"it's quite clear that there's tons of cultural transmission that's just strictly by observational learning."
January 4, 2013 8:52 AM   Subscribe

How Culture Drove Human Evolution
posted by the man of twists and turns (44 comments total) 33 users marked this as a favorite

 
I've spent no small amount of time wondering why we have these enormous brains when so many spend their lives eating Doritos and watching reality television. I often think of baboons and their long, pointy, scary-looking teeth. Totally unnecessary from a dietary perspective, those teeth have one purpose only : competing for mates.

Our brains are the cerebral equivalent of baboon teeth.
posted by Afroblanco at 9:14 AM on January 4, 2013 [1 favorite]


This is just another attempt to shoehorn evolutionary psychology into cultural studies. This tendency on the part of proponents of the theory of evolution has long been opposed by cultural anthropologists:
To most cultural anthropologists nothing is more apparent than the independence of the cultural and biological in human history. To attempt to explain culture and culture change by means of biological factors is to commit the logical and mathematical folly of accounting for something cumulative and forever changing by a relatively constant and inert element. The truth is that Homo sapiens of the modern type has changed physically hardly at all in the 30,000 years or more of his existence. It is not merely that organic change is always slow, that, as Kroeber has pointed out, in organic evolution one organ or structure must be laboriously replaced by another if bodily form is to be altered. In man there is this further complication; his very inventions may cushion him against natural pressures which would serve to initiate organic change.--"Cultural and Organic Conceptions in Contemporary World History" / Morris Edward Opler. In American Anthropologist, New Series, Vol. 46, No. 4 (Oct. - Dec., 1944), pp. 448-460.
Theorists of evolution with their cultural temptation represent a serious threat to progress in the social sciences.
posted by No Robots at 9:27 AM on January 4, 2013 [7 favorites]


It's a fascinating read, touching on a great many different aspects of culture and behaviour. So many in fact, that it's hard to narrow the whole thing down into a single idea. The notion that physical and cultural evolution are two aspects of the same process seems logical to me. Behavioural evolution has been long known to be a thing, and can become a key distinction which separates different species, for example when mating selection rituals or practices diverge.

And in a completely different train of thought:
"An important thing to remember is that there's always an incentive to hide your information. As an individual inventor or company, you're best off if everybody else shares their ideas but you don't share your ideas because then you get to keep your good ideas, and nobody else gets exposed to them, and you get to use their good ideas, so you get to do more recombination. Embedded in this whole information-sharing thing is a constant cooperative dilemma in which individuals have to be willing to share for the good of the group. They don't have to explicitly know it's for the good of the group, but the idea that a norm of information sharing is a really good norm to have because it helps everybody do better because we share more ideas, get more recombination of ideas."
This is why copyright is a problematic concept.
posted by talitha_kumi at 9:30 AM on January 4, 2013 [2 favorites]


To attempt to explain culture and culture change by means of biological factors is to commit the logical and mathematical follyexcellence of accounting for the constants factors in something cumulative and forever changing by a relatively constant and inert element.

FTFH
posted by DU at 9:31 AM on January 4, 2013


I don't know that you can really counter current research in anthropology with a citation from 1944.
posted by ChuraChura at 9:35 AM on January 4, 2013 [9 favorites]


The truth is that Homo sapiens of the modern type has changed physically hardly at all in the 30,000 years or more of his existence.

two WIRED pieces:
Humans Evolving More Rapidly Than Ever, Say Scientists
The findings, published today by a team of U.S. anthropologists in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, overturn the theory that modern life’s relative ease has slowed or even stopped human adaptation. Selective pressures are still at work; they just happen to be different than those faced by our distant ancestors.

