Thursday, February 14, 2019

Wild Free and Happy Sample 09


[Note: This is the ninth sample from my rough draft of a far from finished new book, Wild, Free, & Happy.  I don’t plan on reviewing more books for a while.  My blog is home to reviews of 199 books, and you are very welcome to explore them.  The Search field on the right side will find words in the full contents of all rants and reviews, if you are interested in specific authors, titles, or subjects.] 

The Dance of Hominin Evolution

Experts have endless lively disputes about many aspects of hominin evolution.  There were many predecessors to Homo sapiens, but an accurate lineage of the hominin family tree does not exist, and probably never will.  The physical evidence discovered so far is extremely incomplete.  It’s like a million piece jigsaw puzzle where more than 99 percent of the pieces are missing, and most of these have disintegrated over time.

Evolution does not resemble automobile assembly plants, where production of 2018 models completely ends on a fixed date, and the process of building new and improved 2019 models begins.  The transition from one species to the next is a blurry process that can take hundreds of thousands of years, and isolated groups of the same species can evolve in significantly different ways. 

In addition to arguments over the branches of the family tree, the dates assigned to specific events are also controversial and inconsistent.  Technology for dating specimens has advanced over the years, and different technologies often produce very different dates for the same bone or artifact.  Also, ongoing field work continues to make new discoveries.  So, did Homo sapiens emerge 190,000 years ago, or 300,000?  Did they arrive in Europe 50,000 years ago or 36,000?  And so on.  Numbers are slippery.

If we step back a bit, and disregard numeric dates, there is general agreement on a number of big picture trends.  Homo erectus is much older than Neanderthal, and both are older than Homo sapiens.  Homo sapiens evolved in Africa, and Neanderthals did not.  Erectus and Neanderthals are not associated with megafauna extinctions, but our species certainly is.  For the purposes of this book, the trajectory of trends is important — event A preceded event B.  All numeric dates presented here are controversial.

Although the Earth Crisis has roots much older than Homo sapiens, our species is playing a starring role in this catastrophic tragedy.  For this reason, the following chapters will primarily focus on humans, and the emergence and expansion of some highly destructive cultures.  But first, a few comments on two notable cousins.

Erectus and Neanderthal

Homo erectus emerged maybe 1.9 million years ago, and eventually spread across some of the warmer regions of Africa, Asia, and Europe.  They may have been an early ancestor of modern humans.  Erectus hunted, gathered, and used stone tools.  They were the first hominins to evolve a larger than average brain, and they may have been the first to domesticate fire.  Erectus maybe walked off the stage somewhere between 200,000 and 50,000 years ago.  Their long era of existence does not correspond to extinction spasms or serious ecological injuries.  Erectus apparently lived on Earth much longer than Neanderthals did.

Neanderthals probably evolved north of the Mediterranean, not in Africa.  Their remains have been found in Siberia, the Middle East, and Europe.  The earliest discoveries date to maybe 350,000 years ago.  We share up to 99.9 percent of our DNA with them.  Because they lived in non-tropical regions, they evolved thick bodies with large bones that provided greater strength and better cold tolerance.  Elizabeth Kolbert noted that modern humans have up to four percent Neanderthal DNA. 

Erectus, on average, had 1,000 cc brains.  Neanderthals were the brainiest hominins, at 1,600 cc.  Sapiens averages a modest 1,350 cc.  Could our smaller brains be the result of having access to cutting edge new technology (javelins, harpoons, bows and arrows, etc.)? 

Kathleen McAuliffe reported on research finding that human brains have shrunk about 10 percent in the last 20,000 years.  The Homo sapiens with the biggest brains lived in Europe 20,000 to 30,000 years ago.  They were the Cro-Magnons, who had to overcome the many new challenges of surviving in snowy ecosystems, while fending off hungry cave lions, cave hyenas, and saber-tooth cats.  The shrinking brain trend has been found in China, Europe, Africa, and even Australia, which remained Stone Age until 1788.  Why?  Perplexed experts propose some theories, but they don’t know for sure. 

