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Protohistory : how did civilization emerge?

Marla_Singer

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In the last couple of years, I grew a strong interest on the question about emergence of civilization. And as we are on a "civilization" forum, I thought that question may interest some others of you. Hence this thread! 😀

To begin with, it is important to point out that the lack of writing causes the issue to still be largely unknown at this point. We found out some required elements (sedentarity, agriculture, demographic dynamics...), but the question about their incentives, which is the most interesting to me, is still largely uncertain. Also I would add that we don't know a lot about the previous periods which were Paleolithic and Mesolithic. According to the most recent research, late Paleolithic lifestyles were far from being as primitive as it used to be assumed. At that stage, hunters-gatherers were largely semi-Nomadic already, only following games in their own migrations from the winter to the summer seasons. In many cases, they alterned between two very specific locations between both seasons, sometimes building settlements in which they came back every year. Also there's been many cases of early sedentary lifestyle that have been found out by Paleonthologists which could last for pretty long periods of times, sometimes milleniums, before vanishing.

What we know is that the climates before the last glacial maximum were pretty rough all over the earth. Temperate areas were very limited, most areas either being large hot and arid deserts or large cold tundras and taigas. Progressively after 20,000 BCE, the climate became more hospitable, with more areas guaranteeing permanent supplies of food all year long. As a result, sedentary ilfestyle became more frequent, even if still disappearing after a certain period of time in most cases. There are many obvious reasons to explain why it ultimately stops: natural disasters, food resource depletion, climate change, conflicts or whatever else. Also it's important to note that nomadic or semi-nomadic people had pretty stable demographics. They had a longer breastfeeding period that behaves as a natural contraceptive, therefore the fertility rate was pretty stable around 2 children per woman. Sedentary lifestyle allowed shorter breastfeeding leading to more pregnancy and more dynamic demographics. This necessarily had an impact on societies in the longer term forcing people to adapt, probably sometimes leading to conflicts.

Yet there's been one very first exception in Near East: the area has been permanently settled for the last 13,000 years without any interruption. Others will follow in the Indus valley, China, Mesoamerica and the Andes. The question that intrigues me is how was it possible for some people (not necessarily always the same) to live permanently in a sedentary way for such a long period of time, despite natural disasters, despite droughts, despite conflicts or whatever other cataclysms that have necessarily happened, they insisted in continuing to live permanently in that specific region no matter what. All studies show that those first sedentary people in Near East, all the way to the first farmers emerging later in the same area, had much poorer health than hunters-gatherers of the same period of time. They had more nutritional deficiencies, had poorer teeth, were shorter and died younger. Therefore we can genuinely wonder why would they inflict to themselves so much misery.


From what I understood, we lack of elements to really know the reasons for it, therefore what will follow next are largely assumptions. We can indeed wonder if the fact they stayed, despite poorer health, wasn't because they had an interest to stay where they were. Indeed, that area between modern Turkey, Syria, Lebanon, Israel and Palestine was a fertile corridor connecting the three large landmasses of Africa, Europe and Asia. It was also located between the Mediterranean Sea, the Black Sea and the Red Sea. As such it is a natural, pretty much unavoidable, crossroad for trade. We know that obsidian, shells and beads were already traded pretty intensively in that area. Very likely, perishable goods were also traded, even if they obviously disappeared, limiting our certainty. What's important about trade is that it creates connections between distant and different peoples, allowing them not only to share goods, but also to share knowledge. All accross History of Mankind, the most advanced civilizations have always been those controlling trade.

A Spanish team has recently proven that Anatolian hunters-gathers already mastered some form of bread cooking from wild wheat even before agriculture emerged. Considering that sedentary people had dynamic demographics, leading to population growth, we can actually wonder if they didn't start to cultivate cereals in the area in order to sustain that growing population very locally, because instead of moving elsewhere as they normally should have, they wanted to stay in those very specific locations that were some forms of proto-marketplaces on various trade routes. And indeed, if we look at the craddles of civilizations all accross the world, they were always characterized first by a trade network.


