Were our hunter-gatherer ancestors actually better off than we are?
The answer to that question has been a source of debate for a very long time.
Once agriculture revolutionized life about 10,000 years ago, humans began to find new ways to bend the elements to our will, form settlements and civilizations, create industry and technology, populate the earth to the billions - and all of the wonders and perils associated with those events.
But the question remains, was pre-agricultural life better and perhaps even happier?
Some say that life could be “easier” for hunter-gatherers because people would work less hours and have more close-knit communities, enjoying more time for leisure activities and with family, as well as more nutritious diets and less disease.
Others say that life spans were too short, infant mortality was high, and violence and access to resources were constant concerns. Essentially, as Thomas Hobbes proposed, life for humans in the natural state was “nasty, brutish and short.”
What do you think?
I think if happiness is used as the sole standard, we are overall worse off. I seem to recall that studies looking into that questions showed that hunter gatherers were happier overall. “Advanced civilization” is based on power and control rather than happiness, I doubt that was ever the goal. I could be wrong, but I get the feeling that even the richest and most powerful aren’t in it for happiness, they don’t seem very happy at any rate.
We may have way more people with way more stuff, but so many people don’t have a purpose, function, or place anymore. I have been watching as thousands of low income, elderly, disabled, and otherwise used up and useless people have been left broken and homeless and moved into state sanctioned tent cities.
Looking at the crime and dysfunction I see around me every day in my neighborhood, I don’t find life today lacking in brutishness, fear and horror. But at least I have the internet to distract me, I guess?
Hunter/gatherer is more down to earth
I’m no expert but my feeling is that agriculture was the worst ‘invention’ to happen to humans and the planet as a whole.
Having read about the Saturnian Myth, I wonder if there was a major reason why humanity was forced to take up agriculture? The concept is that our planet was originally part of a tiny brown dwarf system with Saturn (and Jupiter?) as our central star. This was an idyllic period of plenty – low gravity, moderate red/ blue light and plentiful moisture. Everything grew really well and giant lifeforms were quite normal. Until about 7000 years ago (or less).
Only when the yellow star Sol came along the whole system eventually disintegrated with catastrophic damage, ice age blasts, floods and humanity sheltering in caves or underground. We somehow survived and woke up to the harsh environment we now face with limited water, temperature extremes, latitude differences, day and night, etc. Humanity was thus forced to accomodate to the new system, hence agriculture started, for survival in this harsh world we now live in!
Not a favourite concept with our Unformitarian scientists of today. But fits in well with the Cosmology of the Electric Universe theory.
Seeking the truth!
That’s a theory I’ve never happened upon. However it might provide some insight into the theory that a planet collided with earth to create the moon, A lot of explaining would need to be done to understand how a tiny Brown Dwarf system could have captured Sol.
I think I still prefer the Nibiru theory – as the other solar system of our possible binary our solar system, where periodically an orbit brings the two too close together so that perhaps the outer planets of each are disturbed. And of course if that happens it also affects the inner planets. That too needs a lot of documenting evidence.
If our Neolithic ancestors were indeed happier than us, they had little time to enjoy it. The smallest scratch and they could die. Child birth death, of borth child and mother, were rampant. Some of them did live long, though. They must have had plenty of time to mourn all their loved ones that had perished. Also, the Stone and Bronze Age societies were largely tribal, determining life for the majority. Popular assemblies, such as the Greek Style Democracy, which comprised large parts of Europe, where highly exclusive institutions that gave freedom to the heads of families and tribes (at best). Slavery was not uncommon. Common happiness in the Neolithic and Bronze Ages is not what popps up in my mind. Sure, the elites in Noelithic societies may have been very happy, perhas more happy than today’s elites. Who knows… Still, for the majority, life was most likely not a dream.
If our Neolithic ancestors were indeed happier than us, they had little time to enjoy it. The smallest scratch and they could die. Child birth death, of borth child and mother, were rampant. Some of them did live long, though. They must have had plenty of time to mourn all their loved ones that had perished. Also, the Stone and Bronze Age societies were largely tribal, determining life for the majority. Popular assemblies, such as the Greek Style Democracy, which comprised large parts of Europe, where highly exclusive institutions that gave freedom to the heads of families and tribes (at best). Slavery was not uncommon. Common happiness in the Neolithic and Bronze Ages is not what popps up in my mind. Sure, the elites in Neolithic societies may have been very happy, perhas more happy than today’s elites. Who knows… Still, for the majority, life was most likely not a dream.