"We’re more different from people 5,000 years ago than they were from Neanderthals," said study co-author and University of Utah anthropologist Henry Harpending.
Human Evolution Enters an Exciting New Phase
In the most massive study of genetic variation yet, researchers estimated the age of more than one million variants, or changes to our DNA code, found across human populations. The vast majority proved to be quite young. The chronologies tell a story of evolutionary dynamics in recent human history, a period characterized by both narrow reproductive bottlenecks and sudden, enormous population growth.
Wills, C.: Rapid recent human evolution and the accumulation of balanced genetic polymorphisms
The first part of this review examines recent studies that have had some success in dissecting out the role of natural selection, especially in humans and Drosophila. Among many examples, these studies include those that have followed the rapid evolution of traits that may permit adaptation to high altitude in Tibetan and Andean populations. In some cases, directional selection has been so strong that it may have swept alleles close to fixation in the span of a few thousand years, a rapidity of change that is also sometimes encountered in other organisms. The second part of the review summarizes data showing that remarkably few alleles have been carried completely to fixation during our recent evolution. Some of the alleles that have not reached fixation may be approaching new internal equilibria, which would indicate polymorphisms that are maintained by balancing selection.
John Hawks' blog: Why human evolution accelerated and paper: Recent acceleration of human adaptive evolution
Our simple demographic model explains much of the recent pattern, but some aspects remain. Although the small number of high-frequency variants (between 78% and 100%) is much more consistent with the demographic model than a constant rate of change, it is still relatively low, even considering the rapid acceleration predicted by demography. Demographic change may be the major driver of new adaptive evolution, but the detailed pattern must involve gene functions and gene–environment interactions.

Cultural and ecological changes in human populations may explain many details of the pattern.
posted by the man of twists and turns at 9:54 AM on January 4, 2013 [8 favorites]


I don't know that you can really counter current research in anthropology with a citation from 1944.

It was a time when people were a quite sensitive about the intrusion of evolutionary theory into social science. As Opler states (original italicized), "the rise of the Nazis and the present war itself are simply a phase of the overshadowing struggle between the two world conceptions, the organic and the cultural."
posted by No Robots at 9:59 AM on January 4, 2013 [2 favorites]


I often think of baboons and their long, pointy, scary-looking teeth. Totally unnecessary from a dietary perspective, those teeth have one purpose only : competing for mates.

Baboons, while mostly herbivorous, also eat birds, rabbits, monkeys, and antelopes.
posted by Sys Rq at 9:59 AM on January 4, 2013 [1 favorite]


Do you need enormous canines to eat birds, rabbits, monkeys, and antelopes?
posted by Afroblanco at 10:04 AM on January 4, 2013 [1 favorite]


Baboons don't use their canines for eating meat, though. Baboon male canines are pretty much explicitly their to warn away other males.

Anthropology is a social science with a strong evolutionary component to it. Humans have evolved as much as we are cultural, and to suggest that there is no relationship between culture and biology is foolish.
posted by ChuraChura at 10:05 AM on January 4, 2013 [2 favorites]


and to suggest that there is no relationship between culture and biology is foolish.

But the question is what is the nature and extent of that relationship?

I guess the Internet has made me very wary of evolutionary psychology because I so often see people arguing some form of biology determining culture, or some evolutionary "just so" story that neatly explains why some current cultural practice is a Biological Fact.

Or, sadly all too often, why some bigotry is in fact totally true because of science, i.e. "Women can't make good leaders because we evolved so that they are nurturers and gatherers and think emotionally unlike logical men. Science!"
posted by Sangermaine at 10:17 AM on January 4, 2013 [4 favorites]


There's a difference between evolutionary psychology and physical anthropology (and caricatures of evolutionary psychology). It's certainly worth questioning the nature of the connection between biological evolution and culture, but it seems to be missing the point entirely to pretend that, for example, the reduction in molar size and enamel thickness over the past 2 million years or so, has no relationship to the increased cultural reliance of human ancestors on tools.
posted by ChuraChura at 10:23 AM on January 4, 2013 [5 favorites]


why some bigotry is in fact totally true because of science

I don't think this article does that, and I wouldn't have posted it if it does. If you can point out to me where that occurs in this article, I'll ask the mods to remove it.
posted by the man of twists and turns at 10:28 AM on January 4, 2013


Sigh. Did anyone read this article? It's saying that culture drove biological evolution, not the other way around. That's a lot more plausible to me than standard evo-bio arguments.
posted by Potomac Avenue at 10:30 AM on January 4, 2013 [1 favorite]


But the question is what is the nature and extent of that relationship?

It's a very sensitive question, and I'm very sympathetic to people who would have us tread lightly in this kind of research, or forebear completely. It's possible that we may learn some things that we are not culturally prepared to digest in a mature fashion.
posted by Edgewise at 10:30 AM on January 4, 2013


Sigh. Did anyone read this article? It's saying that culture drove biological evolution, not the other way around. That's a lot more plausible to me than standard evo-bio arguments.