I tried separating clearly what I understood as established knowledge to what seems more hypothetical at this stage. Have you studied the topic by yourself? What do you think? I'm really interested to know your insight about it. 🙂
 
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I've read a few things that touch upon the subject. Diamond argues in Guns, Germs and Steel that farming allowed food surpluses, which brought about classes of people not engaged in non-food activities such as crafts, administration and invention. The reason why people sustained themselves on farming in some areas, rather than hunting or foraging, despite poorer nutrition, is that farming is only technique that allows high population densities. Those areas where a lot of the predecessors of food crops and livestock were available, were also the first to develop civilization. Above all in the Middle East's fertile crescent.

In Why Nations Fail Acemoglu discusses the Natufian culture in the Levant, pointing out that they appear to have become sedentary before they developed farming. He also points to evidence the Natufians were characterized by inequality and hierarchy. He argues the reason they became sedentary and they starting domesticating crops is they were forced to by a group of people that had concentrated political power in its hand. This group would extract resources from society and found sedentarism more beneficial for itself. The increase in population density only came afterwards.

Acemoglu's argument ties with the "stationary bandit" theory Olson brings in this paper. He argues that "roving bandits", that would otherwise wander around and steal from the different hunter-gatherer bands they'd come across, would find it beneficial to settle down and take permanent control of a domain and its people. The reason they would do so is that they can then enforce order and provide some public goods, which would encourage economic development. It's better to get stolen by a single group of bandits in predictable manner than randomly by multiple groups of bandits. Taxation from the more developed economy would ultimately enrichen the "stationary bandits" by more than they would have been if they had remained "roving bandits".

There's also research that indicates that in Mesopotamia at least, states arose from farmers cooperating voluntarily to construct irrigation. Here's an article by The Economist that discusses the research:

Where does the modern state come from?

Economists attempt to answer a profound political question


Dec 20th 2023

It is part metaphor, part myth and part history. Thomas Hobbes thought life there was nasty, brutish and short. John Locke disagreed, proclaiming that it was where people first learnt how to own things. Jean-Jacques Rousseau described it as the place where people were born free, before they became ensnared in chains. Robert Nozick thought that people were so desperate to escape it, there was an inevitable result: the creation of a state.

Ideas about the “state of nature”—how people lived before politics organised itself into governments—have held the attention of philosophers for centuries. Discovering whether it played out as imagined was nigh-on impossible. And yet thinking about what people would do without a government helped answer profound questions. What are the limits of political power? Is the modern state something that citizens would freely choose?

Now, after all this theorising, three economists think they have some empirical answers. According to Robert Allen of New York University, Abu Dhabi, Leander Heldring of Northwestern University and Mattia Bertazzini of the University of Nottingham, the key to understanding the emergence of modern politics is not a metaphor, but the constantly shifting courses of ancient rivers in Iraq. The first states, they argue in a paper published in the American Economic Review, were glued together not as shelters from violence, as Hobbes believed, but by economics.

The banks of the Tigris and the Euphrates, Iraq’s two longest rivers, are home to some of the world’s oldest settlements. Mesopotamia, which 5,000 years ago refined the first known system of writing, earned the area the reputation of “the cradle of civilisation”. The paths of these rivers shift, as floods and droughts cause their beds to flood. When a shift came, some ancient farmers were left without water for their crops.

Mr Allen and his co-authors investigate whether the timing of changes to a river’s course had anything to do with when the number and size of settlements grew. They do so by looking at the effect of the first recorded shift in 2,850BC. This presented farmers with something close to the choice imagined by philosophers when theorising about the state of nature. Those left behind by the river could revert to nomadism. Or they could band together to build irrigation systems to ferry water from distant rivers.

A philosophical question is therefore transformed into something akin to a laboratory experiment, only one set thousands of years ago and extending hundreds of miles across. Moreover, the results of the experiment are clear. A 5km-by-5km square in the basin left behind by a river was 14% more likely to have a settlement, marked by a public building such as a temple or marketplace, 150 years after the shift than in the 50 years before it. Each square was 12% more likely to have a built canal, a form of artificial irrigation that made farming far from rivers possible. Five new cities were created, and only three abandoned. Esnunna, one city along a new tributary of the river, became much bigger.

This, Mr Allen and his co-authors say, is evidence that that the first states were formed by farmers co-operating for economic reasons. A canal network would have been too large a cost for any to bear alone. But by spreading the cost, the construction was worth it for each. Such decisions were momentous. They represent some of the earliest examples of governments providing infrastructure in return for taxes, and thus the genesis of the earliest states.

