Sunday, June 19, 2011

On Nazinomics - The Holocene Break

As outlined the dominant thesis of the effect of the end of the Younger Dryas and the beginning of the Holocene is derived from Euro-centric narratives modeled on the 18th century's explosive growth of Europe. They include Christendom narratives of "Out of Eden" – which includes the people excavating the important Goeblecki Tepe site – the Aryan derived "cold narrative" of the Younger Dryas, and the Christo-Capitalist narrative modelling the "Agricultural Revolution" on the Industrial revolution. The subsidiary narrative is climatic determinism: the end of the glacial era becomes the stable Holocene and with it the almost inevitability of agriculture and grain.

The problems with these narratives have been outlined: the "Out of Eden" theory is missing large parts of the toolkit which becomes civilization, the "Agricultural Revolution" theory misses just how slow the diffusion of agriculture was. To compare, Homo Erectus spread over Asia at a rate that was about half that of the Agricultural Revolution. Should we speak of a "Paleolithic Revolution." Early indigenous people spread over the Americas at a speed comparable to the supposed "Agricultural Revolution."

However there is another, even more damning, problem with the "Agricultural Revolution" theory, and that is that a second wave of changes would transfigure it beyond recognition. The agriculture of the three domestication cultures established from genetics: Mexican Highlands, Turkish Highlands, Yangtze Highlands, are all dry agriculture. In a very real sense, they are improved foraging. Instead irrigation is a later creation, and it is not mountain people who develop it. Mountain and hill farmers develop terracing, but not irrigation. It is river cultures that develop the sophisticated cultural complex associated with irrigation, a point that will become more important as we reach the monetary section of this arc. Finally, when agriculture is thought of as a modern – long modern – sense, it includes draft animals such as the horse. The donkey and the horse, however, are not improvements to the domestication cultures that produced the grain-grazer complex out of the south-west of Turkey and other places. The Donkey was domesticated along the nile, and the horse on the steppes of asia. The Horse, in particular, creates a horse culture with it, and this horse culture leaves its imprint in the form of the Indo-European languages.

While the "Eden" theory can muster an impressive list of accomplishments, and chant them as a way of overwhelming all opposition, the list of non-accomplishments becomes telling. The Grain-Grazer complex of the Jerichoan culture is missing too many parts, parts which are not invented in their cultural compass later as improvements to it, but which are developed separately.

Many of the missing pieces are found in cultures who pursued a different path to stability: fishing cultures. Of early pottery, we find it not in the city dwellers, but in cave dwellers, and in fishing villages. These people have a semi-permanent base of operations, and are removed from the need to move. They also, since they are not permanent monumental builders, have a different set of storage needs. The Jerichoan culture does not do pottery, because their long term storage needs of bulk grain are better met by storage rooms, with relatively sophisticated understanding of the problems of storage: they elevate the grain off the ground, and they domesticate the cat which is the creature of both home, and will not domesticate until there is a relatively constant supply of vermin.

The cave and fishing cultures, on the other hand, do neither. A cat does less for a fishing culture until they have rat problems, and feeding cats out of fish is a cost. Bearable, but not a compelling reason. Cats had followed humans for sometime, as long as 100,000 years, though probably less, before domestication. Humans, like elephants, trail ecological change behind them, and many of our domestic animals were, at first, camp followers.

It is at this point that two concrete proposals come forward:

1. Ceasing to use the "revolution" terms for narrow parts of the change in human activity.

2. Ceasing to use climatic determinism in a simple sense. While the world generally grew warmer, it was not universally so. However, the change in climate was global, and had effects on virtually every human cluster. Thus, instead, we should be calling this the "Holocene Break" rather than the "Neolithic" or "Agricultural" revolution. What happened was not the creation of a primitive precursor which took over the world, but instead of a series of responses, many of which merged together to form the historical complex of civilization.

Thus the transitions of cultures - from the bushman culture of Australia, which is the the largest major cultural complex to have any record pre-Holocene break, and therefore makes it an important target of study – to the various forms of settlement culture, becomes the focus. Not "how Eden conquered the world" but how humans in a new environment changed, and then how the various important pieces were fused together.

Thus, there was no "Agricultural Revolution" as we think of it, but, instead, there was a "Holocene Break" and from this break several important complexes formed, including the Grain-Grazer complex which would form an important, but by no means the only, component of civilization, and also of the other cultural complex responses.