• Ancient humans and nature: not so harmonious afterall?

    Posted on March 2nd, 2014 mollyo92 No comments

    Wildlife of Our Bodies really brought up some interesting points during this section of reading. I really tried to focus more on what Dunn was trying to convey rather than his writing style as we discussed in class. There was definitely one thought that stood out to me the most from the reading. Dunn explains the way in which we tend to think about ancient humans living in a perfect world, in complete harmony with nature. Dunn discusses this idea on page 114…

    “Let’s return to the Amazon. Across much of what we now tend to think of as the ‘pristine’ Amazon, civilizations and agriculture once flourished. They flourished at the margins of the forest in seasonal lands where good years are good, but bad years are very, very bad.”

    It’s in this section that Dunn explains the theory created by Leigh Binford. which descirbes the notion that agriculture was a measure taken by ancient humans when they were desperate, rather than being a product of invention as we tend to imagine. This idea hit me particularly hard, due to the fact that it’s something I’ve often considered. I’ve taken a course in environmental ethics, and we spent a lot of time talking about humans’ ideal relationship with nature. Commonly, I pictured ancient humans, running around with animals by their side, living in harmony with nature and taking only what they needed. I often felt that the relationship between humans and nature began to go downhill when humans became greedy and selfish and demanded more than nature could produce. However, the theory Dunn describes does not explain the actual course of events in this way. It seems that it was not human demand that spoiled the relationship, but rather the simple inability of nature to provide enough. Granted this is only one theory, it does hold some weight with me. Dunn also discusses a portion of this theory that describes humans having to move their settlements approximately every fifteen years as their communities became rampant with fleas, lice, and a lack of food supply. This paints a clear picture of a civilization of ancient humans that are struggling to assimilate to their surroundings. It’s important to remember that this is only one theory, and Dunn does go on to  explain other theories that could offer a different explanation. But regardless, I was glad to be given a alternative perspective to what I always imagined. It’s interesting to think that  despite the idea we often discussed in my ethics class that humans need to revert back to more harmonious relationship with nature, that perfect relationship may have never really existed. Is it possible that the development of agriculture and the process of humans exerting their control over nature was the only way to create a somewhat civil relationship between humans and nature? Based on this theory, it seems that agriculture was always destined to a part of the development of the earth; it seems like agriculture is just another step in evolution. I know we’ve had discussions about “natural” and how nothing is actually “natural,” therefore it could be interesting to bring up this discussion again including Binford’s theory and having the perspective that without agriculture and domestication of animals, humans, and perhaps many various animal and plant species, had no chance of survival in the natural world. The development of this relationship as it occurred may actually being mutually beneficial instead of parasitic.


    2 responses to “Ancient humans and nature: not so harmonious afterall?” RSS icon

    • I agree that desperation may have been a reason for the development of agriculture, but I am also skeptical that it’s the only reason. In my opinion, it wouldn’t have been difficult for ancient humans to observe plans growing an connect the dots that placing seeds in the ground, watering them, and giving them sun exposure causes them to grow. Sure, growing enough for entire populations is more challenging, but the I don’t see agriculture as being such a large hump for humans to get over in the process of their evolution.

    • What a great post! There’s so much here to talk about – including the ways in which we (still/always) want to invoke “harmony” and “natural” as positive descriptors of an ideal and idealized past, when it stand to reason that if things are not perfect now, they likely weren’t then either! Tanner’s point is a good one as well – people probably did experiment with seeds or become “accidental farmers” just for the heck of it – sometimes. But at other times, and probably lots of other times, it seems quite plausible that cultivating / domesticating had overtones of desperation. And of course what we most easily forget (with our focus on “western civilization” that began in the middle east), is that the vast majority of early people were nomadic pastoralists rather than agriculturalists.

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