The authors then divide centuries of thinking on the origins of states into two camps. The first, which they say ranges from Daron Acemoglu, an influential economist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, to Karl Marx, supposes that states ultimately emerge from a process of social bargaining. The rich and high-status seize power for personal gain, and periodically dole out services, such as a road, school or police force, in order to keep populations on board. But if this had been the case in Mesopotamia then it would have been in the areas that a river shifted towards that settlements would have formed. After all, they developed richer and more fertile farmland, yielding a bigger tax take.

That Mesopotamian farmers seem to have chosen to band together as the river shifted away lends support to the second camp. Philosophers in this group, who include Locke and Rousseau, contend that governments emerged when people chose to co-ordinate themselves, swapping their freedom to do whatever they wanted for a state that mediates disputes and provides a degree of safety. Mr Allen and his co-authors analyse only Mesopotamian Iraq, but they argue that their results ought to apply more generally to other fledgling states. Governments, in other words, are chosen rather than foisted upon their citizens.

Meandering path

This is quite the landgrab by economists, seizing terrain that is more commonly occupied by political theorists. The study is not flawless. Perhaps an unknown conquest explains the spread of settlements in the period under consideration. Maybe the authors are wrong and the pattern does not hold elsewhere. There were already six cities and many more settlements in the Mesopotamian Valley before its rivers really began to move, and some had existed for a thousand years. The authors insist that they are only interested in how new governments form, but there is a chance they have in fact captured older ones spreading.

The paper is nevertheless bold and valuable. Philosophers have sought for centuries to explain why states emerge. Too little time has been spent considering whether economic factors might have been at play. Although transforming the state of nature into a specific time and place means losing some of its complexity, doing so opens the door to the sort of experiment that could only have been imagined by earlier philosophers. If Hobbes or Locke could have studied something approximating the state of nature about which they were theorising, they surely would have tried. ■
 
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War, then slavery, and then coinage. And nothing has really changed since we got that going in the beginning.
 
And indeed, if we look at the craddles of civilizations all accross the world, they were always characterized first by a trade network.

In the ME there is a stedy progression of the use of clay tokens to account for goods. The earliest date back to about 8000 BCE and by 4000 BCE the system was sufficiently complex that many differnt types of goods were being tracked for trading purposes. The use of clay tokens to "count" goods seems connected to the rise of farming and the need for a method to manage what was produced. This link summarises the progression from tokens to writing. Once writing happened, the world changed. Oral history became written history and stories could be written down. So, yes, at least in the ME, trade led to a need to account for goods and that led to the separation of numbers from descriptions (words). Until about 3100 BCE tokens used concrete counting and a symbol represented "1 jar of oil". Some unknown person invented abstract counting and separted the quantity from the description; "1" and "jar of oil" became two different things. Words had life separate from numbers. "Twins" is a relic of concrete counting. 2 people is the abstract version.


TLDR: ~5000 years of trade lead to complex accounting which led to abstract counting and the invention of words about 3100 BCE. Sumerian civilization followed,

Spoiler :

The tokens were well established in the 8th millennium bc and remained in continuous use over four millennia. Over the centuries their evolution illustrates the unceasing cross-fertilization that took place between the redistribution economy’s increasing demands and the development of counting. For example, at ‘Ain Ghazal, there were no more than six types of tokens, and twenty-three subtypes, created by varying the basic size and shape of the artifacts or by adding markings such as groves and dots (Pl. 2.3.1d and e) (see Iceland, chapter 2.1). But about 3300 bc, in such cities as Uruk in Mesopotamia, when urban workshops started contributing to the redistribution economy, the number of token types had increased to fifteen and the subtypes to 350. Some of the new tokens stood for raw materials such as wool and metal while others represented finished products, among them textiles, garments, jewelry, bread, beer, and honey (Fig. 2.3.2). These so-called “complex” tokens sometimes assumed the shapes of the items they symbolized such as garments, miniature vessels, tools and furniture. These artifacts took far more skill to model compared to the former geometric shapes such as cones and spheres, suggesting that specialists were then manufacturing them (Schmandt-Besserat 1992).
 
