What is a human?
How do ‘humans’ differ from our evolutionary ancestors?
We can’t really determine when the ‘human era’ of history begins until we can answer these questions. DNA analysis isn’t going to give us a definitive answer because there isn’t really any place to draw a line. Say you start with a 3 billion character sequence of code in DNA that represents a starting member of the common ancestors of chimps, bonobos, and humans. Then you go through a long list of permutations of 3 billion character code sequences that are each infinitesimally tiny variations on that starting sequence (perhaps as little as one letter difference) until you get to a 3 billon character sequence of code that represents some representative human, perhaps yourself.
You went through a lot of steps.
Which is the crucial one?
Which step separates ‘humans’ from ‘not humans?’
It seems hard to imagine there could ever be a definitive answer to this question.
It seems hard to imagine defining ‘humans’ with a numerical code.
If we want define the term, we would need to look at it from a different angle.
We may want to take a step back and look at how people made this determination before DNA sequencing was possible. (In 2003, papers published by the Human Genome Project covered the 92% of the human genome. The first full human genome sequence was not published until April 1, 2022. Link to source.) Before we had these tools, researchers couldn’t talk about the links in DNA because we didn’t have the tools to study the linkage. The most common method defined humans by the artifacts that were the results of behaviors that were presumed to have been uniquely human. There are certain things that other animals can’t do, but that highly intelligent beings that have the qualities that we normally associate with ‘humans’ can do. We can presume that the first sign of these behaviors gives us the earliest date that we can conform scientifically for human appearance in an area. This doesn’t mean humans weren’t there earlier; we may have been. It just means that this is the first date that we can accept as scientifically valid for human habitation.
Pleistocene Era Extinction Events
There is one category of past events that stands out in this regard, called the Pleistocene Era Extinction events. These events are a ‘wave’ of extinctions of what biologists call ‘megafauna’ that happened in the era called the ‘Pleistocene era.’ These extinctions started in north Africa about 50,000 years ago. They then spread over the next 32,000 years to the rest of the world. In these events, certain categories of animals went extinct. Because this happened in a ‘wave,’ and the first appearance of this ‘wave’ in each area coincided with the earliest actual human artifacts found in that area, and there was no other logical explanation for these events, researchers thought that this might be the best evidence we had to determine when humans arrived in each part of the world.
You might understand why early humans would want to wipe out certain animals. Humans are very fragile and would have been easy prey for most predators. We have thin skin, easily pierced by the claws or teeth of even small animals. We can’t run very fast, swim very fast, or climb very well, at least compared to predators that might want to eat us. We are not very strong, we tire very easily, and we spend about a third of our lives in total helplessness, when we are sleeping. No other animals have these limitations. We would be easy meals for predators.
We are pretty smart and can work together well, so we could wait until they attack one of us and then fight them off one attack at a time. We may succeed some of the time. But this won’t make us safe. It won’t allow us to leave our children more than a few inches away from us or to travel and explore without bringing armies with us to protect us. The only way we can really be safe from these predators is to wipe them out entirely.
Our pre human ancestors would have also been highly motivated to do something about these predators. But they didn’t really have the ability to organize a campaign to wipe them out.
But we have capabilities no other animals have. We can sharpen and anneal rocks (harden them in fire so they will hold a point), then fasten them to sticks to make hatchets, pikes, and axes that give us the ability to kill animals far larger than ourselves. We can make arrows and propel them with bows fast enough to penetrate even the thickest of skin, allowing us to kill from a distance without placing ourselves at risk. We can organize large scale expeditions during the time the predators are most helpless. We can wipe out their food supplies. We can determine where their nests are located and wipe out their babies. We can destroy their habitat. We can drive them into box canyons and set fires that burn them to death. We can make traps and bait them with pheromone scents that they can’t resist. We can keep up the pressure, year after year, over enormous areas, in a methodological and organized way. We can do things that our pre human ancestors weren’t able to do.
We can wipe predators from the face of the earth.
Starting about 50,000 years ago, a wave of what are called ‘pleistocene megafaunal extinctions’ began in Africa. These extinctions spread through Asia and Europe. They arrived in Oceania (islands that now separate Asia from Australia) about 44,000 years ago. They arrived in Australia, about 40,000 years ago. They spread to the far northern part of America about 30,000 years ago then flowed, in a wave, down through this enormous land mass to the far south, arriving there 18,000 years ago.
Some islands were so remote and hard to get to that humans didn’t find these places until sometime in the last 10,000 years. In these cases, we can trace the direct link: When the humans arrived, the extinction events started.
Major predators disappeared.
But this isn’t all.
Many other animals that humans would have wanted gone also disappeared. Some species ate the same foods that we ate. These animals went extinct. Some animals are fairly easy for humans to hunt: they have defenses that work for other hunters but are helpless from a coordinated attack by hunters with complex tools and techniques that only humans use.
There were times when people were hungry and there were no other foods they could eat. Humans can be quite foolish. If we are hungry, and see the very last woolly mammoth on earth, we will kill it, even though from then on forever we will have no more mammoths.
