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Anthropology professor teaching college students to live like early humans (theatlantic.com)
73 points by lifeisstillgood 161 days ago | hide | past | web | 39 comments | favorite

If you want to see some of these ancient human skills in action I suggest watching the Youtuber Primitive Technology: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCAL3JXZSzSm8AlZyD3nQdBA.

Also, make sure to read his descriptions where he talks in more detail about these ancient techniques in tool building.

And you can activate subtitles, where he explains a lot of the things he's doing while he is doing them. I have to admit that I only recently found out about this, even though I have been watching Primitive Technology for a long time.

Primitive Technology is one of the great treasures of the internet. For all the complaints and arguments that go around over fake news, click bait, ads and ad blocking, obnoxious JavaScript file sizes, mass data collection, and trolling: here is something so quiet, so peaceful, so simple, so existentially soothing, and so educational. He (don't even know his name) does it all without trying to put one over on the public; a rare person these days.

I used to feel that I was missing something vital by not knowing how to make fire from nothing but natural materials, or make stone tools. Things my ancestors did for a million years. I finally took some primitive survival courses, and ended up feeling like a more complete human being.

I also, like the student quoted at the end, gained a huge respect for the skills of stone-age hunter-gatherers.

While we're on the subject of survival activities, another worthwhile approach might be to focus effort on more thorough adaptation to the conditions at hand in ways that more primitive cultures had no other choice but to thrive under.

Hey how about living and working without air conditioning near the gulf coast of Texas or someplace like that, rather than expending such significant energy maintaining quite small enclosures in a state of foreign climate simulation?

Sessions of virtually zero energy consumption for other reasons can be rewarding too if you wanted to go a step further.

A bit of that and you might be better prepared for some of the more realistic threats such as hurricanes, floods, power interruption, or whatever there is in the local environment that needs to be adapted to.

It's not that difficult especially when you realize locals lived better adapted for centuries, but people are about as likely to practice applicable survival skills as they are to be taking Neanderthal lessons.

If it gets real bad I expect we'll go downright medieval long before we reach full cave man.

>how about living and working without air conditioning near the gulf coast of Texas or someplace like that

The primitive adaptation to these conditions was to not live in them. Population and economic growth in the South is largely attributed to air conditioning.

Many of the places we settle are not suitable for human habitation without substantial terraforming, energy expenditure, and medical care. Chicago, for example, was built on a swamp. It took a massive Army Corps of Engineers project to make it livable. Other cities had massive baseline casualty rates until a combination of medical research and sewer projects got pathogens under control.

Early universities let out their students in the summer not because they needed to work as farmhands (the origin story for summer breaks in K12) but because they would all die of infectious disease if they lived in such close quarters while it was warm outside.

There are ways to live without modern technology, but it's foolish to try to do so regardless of where you currently happen to be.

To find a suitable site and methods for this experiment, look at where and how the homeless thrive. In particular, places where the temperature regulation problem is more or less nonexistent, like the SFBA.

People in the past didn't work on regimented schedules or expect this or that to be open at regular hours. What you're proposing is essentially undoing the industrial revolution.

No, no, no, that was one of my favorite revolutions, I'm so industrial it scares people.

Still I do remember a slower time when 7-11 was the only thing open on Sunday or outside of 9-5 otherwise, naturally it was open from 7am to 11pm.

What I mean is when you see the way that thousands of people across multiple disasters react to complete loss of power for an uncertain period, it depends strongly on the confidence in abilities to survive without very much beyond the bare necessities. Probably just as much as the actual abilities.

To me this makes post-industrial survival exercises as worthwhile as some of the paleo enthusiasts have reported here about their experiences already.

A lot of technological innovation does not necessarily make individual lives better, but it does allow more people to live.

Is that, of itself, a good thing, or not?

Is the "of itself" qualification, of itself, a reasonable one?

Hah, I just read an article from the SEP related to that: "The Repugnant Conclusion"[1]. I think it was actually on the front page of HN a few days ago.

In essence, it's a tricky ethical question: is having more people with a lower quality of life preferable to fewer people with a higher quality of life? Any immediately intuitive answer to that question leads to some highly unintuitive conclusions.

[1]: https://plato.stanford.edu/entries/repugnant-conclusion/

Related, the Malthusian trap, and the paradox of good and bad fortune (in a system which can respond through population growth and decline, and per-capita wealth and decline). As Gregory Clark puts it in A Farewell to Alms: what's virtue is vice, and vice virtue.