One study found that brains get smaller as population density increases.  Tim Flannery suggests that modern consumers live like cattle on a feedlot, all our needs conveniently provided.  We no longer have the skills or knowledge to survive in the wild.  Thirty species of animals have been domesticated, and for every one of them their brain volume was 10 to 15 percent smaller than their wild ancestors.  Some think that humans domesticated themselves.

Anyway, the trademark Neanderthal weapon was a heavy thrusting lance.  Hunters had to slowly, silently, and very skillfully approach the prey undetected, then suddenly charge the animal, firmly gripping the spear with both hands, and ram it deep into its flesh.  Readers who have hunted hippos with wooden thrusting spears know that this can be very dangerous.  One site in Croatia contained the remains of 75 Neanderthals, and none were older than 35.  Many of their bones had healed fractures, suggesting painful accidents or encounters with fierce animals.  Dying of old age was unlikely.

The climate of the Neanderthal era was like a roller coaster.  In Europe, they were pounded by an era of extreme cold maybe 70,000 years ago.  From maybe 50,000 to 30,000 years ago, the climate was a spastic freak show.  Clive Finlayson noted that the climate often flip-flopped between warm periods and intensely frigid.  Radical shifts could arrive suddenly, and last hundreds or thousands of years, all across Eurasia.  Youngsters might grow up in a chilly steppe ecosystem that used to be a comfortable forest in the days of their grandparents.

Would Neanderthals have become the modern global primate if Homo sapiens had blinked out in Africa?  I sometimes wonder if real estate was a significant limiting factor.  Caves were luxurious addresses during glacial centuries, compared to hide-covered teepees or huts.  The primo caves were south (sun) facing, and ideally overlooked the seasonal migration routes of animal herds.  But there was a limited number of caves, and many were not vacant.  Neanderthals were always welcome dinner guests when they stumbled into caverns inhabited by hungry, jumbo-sized cave lions, cave hyenas, and cave bears.

In warmer and wetter periods, glaciers retreated, and tundra transformed into forest and grassland, habitat for critters like red deer, horses, and moose.  In colder and drier periods, glaciers advanced, forest retreated, and tundra returned, as did mammoths, woolly rhinos, and reindeer.  Neanderthals listened to their growling tummies, and went where the meat was.  They migrated northward in warmer eras, and retreated south when blast freezers returned.  The last Neanderthals died on the sunny shores of the Mediterranean, in Gibraltar, maybe 40,000 to 28,000 years ago.  This was definitely after the arrival of humans in Western Europe, and before the spasm of megafauna extinctions on the continent.

Our human supremacist culture routinely preaches that Neanderthals were pathetic dullards.  During their long vacation in Europe, maybe 270,000 years, Neanderthal technology didn’t change much.  From the supremacist perspective, Neanderthals’ 350,000 year era of stable, low impact, ecological sustainability was indisputable proof of low intelligence. 

Elizabeth Kolbert absolutely disagreed.  Neanderthals lived in Europe for a very long time while affecting their ecosystem no more than any other large mammals.  Flannery noted that, for hundreds of thousands of years, Neanderthals coexisted with straight-tusked elephants, mammoths, and woodland rhinos — without driving them extinct.  If humans had never wandered in from the Middle East, Europe might still be a wild, free, and happy celebration of Neanderthals, Irish elk, saber-tooth cats, straight tusk elephants, and aurochs.  What’s wrong with that?

Everything!  The supremacists leap to their feet, jump up and down, spitting, shouting, smashing bottles.  Humans are blessed by incredible intelligence, brilliant innovation, complex hunting weapons, sophisticated language skills, artistic creativity, decorative ornaments, and the powerful ability to invent totally irrational beliefs, accept them as absolute truth, and exterminate large numbers of nonbelievers.  Ancient mystical stories invented by Homo sapiens proudly assert that Homo sapiens is the absolute Crown of Creation, and the rest of the family of life was provided for our sustenance, amusement, and assorted perversions.

OK.  Stop right here.  Reread the list of human blessings in the previous paragraph.  For the most part, these are not characteristics of species that managed to live sustainably for more than a million years, like the chimps, baboons, lions, horses, and on and on — “ordinary animals” in other words.  In the big picture, it’s not irrational to conclude that the unusual intelligence we have acquired is powerful, dangerously irrational and destructive, and has become the primary threat to our continued existence.

