Somewhere in my mind, I like to try and construct a timeline of all of human history. Yes, there’s the obvious stuff, like the discovery of fire, the learning of what foods will and won’t kill you, the domestication of the dog, and all the similar things that led us to become successful hunter/gatherer tribes. Yes, these were incredibly important steps, which allowed us to do things like eat more meat without getting sick through the power of cooking, find out that some poisonous plants are actually edible when you either boil them or eat only the proper part (hi, rhubarb), and the start of obtaining mastery over an animal, which was supremely useful in hunting and guarding watch.
But it’s only very recently in human history that we began to move past the hunter/gatherer stage — past the stage of living in small tribes — and form larger societies. How did we develop into the creatures we are today from living in small hunter/gatherer tribes? It hasn’t been that long, and I’ve got an appropriate song for the weekend to help bring us there:
So, what brought us out of hunter/gatherer societies and into larger, more specialized ones? Pretty simply, agriculture. It’s only in the last 10 or 12 thousand years that humans began planting and sowing their own crops, and started controlling their food. Although this may have first happened in the fertile crescent, it quickly spread all over the world. Interestingly enough, this is contemporaneous with the end of the last ice age, suggesting that wild food was plentiful until the most recent climate change forced us to change the way we lived.
Growing large areas of crops attracted two major things: many other people and large herbivores. Why many other people? Because one person, at maximum, can take care of 2.5 acres of land (about 2 full soccer fields). But on that land, you can grow enough food staples to feed 100 people for a year. So you’re going to attract other people. Other, hungry people. But you’re also going to attract mindless, feeding ruminants as well.
It wasn’t long before people figured out that they could not only hunt these animals, but also herd and breed them; herding appears to go back within 2,000 years of farming. So, in addition to warriors and farmers, we now had herders. And of course there was conflict: the story of Cain and Abel is as old as the story of modern society.
So, what came next? What was the next step in human development?
Wine? That’s right, wine. How do we know? The oldest pottery-shards that survive — from earlier than 5000 B.C.E. in Iran — have Calcium Tartrate (a.k.a. evidence of cream of tartar) on them, a by-product of wine-making! About 1,500 years before the wheel. So the timeline of human history looks like this:
- Herding, and
It’s hard to argue with all the success we’ve had as a species over the last 7,000 years. Is it possible that this is the cause of it all?