from BARDO

The stars are in our belly; the Milky Way our umbilicus.

Is it a consolation that the stuff of which we’re made

is star-stuff too?

– That wherever you go you can never fully disappear –

dispersal only: carbon, hydrogen, nitrogen, oxygen.

Tree, rain, coal, glow-worm, horse, gnat, rock.

Roselle Angwin

Monday, 21 October 2013

hunter-gatherer & settler part 2: the emergence of warfare

'From an ecological point of view, our downfall began when our ancestors first became pastoralists, for it was then that they began to have greater control over nature.'  (Peter Marshall)
The Neolithic era was a major revolution which enabled a mass expansion of population. Until then, humans were hunter-gatherers.

'Land needed for living is appropriated not by fences and boundaries, in the way of farmers, but by moving through it along paths. Thus a forager's territory is something to be related to and associated with, not owned, and tracks and pathways are symbolic of the process of life itself.' (G Barker, The Agricultural Revolution in Prehistory, quoted by Totton.)

I can't emphasise the distinction enough.

Agriculture began first in the Fertile Crescent, in the Egyptian Nile delta and riverbanks, and along the Tigris and Euphrates in what was Mesopotamia and is now Iraq. Now food could be produced in one place, as required (given the seasons and weather), as opposed to our dependence on unreliable sources for which we might have to trek, and keep trekking, miles.

I was gobsmacked when I first learned that the forest of Dartmoor was cleared almost entirely during the Late Neolithic era (roughly 4000 to 2400 BCE in Britain), and using only hand tools such as stone axes.

Nonetheless, the first farmers doing the clearing to grow crops and raise animals continued a relationship with the animals they herded and domesticated, the land they worked, and the seasons, based on respect, and the transition was gradual, with farmers still also hunting and gathering, and the nomadic hunter-gatherers living alongside.

The transition, millennia in the coming, from nomadic hunting and gathering to agriculture, was slow.

These early megalith builders still shared certain beliefs and ideals, and also principles of co-operation with each other and nature, and community values in relation to human, other-than-human and the seasons and cycles of nature, with their nomadic predecessors. Place still held a profound quality for them, often sacred, and when they settled it was in places made special by memory and tradition, ritual and celebratory times. Astronomy was significant in orientating their megalithic ceremonial monuments. At this stage, early humans would have still had a sense of living within a complex web of inter-relationships, which also exhibited interdependence.

The Neolithic peoples, it seems, had an awareness of the sacred, and lived within its circles. 'Their thinking was fundamentally cosmological,' says Marshall. The evidence is that their worship was of the Great Goddess who, as the giver and taker of life, was basically Mother Earth. Harmony was important to them, as a study of the alignments and proportions as well as cosmic orientations of their great stone structures shows. As far as we can tell from early cave art in megalithic times, men and women were both considered important. Celestial monotheism, in the form of a Sky or Solar God, aka Yahweh, Jesus Christ or Mohammed, was as yet not established in Western Europe and Britain.

Things changed, of course. In Britain, by the Bronze Age, there was an invasion of warlike people from the East, some say the Indo-European tribes from the Eurasian Steppes.

Yesterday I spoke of my own view of capitalism as growing out of an appropriation of land and its 'assets' or 'resources', defending it, and making it produce yet more. If we put Marxist theory, or Engels' ideas, into the equation (don't worry, I'm not going to), then we have to include the idea of employing labour to do the work we're not going to do, while we take a cut of it.

But that's not where I'm going. There's another aspect of land settlement. The invaders, with their bronze weapons (as opposed to tools for working stone and hunting), and their building of new defensive structures, brought warfare.

In the palaeolithic era, up until about 10,000 BCE (around the end of the last Ice Age), a sustainable forager population of the earth was perhaps around one person per square mile (Nick Totton). (There would have been around a million people on earth at the beginning of the last Ice Age, 20,000 years ago.) I don't know the figures for the Late Neolithic, but today it's more like 130 per square mile. A settled people, with a greater population density and higher levels of human fertility (records show), need more land and need to defend what they have.

It's easy to believe that war is an integral part of human nature. The evidence shows otherwise. Jacob Bronowski says '...war, organized war, is not a human instinct. It is simply a highly planned and co-operative form of theft.' Interestingly, there is no firm evidence, from any source, to suggest that humans engaged in any form of inter-group conflict or violence before at the earliest 10,000 BCE, says Tim Wallace Murphy. In fact, 'the first recorded war of which we have any historical certainty took place between Upper and Lower Egypt about 3200 BCE. This conflict, like so many others since, was about the acquisition of land. In the hunter-gatherer societies that have survived until the twentieth century, violent and aggressive behaviour is ritualized and rarely results in serious injury. It is so-called civilized man, not the primitives, who invented and engaged in war, later refining it... to the point where the entire planet could be destroyed and all forms of life extinguished forever...'

Part of Wallace Murphy's evidence comes from the Anatolian archaeological site of Çatalhöyük. From detailed analysis of this site, which has been excavated back to the 7th millennium BCE, says W M, we see that in all the hundreds of years of its occupation that have been studied to date 'there is no evidence of any act of war; no sign of any sack or massacre; no single skeleton that discloses any indication that death was caused by an act of violence.'

And then we had the beginnings of the modern era. Peter Marshall says of the Bronze Age in Britain: '...a period of conflict and uncertainty developed. As an emblem of the age, the bronze dagger, symbol of war, replaced the stone axe, symbol of peace... During the Bronze Age, the new threat of war probably encouraged men to search for ore and to spend more time in making weapons and artefacts and in organizing defence and attack. During a long period of adjustment, a hierarchical and patriarchal society with chiefs and a warrior class began to emerge, eventually replacing the earlier nurturing, egalitarian, female-orientated community. (Alasdair W R Whittle's research.) At first prestige was no doubt invested in the mother's brothers; but when the role of the father became clearer in more monogamous relationships, the line of descent was traced through the father. By the time the Bronze Age slid into the warring Iron Age around 650 BCE, patriarchy was firmly established throughout Europe. Increased trade and material wealth encouraged a sense of private property and the right of inheritance was established: the richer and more powerful warriors passed on their wealth, prestige and power to their sons. And so it remains.
    'These changes in social organization saw a radical shift in religious ritual from the worship of the Great Goddess, associated with the moon, to male gods associated with the sun... The older 'lunar' way of thinking was an intuitive knowledge which grasped things as a whole. It was replaced by what might be called 'solar' thinking – the way of modern civilization – which operates primarily with words and concepts and breaks down the objects of knowledge. One is holistic and organic, the other is analytical and mechanical.'

So there you have it. We all thought agriculture was a good thing? And here we have capitalism, warfare, patriarchal values, monotheism, and an ever-expanding population on a planet that can't support it, all in the last three or four millennia, since the first pastoralists. And it's not too much to suggest that the roots of wholesale destruction of ecosystems and a worldview that is anthropocentric can be traced back to early farming initiatives. (And I won't even start on intensive farming methods, which might be said to be an inevitable consequence of all those things I just mentioned.)

Mind you, I haven't the faintest idea what we do about it. Even if we wished to return to nomadic ways and hunter-gathering, collectively, we no longer have the means to support ourselves in that way.

So – in my small corner, I'm focusing on restoring our relationship with each other and with the other-than-human, and the land, as a matter of extreme urgency. It's less than a drop in the ocean, but what else can we do?


Peter Marshall: Europe's Lost Civilization
Tim Wallace Murphy: Hidden Wisdom
Nick Totton: Wild Therapy

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