For 150+ years, it has been a normal and respectable tradition for scholars and theologians to line up and urinate on the stupid Neanderthals.  European intellectuals were quite sure that the Garden of Eden was located rather close to London.  They were stunned and bewildered by the growing evidence that the ancestors of all hominins trace back to Mother Africa.  All Homo sapiens living 50,000 years ago had beautiful dark skins.   Oh my God!  It can’t be true!  Horror!

In 2014, Paola Villa and Wil Roebroeks reexamined the traditional beliefs in Neanderthal inferiority, to see if the latest archaeological research still supported them.  They did not find compelling data.  They also pointed out that the traditional beliefs of human superiority in language, symbolic communication, cognitive abilities, and abstract thinking were impossible to prove via archaeological data.  These were the biased opinions of supremacist imaginations.  Science is not required to be rational, and very often isn’t.

Sustainability Doesn’t Suck

Anyway, Neanderthals demonstrated that bipedal primates with huge brains can live sustainably for several hundred thousand years, in extremely challenging conditions, without agriculture, metal making, animal enslavement, fish mining, deforestation, or writing.  In fact, stability is not a problem or flaw.  Stability sounds like a fun and healthy alternative to mindless perpetual growth, fanatical eco-destruction, and devastating hurricanes of irrational illusions.

Clive Finlayson reminded us that no animal species can foretell the future.  When life is comfortable, and the ecosystem is not being ravaged, the safe and intelligent option is to be conservative, and remain on the well-worn time-proven path.  But when the <bleep> hits the fan, and traditions totally fail, innovation might be a less dangerous option.  The path of innovation is risky, often leading to unintended consequences and bloody surprises.  In worst case scenarios, innovation can backfire spectacularly, as 7+ billion people are now painfully discovering.  Yikes!

Chris Stringer reminded us that the myth of progress is a new idea.  The notion of utopia-bound continuous improvement is a bit over 200 years old.  Civilization was imagined to be an upward spiral. 

But in earlier civilizations, mobs of loonies were furiously mowing down ancient forests, triggering landslides, flash floods, and harbors choked with silt.  Each new generation inherited an ecosystem that was obviously in worse condition.  The passage of time was seen as a downward spiral of decay and decline, an inevitable one-way descent into social and ecological Armageddon. 

Hesiod, an ancient Greek thinker, described the glorious days of his venerable ancestors as the Golden Age, when men were pure and lived like gods.  It was followed by a descent into the Silver Age, the Copper Age, the Bronze Age, and finally the Iron Age, when men were violent, foul-mouthed, and fascinated by every form of evil.

Stringer noted that the wizards of modern society are possessed by an overwhelming and irrational blind faith in progress and perpetual growth.  We are far more advanced than Neanderthals, and they were better than Erectus.  You and I are lucky to enjoy the amazing pinnacle of billions of years of evolution.  Stringer does not see this as proof of divine destiny.  He believes that the fact that Neanderthals blinked out, and we didn’t, was largely a result of chance.  We survivors were assisted by the good fortune of being in the right place at the right time.

For example, about 70,000 to 75,000 years ago, the Mount Toba super volcano erupted on the island of Sumatra, spreading enormous amounts of ash.  In some regions of India, up to 19 feet (6 m) of ash accumulated.  Much incoming sunlight was blocked, and global temperatures may have dropped by 3° to 5°C for several years.  Others imagine an intense thousand year instant ice age.  Still others suspect far less global impact.  One theory, presented by geneticists, asserts that the human population plunged to 5,000 to 10,000 individuals — implying that we nearly went extinct.  Others point out that there is no evidence of extinction spasms among mammals at this time.  It’s not easy being an expert on days long past.

Anyway, Stringer suggests that if a similar eruption had happened closer to Africa, instead of Sumatra, it could have been game over for our species, but maybe not Neanderthals, who resided north of Africa.  Or, today might look very different if the rollercoaster of ice ages had occurred in a slightly different pattern over the last 200,000 years.  The outcome could have easily been quite different.  Chance is powerful juju.  Stringer is not a member of the progress cult.  He believes that our long-term future is entirely unpredictable.   I agree.

