, no letters; no society; and which is worst of all, continual fear and danger of violent death; and the life of man, solitary, poor, nasty, brutish and short.”

         -Thomas Hobbes, 17th century


•         The South American Campa Tribe, “degraded and ignorant beings, they lead a life exotic, purely animal, savage, in which are eclipsed the faint glimmerings of their reason, in which are drowned the weak pangs of their conscience, and all the instincts and lusts of animal existence alone float and are reflected.”

         -Manuel Navarro, La Tribu Campa, quoted in Gerald Weiss, American Museum of Natural History Anthropological Papers


•         “Through 97 percent of history, man lived by hunting and nomadic pasturage. During those 975,000 years his basic character was formed – to greedy acquisitiveness, violent pugnacity and lawless sexuality.”

-Will Durant, “A Last Testament to Youth,” Columbia Dispatch Mag


•         ancient people. . . “were not conscious. They were what we would call signal-bound, that is, responding each minute to cues in a stimulus-response manner, and controlled by those cues.”

         -Julian Jaynes, The Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind


•regarding the Noble Savage (from poem by John Dryden, 17th century):

         “nothing can be more gentle than he in his primitive state, when placed by nature at an equal distance from the stupidity of brutes and the pernicious good sense of civilized man.”

         -Jean-Jacques Rousseau, 18th century

•         “The Sng’oi (Malaysian hunter-gatherers) had all the time in the world . . . They did not slave in gardens; they did not work to get ahead; they were not stressed by keeping office hours or schedules.  There was nothing they had to do.  They enjoyed living; they smiled a great deal, and laughed, and made jokes.”

         – Robert Wolff, Psychologist and author of Original Wisdom

                                                            -            -            -

(about the Bushmen) “. . . there is no evidence for exploitation on the basis of sex or age. . . (but) a continuous struggle against one’s own selfish, arrogant, and antisocial impulses. . . A sharing way of life is not only possible but has actually existed in many parts of the world and over long periods of time.”

         -Richard Lee, The !Kung San


•         “Among those relict tribal peoples who seem to live at peace with their world, who feel themselves to be guests rather than masters. . .(is a way of life to which our development) was fitted by natural selection, fostering a calendar of mental growth, cooperation, leadership, and the study of a mysterious and beautiful world where the clues to the meaning of life were embodied in natural things”

         -Paul Shepard, Nature and Madness


•          The Ituri pygmies, who all show “humor, gaiety, reflectiveness. . .  contradict the conventional image of preliterate peoples as divested of ego and personality.”

         -Murray Bookchin, The Rise of Urbanization and the Decline of Citizenship


         Now that we have that straight – – let me tell you about our plan for this presentation. We first got interested in HGs around 20 years ago. In Tom Brown’s week-long wilderness survival classes in the woods, we practiced what he called “the old ways.” – like shelter & friction-fire making (skills we’ll be teaching at the workshop in June). We realized that instead of just practicing skills; we were actually following the lifestyle of ancient people. We began reading about these ancient ancestors. As we took more classes and read more books – we were hooked!

         Tonight we’re going to follow the ancient tradition of making winter the time for stories & discussion. We’ll share with you what we found out about what HGs were really like.

         We found neither Rousseau’s Noble Savage nor Hobbes’ Nasty Brute, but real, science-based descriptions. This has been a fascinating and often surprising exploration for us and we think it will be the same for you – – about what we can learn from HGs in addition to wilderness survival skills.


         (subject is Social Interaction – no images)

         You have heard conflicting opinions from eminent writers, historians, and scientists.  Tonight, you will get the chance to look at the evidence and decide for yourself.  Let me introduce you to the subject of our presentation.

Ladies and Gentlemen, meet the BRUTES!                                                   (A100 Forest Pygmy dance of joy with Bayaka track 3, Boyobi – 40 sec.)

         Who are these people, and what are they doing?  These are the Efe Pygmies of the Zaire Rain Forest.  They have just completed a successful hunt, and are dancing for joy.