There is no controversy over whether these extinction events occurred: they did. But ever since this theory was proposed, people have argued about whether humans caused the extinction events. Until very recently, the traditional historical models in most of the world were built on the premise that humans didn’t exist before about 6,000 BP (BP means ‘before the present’ or ‘this many years ago.’) Academic historians, and others whose work was peer reviewed, had to keep their numbers consistent with this.
Establishment historians were under a lot of pressure to make sure nothing they proposed contradicted this premise. In the mid 1900s, when people began to present evidence that the extinction events took place, historians who attributed them to humans faced heavy criticism from established experts in the field (see text box above). The evidence for the extinction events was so strong they couldn’t deny they took place. But they didn’t want to attribute them to humans. They looked for other explanations.
They presented a lot of ideas over the years. But none of them stand up to scientific analysis. Human hunting appears to be the only logical explanation.
The renegades (researchers willing to go against the grain) put together a picture that looked like this: humans first appeared in Africa about 50,000 years ago. They spread from there to Asia and Europe and by 45,000 years ago had reached the far eastern parts of Afro Eurasia at that time. They then spread southward through Oceania (the chain of very large islands that run from southeast Asia to Australia), arriving there about 40,000 years ago.
The extinction events then took a 10,000 year break. They resumed about 30,000 years ago in the far north of the Americas. They spread southward rather slowly (there were massive glaciers in their way) and didn’t arrive in the far south until 18,000 years ago. The people who made this proposal faced heavy criticism. The rest of their analysis wasn’t controversial: New Zealand, Hawaii, and the other remote islands of the Pacific weren’t populated until sometime in the last 5,000 years. When humans arrived, megafauna went extinct in these areas.
Until very recently, we didn’t have very good tools to fix the dates of artifacts. Human artifacts had been found everywhere the extinction events took place. The traditionalists claimed these artifacts were very recent. (Well preserved artifacts can look like they are only a few years old.) There was no way to prove they were wrong. Since they were considered to be the experts (the experts are always those who accept the traditional view: see text box above), they were presumed to be right.
As the 20th century faded into the 21st century, dating techniques got more and more sophisticated. We now have a great many different tools to date artifacts, that rely on entirely different technology. When several different dating techniques that use different technologies give the same date, and no dating technique that is considered reliable verifies the traditional numbers, it is reasonable to assume that the traditional numbers are wrong. Most of these technologies are brand new and many are still ‘controversial’ (mainly because they contradict the traditional ideas about the age of humans). But as time passes, a pattern is emerging: the oldest artifacts in each area roughly match the time of arrival in each area predicted by the ‘human caused extinction event theory.’
This allows us to sidestep the question ‘which DNA code in the link represents humans, as compared to sub humans or pre humans?’ It also allows us to sidestep the very controversial questions about whether denisovans and neanderthals should be classified as ‘humans.’ (DNA scientists claim that both of these beings could and did breed with homo sapiens. The rule for species naming would require that they be named ‘homo sapiens.’) We don’t have to define humans using these methods.
We can define humans by their (our) capabilities.
Humans are capable of dominating nature enough to make bring about the extinction events that took place in the late Pleistocene era. No other animals are. we have dated human artifacts from after these events (including the time shortly after) but none from before these events. It is still possible that researchers will find other explanations for these events and find ways to show that the dating methods that give the coinciding dates are wrong. But until we get better information, it makes sense to accept that the human era started sometime shortly before the age of the oldest activity that we wouldn’t be able to explain without accepting humans lived in these areas.
We can start the human era in Africa about 55,000 years ago. We can trace it in Europe and Asia about 50,000 years ago, in Oceania about 42,000 years ago, in Australia about 40,000 years ago, and in the Americas about 30,000 years ago.
Why did humans ever leave home?
Why move from your home in Ethiopia, for example, where the grain called ‘teff’ grows wild over the savannah for as far as the eye can see, and enormous numbers of edible plants, animals, fish, and birds are everywhere, to move across the desert or cross the Indian Ocean, to find a new home?
People must have felt some pressure or they wouldn’t have done this. To understand why people would want to take such great risks to move, and particularly to move vast distances, we need to understand a little bit about population:
In the absence of predation, all animal populations must expand as long as food is plentiful and conditions are suitable for their survival. Females will want to have sex. Sex will lead to babies. If there is food, parents will make sure their babies are fed. Their babies will grow up healthy. Eventually, they will have babies of their own.
If food is plentiful, the population of all animals must expand. The reason is simple: there will be times when food is not plentiful. During these times, times, the population will decline. If the population declines in bad times, but doesn’t grow in good times, the animal will go extinct. This tells us that, if times are good and food is plentiful, populations must expand. They can’t stay stationary.
However, for all animals except humans, there is a check on population t that will almost always keep it far below the maximum that the food supply can support: Predation. As their food supply grows, their populations grow. This provides more food for predators. This allows the population of predators to grow. Eventually, the a combination of predation and greater competition for the limited food will cause the population of the primary animal to stabilize. But predators will have had lots of babies who will grow up and continue to hunt. Eventually, the population of the primary animal will to decline. Now, with less food, the predator population will also decline. At some point, the old balance will be restored.