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Nice opening post. Two points:

- Why prefering sedentary lifestyle over moving around? Being in one place lets you keep way more stuff than having to move these objects around or hoping that nobody will find your hiding place for them while you are away. Also, moving is hard, takes up energy and a certain risk of the unexpected. Granted, that can also get you while you are in one place, but I do see the advantages of being able to stay in one place. Trade is one good aspect you bring up. But it's not the only one.

- Also in general, these kind of questions have more than one answer. There were likely a thousand tries, the majority of which ended in disaster. As you say, these places stay for a few hundred years and then vanish. New ones crop up. This kind of process was in my opinion likely iterative. Let's stay here for a season, then maybe a year. After 10 years of one family/tribe being in one place, they split, a brother goes away, or the grandsons find the location of the hut of the grandfather stupid. Or maybe it just changed in those 40 years? And like that - like every innovation - it comes and goes.

Small changes lead to larger ones is what I'm saying, and these time periods are insane if you think of them in human generations (especially with less life expectancy...). The study of these areas have jumped forward so much in the last 20 years, I'm fairly certain we will know much more in 5 to 20 years - and I'm also quite interested in the answer just as you are!
 
Nice opening post. Two points:

- Why prefering sedentary lifestyle over moving around? Being in one place lets you keep way more stuff than having to move these objects around or hoping that nobody will find your hiding place for them while you are away. Also, moving is hard, takes up energy and a certain risk of the unexpected. Granted, that can also get you while you are in one place, but I do see the advantages of being able to stay in one place. Trade is one good aspect you bring up. But it's not the only one.

- Also in general, these kind of questions have more than one answer. There were likely a thousand tries, the majority of which ended in disaster. As you say, these places stay for a few hundred years and then vanish. New ones crop up. This kind of process was in my opinion likely iterative. Let's stay here for a season, then maybe a year. After 10 years of one family/tribe being in one place, they split, a brother goes away, or the grandsons find the location of the hut of the grandfather stupid. Or maybe it just changed in those 40 years? And like that - like every innovation - it comes and goes.

Oh yeah, it only makes sense to adopt a sedentary lifestyle as long as you have a year-round food supply that allows it. My first post was wrongly formulated, but the question I had in mind was rather that when that food supply is endangered, probably due to a growing local population in what we can assume to be villages, why would people invent agriculture and deteriorate their diet rather than just dispersing? Population density at regional level was still very low so there was certainly a lot of room. My assumption (which could actually be wrong) is that people wanted to live in larger numbers in one place than hunting and foraging could allow. And that may be a reason why they began to develop techniques to increase the local food supply.


Small changes lead to larger ones is what I'm saying, and these time periods are insane if you think of them in human generations (especially with less life expectancy...). The study of these areas have jumped forward so much in the last 20 years, I'm fairly certain we will know much more in 5 to 20 years - and I'm also quite interested in the answer just as you are!

Definitely! I realized that first in watching some documentaries on Youtube and I found it so exciting that I started buying books always wanting to know more. Thanks to genetics, it's now established that the growing populations of Anatolian first farmers actually spread from 6,500 BCE to 4,500 BCE to the Mediterrannean bassin, Europe and Iran, and they ultimately overwhelmed the hunters-gatherers that were living there before. That wasn't something that was expected, as we initially thought it was the hunters-gatherers who progressively adopted agriculture. A similar phenomenon apparently happened in Africa, with Bantu populations coming from the Niger River spreading in most of Subsaharan Africa.

This has lead me to realize how much we ignore about Protohistory. When I was younger I naively thought that what was unknown was very certainly of limited interest. The more it goes, the more I realize that many decisive events which contributed to shape our modern world are now totally forgotten.
 

Göbekli Tepe​

This ancient site and its neighbors have pushed back the boundfaries of organized communities to ~12,000 BCE.

 
Multi-group festivals led to permanent structures which led to both permanent residents and food storage change my mind
 
Multi-group festivals led to permanent structures which led to both permanent residents and food storage change my mind
From Göbekli Tepe to Uruk took ~9,000 years.
 
In the last couple of years, I grew a strong interest on the question about emergence of civilization. And as we are on a "civilization" forum, I thought that question may interest some others of you. Hence this thread! 😀

There was already one thread on speculation about the beginning in the history section ;)
But I'll be all for getting more attention to this subject, keep this one here.