         The Pygmies are formidable hunters.  They can even bring down Forest Elephants, but most often they hunt with nets.  Each family within the group is in charge of making and repairing one segment of the net. They start from scratch, making the cordage from plant fibers.  (Those of you who take our Field Class will have the opportunity to make cordage just as these people do).  The net is about the height of a volleyball net but much longer – about 50 yards.  The men string it up on trees and bushes and connect all the nets to form a horseshoe-shaped trap about a quarter of a mile long.  The women, children, and elders drive the animals into the open end of the net by shouting and making noise.

         You see, hunting is a family and group affair with Pygmies and perfectly fits their socially cooperative lifestyle.

         You have been hearing their music as recorded by musicologist Louis Sarno.  From time to time we will play more of their music.  It is in a pentatonic scale.  Keep that in mind.  It will turn out to be important for you to know.


B100 Cartoon-ABO Job Application

         There is some confusion about the difference between Hunter-Gatherers, Indigenous people, Primitive or Tribal people, and so on.  People like the Massai and Bantu of Africa, and most east coast American Indians, are not Hunter-Gatherers.  They are or were horticulturalists, that is, people who till small gardens, or agriculturalists who farm, or pastoralists who herd animals.

         The Hunter-Gatherers are none of these.  They pursue an ancient lifestyle, which goes back to the very beginnings of Mankind. 

         As their name implies, they hunt animals and gather wild plants they find around them.  They live in small groups or bands of 10-30 related  persons, who are usually an extended family.  They usually marry outside their band to others from related bands, who are in contact with them.

         They have no hereditary or elected leaders. They make decisions by consensus and have a cooperative, sharing society. Of course, this doesn’t mean they never get angry, jealous, or mean.  However, they have created a culture in which such behavior is minimalized.

         Most of their possessions are communal.  They are Renaissance men and women.  Everyone in the group above the age of 12-13 has all the skills necessary to live their life style, and if they should get separated from the group they could get on just fine.  Contrast this with the average High School graduate in the US.  Plunk them down in the middle of the Zaire rain forest or for that matter the middle of New York City and see how long they could survive without all their support systems.

         Who are these people and do they still exist?  Yes, they do, mostly tucked away in inhospitable corners of the world.


(C 200 cartoon ABO horoscope)

         INTRO: most history books dismiss ancient HGs in just a few

paragraphs as “prehistory” if they mention them at all.  You get the idea that real, important history begins 7 – 10,000 years ago, with the invention of agriculture, the written word and walled cities. In fact, civilization is usually defined in this way, including monumental architecture, hierarchical social orders, & wars.

         Keep in mind, however, that HGs of one kind or another have existed for a lot longer than our culture has. In fact, we have been HGs for 99% of the time that humans have walked the Earth.

         In the course of this evening, you will discover what sort of beings HGs were & still are, because they are among us even now. Were they brutal, savage scavengers like Umfa Umfa & Itchy Scratchy, or were they something entirely different?

         I believe that they are worthy of our scrutiny because of our relationship to them. After all, in both a figurative and a real sense, they are our great, great, great grandfathers.

         (L)  (1)  Art           notes:(Kristofer  Y. on Didge during Australian Abo                                     images)

                                    (Kristofer Y, on Flute during flute images)

                  (K) talk about PENTATONIC SCALE while Kris plays flute

                  (C113 -114)

                  (C101 Aust ABO Land Forms) this slide takes us to the desert of Australia. You can see the shimmering horizon in the distance; in the foreground are mountains that the Aborigines see as female bodies. The ABOs have lived in this environment for at least 40,000 years. They are such skilled trackers that today, the Australian police have them on staff to track criminals across the desert sands. This Saturday, we will be tracking in snow, which is a lot easier than sand! (C102, 103, 104)

                  (C105 – 112A)

ART II         (C117 -120)

         (K)  (2)  Skills and (3) Antiquity/evolution

         (C201, 202, 204, 205 bushman 1)

         (C207 pygmy with net)

         (C208, 209 Tasaday)

         (C211 – C301)

1. The Schoningen Spears (C302 Schoningen spear)

         Of all the recent discoveries that are changing our minds about ancient man, the Schoningen Spears top my list. 

         Archaeologist Helmut Thieme was digging in a peat bog, near the Harz mountains in southern Germany.  He was in a hurry. An open-pit coal mine was set to expand into that area in a matter of weeks and that peat bog would be history.  Instead, it became a startling piece of Prehistory.