The world is only an illusion, a mask on the naked face of chaos, the ancient mask was lighter.
As for happiness, perhaps it is more an individual issue, at the same time very relative and of poor lasting.
I have had more than one life saving surgery in my 63 years. What that means is that I would have been dead by age 45 of septicemia and/or later from injury. my surgeries were from both life-style and diet. I believe much of what we eat is garbage and we are what we eat. Hunter gatherers may have developed a diet that was both satisfying and healthy, but I do not know that as fact. How do we measure and balance quality of life against quantity of life? Most of the people in my life that I really loved, died of cancer. The rest died of some other major medical malady. Would I have prefered to hang out around the camp-fire every day and night, sharing stories with my friends and loved ones and feeling like I was part of an inseparable clan or would my life be more rewarding, driving a shiny new car in bumper to bumper traffice every day, 2 hours each way, just so I could continue paying the rent, hoping to live long enough to retire and really enjoy life???? Is life at 63 so wonderful? Not for most. The only thing that keeps me going is the spirit of exploration and I wonder how much of that was appreciated by the hunter-gatherer since every day was hand to mouth. The older I get, the dumber I feel. I have no answers.
~Our greatest accomplishments cannot be behind us, as our destiny lies above us~
of course they were happier than we are. you’ve only got to look at ‘primitive’ (the word means first, not inferior) cultures around the world that have not been corrupted by so-called ‘civilization’ to see that. how can you be happy paying rent and mortgages? do cars and iphones make you happy? they cannot possibly. they are like children’s toys. we’ve created a meaningless purposeless culture because we’re worshiping the wrong god. instead of building temples we build banks and airports. the misery, drug and alcohol addiction and suicide rates are increasing.
Human thought process is relative to time/evolution. Emotions are relative to experience. Infant happiness is not the same as adult happiness. If hunter-gather people survived to adulthood they experienced a range of emotions depending on their experiences. We as modern humans can only imagine how different the planet was 15,000 years ago. Animals were different, trees more abundant, water safe to drink. Eating animals and killing trees has not changed in 15 thousand years, however there are more people. Religious/agronomy views bound in books serve world chaos well. Now we devour each other in nation-states; coiled snakes ready to strike. Primal behavior is still active on earth with silly beliefs in ourselves as saviors and salvaged spirits waiting to float to harmony. Do we then still eat animals in harmony?
John of the Illini territory
I don’t believe the question of lifespan is releven here. After all, no one knows when they are going to die. Some scholars believe that hunter-gatherers worked a lot less than farmers and had much more free time. Some say they worked a 40 hour week while farmers worked for 70. Hence the beautiful cave painings at Chauvet and other places.
History can be characterized in a number of ways and reductionism usually leads to distortion. That said, human history is, at base, is a chronicle of the exploitation of the many by the few. Disagree? Name a culture or civilization where that is not true. I think this was probably less true among hunter-gatherers who lived in small bands, often family units or clans (usually less than 50). Exploitation, enslavement, becomes more difficult when everyone’s related. Politically, hunter-gatherers were more likely to live in primitive democracy where issues were discussed and everyone had something to say and could express their opinion without fear of retribution.
This, of course, laregely depended on the band’s makeup. Was there a dominent male or female who served as the leader? Did that establish a tradition? There is plenty of ethnographic evidence that small bands could be either matrilocal or patrilocal. Social evolution depended, I thhink, on specific personalities.
This has been an interest of mine. I am currently writing a novel in which I attempt to reconstruct the social mores and political structures of people of the Aurignacian Period (40-35,000 BCE), the time of the creation of the art at Chauvet.
I once expressed to my Doctor, that I was very glad of modern medicine. He shocked me and said: ”A lot of Ancient Remedies worked well, we do not use Cannabis but they did, they got through operations, and difficult pain, by it’s use. Are we really better without it’s use, and making Cannabis illegal”?
