Thanks Elle. I did know about the controversy over the Yanomamo (which as best as I can tell is still largely unresolved) but I was also thinking about various anthropological accounts of hunter-gatherers in PNG. As for semi-agriculturalists versus true gatherers, I think personally this is a quasi-distinction being used mostly for the purposes of removing from the data-set examples of behavior that contradict what certain anthropologists prefer to believe.

To the best of my knowledge no one looking at archaeological remains associated with our distant forebears has made, or in fact based on evidence available could make, a claim that no quasi-cultivation occurred prior to the end of the last ice-age 13,000 years ago (approx, depending on latitude).

It’s highly likely that humans have been carefully guarding patches of particularly abundant plants for millennia and that this practice slowly morphed into something closer to what we consider to be “true” cultivation. This morphing was then accelerated when a certain species of wheat underwent a genetic mutation that caused the kernel to fall more readily from the stem (this seems to have occurred around the Karacadac mountains in Turkey around 11,000 years ago) and so the move towards formal cultivation was accelerated.

In other words, there’s no clear cut-off between “pure” hunter-gatherers and the many variations on a theme arising out of local conditions. It’s equivalent to the debate about “what is a planet?” If we employ one set of criteria then Pluto is a planet, if we employ a different set of criteria then it’s a massive Kuiper Belt object. If we use the former definition we get one data set for average planet composition in our solar system and if we use the latter definition we get a different data set for average planet composition. If we were invested heavily in believing that most planets are gas giants we’d want to exclude Pluto from the data set by making it a Kuiper Belt object; if we were in favor of the notion that there can be many small rocky planets in a solar system we’d want to include it in our data set. Either way, of course, Pluto is there and is in some way or another part of our solar system. It’s only our interpretation that shifts.

There’s a generalized reluctance among some members of the academic community, perhaps based on their Marxist-influenced political perspective (which requires people to be essentially benevolent and malleable) to acknowledge evidence indicating we humans are often a violent and destructive species. We’re seeing a similar ideological battle being fought over archaeological evidence that shows whenever humans moved into a new geographic region all the metafauna became extinct within a few hundred years.

No doubt, if our species survives, a similar argument will occur with regards to the sudden disappearance of the North American bison. You and I know that millions were slaughtered by rednecks blasting away with Gatling guns mounted on flatbed rolling stock pulled along the new iron roads by the marvel of steam engines. Future academics, interpreting the fossil record long after our civilization has vanished, will likely claim some natural explanation such as the rise in CO2 levels explains the disappearance of the bison which, doubtless, happened over hundreds or even thousands of years and had nothing whatsoever to do with the arrival of Europeans on the North American continent…

I’m enjoying this exchange and I appreciate you providing me with new information that may alter my perspective!

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