Absolutely. But one opens the door for the other, does it not? I think that was No Robots' principle objection i.e. "This is just another attempt to shoehorn evolutionary psychology into cultural studies."
posted by Edgewise at 10:32 AM on January 4, 2013


But, being the opposite of that, it's an attempt to "shoehorn" cultural studies into biology, right?
posted by Potomac Avenue at 10:34 AM on January 4, 2013 [1 favorite]


Thank you, Edgwise. Yes, I am citing Opler for denying any scientific basis for positing an interaction between culture and biological evolution.
posted by No Robots at 10:34 AM on January 4, 2013


Oh I know, lets go on a tourist vacay to gawk at hunter gatherer lifestyles instead.
posted by infini at 10:37 AM on January 4, 2013 [2 favorites]


Oh I know, lets go on a tourist vacay to gawk at hunter gatherer lifestyles instead.

No, let's look critically at the cultural values that we actually hold dear and imbue with a nimbus of scientific authority: aggression, dominance, hatred, manipulation.
posted by No Robots at 10:41 AM on January 4, 2013 [1 favorite]


some of the big questions are, exactly when did this body of cumulative cultural evolution get started? Lately I've been pursuing the idea that it may have started early: at the origins of the genus, 1.8 million years ago when Homo habilis or Homo erectus first begins to emerge in Africa. Typically, people thinking about human evolution have approached this as a two-part puzzle, as if there was a long period of genetic evolution until either 10,000 years ago or 40,000 years ago, depending on who you're reading, and then only after that did culture matter, and often little or no consideration given to a long period of interaction between genes and culture.

Of course, the evidence available in the Paleolithic record is pretty sparse, so another possibility is that it emerged about 800,000 years ago. One theoretical reason to think that that might be an important time to emerge is that there's theoretical models that show that culture, our ability to learn from others, is an adaptation to fluctuating environments. If you look at the paleo-climatic record, you can see that the environment starts to fluctuate a lot starting about 900,000 years ago and going to about six or five hundred thousand years ago.

This would have created a selection pressure for lots of cultural learning for lots of focusing on other members of your group, and taking advantage of that cumulative body of non-genetic knowledge.


This seems, i dunno, kinda common sense to me. It has to be proven of course, which is hard to do, but the idea that cultures arose way way back a million years ago and shaped human brain evolution in various ways since then seems pretty legit. Just because a theory lets ignorant racists mistakenly commandeer it to argue for the superiority of one set of adaptations over another doesn't mean it's wrong.
posted by Potomac Avenue at 10:42 AM on January 4, 2013 [2 favorites]


It's very interesting to think about linkages between culture and biological states. I think that this particular scholar is very enthusiastic about pursuing the cultural brain hypothesis, but I don't know what facts support it. The linked article is full of tantalizing propositions for which no evidence is presented:

-The two systems begin interacting over time, and the most important selection pressures over the course of human evolution are the things that culture creates—like tools.

What does "most important" mean here? Is there any biological evidence that culture engenders or engendered a selection pressure? If so, what is it?

-But once you got this idea for cooking and making fires to be culturally transmitted, then it created a whole new selection pressure that made our stomachs smaller, our teeth smaller, our gapes or holdings of our mouth smaller, it altered the length of our intestines. It had a whole bunch of downstream effects.

Again, this sounds fundamentally plausible, but what fact-based reasons are there to think that it's actually the case? I'm not saying such things do not exist, but there are not in evidence here, as people say.

-Another area that we've worked on is social status...if you apply this gene-culture co-evolutionary thinking, the idea that culture is one of the major selection pressures in human evolution, you come up with this idea that there might be a second kind of status. We call this status prestige...This is the kind of status you get from being particularly knowledgeable or skilled in an area.

So there only existed, in early hominids, two kinds of special social status? How can we say with any confidence that this was the case, really? What about familial status? Isn't it also plausible that individuals could have had unique status because of the nature of their relationships to others with special statuses? Again, it sounds perfectly plausible, but without any empirical grounding it's merely speculation resting on further speculation.

Which is also how I'd characterize the larger line of argument. It's interesting, but it seems fact-free. He avers over and over again that "there's an interaction between genes and culture", and in doing so he both assumes what he's trying to prove and neatly side-steps the much more complex task of defining that relationship in specific terms. It's trivially easy to hypothesize non-specific relationships between complicated and diverse phenomena like culture and genetic processes.
posted by clockzero at 10:51 AM on January 4, 2013 [1 favorite]


He also says "Lately we've been focused on..." and then names 14 different things. Either the guy has a lot of time on his hands or this is an informal interview with a pop-science site in which he's giving a broad overview of his and his colleagues' work. I'm curious to hear what has come out of his research from another source.
posted by Potomac Avenue at 10:54 AM on January 4, 2013 [1 favorite]



I've spent no small amount of time wondering why we have these enormous brains when so many spend their lives eating Doritos and watching reality television. I often think of baboons and their long, pointy, scary-looking teeth. Totally unnecessary from a dietary perspective, those teeth have one purpose only : competing for mates.