         He was working at a 50-foot depth when his assistant called him over.  The assistant had found a piece of wood.  That was exciting enough.  Wood and other organic material are rare finds in archaeological excavations.  They usually disappear quickly, victims of microbial and insect activity, leaving only hard evidence like fossilized bones and chipped flints.

         But, peat bogs are different.  They lack oxygen, and this condition preserves organic material.  Thieme and his assistant carefully uncovered the wood.  It was 6 feet long and narrow.  Then they got to the tip.  It had been sharpened to a point!  What they had was a spear!  When they got to the other end, another surprise awaited them.  It too narrowed to a point.  It was not only a spear, but it was a throwing spear, a javelin.  All this in a layer of the bog that was known to be 400,000 years old.  It was not Homo sapiens, but Homo erectus, an ancestral species who made this spear.

         More surprises awaited them when they analyzed their find back at the laboratory.  The spear was made from the trunk of a 30-year-old spruce tree with its anterior end toward the base of the trunk.  That meant that it contained heartwood, the hardest part of the tree, where the tree rings are closest together.  Furthermore, it was carved in such a way that half of its weight was in the forward third of the spear, which gave it perfect aerodynamics.  That is the way an Olympic javelin is designed. .  This was no accidentally sharpened piece of wood.

         Back at the peat bog, they found 6 other such Javelins.         Thieme’s report sent a shock wave through the Paleontological world.  This fellow Homo erectus, was a lot smarter than they had thought.  The spears’ manufacture took planning and forethought.  Its existence also meant that Homo erectus was no Hyena-like scavenger, but a hunter.  And, hunting implied cooperation and cleverness, perhaps even language needed to coordinate the strategy of the hunters.  After all they were after large mobile game such as horses, and as thousands of butchered bones at the site testify, they were often successful. And the use of a javelin meant that the hunters did not have to get up close and personal with a quick and potentially dangerous prey animal.  They could kill or wound it from afar.  Next best thing to a 30-30 with telescopic sight.

         Of course there were a few nay-sayers.  It wouldn’t be science if there weren’t.  One of them doubted that it was a javelin. He said that he had looked through many weighty anthropological texts and found that only 1/96 contemporary HG cultures used spears for throwing and not for thrusting. It sounded impressive.

         Anthropologists love controversy.  They can then speculate endlessly.  Well, as the Irishman asked when he entered a bar in which a brawl was going on, “ Is this a private fight, or can anyone join in”?

         I joined in by asking what’s the point of having a thrusting spear sharpened at both ends? (Please excuse the pun).   Furthermore, how would that critic explain this [show Bushman throwing spear image – C203]         I rest my case.

2.  The Bilzingsleben Bones (C303 – 307)

Homo floriensis and Homo sapiens

"Hobbit" skull compared with that of a modern human

         Most archaeological digs of ancient man are bleak places.  A few trenches and some wooden stakes connected by strings, are all you can see. They give you no idea about how our ancestors lived. 

         Bilzingsleben in the former East Germany is different.  It is a site on a wind-swept moor, along a small stream that leads into a nearby lake.  It looks like a scene out of Wuthering Heights.

         It clearly was a hunting camp.

           Scientists have uncovered 3 small round or oval dwellings, whose foundations were made of rocks and animal bones.  This immediately brought to my mind arctic river trips I have read about in which the authors found rings of rocks and bones where the Inuit Eskimos had their dwellings.  Those of you who attended our first workshop may remember one of the main rules of survival – use what is handy.

         The next part described brought back other memories.  It was a pit, on the periphery of the camp, and far away from the other structures. It was filled with flint fragments and had anvil stones around it.  I flashed back to the Rabbitstick primitive skills rendezvous that Lanie & I like to attend.  There is an area set aside, far from the other busy camp activities.  It consists of a pit with a few logs around it where the flint-nappers work.  Flint, chert, and obsidian have the sharpest edges in the world, and they would not want the many children that frequent the camp, or anyone else for that matter, to blunder in there with bare feet.  The inhabitants of the Bilzingsleben camp had obviously taken similar precautions. 

