Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Domesticating Animals and Disease

The independent evolution of farming and the domestication of animals has contributed greatly to the uneven development of civilization across the globe. This is not meant to suggest that humans in areas of the globe that experienced a slower growth of civilization (the growth of urban areas and arts and crafts  associated with this development); indeed, human beings have shown remarkable adaptability in working with the limitations that geography and climate impose upon them. The remarkable complexity of the Agricultural Revolution is demonstrated in this video.

The domestication of plants was usually a hit and miss proposition, and most of probably began as the cultivation of wild plants that by irrigation and accident became domesticated. Horticulture and husbandry (the domestication of animals) grew together; the domestication of bovine animals like oxen and cows eventually permitted humans to attach plows to them, and pull these through fields. This allowed humans to further intensify agriculture--that is, to grow the same amount of food within a smaller  area. The intensification of food production is what permitted agriculture to become more attractive to large numbers of human beings around 7000 to 10,000 years ago, because this intensification allowed other human beings to devote their time to perfecting crafts, arts, and social practices (like religion) that enriched the societies that they were forming.

The domestication of animals and the development brought unintended consequences as well, of course--and not all of them have been beneficial to man. Chief among them are the development of virulent diseases like pox, plague, and influenza--all of which humans only developed after domesticating animals. Cattle, pigs, and chickens all are afflicted with diseases that are easily transmitted to humans. With humans also living in cities, in close proximity to one another, they can then transmit these diseases to each other. In addition, humans create a great deal of waste, from the food they consume (both excreted and the waste that is not consumed and disposed of as garbage) that animals like mice and rats are willing to consume. The fleas these small animals are host to transit disease, as well.

This bit of video comedy is, of course, played for laughs,  but has certain truths about living in early cities, as well. The early undertaker knows that the appearance of someone "without shit all over him" means that he is someone of importance (the mythical King Arthur), because people disposed of their waste by simply throwing it out in the streets (it's how archeologists are able to find it). By creating these pathogens, humans living with these domesticated animals often shortened their own lives--but the eventually allowed their descendants to develop immunities and resistance to these diseases, and to pass these diseases along to people who had not developed these immunities.

The point to take away from this discussion is, I think, that civilization, while it does provide great benefits to mankind (in my own self interest, I would not have a job teaching history without it), those benefits come at great costs--both in personal freedom for individuals, and to the environment. Try to keep this in mind  as we explore the evolution of human society in the coming months.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Creating Civilization

Newgrange, near Drogheda, Eire
Late Neolithic Period farming

Neolithic Revolution

A. Revolution--or Evolution?

1. Invention of farming--is something of a misnomer. People did not “invent” farming, because they did not make a conscious decision between food production and hunting/gathering. People began simply to adopt (or not adopt) food production for certain foods, while retaining the option to hunt or gather other foods.

a. Choosing what crops to domesticate undoubtedly occurred through accident and observation; as Jared Diamond points out much food production began in latrines (where humans empties their bowels,  and therefore defecated undigested seeds, which in turn produced new plants.

b. The benefits of farming--the gradual turn to farming had far-reaching implications. It allowed--and encouraged--people to become sedentary. Without having to spend at least part of the day searching for food, this permitted some people living within specific groups to begin specializing in other pursuits--metal working, leather working, making tools, and eventually writing and religious practices. This more sedentary lifestyle encouraged the growth of  population, because women could now bear children closer together in age. The practice of farming was also probably developed because of climatic changes that the earth was going through 10,000 years ago, which made it more difficult to find sufficient amounts of food while foraging.

c. Drawbacks of farming--while it seems counter-intuitive, skeletal remains suggest that early farmers were less well fed than their foraging counterparts; they were significantly smaller, which tells us that their diet was less adequate than the foragers. Farming also encouraged the development of a more more hierarchical social structure. Farms and their crops had to be protected from foragers and wild animals that might be interested in consuming the crops before their planters did. As climate change occurred, and technology like canals and reservoirs were built to provide sufficient water for the crops, a police force was created to regulate its use. In several parts of the earth, animals are domesticated and used as food sources--cattle, pigs, and chickens, in particular. All three of these species, however, transfer their diseases to humans  quite readily, resulting in the spread of diseases like influenza and smallpox, among others