Our brains are the cerebral equivalent of baboon teeth.


The Mating Mind by Geoffrey Miller is all about just that thought.
posted by KaizenSoze at 10:56 AM on January 4, 2013


You may remember Henrich's name from this study: The Weirdest People In The World?(PDF) (in this post)
Broad claims about human psychology and behavior based on narrow samples from Western societies are regularly published in leading journals. Are such species‐generalizing claims justified? This review suggests not only that substantial variability in experimental results emerges across populations in basic domains, but that standard subjects are in fact rather unusual compared with the rest of the species—frequent outliers. The domains reviewed include visual perception, fairness, categorization, spatial cognition, memory, moral reasoning and self‐concepts. This review (1) indicates caution in addressing questions of human nature based on this thin slice of humanity, and (2) suggests that understanding human psychology will require tapping broader subject pools. We close by proposing ways to address these challenges.   
Henrich's homepage.
posted by the man of twists and turns at 11:02 AM on January 4, 2013 [2 favorites]


As a critic of cultural studies bred in a critical tradition in which an aggressive skepticism to anything "natural" is the standard pose, I found this article interesting, and indeed a fresh interpretation of the (in its basest phrasing) nature vs. nurture "debate." His conclusion and overarching hypothesis, however, is quite clumsy and lacks the nuance of his other arguments:
Part of my program of research is to convince people that they should stop distinguishing cultural and biological evolution as separate in that way. We want to think of it all as biological evolution....It's going to be a little bit more of a complex story. Culture is part of our biology. We now have the neuroscience to say that culture's in our brain, so if you compare people from different societies, they have different brains. Culture is deep in our biology.
This weirdly totalizing statement is surely the source of the objections. Any time you hear a scientist say in relation to culture "[w]e now have the science to say...", best practice has historically been to roll your eyes and close the book. My take away from his argument (admittedly part of my canned opinions on the topic) is scarcely that, as Henrich unfortunately concludes, we should give biology some kind of academic hegemony in this debate -- but that the two historically opposed lines of inquiry can't be separated at all, and any time you try to do so it involves giving something up intellectually.
posted by Catchfire at 11:05 AM on January 4, 2013


He says we are the only species to run down prey. Don't wolves do this in the way he describes..following spoor and tracking prey till it's exhausted?

For that matter, don't we have a recent study that orangutans have cultures, in the sense that groups isolated from one another develop different techniques for solving the same problems?

Is there a lot of research about how our intestine length has changed in relation to cooking? He didn't cite it, is it commonly held to be true?

I am not hostile to his ideas, but at the same time, I'm not entirely convinced by his examples.
posted by emjaybee at 11:07 AM on January 4, 2013 [1 favorite]


the man OTAT's comment reminded me of this:

The cultural assumptions behind Western medicine

When most of us think about the medical approach that dominates in Western countries, we tend to view it as scientific and therefore as neutral, not influenced by social or cultural processes. Yet research undertaken by anthropologists and sociologists has revealed the influence that social and cultural assumptions play in the western biomedical tradition.

Linking the word “culture” with “medicine” is usually interpreted to mean one of two things. First, that people of non-western cultures may come to western medicine holding different beliefs about the causes and treatments of illness from those of scientific medicine, causing a “culture clash” between doctor and patient.

Its attendant concept of “cultural competence” is now commonly used in the medical literature. It highlights the importance of doctors and other health professionals understanding that their patients from another culture that may hold different beliefs about illness and may experience poorer quality health care as a result of communication breakdown

posted by infini at 11:11 AM on January 4, 2013


Henrich's very sensible critique of the generalizability we impute to narrow Western samples makes his exclusive empirical reliance on exactly such things in this interview all the more frustrating.
posted by clockzero at 11:25 AM on January 4, 2013 [1 favorite]


and infini, your comment: When most of us think about the medical approach that dominates in Western countries, we tend to view it as scientific and therefore as neutral, not influenced by social or cultural processes. Yet research undertaken by anthropologists and sociologists has revealed the influence that social and cultural assumptions play in the western biomedical tradition.

reminds me of this fpp:The Americanization Of Mental Illness
posted by the man of twists and turns at 11:27 AM on January 4, 2013 [1 favorite]


Even more unscientifically, recent conversations with my latest periodontist revealed that there are fundamental philosophical differences even between UK and US dentistry.
posted by infini at 11:33 AM on January 4, 2013


I think some of the particulars cited are a bit of a stretch, but the basic idea actually seems obvious when I consider it.