The classic example used in college math classes involves rabbits and foxes. The example starts with an area with a stable population of both. The first year, rains are heavier than normal and there is more grass than usual. The rabbits eat a lot and have a lot of babies. Their population increases very rapidly.
Foxes eat rabbits. More rabbits mean more food for foxes. If they have more food, they will have more babies and their babies will grow up healthy and have babies of their own. Their population will grow rapidly. As long as there are plenty of rabbits, the fox population will grow. At some point, there will be so many predators and so much competition for food that the rabbit reproduction rate won’t expand any more. The population of rabbits will stabilize. The foxes still have hungry puppies to feed. They will keep hunting and, soon, the rabbit population will start to decline. Soon there won’t be enough rabbits to support the existing fox population. Both populations must now decline. Eventually, one of four things must happen: the rabbits can go extinct, the foxes can go extinct, both can go extinct, or a new balance will be found. (The branch of mathematics that uses this example is called ‘differential equations.’ The classes teach students how to create equations that depend on each other and solve them to determine which of these four results will happen. This is useful in modeling anything that has a mutually dependent relationship on something else.)
All animals have to worry about predators except humans.
There is a natural check on the population of all other animals. The math that shows how this works is very complex, but the bottom line is that nature is very good at finding a balance.
Humans are the exception to the rule.
If we define humans as beings capable of manipulating nature enough to wipe out their predators, clearly this check does not operate for us.
If there are no predators, what happens?
The rabbit population will continue to grow. Eventually, it will reach the limit of its food supply. It can’t get any higher than this.
The same happens for any animals. In the absence of predation, the population grows to the limit of the food supply. It happens for humans too. Our population will grow to the limit of the food supply.
How long will this take?
To understand this, we have to understand how fast human populations tend to grow. Without birth control or other checks on population growth, human populations can easily double every generation. (If each woman has 8 babies, 4 of which survive to have babies of their own, the population will double every generation, which is roughly 25 years.) At this rate, a staring population of 1,000 will become 2,000 in 25 years. It will become 4,000 in another 50 years, 8,000 in 75 years, and 16,000 in a century. Each century it will grow by a factor of 16. Each 3 centuries it will grow by a factor of 2,048. This means a starting population of 1,000 will grow to 2,048,000 in 300 years.
If food is abundant, people will keep eating. They will keep having sex. They will keep having babies and feeding them. In another 100 years it will be 16 times higher, or 32 million. After another century, if there is food to feed everyone, the population will be over 500 million. In another century, it will be 8 billion, or the current population of the entire world.
This helps us see why people would leave a home that provides abundant food. No matter how much food the land produces, the population will eventually grow to the point where there isn’t enough food to support any more people. If there isn’t enough food, they have two choices: stay and suffer through the many problems that will start to appear when the population pressure gets high (war over resources, for example, poverty, disease, famine, and crime) or find some other place to live.
Now you may be able to understand why humans would spread and spread, going into new places that they have never been.
They have to.
Population pressure pushes them to do this. When the population of an areas is so high that there isn’t enough food there to support the people, people will start to move. The early explorers will find areas where no one lives. They will start life there. Of course, they will pick areas where food is abundant. Their population will grow. A few centuries is all it takes before their new home will be crowded and they will be at the limit of its food supply. They will head out to other areas and settle there.
Science tells us there had to be a lot of people living in the world going back tens of thousands of years ago.
How did they live?
What kinds of societies did they have?
To understand this, we need to first understand that the realities of life will be dramatically different in different areas. As was the case for simians discussed in the early part of the last chapter, and the proto-humans discussed in later in that chapter, humans will be expected to organize their existence differently in areas with different realities of life.
Let’s consider some of these differences.
Different Population Densities
Some land is highly productive and can produce enormous amounts of food for each given area of land.
The image below is a satellite image taken of land in Egypt close to the Nile river. This land produces more than 2 million kg of rice per km2 per year. (This is 10 metric tons per hectare in each of two crops per year). This is enough to provide the basic nutritional needs of 10,000 people.
Qqqq nile delta image Faiyum
The map available at this link to population density map shows the current world population density in various parts of the world. The area around Faiyum is colored in deep red, indicating more than 10,000 people per km2. It has very a dense human population today. However, you will note that if you move just a few miles from the populated area, you get into vast areas where the population is slow low it is below the lower limit to register on the map of density. Most of these areas are deserts where nothing grows. If nothing grows, there is no food for people and people can’t live there, unless they have some way to import food. Other areas produce more food and can support higher populations. Some areas produce plentiful food. They have very high population densities. When you get to the area around Faiyum, the density is so high it exceeds the maximum on the scale used.
If you could go back in time many thousands of years, say 18,000 years in the past, in this same area, you would expect to see certain things.
The Nile was still there.
The Nile has been there for millions of years. The river would release about the same flows of water as are released today. Long before humans evolved, wild rice grew in the low-lying areas along this river in great abundance. Before humans arrived, this rice supported a diverse and healthy ecosystem. Enormous flocks of migratory birds would stop over in these areas to feast on nature’s bounty. Herds of buffalo, horses, mammoth, camels goats, sheep, and other mammals would live along the river banks and migrate to graze on the grasses alongside the birds. In the spring, when runoff flooded the valley, enormous schools of fish would come in to eat anything the others left behind.