2. Uneven Development--farming develops between 5,000 and 10,000 years ago in a variety of places around the globe. This uneven development is explained (again, by Jared Diamond) by the access early peoples had to plants and animals that were easily domesticated--and to interactions between early peoples that allowed them to transmit their knowledge of these plants and animals and how to grow them.
Tropical area indicated by pink band

a. Role of Geography--many of you had great difficulty with Monday's map assignment. Despite your lack of knowledge of the specifics of world geography, however, all of you got specific geographic facts right--that the Eurasia landmass is largely oriented in a horizontal fashion, while Africa and the Americas are oriented vertically. Geographically, this means that Europe and Asia, being roughly within the same latitude, can--and did--readily share the same domesticated plants for food, chiefly wheat, barley, and sorghum, among others. The other continents, being oriented north-south, cannot readily share these domesticated plants and animals, because they cannot live in the tropical zones in order to reach the places that they could grow in the more temperate zones north of the Tropic of Cancer and south of the Tropic of Capricorn. In addition to a large area of shared climate, Europe and Asia are in reality one large, connected land mass, with no geographic features that divide them. Southern Africa, on the other  hand, is divided from Europe not only be thousands of miles, but also by a desert and a large tropical rainforest. North and South America are connected by a narrow land mass (called Central America), most of which lies within the northern tropics and slowed the cultivation of maize from rapidly spreading south.

b. Maize--developed from a wild grass called teosinte, which produces a very small ear (smaller than the so-called “baby corn” sometimes served in some Chinese restaurants and in canned chow mein)--except no one eats teosinte because it takes more energy to harvest than it produces in grain. Early natives in the Valley of Mexico genetically modified the plant (it will not grow by itself past a couple of generations)
Teosinte to maize, left to right

i.)Once invented, maize cultivation spread mainly northward from the Valley of Mexico, although the fact that it had to also be adopted to the shorter growing seasons north of the Ohio River slowed its spread. 
ii.) Introduction of maize cultivation allowed native peoples like the Mound Builders to flourish, and eventually many native peoples became semi-sedentary; i.e., while still relying on hunting to provide a source of protein, hunting game became a secondary food source, and people chose to remain relatively close to their crops to cultivate their main source of food. 
iii.) Cultivation dilemma partially solved by the adaptation of gender-specific roles (males hunted, females cultivated and gathered additional food); native peoples also eventually developed methods that minimized the labor necessary to grow the “three sisters.”

Artist's rendition of Catal Huyuk
Butser Ancient Farm recreation
Ancient farming in China
 3. Creating the surplus--farming becomes attractive because domesticated plants prove to be a fairly reliable source of food; so much so, that farmers are actually able to produce more than they need to subsist--and therefore producing a surplus, which they can then trade for other goods.

B. Why farming wins out

1. Changes in climate--in certain areas meant that gathering food enough to survive on became more difficult, and made raising food a more attractive option (the Fertile Crescent, for example, became more arid, and people living there were forced to begin raising food--both grain and animals--in order to remain there).

2. Changes in Technology--the ability to store a harvest (whether from raising food or gathering it) led people to become more sedentary (it is, after all, difficult to transport a granary to support a nomadic lifestyle). Using domesticated animals to iron-tipped plows also made farming more bountiful as well, and freed up labor from plowing to undertake other duties.

3. Sedentary lifestyle--promoted by the rise of farming led to more children being born. Nomadic peoples tended not to have more children at one time than they were able to carry; with farming families remaining in one location, children were born closer in age in many families, which caused the population of farming groups to grow faster than their nomadic cousins.