         There was another area away from the dwellings that was a refuse site.  I guess they didn’t like the idea of someone walking through the camp and carelessly throwing away banana peels or whatever.  Again, we had a similar place at Rabbitsick, but I doubt that the Bilzinglebeners had garbage cans.

         There were also signs of hearths.

         Archaeologists also found 4 intentionally-marked elephant bones.  The bones had many parallel lines, all engraved by the same instrument, and one had a zig zag, made without lifting the engraving tool.  When archaeologists find such bones they assume that they are counters of some sort – perhaps calendars.

         Well, of course I have been keeping you in suspense about who did all these things. Now it’s time to “fess” up.  The Archaelogists also found molar teeth and skull fragments, which they identified as belonging to our old friend, Homo erectus. The erectus bones were dated at 300-350 thousand years old. 

         A lot of anthropologists had figured that Homo erectus was hardly smarter than a Chimpanzee because he had a similar brain capacity.

         Now lets see, these Homo erectus built dwellings, kept separate sanitary and tool building sites, perhaps knew fire, and kept records of something.  I don’t know if his references were Baboons, but I am impressed.

(L)    ANNOUNCEMENT: before we take a short 10-minute break, I’d like to tell you that there is still room the Sat. Field Class on (2/4) (2/11). You can see Joyce Jowdy about signing up. (Joyce, would you please stand up). We’ll start again at (0:00)

BREAK         (Joshua passes sign-up sheet & booklist just after break)


(K)  Anecdote: (Social Interaction)

A couple of years ago I heard a young  Peace Corps volunteer being interviewed on NPR about her experience in a remote mountain village in S. America.  She had gone there to teach the Indigenous people and help them build, modern hygienic facilities such as pit toilets. 

         She had been amazed to find how happy these people were despite their poverty and lack of modern sanitary facilities.  She could not understand at first, why they could be so happy despite endemic disease,  the dirt streets of the village, and the wretched huts of the people.  This was contrary to her understanding, as an American, that “stuff” brings happiness.  These people had hardly any “stuff,” but after a while she realized that that they did have things lacking in her home town, like extended families, community, and a cohesive culture,.  After a while, even she became happy there, and she longed to return to the village.”

         (L)  (1)  Diversity & Similarity

         As Ken said before, we’re not discussing tribal people (there were very few HGs in colonial times here in the US – – the Apache in the SW, Calusa in FL & Sheepeaters in ID) but HGs are to be found worldwide, both historical and contemporary (Australian Aborigines, Kalahari Bushmen, African Forest Pygmies). HGs had or have very different lifestyles – based on their environment – tools, diet, many different ways to make fire – BUT along with this diversity, there are consistent similarities: -

         (L)  (2)  Social Interaction –

                           D201 -215B Bushmen 2

slide show:         D216 – D221 Pygmies 2

         These images will give you an idea of social interaction among modern Bushmen and Pygmies.

         • These people are non-hierarchical and cooperative – as when some British people taught Australian ABOs to play soccer. The ABOs caught on quickly and played well, but surprised the Brits when they played until each team had made a goal, and then stopped.  They figured that was the object of the game.

         • What about us? In the US a recent research project was reported by the NYT in which MRIs were used to test subjects for cooperative behavior. They played a game in which people were paid differing amounts each time they chose to cooperate or not to cooperate with each other. Mutual cooperation was the most profitable overall, but there was a built-in risk that one player might choose non-cooperation for short-term gain. The researchers were surprised to find that most players chose cooperation and during cooperative choices, the MRI showed that the pleasure pathways in the brain were highly lit up. As one researcher said, “we’re wired to cooperate with each other.”

         (L)  (3) Economics

         Society and Economy are a chicken and egg situation, but now that you’ve seen a bit of the society, here is some information on their economy. As Ken described earlier, HGs were small, nomadic bands of extended family members – with no permanent dwelling, no private property, and no storage of food. They carried very little with them. If they needed a tool, it was easy to make quickly because raw materials were free and available to all (and of course they had the skills to make the tools). They had everything they needed because their needs were so simple. As Marshall Sahlins, author of Stone Age Economics, put it: “we are inclined to think of Hunters and Gatherers as poor because they don’t have anything; perhaps better to think of them for that reason as free. “  Free for what? to enjoy life!