That is: increasing prosperity leads to larger populations and less to go around (food, resources, etc.). Calamities such as famine, plague, wars, etc., reduce populations and spawn an increase in per-capita wealth.

This is generally, though not universally, seen to apply to pre-industrial civilisations only.

I've often suspected that early people ate a lot of bugs, and we don't know because it doesn't leave a lot of evidence.

Without domestication or preservation/storage, hunting and foraging may take a while and be unreliable.

Hunting and foraging can be unreliable and definitely is to a modern human. Early humans hunted in packs which made them the most successful predators. They didn't have the stamina of a cheetah or the strength of a lion, but they could withstand the elements and chase and stalk their prey for days until it became exhausted. They could also mount very intricate surprise attacks. Overall, I think there was a heck of a lot of ingenuity that stemmed from the pack nature of these hunts and I think we'd be giving these ancient guys a bad rep if we didn't acknowledge it to some extent.

I think you mean speed of a cheetah? They/we definitely have the cheetah beat on stamina, as you describe.

That is kind of contradicted by the guy in the article, who claims hunter-gatherers kind of had things figured out and were able to get stuff at a steady pace. Although if that's true you have to wonder why most decided to become farmers instead.

I am under the impression it is much less that "most decided" and much more that agricultural based societies were incredibly effective at displacing hunter gatherer societies.

Some combination of much higher birth rates, ecological destruction, and centralized governments among other factors made agricultural societies more successful in the Darwinian sense.

You see this in the history of the Europeans vs Plains Indians. Very few military successes for the Europeans, but ultimately the Europeans displaced the original inhabitants of the Great Plains almost entirely. The Comanches never "chose" to become agricultural. They were forcefully pushed out over generations.

Agriculture was probably not done by choice. It is incredibly time intensive, and early farming societies had severe problems of malnutrition. BUT it led to population explosions, and was good for the elites, and agricultural societies displaced hunter-gatherers as a result. I wouldn't say "most decided" to become farmers though. More like "a few were forced to become farmers, and their descendants out-numbered and out-competed those who did not adapt."

I don't know whether this is a great source on this topic, but Jared Diamond wrote an interesting article which expands on what you pointed out. "The Worst Mistake in the History of the Human Race" http://discovermagazine.com/1987/may/02-the-worst-mistake-in...

Say what you will about modern life but I am in no hurry to go back to hunting wild animals and foraging. There are factors to consider besides how healthy the average person is (surely a skewed measure given the unlikelihood of your surviving if you are sickly or weak).

That piece also seems to be somewhat unspecific on what exactly "limiting the population" entails; after all, infanticide, a lack of medical care of any kind, and outright murder are no less available to a farming society, if you really are arguing for such a solution to inequality.

Yea, let's bring back that good old-time 15% homicide rate. That'll keep everyone equal.

While agriculture certainly did create social stratification, it's hard to imagine a couple guys in a society of egalitarian hunter-gatherers could force everybody else to go along with a scheme of agriculture. It seems more likely that the elites began to show up after agriculture was established than the other way around.

Yes that is basically what I was saying. It only took one regional climate/ecosystem change to initiate farming, and then one thug to centralize the proceeds of it.

What does that have to do with eating bugs?

I took your post to be claiming that early humans frequently were driven to desperation, and that therefore they must have eaten a lot of insects.

Humans still eat insects today, in some cultures this is even a delicacy.

That's also true, yes.

Interesting, for sure, but I don't have any desire to follow in the man's footsteps.

An aspect that is usually overlooked in history is waste management. In many cases trash was just burned/incinerated until very recently (18th century).

Even now in smaller Chinese towns/villages it is largely burned. In large cities the practice is banned b/c pollution though.

US military bases as well, which have "burn barrels", and seem to have resulting health impacts as a consequence.



Burning waste is not uncommon in general: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Incineration#Trends_in_inciner...

A modern incinerator is probably safer and less polluting than a simple garbage fire, though.

If you're a nomad I'd think your waste management strategy does not need to be very complex.

Yeah, if your tooling is based on wood, stone, clay etc, any "waste" left behind is entirely benign anyway. No plastics, heavy metals etc

Well there is bodily waste still.

Or what I refer to generally has "hygiene factors" -- removal of human and animal wastes, trash, smoke, crime. Various systemic negative consequences of activity.


The US military still does. Sometimes burning new equipment never used.

Farms in the first world still do this.

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