I once read a Report of a “Past Lives Regression Hypnotism", the person was a Native American Indian, in a past life. The feeling of total happiness, of a joy of being one with the universe, so overwhelmed the Person, that the Feeling was retained after returning to the Awake state. I think the stress of modern life, is causing Mental Health issues, we need to seek remedies for.
Better off in some ways, in some ways not. Clearly, the ancestors of everyone here, today, were strong enough and healthy enough to survive and lived long enough to reproduce healthy off-spring . . . because, again – we are all here, today.
Are we all progeny of the elites in hunter/gatherer tribes? Probably not. But I’m guessing the tribal/family structure resulted in people getting along well enough with one another, working together, and sharing the results of work, which would have been supportive of health, also.
Otherwise we are all progeny of bullies who used and abused anyone who got in their way. I really don’t like to think of functional tribal society in that way, and do not actually think it was that way – given tribal societies today continue to engage in long-lived cooperation and support of one another – based on common rules/laws/traditions.
People within nations are not necessarily cooperative and supportive of one another in today’s world as “tribal societies” – so their must be a size at which a functional tribal society is dysfunctional – so divides into smaller groups that are separated by distance. Groups are related but not as cooperative and supportive on a daily basis as folks within smaller group are.
It looks like the organizational structure of divisions (e.g. counties/states in larger nations also divided into counties) stayed with us. It may have been a way to be sure everyone had work to do and that all had access to basic needs.
I would venture to say that our ancient ancestors had more respect for and knowledge of their environments and all in them.
Comparing and contrasting is certainly thought provoking.
It seems a determination of 'better off' would depend on one's values. Everyone has the option to become a hunter-gatherer of sorts, yet nearly all choose civilization.
Alaska has abundant natural resources coupled with expansive hunting, fishing, and gathering laws. Florida and Louisiana are similar. All are options for a hunter-gathering lifestyle. Very few take full advantage of the potential wild harvest.
Modern civilization has proven compelling. Uncontacted 'lost tribes' are unlikely to have seen or understand the potential benefit. Those who have become acquainted with civilization have chosen with their feet.
Just as I suspected… a bunch of ignorant whiny numbskulls spouting complete nonsense. The first clue is the ridiculous notion of “happiness’. Here we have a bunch of people that have more access to resources, opportunity, and freedom than anyone who has ever come before and all they can do is whine about how corrupt civilization and technology is.
These same people wouldn’t last a month in a hunter-gatherer society where they actually have to produce to survive.
Some of us recognize the unbvelievable gift that we have recieved being born into this time. Then there are the few like me who actually make life possible for the multitudes of worthless eaters that are so miserable.
I remember Anthony Bourdain travelling to the Amazon. He was sitting around with some of the indigenous men and talking this bs about how they were so lucky to live in paradise, instead of civilization. One of the men looked at him and said, “you can have it.”
My/our ancestors went through Hell...yearly starvation, rape of the women, death of their children, slavery, disease...the list is endless. That is why they worked to give us what we have. If they were satisfied, they’d have stayed where and what they were.
Do us all a favor. If you are miserable in this life, take yourself out and free up resources for those who actually do appreciate what we have.
I think modern society has given you anger issues. I have starved because I was run over by a car and couldn’t work. You didn’t buy me food. People starve all over the world for a million different reasons. If you want to be angry about your tax money going to pay for social services, why don’t you blame the government? Most of that money goes to pay bureaucrats, not actual hungry people.
I never wrote anything about my tax money. Clearly you have personal guilt issues for ssponging off tax payers.
Not my fault...
I never said I was taking any tax money, if I can’t earn it I do without. Anyway, I think you are funny really. Obvious troll is obvious troll. I get the appeal of coming on here to twist all the old granny panties, figuratively of course. Do you get paid for it, or is just a hobby?
“Then there are the few like me who actually make life possible for the multitudes of worthless eaters that are so miserable.”
Pleased to see we have folks like Chazonne to make it possible for 24 million children to suffer from poor nutrition in the U.S. “Rape, slavery, desease?” I think we still have those too.
Just how is it that my making sure that you have what you depend on for life is somehow contributing to the above?