Nature protects the ‘germ’ or seed of the rice plant behind a hard ‘gluten’ shell. When animals eat the rice, their bodies digest the sugars and proteins outside of the shell, but can’t digest the seed itself. They deposit the seed, along with fertilizer, to replace the crop next year. Long before humans evolved—even before the pan genus evolved—this area was densely populated with animals of all kinds, feasting on nature’s abundance.
Early humans who came to this particular valley would have found this to be a paradise. Food is everywhere. Remember, even the homo erectus, a million years ago, knew how to make, tend, and control fire. Even if the first true humans (homo sapiens sapenis, our species and subspecies) were the very first of their kind and lived here 72,000 years ago, they would already know how to make fire, collect eggs, and kill birds, fish, and mammals, prepare them, cook, them (and use fire to dry the meats, allowing them to be preserved), grind dry rice between two rocks to make flour, mix it with water and bake into bread, and otherwise cook and prepare many of the food that humans like, including most of them we eat today.
We don’t know exactly when the first humans were in this area, but we know there were people there 35,000 BP (BP means ‘before the present’ or ‘this many years ago.’) We know this because human remains were found there. The image below is a forensic reconstruction made with a combination of the DNA found in these 35,000 old (to determine the skin tone, facial hair, and other superficial features) and the nodes of the skull to determine muscle placement and other features.
Qqqq nazlet picture here
We don’t know for sure how long humans have lived in this area before Nazlet lived there. Almost certainly, he wasn’t the first; he is just the oldest found so far. He was there 35,000 years ago.
If you could go back 35,000 years to the area around the mouth of the Nile, you would expect all the above foods available. People would have a diverse and healthy diet. They would be healthy and have normal human desires, including the desires for sex and families. The population would grow. Even if only a small group of people (perhaps a few dozen) originally moved to this area around shortly before the time Nazlet lived, by the time we reached the year 18,000 BP (before the present) the area would be densely populated and crowded.
This particular area has a steady and year around food supply. It is possible for a group of people to live here year around and meet all of their needs from this tiny valley. They could build homes and sleep in the same bed every night. They would consider this valley to be the their home. They would not want outsiders coming to this rich valley and taking its food. They would want to monopolize the food supply of this valley.
This process would not just take place in the area around the Nile. The lands of what is now the country of India also can support dense populations. Certain parts of what is now the countries of China, Pakistan, Indonesia, Bangladesh, Thailand, Indonesia, and Japan can also support dense populations. When the rich areas around the Nile got too crowded, people would head out for other lands. Some would find these rich areas and be able to live as well there as they did in their original home.
As if the year 18,000 BP (before the present), the richest lands in all of these areas had large populations.
Some areas produce enormous amounts of food. These areas will have enormous populations. These areas would be crowded and very populous. I want to use the area around Faiyum as an example to illustrate this point. This land can easily support population of 10,000 people per square kilometer. It currently supports substantially more than this number. Even in 18,000 BP (before the present, or this many years ago) this valley would have been very crowded with people everywhere.
Other lands produce less food but can still produce plenty to keep people alive. If you look at the map of population density, (you will see that most of the earth is not nearly as densely populated now as the area around Faiyum.
But there are people everywhere.
Even in the most desolate parts of Afro Eurasia, like Siberia, there are people. Many people in remote areas are migratory herders. They have domesticated reindeer and use them to provide milk, cream, butter, cheese, and meat. The rivers provide fish. In the summer, grains grow wild everywhere. Humans can harvest them and store them to use to make bread all winter long. With bread, fish, milk, cheese, butter, meat and bread, we can do more than survive. We can live well and be healthy.
The land in areas with harsh or arid climates can’t support very high population densities. Even today, certain parts of the world have almost no people. Siberia, Mongolia, the Sahara, the Gobi, the Mohave, and the far north of America are a few examples. But if people were willing to move from place to place to take advantage of seasonal abundance, they can live quite well.
If you go back 18,000 years, you would be more than 10,000 years into the era after migratory people had crossed the Bearing Strait into America. They would have long since traveled down to the south to the plains of what is now Montana and Colorado. They would have been in Mexico for more than 5,000 years and would already have reached the tip of the continent in Tierra Del Feugo.
All of these places would be populated. We wouldn’t expect extremely high populations in most places, because the land didn’t produce enough to support very high populations. If they didn’t have any way to import large amounts of food, the population would be very limited in areas that produced small amounts of food. The central plains of what is now North America, for example, didn’t have very high populations even when the first conquerors arrived in the area. But people did live there a very long time ago. We have dated human remains that go back 18,000 years, in the form of the skeleton of a boy named Anzick. He almost certainly wasn’t the first, he just happens to be the oldest dated remains found so far.
We humans (like all other animals) love our babies.
We will not let them starve or suffer with hunger if there is food available. We will feed them and they will grow up to have babies of their own. The population will increase to the limit of the food supply everywhere.
This is a basic law of biology.
It is true for all living things.
It is true for us.
If you could go back 18,000 years in time, you would find people living just about everywhere people live now. (The only real exceptions are a few remote islands.) Areas that produced a lot of food had to have had high population densities. Some areas, like the fertile valley of Faiyum in what is now Egypt, had extremely high population densities.