         (L)  (4) Physical Health

         What about the health of HGs? Let me ask you for a couple of estimates: what would you say is the current world-wide average life expectancy? (67) What is average HG life expectancy? (I found a range of 54.1 – 67.1) One more question: what percentage of deaths in industrialized countries are caused by cancer, heart disease, diabetes, emphysema & cirrhosis of the liver? (more than 75%) These so-called diseases of civilization are close to non-existent in HG cultures.

         Now, here’s a little food for thought: from a rare study on HG diet and health. Back in the 1920s and 30s, Dr. Weston A. Price, a dentist practicing in Cleveland, was concerned about the cause of increasing dental decay in his young patients. He traveled all over the world and visited primitive people who were totally isolated from modern civilization and lived exclusively on indigenous diets. He concluded that tooth decay and bodily disease were promoted by nutritional deficiencies. He also observed that whenever any members of these groups adopted modern, refined foods, there would be a consistent degeneration of their health followed by that of any babies born after the change in diet.

         Among the people he visited and examined were Eskimos of Alaska, South Pacific Islanders, Africans and Australian Aborigines. Although their diets varied widely, all of their diets provided fresh, whole natural materials for body building and repair, including minerals and vitamins necessary for mineral absorption. Some North Canadian Indians ate the organs of Caribou and fed the muscle meat to their dogs. Dr. Price analyzed 14 different diets that consistently provided almost complete immunity to dental decay along with high resistance to disease. Here is diversity and similarity again!

D401         / These Melanesian Island boys lived on shellfish, regular fish, fruits, greens, roots & coconuts. Although they seem to have a family resemblance, they were born on 4 different tropical islands. They are not brothers but healthy individuals expressing their hereditary racial characteristics.

D402         compare their diet with that of the Australian Aborigines who lived in the desert with little rain & infertile soil: wallaby, kangaroo and rodent – muscle & organ meat – plus insects, beetles, grubs, roots, stems, leaves, grass seed & berries. / One of these 4 women followed this diet; the other 3 exhibit the deformities & low immunity that Dr. Price found typical of those whose parents had adopted a modern diet: narrow face due to inadequate bone structure, pinched nostrils, narrow dental arches and therefore, crowded teeth. He found that traditional ABOs (many of whom never brushed their teeth at all) had no cavities, while those on a modern diet had 70.9% cavities.

D403         / Although deformities cannot be reversed, Dr. Price does indicate hope for people on our modern diet. Both of these girls are patients of his from an American family. The one on the left shows the narrow face and crowded teeth. Her birth required 53 hours of labor. Her mother subsequently changed her diet to include milk, green vegetables, sea foods, organ meats and high-vitamin butter & CLO. The younger sister on the right needed only 2 hours of labor and you can see the difference in the form of her face and teeth. 

         (K)  (5)  Psychological Health –

When did Empathy/Compassion arise?  Here is some evidence to consider in that regard:

           •“Nandy” of Shanidar Cave

          (a) An intentional burial of a 40 year-old Neanderthal, now nicknamed “Nandy” was found in the Shanidar Cave, in Iraq, and dated from 46 – 60 thousand years ago.  “Nandy’s most striking feature was that he had a withered right side, obviously a congenital defect.  His collar bone, shoulder bone and arm bone were all underdeveloped.  The arm bone had been deliberately amputated in later life, and the stump had had time to heal.  In addition he had worn-down teeth, healed head wounds, and was blind in his right eye.  He was a mess!

         The question is how did he survive all those years in such helpless condition if life then was “survival of the fittest,” and it was every man for himself?   Obviously, he had to have a great deal of continuing support.  I wonder what the author of “A Child’s History of the World” would say about “Nandy” and his buddies?  Does empathy appear even earlier in man’s history?  We shall see:

         (b)  The Flower Burial

         As though “Nandy” was not a startling enough discovery at Shanidar Cave, there was yet another surprise lying there.  Another adult male, 50-60 years old, was found buried, and he had at least 7 species of flowers or herbs sprinkled over him.  They were not just any old pretty flowers either.  Most of them, such as Yarrow and Ephedra, had obvious pharmacological properties, showing a knowledge of “folk” medicine, and perhaps the hope that he would eventually be healed, even after death.

