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Giant ‘Arrows’ Seen From Space Point to a Vanished World (nationalgeographic.com)
202 points by Thevet on Aug 24, 2016 | hide | past | web | favorite | 49 comments

It's amazing to put yourself in the mind of a member of one of these nomadic peoples 2500 years ago, having only ever known the traditions of your tribe, living out your days tracking and catching wild game beneath the desert sun – and then deciding to do something new. Building on the knowledge of your most experienced hunters to design and engineer a modification to your environment that will permanently change the way your society hunts.

Truly these were the first hackers.

Or were they built by upstarts who disrupted the most experienced hunters?

Interesting perspective either way.

I think the markets might have been more in control, at least within the community. You don't just keep it all to yourself in a tribe. (But actually I have no Idea how big these groups where and how abstract and complex their power structures)

> and then deciding to do something new

...and become artists. After consuming some wild mushrooms they decided to create pictures nobody would be able to see in full. A true innovative art project that has been visited since then by different tribes. It finally become a local event spot for the full moon "let's fuck with the guys in the future" party.

There's no way to tell how these were thought of. Maybe it happened the way you declared, maybe it happened as a very iterative process of refinement over thousands of years.

I can imagine it starting off as noticing the the Antelope follow natural ridges in the land and lying in wait at the end of a ridge to ambush the animals. Later they build artificial ridges and then low walls. Finally, they add the kill pits and iterate on the wall layouts to produce the sophisticated guiding shapes shown in the article. Interesting stuff.

Or it could have started by building a kill pit at the end of a natural ridge/wall/stream, and using dozens of men to force the antelopes along the path to the pit. Then someone said "wait, if we build another barrier on the other side, we could do this with fewer men...

But either way, I doubt they were just chasing antelopes across flat land and one dude said "Eureka! I've got it!"

It wasn't desert back then, rather a grassy steppe - but otherwise, yes, quite!

Ah, fascinating article.

But when I first saw the title, I thought it was going to be about these particular arrows scattered across the US landscape... http://www.dailymail.co.uk/travel/travel_news/article-303823...

I want to say that there were fish traps that followed similar designs. Curving walls that led the fish into tidal pools that they couldn't escape when the tide went out.

There are many of these ancient fish ponds throughout the Hawaiian islands -- some of them enormous and very pretty.

I believe Hawaiian fish ponds were for pisciculture--raising fish. Saw a rock marked with a sign in a park, the Hawaiians used the hollowed out part to store fish while transporting between streams and ponds. They were not hunter-gatherers, they were (mostly) farmers.

Yes, and some river traps work on a similar principle.

The audio's not great. But here's a fish trap using a similar concept to the traps in the article.


Exactly my thoughts. This is a giant fyke, but on land.

Interestingly, these look very similar in design to so-called bacterial ratchets (see Fig 7 of [1]) which allow swimming bacteria to be sorted by size or swimming speed etc. People have even used these ideas to create tiny bacteria-powered motors [2].

[1] https://arxiv.org/abs/1604.01072

[2] http://physicsworld.com/cws/article/news/2009/oct/23/bacteri...

I was hoping from the headline that this was about an exoplanet but antelope traps are interesting too...

"Space Point" is indeed misleading and completely stretching it. Those are not huge structures and would be very hard to detect from Space. It's more about having a little elevation than anything else.

I also made the same incorrect assumption as gefh, and I'm not entirely convinced that wasn't deliberate, but to be fair, the article does discuss how satellite imagery has been used by archaeologists to study these sites.

The "space" bit is total click bait. They can be seen from space... with a huge Earth Observation telescope. They are crediting DigitalGlobe for the remote sensing so in that sense any random car can be "seen from space": https://www.digitalglobe.com/gallery?category=&page=2#galler...

Me too. It instantly reminded me of the old PC game, Star Control II (the spiritual precursor to Mass Effect), in which an advanced alien race leaves behind artificially-created planets with similar properties, which when plotted together on a map, converge towards the location of their homeward, as if a galactic arrow pointing the way.

Really neat to see these.. just reminds me how humans have been intelligent for many tens or hundreds of thousands of years.. we just didn't have advanced technology or large numbers until recently. We had to work with the little accumulated knowledge we had.

> we just didn't have advanced technology

Mastering Fire, Steel were already what I would call advanced technologies. We should not belittle what people were capable of with the means that they had. And the knowledge even back in antiquity was abundant - look at the work done by the Greek scientists, it's amazing what they knew with the limited observation tools they had.

Fire and steel are rather different cases. Steel required some form of highly organized collective arrangement, to procure the needed materials and perform the labor necessary to obtain the end result. This pretty much implies a fairly well-developed society, which is probably why the earliest steel artifacts we know of are only a few thousand years old.

Fire, on the other hand, is about learning to control, and eventually propagate, a natural phenomenon. Human ancestors have done so a very long time ago - by some estimates, more than a million years ago (thus significantly predating anatomically and behaviorally modern humans).

People seem to think sometimes that ancient humans were dumb because they didn't have smartphones. No, they were as smart us, they only lacked knowledge, not intelligence.

They had knowledge too, just in other areas. They would probably look down on modern humans for not knowing how to skin a deer or how to rotate crops.