Early Human Societies
What kind of societies might the people of earth had 18,000 years ago?
Let’s consider an example, the valley of Faiyum in what is now the country of Egypt. Very early in the human experience, this area might be inhabited by a group of passive and non-confrontational people. These people might think like Blackhawk, a Sac Indian, thought, from the quote below:
My reason teaches me that land cannot be sold. The creator gave it to his children to live upon and cultivate as far as necessary for their subsistence, and so long as they occupy and cultivate it they have the right to the soil, but if they voluntarily leave it, then any other people have a right to settle on it. (From the Autobiography of Black Hawk; full text available from resources on PossibleSocieties.com.)
Their idea of rights to land might have been like our ideas of who gets the right to each piece of sand on a public beach. The first people there can lay out their towels wherever they want. They get the best spots. People who arrive late get less desirable spots. If the early arrivals leave and vacate the good spots, they are up for grabs. Whoever is there first gets them.
For a long time, a group of passive and non-confrontational people may live in this area. But this isn’t going to last forever. This land is some of the richest land in the world. It can support more than 10,000 people per square kilometer. It is clearly possible and practical to monopolize this land. Eventually, a group would arrive that is not going to simply move on because there are already people living there. They are willing to fight for it.
What will the people who already live there do?
They have two choices.
1. They can fight back. They can refuse to leave and organize to repel the invaders.
2. They can act like pacifists on beaches when a group of party animals moves in and acts like they own the beach, blasting their loud music, building fires, and making life unpleasant for the people who just want to enjoy the area. They can find some other spot. The world is a big place. They don’t have to have the best spots. Other areas are acceptable. They can move on.
How will they act?
This depends a lot on what we call their ‘personalities.’
What kind of people are they? Humans have a diverse genetic heritage. Some of our genes come from the pacifist, tolerant, non-confrontational, ‘hippie apes.’ Some of our ancestors inherited the genetic structure of these animals. These genes pushed them to be tolerant, generous, and non-confrontational. The people who inherited these genes had instincts, which we might interpret as human emotions, that pushed them to think this was the right way to act. They taught their children to be tolerant, kind, and generous, to avoid conflict if possible and, if conflict is inevitable, to try to resolve it without violence if possible.
Why stay and fight?
The world is a big place.
This particular spot produces more than most areas of the world. But that isn’t necessarily a good thing. More production means more population density. It means that there will be more competition. It means people will be crowded together. This means more noise, less privacy, more unpleasant smells (they didn’t have sanitary sewers in those days, and almost certainly wouldn’t have bathed regularly). Having crowds means live is risky: Criminals can attack or rob you then fade into the crowds. Many people think the higher population density means a lower quality of life.
Why stay and fight over the rights to this particular land when there are millions of square miles where you can live without fighting? Why stay and fight when your personality is suited to a more easy-going lifestyle anyway? If you were there, and your personality was like mine, you would probably just pack up your things and head somewhere else.
Other people are more closely related genetically to the territorial apes, the pan troglodytes (chimpanzees). Their instincts push them to stake out territory and fight over it. If they ones they are trying to evict don’t leave quickly and without trouble, their instincts push them to extreme levels of anger: they feel as if they have to make examples of those they catch and tear their bodies to pieces, so that any who resist their authority will understand the risks they are taking.
Many people who inherited these genes were also raised in a culture that encourages the expression of these genes. They were raised to accept that competition is a good thing and that the winners are supposed to dominate because that is the way of nature: we compete for life. To refuse to fight for dominance is to be a coward and unworthy of even the basic necessities of life.
Even 18,000 years ago, people were superstitious and religious: many may have come from areas with religions that claimed the world was made for humans, given to us, and belongs to us. Some of these religions may have claimed that the creator directly ordered us to ‘hold dominion over’ the land, mean to hold it by force. (The holy books of Christainiaty, Judiasm, and Islam have a common source that holds that the creator’s very first words to is newly created humans was for them to ‘hold dominion over’ the land and ‘subdue it.’ These religions weren’t around 18,000 years ago, but others may have existed the claimed similar mandates.)
This prime land may be inhabited by passive, generous, tolerant, cooperative, and non-confrontational people for a time. But eventually a group with the genes and cultural background that pushes them to claim land will arrive and force a confrontation. If the group that wants the land is as aggressive as the conquerors of the distant future (say those who took the land of the Americas starting about 535 years ago), they will either remove the inhabitants or continue an unending death struggle, wiping out numerous people on both sides, until the side that is the most capable in war gains total control. These winners will then either subjugate (enslave), evict, assimilate, or exterminate the passive and tolerant people and make preparations to hold the land.
The Ricest Areas
The group that holds the land will realize they won’t be able to keep holding it unless they patrol the borders and prevent ‘foreigners’ (members of their species that are not members of their own group) from crossing these borders. They will act the same way the aggressive and highly possessive chimps do on land that has monopolizable resources: they will patrol the borders and use whatever levels of force are necessary to keep outsiders out.
They will be faced with far more capable opponents than the chimps. These opponents won’t be stopped by boundaries marked by urine scents of the people who claim it. To stop them, the defenders must build barriers of some kind.