You’re obviously not suffering from starvation, and you’re using the internet, so…
Gety off your worthless ass and do something about the problem. I’m busy doing the heavy lifting while parasites like you hide behind a keyboard and bitch.
Chazzone Your Comment: “Then there are the few like me who actually make life possible for the multitudes of worthless eaters that are so miserable.” That is spouting Hitler, worthless eaters? Who made you God? Your arrogance is disgusting, you sound like a psychopath.
This is funny, but to be expected from your kind. I love the “Hitler” reference. Your kind do that all the time. I understand that you’ve been programmed to respond this way, so excuse me if I’m simply amused.
For your information, I repair and replace the infrastructure that parasites like you depend on for life. You depend on electricity, water, sewer, hosiptals, industry and I’m one the of the few who make sure those continue to operate. I don’t just work at one of those places...I work at all of them. Oh, and did so through out the faux pandemic with little or no regard to my personal safety. It’s what we do...
Of course, your ungrateful, hateful, and ignorant response shows that you don’t have a clue about what it is that actually is required for you to exist in the luxury that you enjoy. But that just speaks to the success of those of us who many times risk our lives in dangerous environments to make you possible.
I’ve been a Docker in Hamburg Germany, a Builder in Germany, I’ve been a Coal Miner locally, an Owner of a Security Company. I’ve got 116 Prefabs bricked around and made safe. I’ve discovered a Music Theory that changes ALL Music on Earth. But NEVER would I think that gives me the right to pass judgement on fellow humans. You are Nazi, and God help anyone depending on you.
Is it like a guessing game what you do? The bloated bragging about infrastructure makes me think you might be some kind of system analyst. But you did mention heavy lifing, so maybe construction? Or the way you keep taking about feeding maggots, maybe you breed flies?
It was fun playing, but now you bore me. Goodnight, thanks for the lols.
I live on Orkney surrounded by all things Neolithic. We see evidence from skulls found that death was often caused by abscess. Which, having had two or three, I understand could kill you. The pain is unbearable and if there was no treatment you would probably die. They wouldn’t understand the cause.
Their understanding of the stars was far greater than most of us I am a sculptor and potter and make the Petrospheres you see in my picture. Found at Scara Brae just a few miles from us. They had time to do these but must have taken months to make so we deduce they had a lot of free time. They have some sort of planetary reference though we’ll never really know. The axe is polished basalt, again taken hours to make.
I find that if I want to understand more of our ancestors, I try to re-make their artefacts it's a great way of getting into the heads of our distant relatives. Orkney was a great place just post the last ice age. Good climate and safe, food was readily available. Shell fish could be gathered just from the shore line, Lobsters, crab would be common. We’ve found Cod and Ling skeletons that show they were 600 pounds in weight. The oceans would be so full of fish, relatively easy to catch by coralling or even hook and line. The archaeologists are gradually working on the dig at the Ness of Brodgar more is becoming apparent. It seems it was a ceremonial centre and very close to the Ring of Brodgar. Check it out if you haven’t already.
Wow! Sound like the place I should be writng my book. Love to see larger images of your two artifacts. Good point about oceans fulll of fish. Evidence is turning (Globeli Tepe and two sites in Isreal) up that some hunter/gatherers were not Nomadic. All that would be needed is a reliable source of food and water like the sea or a fish filled river to become sedentary. These go back 11,000 and 13,000 years respectively.
You can see more of my “creations” if you send a Facebook friend request or go to my web site www.stuartbroadhurstceramics.co.uk I’m very much influenced by the Neolithic in my work. There's a place called the ‘Tomb of the Eagles’ on the Island found by an old farmer whist looking for a stone lintel on his land. He noticed in the cliff edge a horizontal stone, where the rest of the stone sits at an angle. The natural bed rock is actually from the Sahara but due to continental drift it's now here apparently.
He removed the stone himself as the archaeologists didn’t come when he informed them, I think curiosity got the better of him. There, behind it, he found dozens of skletons all stacked in piles, sea eagle claws and artifices. Amongst them was a polished stone mace head. When we first went there whist on holiday, they let me hold the mace head it was a mind blowing experience being very attached to my own tools. I was holding a tool made by a man 5-7 thousand years ago, it sent shivers down my spine. So I determined to make one myself, I went to the local museum where there’s a great selection of both axe and mace heads. You can’t touch those!