Also there's been many cases of early sedentary lifestyle that have been found out by Paleonthologists which could last for pretty long periods of times, sometimes milleniums, before vanishing.

There must be many cases of such sedentary settlements that we will never discover because all trades of them have been erased. Before the use of masonry and pottery all you get to mark settlements are soil disturbances. Very rarery some impressive wood remains of weapons or intrincate carvings tens of thousands of years old, by chance preserved in a bog. But I doubt people choose to live in bogs so these are accidents. The vast, vast majority of the eraly materila history of civilization is lost.

The remains of ancient settlements, those soil disturbances, are not noticed unless close to some "monument". Like stonehenge or large cairns. Which, one sould have inferred, mush have required a "sedentary" population for their creation and continued maintenance and use. They didn't get biuld in a couple of years. Many megalithic monuments have evidence of continued use for millenia. What is that if not evidence of a form of a sedentary population?
Remember some of Braudel's observations on the longue durée: pastoral seasonal migrations were common around the whole mediterranean into the 20th century. Yet those people followed the same routes every year, owned the territory. There were not wondering bands of nomads. They were civilized people with a home and moving between the same seasonal camps.

What we know is that the climates before the last glacial maximum were pretty rough all over the earth. Temperate areas were very limited, most areas either being large hot and arid deserts or large cold tundras and taigas. Progressively after 20,000 BCE, the climate became more hospitable, with more areas guaranteeing permanent supplies of food all year long.

I don't think this is true. Climate changed but there were 1000s of years in between big changes. Tools of past civilizations got pulled out of the now flooded plains of the north sea. Those places might have been near glaciers but they were inhabited. And they left behind some material remains that can be found accidentally even now. Despite the vast majority of their technoly necessarily having made use of perishable materials, anomal products and wood.

Yet there's been one very first exception in Near East: the area has been permanently settled for the last 13,000 years without any interruption. Others will follow in the Indus valley, China, Mesoamerica and the Andes. The question that intrigues me is how was it possible for some people (not necessarily always the same) to live permanently in a sedentary way for such a long period of time, despite natural disasters, despite droughts, despite conflicts or whatever other cataclysms that have necessarily happened, they insisted in continuing to live permanently in that specific region no matter what. All studies show that those first sedentary people in Near East, all the way to the first farmers emerging later in the same area, had much poorer health than hunters-gatherers of the same period of time. They had more nutritional deficiencies, had poorer teeth, were shorter and died younger. Therefore we can genuinely wonder why would they inflict to themselves so much misery.

Then "all studies" are wrong. I tire of reading that cliche about how worse sedentary life was. This was born out of an abusive generalization from some necessarily very partial samples taken form surviving early city graveyards. But, again, the vast, vast majority of what could decay has decayed with time and that includes human remains. Preservation of bones for even a couple thusands years is not common. It depends on soil chemistry. So one must ask: on what datasets did those studies rely? For the urbanized population, on which graveyards, from which cities, and which eras?
After checking the actual data, you must also take into account that the past "urban" civilizations were in fact heavily rural. The cities lived on the surplus of a rural economy and commanded a hinterland which had different living conditions. If the early levant was anything like the later, historical levant then some 9/10 of the population would be rural, not urban. Did the studies focus on the graveyards from rural villages, or from cities? Different living conditions, fifferent conclusions about health.

For the hunter-gatherers the sample problem is even greated. I could offer any interested researched a couple of caves full of pre-historic bones, likely 20 thousand-plus years old, but for some reason no one here bothers to research them. They have crates of the stuff in museum basements colleced more than a century ago. The material does exist. But collected where? What is the sample size in those studies, and is it representative?

I am skeptical, very skeptical, of this so-often repeated observation about the misery of early sedentary life. Further to this skepticism, there are the oral histories and archeologival evidence of mixed societies: pastoralist-agricultural. There wasn't a break! Even the earliest religious texts talk about the conflict between the two ancient ways of life, as anyone here ought to know. The two coexisted from pre-history well into history. There is therefore no need to ask why in the pre-historical past someone chose to start doing agriculture and a sedentary life despite the alleged downsides: you can ask real, living people today about that choice, or inquire out of the historical record, because the norm has been for the two lifestiles to co-exist. Evidently, thet choice was not one between "the good life" and "misery".
 