4. Productivity of farming--even though food producers were often less well-nourished than their nomadic counterparts, the greater populations of sedentary groups meant that they often prevailed in conflicts between the two groups (that later changes as nomads develop horsey skills and become more mobile).

I. The Development of “Civilization”--the term has become somewhat controversial; here we will define it as it is used in The Earth and Its Peoples, defined by the development of specialized roles, the development of writing, sophisticated trade networks, and the development of urban settlements.

1. Production of the surplus--people were able to live in cities because with agriculture, the production of food beyong the needs of immediate subsistence--surplus food--became the norm. This allowed people to regularly engage in other activities rather than working to ensure their own subsistence. People began to specialize in various artisnal crafts at this point.

II. Control of the surplus--living in urban areas meant living in groups larger than one’s extended kin network (which was the usual bond between people in paleolithic bands). This led to less reliance upon cooperation, and greater emphasis being placed on coercion to control surplus food production.

A. Armed force--professional soldiers were developed along with urban living areas because they could be used to appropriate surplus food supplies, both from within people within their settlement as well as without

B. Accounting for the surplus--with the development of the surplus there also developed a need to account for it--to be able to tell where the surplus went, to whom--and eventually at what cost. The need for this accounting system led to the development of both a system of writing (for record keeping), and the development of mathematics (for the actual accounting).

C. Rulers and priests--with the development of agriculture, it became important to also keep track of the seasons, and to be able to read (or, even better, influence) the portents so that it could be determined the best time to plant. Among many peoples, the development of a priestly class reinforced the emergence of a ruling class, who emerged because they were able to claim the favor of a particular deity.

1. Early sedentary farming communities were established without class divisions on fertile soil, but as the communities expanded to less fertile soil, improvements to the land (irrigation, etc.) were made. Those making the improvements needed to expand agricultural production, and felt justified in controlling access to these improvements and to exercising control over the surplus produced.

2. In this way, in some areas of the world, community leadership grew to expect tribute to be offered to them (usually in goods)

3. As the means of production changed during the neolithic era, the relationship of people to the means of production changed as well. People tended to accept these changes because of the gradual nature in which they took place, and because the abundance of food during peak periods made the increasingly authoritarian nature of rulers more palatable.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Out of Africa

“Out of Africa: The Human Diaspora in the Neolithic and Paleolithic Ages”

While you are drawing your maps enjoy the first 21 minutes of Stanley Kubrik's 2001: A Space Odyssey

I. Paleolithic Age

A. Descent from gorillas—man’s closest relatives in the animal kingdom are three members of the ape family: the modern gorilla, the chimpanzee, and the bonobo (aka pygmy chimp)

B. Early humans—about 7 million years ago (or 5 to 9 million years ago), a population of apes in Africa broke up into several populations: the gorilla, the two species of chimpanzee, and the group that eventually evolved into humans.

1. Australopithecus africanas—inhabited the earth between 2-3 million years ago; characterized by a larger brain than simian counterparts. Began the use of crude stone tools (which some apes use, as well)

2. Homo habilis—is thought to have lived between 2.5 and 1.6 million years ago. Homo habilis is the least human-like of the early humans, and its cranial capacity was about half that of modern humans.

3. Homo erectus—believed to be the first true human to venture out of Africa; fossils from Homo erectus were discovered in Asia (on the island of Java—aka Java Man), and date from about 1.8 million years ago. Scientists recently have argued that Homo habilis and Homo erectus share a common ancestor (a kind of “missing link”), rather than erectus evolving from habilis

C. Homo sapiens—generally recognized as the earliest man. Still had smaller brains than modern humans, still relied upon the use of crude stone tools, and their migration pattern still relied upon those areas that they could walk to

D. Homo neanderthalensis—the world Neanderthal is commonly used today as a put-down for behavior we find crude or offensive (or to sell us insurance), but Neanderthal man himself actually had a larger brain than modern man. Neanderthal man populated much of Europe and western Asia, and are the first humans we have evidence of caring for their sick and burying their dead.