Friday, February 1, 2019

Wild Free and Happy Sample 08


[Note: This is the eighth sample from my rough draft of a far from finished new book, Wild, Free, & Happy.  I don’t plan on reviewing more books for a while.  My blog is home to reviews of 199 books, and you are very welcome to explore them.  The Search field on the right side will find words in the full contents of all rants and reviews, if you are interested in specific authors, titles, or subjects.] 

Domestication of Fire

Before hominins learned how create fire, they very carefully preserved the flames of a naturally caused fire by feeding it fuel.  Burning sticks could be taken to other locations and become the source of additional fires.  Folks were extremely careful to preserve the live embers because, if they ever went out, the unlucky brothers and sisters might begin to smell like cat food.

Once upon a time, in an African wilderness, we aren’t sure when, someone figured out how to conjure a dancing flame into being.  Whoa!  In the hominin saga, that first glowing ember was the equivalent of an asteroid strike — a big one.  It catapulted our ancestors outside of the family of life, and into a spooky new realm of supernatural power and danger.  It was the magic ring that gave our ancestors the ability to eventually become the dominant animal on Earth (for a while). 

Unfortunately, the powerful magic was not delivered with warning labels attached.  The gift box did not include powerful herbs and potions to inspire profound wisdom and godlike foresight.  No animal needs these abilities.  Hominins are animals.  The Great Spirit apparently had a mischievous sense of humor.

The four elements are earth, water, air, and fire.  Pyne perceived the first manmade fire to be an act of staggering ecological audacity.  Tropical primates had found the keys to the mastery of fire.  Good grief!  The event is reminiscent of the old Sorcerer’s Apprentice tale, in which a half-clever trainee recklessly conjured a hurricane of big magic that he was powerless to stop, which soon got totally out of control. 

Without domesticated fire, hominins could have remained perfectly sustainable tropical primates, like baboons.  With fire, we acquired an impossible responsibility to use it with flawless wisdom, generation after generation, wherever we went.  The ancestors of baboons effortlessly lived sustainably for several million years by simply living like baboons — brilliant!  When hominins domesticated fire, they lost the magnificent inherent stability that comes from simply being ordinary animals, like all the others.

Some scholars have speculated that if space aliens had visited Earth 100,000 years ago, our ancestors would have appeared to be nothing more than ordinary animals.  For a long time, I accepted that.  Now I don’t.  Those visiting space aliens would have noticed that one species — and only one — maintained fires in their encampments.  This practice was not the slightest bit ordinary.  Hominins were the only animals who could deliberately ignite or extinguish a fire.  By and by, when hominins go extinct, so will domesticated fire, and the monsters it conjured into existence.

Paleoanthropologists and archaeologists have endless screechy arguments about the dates when prehistoric changes happened, like the domestication of fire.  Pretty much, everyone agrees that it happened at least 400,000 years ago, and the most likely suspect was Homo erectus.  Others point to two million year old ashes in the Wonderwerk Cave in South Africa.

The Swartkrans Cave near Johannesburg is a special site.  Many years of assorted stuff has built up on the floor, and the crud has been carefully excavated.  In the oldest layers, no charcoal is found.  It is an era before fire.  At this level, there are complete skeletons of big cats, and the scattered gnawed bones of the critters they ate, including more than 100 individual hominins.  In this era, cats were the top predator.  Higher up, charcoal is found in newer layers, about 1.6 million years ago, the age of fire.  Here are found complete hominin skeletons, and the scattered bones of the critters they gnawed, including big cats — hominins were now the top predator.

Today, a growing number of scientists think it’s time to announce the end of the Holocene Epoch (from 11,700 B.P. to now), and declare the arrival of the embarrassing Anthropocene Epoch.  Epochs are time periods in geologic history that leave behind a layer of residue that is unique and recognizable.  Carboniferous was the coal era.  Jurassic was the era of petroleum and natural gas.  The Anthropocene is the era when humans conquered the Earth, and unwisely initiated massive and irreversible change.