Then "all studies" are wrong. I tire of reading that cliche about how worse sedentary life was. This was born out of an abusive generalization from some necessarily very partial samples taken form surviving early city graveyards. But, again, the vast, vast majority of what could decay has decayed with time and that includes human remains. Preservation of bones for even a couple thusands years is not common. It depends on soil chemistry. So one must ask: on what datasets did those studies rely? For the urbanized population, on which graveyards, from which cities, and which eras?
I would ask, and as you seem to know do you have links (you do use a reference manager don't you ;) ).

I had a quick google, this is purely focused on teeth but agrees with you that the difference does not stand up to meta analysis. I have not found anything more general either way, but I did find this which seems relevant to the thread:

The origins of sedentism: Climate, population, and technology

For most of the time that anatomically modern humans have existed, small mobile foraging bands followed natural resources. Starting around 15,000 years ago, communities of sedentary foragers began to emerge. This transition has been detected archeologically in numerous regions of the world, including southwest Asia and Japan. In these cases and others, the transition to sedentary foraging occurred several millennia before the transition to agriculture. We develop an economic model of this process that combines climate change, population growth, and technical progress. Better climate led to a larger population for Malthusian reasons, and in some cases this led to technological innovation. A novel insight from our theory is that technological change caused a ratchet effect that made sedentism persist even in cases where climate subsequently deteriorated.
 
The remains of ancient settlements, those soil disturbances, are not noticed unless close to some "monument". Like stonehenge or large cairns. Which, one sould have inferred, mush have required a "sedentary" population for their creation and continued maintenance and use. They didn't get biuld in a couple of years. Many megalithic monuments have evidence of continued use for millenia. What is that if not evidence of a form of a sedentary population?
Remember some of Braudel's observations on the longue durée: pastoral seasonal migrations were common around the whole mediterranean into the 20th century. Yet those people followed the same routes every year, owned the territory. There were not wondering bands of nomads. They were civilized people with a home and moving between the same seasonal camps.
You're mixing up periods of time. Stonehenge is actually quite recent, the circle of stone was erected after the Pyramids of Kheops in Egypt. European Megalithism was built during Neolithic by the farmers which came from Anatolia, from 5000 BCE (Malta) to 2000 BCE. That was several millenias after the Natufians became sedentary in the Near East (from 13,000 BCE to 9,500 BCE). Those populations which developed Megalithism were a lot more advanced, having developped much more productive and diverse agriculture and animal husbandry as well as pottery for storing food. They "solved" most of the nutritional deficiencies I've been talking about.


I don't think this is true. Climate changed but there were 1000s of years in between big changes. Tools of past civilizations got pulled out of the now flooded plains of the north sea. Those places might have been near glaciers but they were inhabited. And they left behind some material remains that can be found accidentally even now. Despite the vast majority of their technoly necessarily having made use of perishable materials, anomal products and wood.
Glaciation is a very slow process which occurred very progressively from 130,000 years ago to 20,000 years when the Last Glacial Maximum (LGM) was reached. Deglaciation happened much faster, from 20,000 to 10,000 years ago during the Holocene glacial retreat. Of course, there's been some climate change before LGM, but a lot milder than what was experimented after it. The North Sea was constantly occupied by ice during all of the glaciation period. From what I know, Europe was inhabitated at the time, but mostly in more Southern regions (first by Neanderthals and later by Sapiens since 40,000 years ago). Those inhabitated regions had a very cold and rough climate though. Therefore during that period, there was no other way to survive than in following game in their seasonal migration.


Then "all studies" are wrong. I tire of reading that cliche about how worse sedentary life was. This was born out of an abusive generalization from some necessarily very partial samples taken form surviving early city graveyards. But, again, the vast, vast majority of what could decay has decayed with time and that includes human remains. Preservation of bones for even a couple thusands years is not common. It depends on soil chemistry. So one must ask: on what datasets did those studies rely? For the urbanized population, on which graveyards, from which cities, and which eras?
After checking the actual data, you must also take into account that the past "urban" civilizations were in fact heavily rural. The cities lived on the surplus of a rural economy and commanded a hinterland which had different living conditions. If the early levant was anything like the later, historical levant then some 9/10 of the population would be rural, not urban. Did the studies focus on the graveyards from rural villages, or from cities? Different living conditions, fifferent conclusions about health.