E. “The Great Leap Forward”

1. East African sites—Homo sapiens begin using standardized stone tools (meaning several tools of similar manufacture and apparently used for similar purposes), as well as the first jewelry (ostrich shell beads) about 50,000 years ago.

2. Near East (the so-called “Fertile Crescent”) experienced similar developments about 40,000 years ago, which implies that these two areas were in contact with one another (an early trade network)

3. Cro-Magnon man—first to begin to use more complex tools, and material other than stone

a. Bones—bone can be shaped into specific types of tools like fish hooks, needles, and awls, which allowed Cro-Magnon man to expand and diversify their diet, and led to the manufacture of clothing, which permitted these people to better withstand colder climates

b. Also manufactured weapons like harpoons, spear throwers, and eventually the bow and arrow, which allowed them to more safely hunt and kill larger, more dangerous animals—and increase their caloric intake, as well. Neanderthals had been susceptible to broken bones, thought to have been caused by having to wrestle down the larger animals.

b. Developed artwork—Cro-Magnon people were among the first to produce works of art; the best known example is Lascaux Cave in southwestern France

c. Cro-Magnon people in Europe seem to have fairly quickly replaced the Neanderthal people living there previously; whether this was by conquest, or by inter-breeding and assimilation scientists cannot say definitively (although recent evidence suggests that it may have been by inter-breeding)

F. Early colonization

1. The Ice Ages—over various millennia, the amount of ice on the earth has waxed and waned (this is one of the arguments used by global warming denialists to argue against human causes for global warming). During periods of glacialization, a great deal of water was locked up as ice, dropping ocean levels significantly, and allowing some early peoples to migrate to areas that previously had been islands (and would return to being islands when that particular ice age ended). It also eventually allowed early humans to cross the Bering Strait, separating Asia from North America, as recently as 10,000 years ago.

b. “Virgin” hunting grounds—these peoples found plentiful game, which the probably quickly hunted into extinction, since their new technology greatly increased the killing capability of humans, and the animals had developed no fear of humans to this point.; at any rate, large numbers of large mammals die off as these new people begin to share the continent with them (does this lead to the creation of the belief that man should live in harmony with nature? Quite possibly).

II. Paleolithic societies

A. Foraging societies—all early Paleolithic societies were foraging societies—that is, hunters/gatherers. Since hunting was very much a hit or miss proposition (and still mostly miss at this point, before the development of accurate spear throwing and the bow and arrow), and most of the diet of these peoples was reliant upon the grains, fruit, roots, and shoots that the gatherers were able to find.

Gender-based societal roles—at this early point, hunting was already a male occupation, while gathering the other food was largely the domain of females; however, because most of the band was reliant upon the food gathered for their day-to-day sustenance, this was not a low status occupation.

1. Gathering was a way not only for women to gain status in the band, but also fostered bonds to feed all the members of the band.

2. Hunting—although the luck of hunters was much more hit and miss, meat from the hunt was still highly sought after; hunting itself was an act of cooperation among all of the hunters, because these groups were most successful in frightening an animal to fun off a cliff or into a snare they laid, rather than relying upon one or two superior hunters to kill of prey.

3. Cooperation between members of the band made their survival possible (“From each according to his abilities, to each according to his needs”).

Friday, August 20, 2010

Welcome to World History to 1500

Welcome to World History to 1500 at the University of Toledo. I am Gregory Miller, the instructor for this course. There are three textbooks required for this course: The Earth and Its Peoples, Volume 1, Guns, Germs, and Steel, by Jared Diamond, and The Human Web, by J.R. McNeill and William H. McNeill (the links are for illustrative purposes, but you may want to investigate and compare prices with the UT Bookstore--just sayin'). A pdf. copy of the syllabus will be available at the History Department's website