They may start with small walls.
But small walls aren’t going to work to keep determined people out: people can just climb over them. The defenders will have to build larger walls. Even fairly large walls, however, can’t stop people who are really determined and want to share the bounty of more productive lands. In the early 21st century, leaders in the United States decided to build a wall on the southern border to keep people from less prosperous nations to the south from crossing. They held a contest for this: different companies that wanted to build the walls created prototypes and erected them for the leaders to inspect. In the end, the leaders selected a wall that was 30 feet high and made of steel bars. They ordered a few miles of walls to be put up so they could test their effectiveness. But the walls were basically useless. It is possible to build barriers that are effective at keeping people from crossing.
The picture below is an image of a border wall in the rich land near the valley of Faiyum, along the Nile river in what is now the nation of Egypt. At one time, these walls were common in the Nile river valleys. But due to innovations that started about 6,000 years ago (which we will examine in the next chapter), even these massive walls became ineffective. When they no longer had any use, the people stopped maintaining them and they fell into ruins. This particular wall was left up and put back into its early condition as a tourist attraction. You can get some idea of the steps these people were willing to take to prevent crossing the borders by looking at this wall.
Qqqq wall Egypt.
Note that the lowest parts of the wall is about 40 feet high. This is too high people to scale without equipment that is likely to be detected and destroyed by border guards before it can be deployed. Note that there are towers at regular intervals that rise another 40 feet. Guards in these towers can keep watch and locate any foreign troops that might organizing outside to mount an assault. The walls are very thick and have a road that is 20 feet wide at the very top. Troops that would be housed in the barracks at the base of the towers can use this road to move to any trouble spots very quickly. The road is surrounded by parapets that will protect the defending troops from arrows or projectiles that might come from below. Every 6 ft or so there is a slot in the parapet that allows the solders to fire arrows, burning tar balls, or other projectiles down on any attackers, without any real risk to themselves.
Note that there are windows in the walls underneath the top roadway. These windows are small, which means the defenders could easily block them, in the event enemies started to climb the walls and got high enough to enter. But they are large enough to use as weapons bays. The thick roof above the enclosed areas would protect the defenders from any assault that might make roof fighting impractical. (For example, the attackers may get balls of asphalt tar, set them on fire, and send them onto the roofs with catapults. The troops inside would not be affected.)
The walls are faced with very hard rock. This makes sense: mud walls can be cut through with basic shovels and labor. If the walls are faced with enormous rocks which are meticulously pieced together, attackers will not be able to cut through them without detection.
If you could go to Faiyum in 18,000 BP (again, BP means ‘before the present’ or ‘this many years ago), you would be arriving after this area had been through at least 21,000 years of continuous habitation. War, or at least the threat of war, was constant over this time. The people would have worked very hard to build defensive barriers. However, no amount of work would have been enough to provide total security. There had been times when enemies had been able to get across the borders and gain control of the land inside. When they did, we would expect them to treat the still-living defenders in much the same way that the chimps treated defenders of territories they conquered. The most generous treatment we might expect would be to allow the still-living defenders to remain alive as slaves to the victors. Each conquest would teach a new lesson to the people however: the defenses that were already there were not adequate. They needed to be fortified even more.
The Precursors Of Modern States
How large were the defended areas?
The image below is a satellite picture of the Faiyum valley in the 21st century. Note the clear circle that is labeled ‘the ring road.’ If you zoom in on the ring road, you will note it is a modern superhighway, with wide lanes, a wide median strip in the middle, wide shoulders on both sides, and enough land between the superhighway and the walls that mark the area outside of the right of way to allow for drainage, allowing the road to be used in all weather. If you zoom in you will see that the area outside of the right-of-way of the modern superhighway is a jumbled mess of mud huts and fields with no apparent plan. The superhighway appears to cut right through this mess in an organized way, with a roughly circular pattern around the richest part of the valley. The circle is about 5 miles in diameter and has a circumference of roughly 14 miles.
The ring road was built where the ancient walls used to sit. You will find these ring roads all over Afro-Eurasia. There is a reason they are there. The ancient walls no longer serve any purpose. The governments in these areas want to attract industry so they can create jobs for their people. The industrial corporations have to compete in global markets and they need modern infrastructure that can move massive amounts of cargo at high speeds to compete. They won’t build in areas that don’t have this infrastructure. The governments want to build the roads, but it is very hard to find real estate that can be used to build these roads. Every square inch of land is in use. Any infringement on the rights of the people using this land will cause massive resistance. There is one exception however: the land that contains the ruins of the ancient walls. Governments can bring in modern equipment to remove the ruins and build roads in the area. If you look at satellite images, you will find hundreds of areas with these circular roads, which are generally given the same name as the road around Faiyum: they are called ‘ring roads.’
Qqqq ring road
Local historians will tell you where the walls used to stand, and you can find books in the mosques and libraries that discuss this, but you don’t need to go to this trouble. The ancient walls stood where the ring road now stands.
