Hunters and gatherers

April 9, 2009 § 3 Comments

I have no wish to romanticize hunter/gatherer societies, and the following is there fore based on a balanced combination of actual archaeological finds, interpretation of the finds, and assigned significance based on anthropological studies. A retrospective of sorts.

Not much information on how far objects traveled from their place of origin has been found from the period 2.5 million years ago until 300.000 years ago in Middle and Northern Europe. The distance that objects seem to have traveled in this period increased from 5 to 50 kilometers. Whether they actually changed hands remains unknown. The increase might have just been due to a growing human action radius.

And that doesn’t mean there were no contacts between tribes and members of different tribes. It does mean that any assumption that tribes were exchanging in those days, is based on a belief that collaboration and networking are essential ingredients of a successful survival strategy.

A similar dynamic seems to have been the case in the Middle Paleolithicum (300.000 – 40.000 years ago). Transport increased to 300 km, in Eastern Europe more than in it’s West.

But in the late Paleolithicum, the period between 40.000 and 9.000 BC, beautiful ornaments made of seashells and copper traveled distances as far as 700 to 1000 kilometers from their place of origin. These must have passed many hands.
Ornamental disc found at Helden
The Netherlands had relatively little resources to export in that time, while extremely valuable artifacts have been found here. This indicates “something else” than economical incentives may have been behind the exchanges that moved these objects.

Anthropological research of a number of non-Western societies and some still existing hunter/gatherer cultures revealed yet more other than “economical” incentives based value exchange systems. In it’s core we often read a meme code that says that the exchange of gifts creates obligations for both parties. These obligations then are the basis for managing all kinds of important business: maintaining friendships, creating political alliances, collaboration when defense is required, exchanges of potential partners, and communities that share surplus with neighbours, do not have to fear famine as much, for if and when an unexpected decline in resources occurs, the favor can be returned, and an obligation crossed out.

The dark side of this system is that when some communities or people are richer than others, they will have more debtors, and this is how power concentrations and co-dependency dances are born, because that can be used in negotiations. And invariably, people do try to gain at the expense of others. Using your power in negotiations that way, I named “charging dark interest“. Dark because it was not transparent in the explicit exchange. Interest, because it is added as obligation with “nothing” in return from the other side, and it may take forever to get rid of because it was not named. And often, either the other side prevents you from naming it, or our own fears loaded with preemptive violence myths do, or both. Speaking of forever, what if “the other party” makes it impossible for you to deliver your end of the gifts exchange/obligation? Seriously, these Dark Deals can be a problem. How to cope?

That’s what we have the Law of Two Feet for!


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