         •  The Toothless Man of Dmanisi         D501

         My son, the journalist, traveled to the little town of Dmanisi, in the Georgia Republic a few months ago.  Besides a nice little vacation, he had another object.  He wanted to look at a skull recently dug up there.  It wasn’t the first skull found there.  There have been 7 others, all of them some form of H. erectus

         They are located on a plateau, high above the confluence of two streams, apparently an ideal place to corner food animals.  Dmanisi shows all the signs of having been a H. erectus hunting camp for thousands of years.  There are lots of animal bones lying around, and many of them show cuts indicating butchery.  There are also hand axes all over the place.

         So, what was so unusual about that skull that brought Josh thousands of mile to view it?  Just this, The skull is toothless, and it also shows regrowth of the jaw after the teeth fell out.  Same old question.  Who took care of this guy?  Did someone grind up his food so that he could swallow it?  And, most important, how could this have happened if H. erectus was such a thug?  Do thugs have compassion?  Oh, I forgot to tell you.  This skull is 1.8 million years old.

         One more thing –archaeologists have puzzled over all the rounded river stones found in the camp.  They had to be brought up from the streams below with considerable effort.  Obviously, the archaeologist’s knowledge of hunting and gathering is purely academic.  They must never attended primitive skills rendezvous.  If you come to our skills intensive in June, we will show you how to make a quicky discoidal knife from river stones.

K      (6) Parenting/Child Rearing         D502

Story:  A few weeks ago, I happened to be in Staples, when a woman came in wheeling a baby carriage.  At least I think it was a baby carriage, but it didn’t look like the one I pushed my kids in long ago.

         In fact, it looked more like an armored tank than a carriage.  It was made of some heavy-gauge, gray-colored plastic material, and had about as many wheels as an armoured personnel carrier.  However, the thing that startled me was the top.  It was also of the same gray plastic material and resembled the top of a tank, complete with turret.  It also had what looked like bullet-proof shielding on it that completely closed the inside of the turret to view.

         And, it was the inside that I wanted to look at because from the stygian depths of that armored vehicle came an incessant, though muffled wailing that never stopped, not even for 2 seconds.     

         The desperation of the occupant was obvious to me, but not apparently to the mother.  She appeared absolutely oblivious of the situation inside the perambulator/tank as she wheeled it up and down the aisles, picking up various items of merchandise, which she then piled on its top.  How convenient!

         This went on for a full 10 minutes until she arrived at the cash register, and had completely carried out her apparently complicated financial transaction.  It was then, and only then, that she opened the visor of the armored vehicle, reached in, and lifted out a tiny, dark-haired, infant who was obviously only a few weeks old.  She placed him/her/it against her shoulder, and the desperate wailing instantly stopped.  It was obvious now what that baby had wanted.

         I can only imagine the terror that child felt, swaddled in something resembling a sleeping bag, and trapped inside its dark, and probably almost airless and soundless “Black hole of Calcutta.”

Bushman and Pygmy Parenting

         Let us turn to a more pleasant subject, the parenting behavior of the savage iKung! or San Bushmen of the Kalahari desert.  Many anthropologists have studied them.  The situation reminds me of a story Joseph Campbell told about the interaction between the Navajo and anthropologists in the 1930s.  The typical Navajo family he said, consists of a mother, father, child and 2 anthropologists.  The point is, that Bushman parenting has been thoroughly documented.

         The Bushmen raise their children together, the babies are in constant contact with their mothers and are carried everywhere all the time.  San babies are never left alone.  Bushman mothers sleep in contact with them, and The babies breast-feed continuously.  Mothers respond to crying within 10 seconds, over 90% of the time.  Can’t you just see that anthropologist standing there with his stop watch?

         Bushman children control their own breast-feeding, which continues for the first 3-4 years of the child’s life.  By the way, continuous breast-feeding stops ovulation and of course prevents fertilization.  This is one of the Bushman’s main ways of population control, which has worked well in a area with limited biological carrying capacity for who knows how many hundreds or thousands of years. 

