Food Fundamentals

The story given as the ‘beginning of archeology’ makes me a little hesitant. I was interested to learn how the categories of the ‘Ages’ were originally developed, but I expected something a bit more….scientific? Does anyone else think it’s weird that our chronology of early civilization is based off a government employee with no education on the subject deciding to categorize artifacts, saying “Yeah, that looks about right,”?  To be fair, Anthony goes on to list genuine historical criteria for determining chronology later in the article, but I thought I’d start with a comment on his introduction.

I especially liked Anthony’s section on food as cultural identity. It actually reminds me of Diamond (doesn’t everything remind me of Diamond?) – not in a comparison of subject matter, but in a question of fundamentals. Anthony writes:

“Long ago, before all these modern conveniences appeared, getting food determined how people spent much of their day, every day: what time they woke in the morning, where they went to work, what skills and knowledge they needed there, whether they could live in independent family homes or needed the much larger communal labor resources of a village, how long they were away from home, what kind of ecological resources they needed, what cooking and food-preparation skills they had to know, and even what foods they offered to the gods…wealth and the political power it conveyed were equated with cultivated land and pasture.”

Isn’t this exactly what Diamond contends? I think his work sees a bigger picture – concerning energy within a total environment, but I would say Anthony’s opinion on the importance of food in early history and culture should influence how we think about Diamond’s work. It would seem that not just any resources conferred technological dominance and power to cultures and people, but those specifically pertaining to the efficacious production of food. And this isn’t a coincidence; water and calories seem to be the most fundamental needs of a human. Diamond is all about the fundamentals: what were the ancient causes of certain societies’ (Europe’s) historical dominance over other peoples? However, I think we can reach a deeper conclusion. Anthony’s section on food, beyond the opening paragraph, carries an implication that food is such a good indicator of history and culture because it is so fundamental to both. My point is: I want to qualify Diamond’s ideas. I don’t think he went deep enough. I think a society’s ability to provide for its people outweigh other ‘energy’ factors. For example: silkworms provide a means of production within a society. They’re a useful domesticate. This doesn’t however, dictate that a society creating silk will have the means to become superior to its neighbors. Chickens, on the other hand, are a better domesticate, because of their higher caloric content. Cows are even better, as you can both eat them, and use them for labor in agriculture. Doesn’t it make sense that the fertile crescent was the center of early humanity if you consider they developed agriculture and grain cultivation?

I’m not sure I’ve actually broken new ground on any of this – we’ve touched on similar issues in class before. But I really took to the quoted paragraph and Anthony’s “What Did They Eat?” section. Regardless, I think this is something worth revisiting if class discussion heads in its direction.

3 thoughts on “Food Fundamentals

  1. The food / calorie issue is certainly important, and you raise some interesting questions about how Anthony’s approach might enhance Diamond’s basic framework. I’m wondering how the physical and material relationships (and energy equations) raised here relate to Bulliet’s discussion of the donkey?

  2. I was just as bewildered by the origin of archeology as you were. He mentions twice in the reading that archaeology was just the collection of things to move into a museum and nothing more. I can’t believe that no one saw the significance in such an amazing tool right off the bat. Based on the reservations regarding carbon dating it seems that for some reason there will always be trepidation regarding constructing the past. I thought it was funny that some discredited the use of carbon dating because it could be off by 100-500 years. That seems close enough to me.
    I didn’t notice any connection between Anthony and Diamond ideas in the reading but that was probably because of the section where Anthony openly discredits Diamond with an example of delayed progress despite similar geography. This does not mean that he did not present some of the same ideals however. It seems like both men agree on the importance of innovation or a technology in shaping the entire culture of a people. I guess the question is where all ancient people able to obtain such a thing or did they not even have a chance.

  3. I was also interested in the origin of the Ages classifications. I thought it was pretty impressive that a government employee with no training came up with the Ages because its a simple but elegant system of classification that really wasn’t that far off the mark. The specifics of the system weren’t perfect, but the idea that people used different metals and alloys at different times seems pretty good to me. I’ll agree that it is probably a good thing that its become a little more scientific, but for a first try, I think that government employee did a pretty good job.

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