For the hunter-gatherers the sample problem is even greated. I could offer any interested researched a couple of caves full of pre-historic bones, likely 20 thousand-plus years old, but for some reason no one here bothers to research them. They have crates of the stuff in museum basements colleced more than a century ago. The material does exist. But collected where? What is the sample size in those studies, and is it representative?

I am skeptical, very skeptical, of this so-often repeated observation about the misery of early sedentary life. Further to this skepticism, there are the oral histories and archeologival evidence of mixed societies: pastoralist-agricultural. There wasn't a break! Even the earliest religious texts talk about the conflict between the two ancient ways of life, as anyone here ought to know. The two coexisted from pre-history well into history. There is therefore no need to ask why in the pre-historical past someone chose to start doing agriculture and a sedentary life despite the alleged downsides: you can ask real, living people today about that choice, or inquire out of the historical record, because the norm has been for the two lifestiles to co-exist. Evidently, thet choice was not one between "the good life" and "misery".
I think you're mixing up periods of time again. Those first farmers that had worse health conditions than hunters-gatherers were the populations living in the fertile crescent during the phase A of pre-pottery Neolithic (from 10,000 BCE to 8,800 BCE). The thing to understand is that the wild plants that were initially cultivated had a lot less nutritive value and were much harder to grow than today's cereals. It required centuries of selection to grow the productive cereals we have now. Also those population didn't master animal husbandry at first, the wild animals (aurochs, bezoars, wild horses and wild boars) being too aggressive to be domesticated. As such, they ate nearly exclusively very primitive cereals with poor nutritive values. Because cereals have carbohydrates, they had caries. Meanwhile, hunters-gatherers had a lot more diversified diet, eating meat, fish and vegetables. They had healthier teeth because they ate less sugar, and they had stronger bones. Considering the thousands of samples to compare, that leaves very few doubt.

Animal husbandry will come later and will develop as progressively as cereal cultures. It will also take centuries to develop docile animals such as our modern cows, goats, horses and pigs, with so much muscle (proteins) and fat. Also adults at the time couldn't digest milk because they didn't produce lactase. It is assumed that they actually develop cheese in order to get rid of milk lactose and still be able to get the proteins and fat from it. Humans themselves have evolved, through selection, to be able to digest milk as adults. Another similar selection happened with the ability to produce vitamin D. Indeed, first farmers also had a poorer diet in vitamin D. Considering that clearer skin produces more vitamin D from the sun than darker skin, it is thought there was also a natural selection happening there, with the surviving population turning a clearer skin in order to compensate.
 
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Oh yeah, it only makes sense to adopt a sedentary lifestyle as long as you have a year-round food supply that allows it. My first post was wrongly formulated, but the question I had in mind was rather that when that food supply is endangered, probably due to a growing local population in what we can assume to be villages, why would people invent agriculture and deteriorate their diet rather than just dispersing? Population density at regional level was still very low so there was certainly a lot of room. My assumption (which could actually be wrong) is that people wanted to live in larger numbers in one place than hunting and foraging could allow. And that may be a reason why they began to develop techniques to increase the local food supply.




Definitely! I realized that first in watching some documentaries on Youtube and I found it so exciting that I started buying books always wanting to know more. Thanks to genetics, it's now established that the growing populations of Anatolian first farmers actually spread from 6,500 BCE to 4,500 BCE to the Mediterrannean bassin, Europe and Iran, and they ultimately overwhelmed the hunters-gatherers that were living there before. That wasn't something that was expected, as we initially thought it was the hunters-gatherers who progressively adopted agriculture. A similar phenomenon apparently happened in Africa, with Bantu populations coming from the Niger River spreading in most of Subsaharan Africa.