If you look at the size of the wall in image 3.2 above, and then consider that this wall had to be 14 miles long, you will realize that this was a truly massive undertaking. It would have taken immense numbers of workers many generations just to move the materials to use to make the walls, including the mud used to make the bricks for the interior and the massive stones that faced the outside of the walls.
I need a term to refer to these walled areas. Historians generally call them ‘city states.’ They are basically states (with all of the characteristics that the ‘states’ of the world had until the last 500 years, when they became ‘countries’) that are the same size as modern cities. They are city-sized states.
If you could go back 18,000 years, you would find several of these city states along the Nile river, including Aswan, Kom Ombo, El Kab, Cairo, and the Faiyum valley. But these wouldn’t be the only city-states you would expect to find.
Many of these city-states had existed for thousands of years. For most of this time, the areas inside of the walls would have been extremely crowded. People would leave and look for new areas to live. They would find other areas that could support the same lifestyle they were used to and settle these areas.
The areas around Rome and Napes, just a short boat trip from the mouth of the Nile, are extremely productive. They can easily support the kinds of structures that were in the Egyptian city states. Istanbul is on incredibly rich lands as are the modern cities of Baghdad and Tehran; the Indus river valley (cities Karachi and Lahore) is one of the richest areas on earth, and the northern plains of India produces vast amounts of food and includes the modern cities of Delhi, Patria, Dhaka, and Kolkata, all of which produced vast amounts of wild rice before humans and still produce vast amounts of rice today. The lower Mekong river around Hanoi would also support these city-sized states, as would the are around Guangzhou (the mouth of the Peal River) the area around Shanghai (the mouth of the Yangtze river.
I will not go over the evidence for the existence of these small states in each case here. All of these cities, and hundreds more, had ancient walls. In some cases, some sections of the walls have been restored as tourist attractions; in others, they have been turned into ring roads. But it is clear that, at one time, hundreds of areas on earth were surrounded by massive fortified walls. There were a lot of these city-states in the world.
The Other Societies
If you could go back 18,000 years and just explore, you would find many of these enclosed city-sized states. But most of the land you would see would not be in one of them.
The land outside of the richer areas can still support some people. But not as many per square kilometer. If the land can’t support enough people per square kilometer to take care of production and to get the materials for the walls and to actually build the walls and to maintain the walls and to provide 24 hour patrols around the wall area and to keep a large army ready to reinforce the patrols if they are attacked and to provide the services for the defense workers that they can’t provide themselves because they are basically employed full time in defense, the land can’t support this kind of society.
People can live other ways. We don’t have to sleep in the same bed every night and get up to the same job every day. Even today, a lot of people make their living in ways that require them to travel from place to place. If you could go back to 18,000 BP (18,000 years before the present), you would expect to find a lot of people who lived in areas that could support people, but couldn’t support them full time. For example, there would have been a lot of herders, hunters, and seasonal harvesters who traveled to places where food was plentiful at certain times of the year, but scarce the rest of the year. They would take what nature provided and move to another area.
Very large parts of the world contain large plains that people can plant in certain crops that grow very fast, taking advantage of seasonal rains to place them where they would get the highest yield. But for the rest of the year, it produces nothing at all. You will find vast areas like this in eastern Asia the pampas of Argentina, and the great plains of north America. Migratory people could plant some crops in the spring and leave people there to tend the plants while they leave to hunt, fish, trap, or gather various foods that nature produces. They could return when the crops are ready and harvest them, then have feasts and celebrations before they head for the spots where they will spend the rest of the time.
Life in Different Societies
If you had been born 18,000 years ago, your life would depend a great deal on the conditions of your birth. If you had been born in one of the city-states, you would have a certain way of life and be raised to believe and accept certain things. If you had been born outside of the walled city-states, you would have been raised with entirely different values and an entirely different point of view.
The people born inside the city states are raised to believe that a part of the world is naturally theirs. It is their ‘state.’ It provides wonderful things for them including freedom, justice, and liberty. The state is like a stern but loving parent.
The state keeps order. It has laws and rules. You don’t have to figure out what is right or wrong to order your life, you only have to know what is legal and what is not legal. As long as you don’t do any of the things that are illegal, you can do whatever you want. You don’t have to worry about morality. It is not your problem. The state decides what is moral. If the state says it is moral, it is; if not, it isn’t.
The state provides a foundation for an economy. As long as you have money or trade goods, you can go to a market and get the things you need. The state makes sure these trades are orderly and at least superficially honest.
The state protects your property, and particularly your home. There are people from outside the border of your state that don’t respect your rights to this land. If they were in charge, they would not let you have your home. Luckily, the state goes to incredible lengths to make sure they are not in charge and will never be in charge. It builds and maintains the massive walls that keep and their armies out. It supports the weapons industries that your state’s troops use to protect you and your home. It provides the troops that patrol the borders 24 hours a day to make sure you are safe from these enemies.
The state also protects your property from internal threats. People inside the borders must respect your property rights. Property is very valuable so many people would like to take it. But the state has laws and rules to protect you from them. Even the authorities can’t take your property without following strict rules.
Because your property is safe, you can wealth in the form of property. Most property in the cities generates income for the owners. If you accumulate property, you accumulate the rights to get these income streams. If you accumulate enough property, you may end up with enough income from the property to live in a mansion with servants catering to your every whim, without doing another day’s work the rest of your life. You can pass your property on to your children and they will inherit your wealth.