If you ever want to start a bloody fistfight at a bar full of scruffy drunken scientists, ask this: When did the Anthropocene begin?  Some say 1945, the dawn of the nuclear age.  Some say 1800, the kickoff of the Industrial Revolution.  Some say 8000 B.C., the Agricultural Revolution.  Paul Shepard thought that the game changer was the Hunting Revolution, when hominins learned how to make and use deadly stone tipped javelins and lances, hunt in packs like wolves, kill too many large animals, and feed their energy-guzzling oversized brains with highly nutritious grass fed organic meat.  Ronald Wright called this transition “the perfection of hunting,” the first progress trap (a difficult to undo “advance”).

James Scott thought that the good old days ended with the domestication of fire.  In his mind, the nightmare world we live in is the result of four domestications — fire, animals, plants, and humans.  Domesticated fire, like livestock, required breeding, feeding, and oversight to keep it from running away from its master.  Domesticated fire was as addictive as heroin, a habit impossible to willfully quit.  The habit eventually spread around the world.  Carleton Coon noted that only a few folks made it into the nineteenth century without becoming fire makers — the Tasmanians, Andaman Islanders, and the Pygmies of the Ituri forest.

Fire altered the traditional food chain.  Man-eating predators were intimidated by all-night fires and burning torches.  So, fewer hominins were violently killed and eaten.  This diminished a population check on our ancestors, which may have disturbed the stability of functional ecosystems.  Other checks include disease, starvation, conflict, accidents, and so on.  John Reader wrote that, under ideal conditions, if two humans, and their descendants, all had large families, the clan would explode to 4 billion in just 500 years.  Man-eating predators are good for us.  They weed out the sick, elderly, injured, inattentive, and unlucky.  We all feed each other. 

Fire kept our ancestors warmer.  Humans have three million sweat glands to cool us off in hot weather.  In cold weather, the body directs more warm blood to the skin.  One thing that struck Europeans about primitive people was that they seemed to be impervious to cold.  During his famous voyage, Darwin was surprised to observe natives who wore little or no clothing during bitterly cold weather in Tierra del Fuego.

On the Kalahari, night temperatures in June and July can dip below freezing.  Elizabeth Marshall Thomas was with a group of naked San people during a night when their water froze.  Their only protection was a kaross — an animal skin wrapped around their shoulders. 

Tropical people go naked, like chimps and baboons, because clothes are unnecessary, making them requires work, and pointless work is moronic.  Modern consumers waste lots of energy, because much of their sense of “cold” is merely a belief induced by cultural programming.  Also, they want to wear shorts and tee-shirts indoors, in the middle of winter.   I’ve taught myself to be far more tolerant of cooler temperatures than I was 30 years ago.  I wear more layers, and waste far less heat.

Fire enabled folks to survive in regions having extended cold weather.  So they eventually expanded into much of the northern hemisphere, previously home to wooly mammoths, sabertooth cats, and many other species of megafauna.  By making uninhabitable regions habitable, fire increased the global carrying capacity for the hominin hordes — more territory, more food, more hominins.

Fire was used on a large scale to manage landscapes for more productive hunting and foraging.  It was used to drive animals into bogs or streams, off precipices, or into locations where they could be confined and killed.  It burned off cover that concealed hidden nests or burrows.  Flame was used for optimizing grasslands to attract more game — it consumed dead vegetation and woody brush, encouraging the growth of fresh nutritious green forage.  It left behind a banquet of roasted grasshoppers.  It discouraged visits from bloodthirsty flies and mosquitoes.

Fire enabled slash-and-burn agriculture (swidden), which replaced forest with cropland.  Crops were grown for a year or so, until soil fertility was depleted, at which point another area of forest was slashed down.  The depleted fields were left to recover for ten or twenty years, when they were slashed again.  After multiple slash-and-burn cycles, the land was rubbished.  Daniel Hillel reported that in Indonesia there are more than 39.5 million acres (16 million hectares) of land that is incapable of supporting either agriculture or forest.