         Is this behavior an anomaly, or is it similar to that of other Hunter-Gatherers?  Let’s look at the Efe Pygmies of the Ituri rainforest. After all, it is very different environment from that of the Bushmen.  The Pygmies have a parenting strategy that differs in detail from that of the Bushman, but you will see that the basic principles are the same.

         Pygmies bond to many babies and child care is a group activity.  The babies are passed among group mothers, carried to foraging sites, and their care is shared.  Please note: this is also true for males.  All mothers respond to fussing, giving the breast even if it is not her baby.  This multiple caretaking model fits the way of life of a social, interacting band, in which communal connections are the basis of their economic pattern and the foundation of their social system.        

(L) We are very fortunate to have as our guest tonight, Dr. Jack Wright, whom some of you may know by his marital name, Oakwright. He has been a psychologist in Sandpoint since 1975 and is President-elect of the Idaho Psychological Association.

(JO)  Brain Development/Dr. Jack Wright


(K)             (1)  Physical Evidence         E101 – 103

         The Mind of Paleolithic man, The Hunter-Gatherer:

         How far back does Man’s intelligence and sense of aesthetics and beauty go?   Thirty thousand year old flutes, cunningly carved from the wing bones of Swans and Mammoth ivory, demonstrate planning, impressive craftsmanship, and love of music.  Four hundred thousand-year-old throwing spears (or Javelins) show that H. erectus was no unconscious thinking scavenger, but was capable of forethought, and able to learn skills handed down from others.  But, were these guys religious? 

         Deliberate Burials:

         So far, there are no hints of any religious thoughts on the part of H. erectus.  However, there were deliberate burials of Neanderthals.  Do they represent thoughts of an afterlife or a return from death?  The position of the buried person, often in a fetal position, and facing East toward the rising sun, indicate hope for renewal just as the Sun is reborn each day.  The inclusion of tools, weapons, and ornamentation shows the hope for a return in which the buried party will find all the possessions needed to carry on his/her life again.  Some burials also contained offerings of such things as deer antlers, boar jaws, flint tools, and Red Deer jaw bones.  There are other clues.

         Cave Bear Grottos:

          High up in the Alps grottos have been discovered in which many Cave Bear skulls have been carefully arranged.  Cave Bears are thought to represent the Animal Master, whose propitiation would hopefully insure the return the next year of Man’s principal food animals. 

         Religious thoughts:

         Cro-Magnon cave paintings in France and Spain, such as the “Sorcier des Trois Freres” may also represent Animal Masters or some kind of sympathetic magic, insuring the success of the The Great Hunt, which was surely early Man’s greatest occupation.  His view of the Earth as sacred is demonstrated in contemporary HGs like Australian Aborigines, who see animate forms in natural geography, like the “woman’s legs” in NW Australia.

(L)             (2)  Cosmology

         What about HG cosmology? that is, beliefs about the relationship between humans & Nature. One expression of their cosmology is in the games they play. The widespread incidence of games of chance (gambling, really) shows an underlying philosophy that life is a game of chance; in other words, acceptance of Nature and what it brings. On the other hand, games of strategy, which appeared later, among agriculturalists, indicate interest in control.

         Ancient myths are often about animals as the first people – or older brothers – who are valued as teachers. HG religion is usually called Animism, or the belief that everything in the world is alive and has a spirit: people, animals, birds, trees, rocks, water, etc. It’s based on respect for the natural world and all its beings.  This is illustrated by an incident recorded in a book by an anthropologist who had lived with Efe Pygmies:

         “The moon was full, so the dancing had gone on for longer than usual.  Just before going to sleep I was standing before my hut when I heard a curious noise from the children’s nearby bopi (i.e. a play field).  This surprised me because at nighttime the pygmies generally never set a foot outside the main camp.  I wandered over to see what it was.

         There, in the tiny clearing, splashed with silver, was the sophisticated Kenge, clad in bark cloth, adorned with leaves, with a flower stuck in his hair.  He was all alone, dancing around and singing softly to himself as he gazed up to the treetops.

         … After watching for a while, I came into the clearing and asked jokingly, why he was dancing alone.  He stopped, turned slowly around and looked at me as though I was the biggest fool he had ever seen; and he was plainly surprised at my stupidity.