The state provides these things. You must provide several things in return. First, you must pay taxes. (Money doesn’t have to exist to have taxes: before money, taxes were paid in kind.) Second, you must agree to give anything you have to defend and protect your country: if it is conquered, it has no power or ability to grant any rights to anyone. The state can only provide the things it provides if the people in it are willing to protect it, even if they must give up their own lives to do so. Third, you must accept its rules, even if you disagree with them. If the rules allow people to harm the world around you, and you don’t want this to happen, you must accept you are helpless and let those who the government has given the rights to destroy do whatever the rules allow them to do. If the government says that that a certain city-state that was once your ally is now your enemy, and all the effort of your city state must now be devoted to destroying it and killing everyone in it, you must accept that this is the way things are, even if you have personal friends or relatives in the city-state to be destroyed.
People who were born into this system would have a hard time imagining how anyone could ever live any other way. Yes, there is land outside of the walls. Yes, there are people there. But they are not like the people in the state. They have no rights. They want to come in (there are always people queuing up at the border checkpoints). But they must meet strict requirements to get in and most of them don’t meet the requirements. It is reasonable therefore to think of them as inferior. They want what you have. But the people who run the border stations have determined that they are not worthy. Why would you even consider living the way they live?
If people are trying to harm them, they have no police to protect them. If a state tries to conquer them and take their land, they don’t have walls to protect them or organized armies to man the walls.
They can’t own property because there is no way for them to enforce their property rights. They need an organized government for this and don’t have one. They can’t accumulate property for their children for the same reason. They have no government to take care of them, to build roads for them, to provide welfare when times are hard. They will not likely ever have a lot of money or personal wealth of any kind because there isn’t any way to keep it safe. If there is no way to get rich, what is the reason we are living? To people born and raised inside the walled states, these outsiders would seem like dogs, wandering from place to place to get scraps and sleeping wherever they can find shelter.
If you were born into one of the states, you would probably think something like this.
You are one of the lucky ones.
You pity the outsiders.
If you were born outside, you would have been raised an entirely different way. You would have been taught the incredible value of good personal relationships. You can’t depend on any outside agent (like a government) to make people be good and honest and kind. You must make them want to be good and honest and kind, at least when dealing with you.
You have no government to protect you. But if you deal with others in good faith, if you have a good reputation and people trust and respect you, you don’t need a protector standing above you with a weapon to have good dealings with others. You will learn who you can trust and who you can’t. Your people will help you if you need help.
There is no government. But is this a bad thing? Many people don’t think governments are good entities at all. Governments ‘govern’ people. This means they make rules for people. Having no government doesn’t mean you can do anything you want. You need people to respect you if you want them to deal with you in good faith. You have to figure out the right way to behave to make this happen. Your people will help you with this. They will teach you. But, in the end, you have to be responsible for your own behavior. You can’t do things that harm others and then claim that you have the right to do this because there is no law against it. You have to figure out what is right and you have to do it.
If you were raised this way, the idea of having an organization governing you would be offensive. It would imply that you aren’t capable of knowing right from wrong. If you had a chance to actually meet people who lived under these laws and talk to them, you will see that the laws often allow people to do horrible things to others. This is not illegal and the government protects their rights to do these things. Why would anyone want to have a government like this? We should all learn what is right and act the right way. It is insane to require people to follow made-up rules that everyone can clearly see are wrong.
It is true you can’t own property if you live outside of the state. You can’t protect rights that you claim to have if everyone else around you disagrees and claims you don’t have the rights. But do the people in the city-states who think they own property really own it? Can we really own a part of the world? The world takes care of us. It provides our food and water, fuel for our fires and a place for us to live. We depend on it for our lives.
If nature or the natural world doesn’t meet our needs at some time, we can’t order it to do so as if its existence depended on us and expect it to change. The land doesn’t follow the directions of humans. We don’t and can’t truly be the owners of nature or parts of the natural world. The people in the walled city-states who believe they own parts of this planet are deluded. If you had been born and raised outside of the city walls, you would probably feel sorry for them.
People inside the walls have to pay taxes. They have to pay for their food, for shelter, for a drink of water, for a bath, even to grab an apple from a tree as they pass. They have to pay for everything. This means that they are not their own masters. They have to work or have some other source of income or they have nothing to pay for the necessities and die. People who have to work to avoid death are not really free. People inside the walls can never really be free. They are always slaves to the system, to money, and to the owners. Their lives are not their own.
You and I, here in the 21st century, were born into the state-based societies. It is hard for us to even imagine how people in the non-state societies would live. It is scary to imagine life without authorities to protect us, to keep order, and to protect our land and homes. But not everyone looks at existence this way. If you had been raised outside of the states, some 18,000 years ago, you would almost certainly have an entirely different point of view. You would probably think of the poor deluded people who live inside the crowded, filthy, and disgusting city states as fools who are so out of touch with reality they don’t even realize how miserable their lives really are. They are slaves to a dangerous, destructive, and incredibly oppressive system that uses them up and throws them away. You would almost certainly pity them.