I didn't mean to imply they had no knowledge, just they lacked most of the knowledge we take for granted. That knowledge itself was accumulated by many generations of people.

Many modern humans have that knowledge. It's not really inaccessible to anyone reading HN.

As long as the grid and Youtube still runs! /prepper voice off

Reading how to skin an animal and actually doing it are quite different things. Then you need to know that you need to know how to handle the skins to make anything useful with them.

Great observation, I totally agree! :)

There are still things that ancient peoples did that we have no idea how they did it (or indeed why) - my favourite example being vitrified forts, hill forts where the stone walls have been melted together by intense heat:


Depends on how ancient, though. Behaviorally modern humans only appear about ~50k years ago.

Excellent point; however, I would argue they had all the technology they needed.

I've thought about this long an hard for a while after spending time in an Aboriginal community in Northern Australia. A friend of mine explained to me that these people weren't primitives (as considered by some) but rather a highly advanced civilization in which we in the west only slightly understands. He was right.

The lessons I learned there have been burned into my mind and I'm grateful for my experience. This has made me wonder if "modern civilization" took a wrong turn at some point. Clearly we need to back track a little in order to survive.

Australian Aboriginals amongst other great things were:

- Masters of using fire to manage the land (fire stick farming)

- Discovered the hydrofoil (boomerangs).

- Astronomers (the night sky in outback Australia beats any television show)

- Built throwing tools that were highly efficient (woomera)

- Lived sustainably (something we're only just realising needs to be done)

- Made sure everyone in society had a place (totems).

- Implemented important laws to govern the size of the population.

- They lived in peace and harmony with the land.

Sure they didn't have any cannons and guns, atomic bombs or rocket ships, but they didn't have much of the transmittable diseases and mass scale wars and climate change we have now, nor did they initiate the collapse of the eco-system.

Unfortunately certain people thought it was a good idea to try destroy these incredible people and their culture. Thank god they didn't succeed in entirely, because we still have much to learn from them.

I can't speak of Australian Aborigines specifically, but in general, it's not true that primitive tribes are some kind of pacifist pastoralists. Sure, they don't wage large-scale wars - because they don't have the population numbers for that. But they do use violence against each other a lot, and when you adjust it per capita, it's quite on par with "civilized" wars, and even exceeds them sometimes.

"Anthropologists formerly idealized band and tribal societies as gentle and nonviolent, because visiting anthropologists observed no murder in a band of 25 people in the course of a three-year study. Of course they didn’t: it’s easy to calculate that a band of a dozen adults and a dozen children, subject to the inevitable deaths occurring anyway for the usual reasons other than murder, could not perpetuate itself if in addition one of its dozen adults murdered another adult every three years. Much more extensive long-term information about band and tribal societies reveals that murder is a leading cause of death. For example, I happened to be visiting New Guinea’s Iyau people at a time when a woman anthropologist was interviewing Iyau women about their life histories. Woman after woman, when asked to name her husband, named several sequential husbands who had died violent deaths. A typical answer went like this: “My first husband was killed by Elopi raiders. My second husband was killed by a man who wanted me, and who became my third husband. That husband was killed by the brother of my second husband, seeking to avenge his murder.”" (GG&S)

I didn't say they never had wars and you have a good and valid point.

What I'm trying to convey here is they're likely not comparable to the atrocities committed today in places like Syria.

Because our tribes are much larger... by many many orders of magnitude... like country and allied nations sized.

> Lived sustainably (something we're only just realising needs to be done)


They just didn't have the means to destroy the environment even more.

What my post said was that traditional Aboriginal society as it was when discovered by Europeans was a sustainable one. Not that the first people to arrive in Australia didn't cause ecological damage.

So is this really a valid argument?

> just reminds me how humans have been intelligent for many tens or hundreds of thousands of years

In terms of brain size, IIRC our brains were largest ~90k years ago, remained that size for ~60k years, incurred a slight shrinkage over ~20k years, then shrinkage quickened markedly since ~10k years ago (Ruff CB, et al. Body mass and encephalization in Pleistocene Homo, Nature 1997; 387: 173-176).

Of course, brain size /= intelligence or even brain efficiency. Hard to define intelligence anyway. Still a remarkable change to ponder.

I imagine its part of the 'civilization' package. More fuel-efficient, maturing to a more juvenile form, less aggressive, and more specialized brain? In a community you only have to learn a few specialized tasks, instead of needing to have all the skills?

More fuel-efficient thanks to 'civilization'? Not sure I follow, what do you mean by that?

Living in a dense village/town/city its important to be efficient especially with food. Its the fundamental limit on scaling. We don't all have to be warriors. Some sit and make clay pots or weave. A smaller, fuel-efficient model of citizen is a great advantage to a society.

I wonder if the higher temperatures of holocene have something to do with it?

The brain might be temperature limited in some cases?

I think hard work and organisation (possibly slaves?) is more what it was.

See also: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Buffalo_jump

Some buffalo jumps were used for thousands of years and had CRUSHED BONES from millions of animals falling over compressed into walls tens of feet high.

This hunting method features in Kim Stanley Robinson's Shaman where the Ice Age hunters use similar structures to corral migrating caribou. In his account (presumably based on scientific speculation), the hunters glut themselves with meat in order to gain enough weight to survive the winter.


Please comment civilly and substantively on HN or not at all.


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