This has lead me to realize how much we ignore about Protohistory. When I was younger I naively thought that what was unknown was very certainly of limited interest. The more it goes, the more I realize that many decisive events which contributed to shape our modern world are now totally forgotten.
I am interested in crepuscular periods the most. Protohistory as the dawn of civilization is one of them, but also by early middle age as the end of the Roman world and the beginning of the current western world. Logically such crepuscular periods are usually the least known by its own nature. Still once you begin to read about them you realize there are a lot more of information than you thought at first and that any knowledge gap can be filled with 👽
 
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You're mixing up periods of time. Stonehenge is actually quite recent, the circle of stone was erected after the Pyramids of Kheops in Egypt. European Megalithism was built during Neolithic by the farmers which came from Anatolia, from 5000 BCE (Malta) to 2000 BCE. That was several millenias after the Natufians became sedentary in the Near East (from 13,000 BCE to 9,500 BCE). Those populations which developed Megalithism were a lot more advanced, having developped much more productive and diverse agriculture and animal husbandry as well as pottery for storing food. They "solved" most of the nutritional deficiencies I've been talking about.
The period you refer to 5000BCE to 2000BCE overlaps a critical period in European prehistory.

There were two major shifts: one around 5000BC (Anatolian "farmers"), and another around 2800BC.
The later period was when there was a staggeringly fast replacement of Y chromosomes when Yamnaya people, mostly men it seems, moved westward into Europe. (The ratio of men to women was 7:1 which is very unusual given there are no mass graves or evidence of wars or other conflict.)

Latest genetic evidence suggests the entire Y chromosomes of Great Britain were replaced within 100 years, and in the Iberian peninsula within 150 years.

I linked to the video in another post by a researcher at the Max Planck Institue in Leipzig who was the first
to "discover" Denisovans.

 
There were two major shifts: one around 5000BC (Anatolian "farmers"), and another around 2800BC.
The later period was when there was a staggeringly fast replacement of Y chromosomes when Yamnaya people, mostly men it seems, moved westward into Europe. (The ratio of men to women was 7:1 which is very unusual given there are no mass graves or evidence of wars or other conflict.)
How do they know this and how is that even possible?
 
How do they know this and how is that even possible?
I cannot comment on this particular example, but there is a similar phenomenon in the UK, where we have a much greater percentage of Y chromosomes from the nordic countries than we do the X chromosome. This is a legacy of a sex ratio in the viking immigrants.
 
I cannot comment on this particular example, but there is a similar phenomenon in the UK, where we have a much greater percentage of Y chromosomes from the nordic countries than we do the X chromosome. This is a legacy of a sex ratio in the viking immigrants.
I would've been happier to be the viking with the broken leg back home :D
 
The spread of ideas was crude, as well as slow. Typically people would find approximate ways of doing things and then try to improve on the approximation, but without a system that defined what the perfect answer would be - for example, ancient egyptians were using scaled models of a 3-4-5 bead string (along with the final bead, 13 beads) so as to construct an approximation of a right angle, having simply observed that one group of right-angled triangles is the a(3,4,5) one.
That changed with the offspring of Cthulhu and Talos, which is Thales.
Even around the archaic era there were numerous regressions. In mainland Greece, you have (eg) the walls of Mycenae famously termed "cyclopean", alluding to their size being an incredible feat according to people who lived later than their creators, as if the former were cyclopae. Similar to how anglo-saxons couldn't construct the roman buildings they had ruins of.
 
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why would people invent agriculture and deteriorate their diet rather than just dispersing?
We know, because of our advanced understanding of biology and nutrition, that this diet may not have been as healthy long term. But one observes that only by being able to contrast the effects of one diet with another over a lifetime. At that time, people would have thought along a much shorter timescale: tomorrow's lunch. Food being abundant and reliable right this minute would have won out over any possible effects over a lifetime.
 
We know, because of our advanced understanding of biology and nutrition, that this diet may not have been as healthy long term. But one observes that only by being able to contrast the effects of one diet with another over a lifetime. At that time, people would have thought along a much shorter timescale: tomorrow's lunch. Food being abundant and reliable right this minute would have won out over any possible effects over a lifetime.
That and the fact that 50,000 unhealthy people can conquer 5,000 healthier ones. And when you have stored food and the enemy has to forage daily you can take time out to fight a long battle while they can't.

Evolution doesn't mean improvement, it's just adaptation. Humans have become domesticated and frail.

Would be cool to ressurect a very early homo sapiens and train him in MMA.
 
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