This started my love affair with Neolithic and Orkney so we moved here a few years back. My wife is half Orkadian.
I’m converting an old grain Mill into a studio and house you can see it on my Facebook page.
The climate of Orkney is protected by the Gulf Stream and though our winters are harsh we don’t get snow and ice very much even though we're on the same latitude as Norway and Canada. Our summers are brilliant not too hot but just right. The soil is incredibly fertile so early farmers would have prospered here.
I’m not an archaeologist but have a passion for the life style and found objects as I graduated as a sculptor and , as I said, have a real thing about tools. I’ve made, over the years, many mace heads, axe heads and the Petrospheres. I make my living as a Potter / Sculptor but the modern world hold very little to excite me I feel much more of an affinity with our distant ancestors. Life was a more simple struggle to survive. Yes they had gods, but I think much more to do with the Sun and the seasons. Their understanding was much more of a ‘hands on approach’ they’d just survived the last Ice age well their ancestors had.
So yes I’m exploring the link as a three dimensional response as opposed to an intellectual / archeological one. A tool that probably took a year to make would have been of great significance and the person that made it would have had a very high status in his / her community. If you haven’t been Orkney is definitely one for the bucket list.
The thought that they had to be hunters or gathers is hard for me to understand. I have done both and find the best place to hunt is near my garden. Birds, squirrels, opossum, raccon’s, deer and elk (if you are in elk country) all come to the garden to eat. I can plant in March or April and in three months I will be harvesting my crop. If in fact the ancient people that settled the America’s were instructed to make clan journeys, for as far as they could go, in each direction like the Hopi Creation Story explains. Perhaps they took their time and built shelters, gardens, and hunted to survive. I think they did both and were much better off then the way we do it today. Just my thoughts. Thomas O. Mills
Thomas O. Mills
Yes! Life may be hard yet more rewarding and less artificial. Soul loss is the real pandemic not talked about with "jobs" and disruption to the family nucleus. The ability to prevent disease mentally,spiritually, emotionally, physically can not be done holistically without surrender and return to the natural world. We cannot manufacture our way out of soul loss plaguing unspoken in the destruction we cause in the form of habitat loss, addictions, anxiety, depression, violence...
Hello Midwintersdream. I think you are correct. The problems started when people started growing more food then they could eat and
then traded it for meat, tools, etc and money was created. Thats where we are today. It’s a material world.
Thomas O. Mills
Were they better off than us? We face same problems. Having enough to eat, somewhere to stay, a support group. We have floods, forest fires, hurricanes, earthquakes that disrupt our lives. If many of their babies died at a young age, we have medicines to limit the number of births. They died of conditions that can be cured now. We are developing “new” problems and looking for cures. I suspect that they formed lasting relationships, and some relations were troubled. They did the best that they could as we do.
Right now we are “nasty, brutish and short.” Hunter-gatherers wouldn’t have planned a false flag like the September 11, 2001 “terrorist attack.” Or a plandemic with a “vaccine” to depopulate the world and take digital control of humanity. At the moment is embarrassing to be a human being.
S (Rio) Guzman
I read recently in a book about Celts in Britain, that archaeological evidence seems to indicate the usage of iron coincided with the increase in aggression generally. Does anyone know about this as well? I think the authors saw it as related to the increase in productivity and therefore accumulation in the use of iron farming tools, that it led to a different relationship with one’s environment.
In a Magellan.tv series called “The Warrior’s Way”, the episode on the Celts mentioned how they were never unified, so that localism and local loyalties/belonging always predominated. There was thus in-fighting and constant feuding over the smallest things. I don’t think this internecine conflict is inevitable, the Indigenous Australians maintained their national, tribal and language diversities AND mutual co-operation over unfathomable spans of time. Yes they were aggressive too, yes they also had a strong warrior culture, but these energies did not spill over in the way they did on Eurasia.
I know it’s a bit far out of field, but perhaps use of iron has more power over our minds and cultures than we can individually perceive.
If the purpose in "listening" or "building community" is to find a new way to self-confirm, it might be better for us all if we are blatantly ignored. - Anonymous