There's a popular notion that civilization ended selection pressure, and while that may be largely true in the modern first world, I think there's a strong argument to be made that for over the full span of its existence civilization has generally made it harder for people to survive.

Beyond mere survival, there would also seem to be enormous reproductive differentials available under civilized existence. Moulay Ismail may have fathered nearly 1000 children -- nothing approaching this is logistically feasible in a pre-civilized world.

And taking group survival into consideration, things get even more extreme. I would expect a pre-civilized world to be full of local maxima, with even the most successful not that far removed from the mean. Civilization has largely meant that the successful have been almost exponentially successful, while those falling behind have often been completely exterminated.

Given that, it seems likely that there were enormous evolutionary pressures driving behaviors that work effectively in large groups. Whether they are exactly the things proposed here, I'm a little skeptical, but I'd be shocked if our species hasn't been substantially shaped by the frankly extreme conditions of existence that we've been operating in for the past few thousand years.
posted by bjrubble at 2:01 PM on January 4, 2013


Did anyone read this article?
I read it, but I substituted the word intelligence every time I saw the word culture and the article made just as much sense then. Intelligence has a genetic component but culture does not and is not inheritable.
posted by francesca too at 2:02 PM on January 4, 2013 [1 favorite]


No Robots: No, let's look critically at the cultural values that we actually hold dear and imbue with a nimbus of scientific authority: aggression, dominance, hatred, manipulation.
Did you read a different article than the one posted atop this thread? Or do you just a priori assume this "nimbus of scientific authority" when you read reports? The anthropologist interviewed seemed to approach his subject matter with a great deal of preparation, objective data gathering, and interdisciplinary expertise.
posted by IAmBroom at 2:16 PM on January 4, 2013


@ IamBroom: Erm, I was responding to a cheap shot by a poster. Sorry that you didn't follow the repartee.
posted by No Robots at 2:39 PM on January 4, 2013


This would have created a selection pressure for lots of cultural learning for lots of focusing on other members of your group, and taking advantage of that cumulative body of non-genetic knowledge.

This seems, i dunno, kinda common sense to me. It has to be proven of course, which is hard to do, but the idea that cultures arose way way back a million years ago and shaped human brain evolution in various ways since then seems pretty legit. Just because a theory lets ignorant racists mistakenly commandeer it to argue for the superiority of one set of adaptations over another doesn't mean it's wrong.
posted by Potomac Avenue


Just theorizing, but... it seems like the complicated nature of the human birthing process (and the size of the human head/brain) would definitely be something that would have had to co-evolve with a culture of care or even proto-midwifery.
posted by rosswald at 5:45 PM on January 4, 2013 [1 favorite]


Much about human reproduction requires culture. There's very little that's instinctual about it.
posted by the young rope-rider at 5:49 PM on January 4, 2013 [1 favorite]


Placebos are something that depend on your cultural beliefs. If you believe that something will work, then when you take it, like you take an aspirin or you take a placebo for an aspirin, it initiates the same pathways as the chemically active substance. Placebos are chemically inert but biologically active, and it's completely dependent on your cultural beliefs. If you don't believe that cures come in pills, then taking a placebo aspirin does not have any effect on you. That's a case where it shows the ability of a cultural belief to activate biological processes, and then it's something we know a little bit about.

For those of you who say culture and biology are completely independent, what do you have to say about this?