         “But I’m not dancing alone.” he said.  “I am dancing with the moon.”  Then, with utmost unconcern, he ignored me and continued his dance of love and life.”

                  -Dancing with the Moon, The Forest People, p272

         You are probably familiar with the following testament of Animist beliefs – it may not be exact, because it was written down about 40 years after it was spoken, but we’ve never found a more accurate, concise or poetic expression of Animist beliefs:

(K)             (3)  Chief Seattle’s Speech        

 “The President in Washington sends word that he wishes to buy our land. But how can you buy or sell the sky? The land? The idea is strange to us. If we do not own the freshness of the air and the sparkle of the water, how can you buy them?

         Every part of this earth is sacred to my people. Every shining pine needle, every sandy shore, every mist in the dark woods, every meadow, every humming insect. All are holy in the memory and experience of my people.

         We know the sap which courses through the trees as we know the blood that courses through our veins. We are part of the earth and it is part of us. The perfumed flowers are our sisters. The bear, the deer, the great eagle, these are our brothers.

         The rivers are our brothers. They quench our thirst. They carry our canoes and feed our children. So you must give to the rivers the kindness you would give any brother.

         If we sell you our land, remember that the air is precious to us,  that the air shares its spirit with all the life it supports. The wind that gave our grandfather his first breath also receives his last sigh. The wind also gives our children the spirit of life.

         Will you teach your children what we have taught our children? That the earth is our mother? What befalls the earth befalls all the sons of the earth.

         This we know: the earth does not belong to man, man belongs to the earth. All things are connected like the blood that unites us all. Man did not weave the web of life, he is merely a strand in it. Whatever he does to the web, he does to himself.

         As we are part of the land, you too are part of the land. This earth is precious to us. It is also precious to you. One thing we know: there is only one God. No man, be he Red Man or White Man, can be apart. We are brothers after all.”


         Ken has shown that HGs, both ancient & contemporary, are just like us – physically & psychologically. Although their societies are very different from ours, we still have a lot in common:

(1) commonalities        

         • how many of you, when feeling weighed down by cares, go for a walk in the woods or a park to “de-stress”?

         • how many like to camp, hike, fish, hunt, travel, wander?

         • how many enjoy drumming, singing, dancing, storytelling (including ghost stories) around a fire circle?

         • how many have played games of chance or stalking games like “capture the flag”?

         • how many eat (or try to eat) a natural, whole-foods diet/organic foods?

         • how many are interested in animals – wildlife, bird watching, pets (echo of primal state)

         • how many interested in “Voluntary Simplicity”?

         • how many were NOT surprised at the results of the cooperativeness          experiment with MRI?

Those who raised their hands a lot are good H-G material!


 (2) Sustainability

we can’t go back to live as HGs did, BUT we can use some of their principles, e.g.:

wants vs. needs (as in wilderness survival)

living according to the carrying capacity of the land

connection and respect for Nature, other beings

role of elders as teachers & arbitrators

OTHERS? (ask audience)


(K) This is the time when Presenters usually sum up and offer their conclusions.  We thought that we would do it differently this time and ask you what your conclusions are.

         Do you have any conclusions?

         What have you gotten out of this presentation?

         Do you have questions?  

            H.  GOODBYES

(L)         We’d like to extend our special thanks to our sponsors, the Bonner County Library and PFOS, especially Paul Fosselman, Joyce Jowdy and Becky Kemery. Also to Dr. Jack Wright, Diana Scott for her Australian slides, (Lynx Vilden for her Kootenai River Project slides) (Kristofer Yamada) (Yontan Gompo) Joshua Walters (and Chris Anderson) for their help. We especially thank the Librarians, Gloria Ray and Sue Elsa, who dug up valuable material we could not find ourselves.

We’ll leave you with this Bushman poem:

A woman calls:                           Then a man replies:

                  Under the sun                                    Oh listen to the wind

                  the Earth is dry.                           You woman there;

                  By the fire,                                    The time is coming,

                  Alone I cry.                              The rain is near.

                  All day long                            Listen to your heart,

                  The Earth cries                            Your hunter is here.

                  For the rain to come.

                  All night my heart cries          -Bushman Rain Song,

                  For my hunter to come                  Heart of the Hunter, p234

                  And take me away