This was an example of a case where people are ready to moralize it, and I like to view it as the evolution of this marriage system of monogamy. It's peculiar. It doesn't fit with what we know about human nature, but it does seem to have societal level benefits. It reduces male-male competition. We think there's evidence to say it reduces crime, reduces substance abuse, and it also engages males in ways that cause them to discount the future less and engage in productive activities rather than taking a lot of risks which include crime and other things. Depending on what your value systems are, if you think freedom is really important, then you might be for polygyny, but if you want to trade freedom off against other social ills like high crime, then you might favor the laws that prohibit polygamy...
Societies that have this are better able to maintain a harmonious population, increase trade and exchange, and have economic growth more than societies that allow polygamy, especially if you have a society with widely varying amounts of wealth, especially among males. Then you're going to have a situation that would normally promote high levels of polygyny. The absolute levels of wealth difference of, say, between Bill Gates and Donald Trump and the billionaires of the world, and the men at the bottom end of the spectrum is much larger than it's ever been in human history, and that includes kings and emperors and things like that in terms of total control of absolute wealth. Males will be males in the sense that they'll try to obtain extra matings, but the billionaires are completely curbed in terms of what they would do if they could do what emperors have done throughout the ages. They have harems and stuff like that. Norms of modern society prevent that.


And may they continue to do so.
posted by bookman117 at 9:48 PM on January 4, 2013


@ IamBroom: Erm, I was responding to a cheap shot by a poster. Sorry that you didn't follow the repartee.

I don't do cheap shots, at my age I can afford the best. Check your memail from hours ago when that comment was made. Its the little envelope you'll see in the top right hand corner of this website.
posted by infini at 10:10 PM on January 4, 2013


For those of you who say culture and biology are completely independent, what do you have to say about this?

I'm not one of the people you're asking, but what I have to say about that is, well, it misses the Evolution 101 drawback of polygyny: A smaller gene pool.

Just theorizing, but... it seems like the complicated nature of the human birthing process (and the size of the human head/brain) would definitely be something that would have had to co-evolve with a culture of care or even proto-midwifery.

Quite. Advances in midwifery (especially recent developments such as c-sections and induced labour) have made the natural process of human birth more complicated by not weeding out all the big heads and small pelvises.
posted by Sys Rq at 10:52 PM on January 4, 2013


I hadn't heard that Tasmania's aborigines lost the ability to make fire, but presuming it's correct: how incredibly sad. Imagine the kids who grew up remembering that their parents had had this magical substance which kept you warm and made food palatable, and knowing that there was a way to create it ...
posted by Joe in Australia at 7:20 AM on January 5, 2013


Yes, I am citing Opler for denying any scientific basis for positing an interaction between culture and biological evolution.

Phylogenetic Analysis of the Evolution of Lactose Digestion in Adults
This analysis supports the hypothesis that high adult lactose digestion capacity is an adaptation to dairying but does not support the hypotheses that lactose digestion capacity is additionally selected for either at high latitudes or in highly arid environments. Furthermore, methods using maximum likelihood are used to show that the evolution of milking preceded the evolution of high lactose digestion.

Intelligence has a genetic component but culture does not and is not inheritable.

I agree that there isn't a cultural component in our genes. I disagree that culture is not transmitted from one generation to the next.
posted by the man of twists and turns at 8:07 AM on January 5, 2013


Indeed. I'm a novice in developmental and comparative psychology, but from what I do know humans are uniquely good at learning from each other. Other animals do learn from each other, but we take it a step further and are very good at mindlessly imitating each other when compared to other apes. Toddlers who see a parent do something will often effortlessly copy it down to the smallest, most purposeless movement. Apes, as far as I know, do not have such an easy time and generally only copy the functional movements after a significant amount of cognitive effort. That is an obvious impediment to the kind of complex and voluminous learning that transmits what we call "culture". We are so good at transmitting culture that we take it completely for granted and in fact, easily learn into our old age as things shift and change (and as we begin a new workplace, enter a new group of friends, move...).

When a developmental disorder prevents this obvious and effortless learning from happening, the sheer amount of information involved becomes more clear. Anyone who has tried to teach basic social rules to someone with an autism disorder has to be bowled over by their complexity and volume.
posted by the young rope-rider at 8:22 AM on January 5, 2013


I hadn't heard that Tasmania's aborigines lost the ability to make fire, but presuming it's correct: how incredibly sad. Imagine the kids who grew up remembering that their parents had had this magical substance which kept you warm and made food palatable, and knowing that there was a way to create it ...
posted by Joe in Australia at 7:20 AM on January 5 [+] [!]


I have never heard that claim before either, and unless the guy has some actual evidence to back it up.... rather than, just to surmise, 'things changed'. Yeah, there was a lot of tribal conflict in Tasmania, things will change.

Making fire is actually not that hard - I learnt to do it as a kid in multiple ways.

But let's just imagine that a hunter-gather culture managed to exist for 10-12,000 years without the ability to make fire.
posted by Hello, I'm David McGahan at 11:50 PM on January 5, 2013


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