Fire has long been used as a weapon of mass destruction during violent conflicts.  Cities built of wood often fed the flames of horrific firestorms that claimed many lives.  Even in peacetime, structures heated with open flame fireplaces frequently went up in smoke, often igniting the rest of the village.  For many centuries, firefighting technology was an ineffective process of hauling buckets of water by hand.  Deadly fires were very common, and a great source of fear.  The Christian concept of Hell was intensified by the terror of frequent fires in early times.

Fire had a spiritual aspect in every traditional culture.  Jacob Grimm mentioned the needfire rituals that were once common in many regions of Western Europe.  Every year at the summer solstice, each home in the village let their hearth fire die out.  A new fire was kindled into existence by a spinning drill (never flint and steel), and everyone took home a bit of the needfire to light their hearth for the coming year.  Often people and livestock were passed through the glowing embers for purification and protection.  Fire was highly sacred business.  Many old pantheons had fire gods, goddesses, and myths. 

Domesticated fire is Earth-shaking super-big juju.  James Scott concluded that the accumulated ecological impacts of manmade fire on this planet overwhelm those caused by the domestication of plants and animals.

Cooking

The domestication of fire kicked open the door to a revolutionary change in the hominin saga — a technology called cooking.  Cooking softened and pre-digested food.  Ancestors were able to extract more nutrients from each mouthful.  Better nutrition facilitated the development of bigger brains.  Infants could be weaned sooner when softened food became an option, so births could be spaced closer together.  The toothless elderly benefitted from access to soft food.  Chewing was less work, so hominins evolved smaller teeth compared to other primates.  Also, digestion took less processing, so our guts got smaller, and tummies flatter.

Cooking transformed some foods that had been toxic or indigestible into edible nourishment.  By increasing the variety of plant foods we could eat, and the amount of nutrients we could extract from them, it became possible for an area of land to feed more ancestors.  Thus, cooking boosted an ecosystem’s carrying capacity for hominins.

Cooking gave us the keys to industrial civilization.  Imagine the astonishment when early hominins watched some heavy rocks in the fire turn red and melt into a liquid form.  The first smelter was born.  Metallurgy gave us the ability to fill rivers with spilled blood, to reduce cities to ashes, and to ravage ecosystems in countless, devastating, and irreparable ways.

The ancestors also learned about cooking clay.  They were baking figurines in primitive kilns 25,000 years ago.  This knowledge eventually evolved into baking pottery and bricks.  Sand could be cooked into glass, limestone into cement, wood into charcoal, water into steam, crude oil into distillates (gasoline, diesel, kerosene, etc.), and on and on and on. 

Deep Adaptation



Jem Bendell, Professor of Sustainability Leadership at the University of Cumbria, U.K., wrote a paper titled “Deep Adaptation.”  Previously, he had been involved in the standard corporate-oriented stuff — Sustainable Development™, Sustainable Growth™, and so on.  He eventually realized that these have little relationship to genuine ecological sustainability.  He also came to realize that climate change was going to cause a collapse of society during the lives of his students.

Corporate-oriented “sustainability” education teaches blind faith in technology and human genius — full strength hopium.  We can solve any problem!  For them, nothing is more inappropriate than honestly acknowledging reality.  Speaking honestly would scare students out of their wits, fill them with despair, destroy their sanity, and ruin their lives forever!

Bendell was tormented by his realization that “the evidence before us suggests that we are set for disruptive and uncontrollable levels of climate change, bringing starvation, destruction, migration, disease and war… in your own life.”  Why is it taboo to discuss this in academia?  He decided to break the taboo in his classes, and the result surprised him.  He wrote:

“In my work with mature students, I have found that inviting them to consider collapse as inevitable, catastrophe as probable, and extinction as possible, has not led to apathy or depression.  Instead, in a supportive environment, where we have enjoyed community with each other, celebrating ancestors and enjoying nature before, then looking at this information and possible framings for it, something positive happens.  I have witnessed a shedding of concern for conforming to the status quo, and a new creativity about what to focus on going forward.”

He wrote a 38-page scholarly paper that defied the taboo.  [HERE]

Drama and commentary on his paper.  [HERE]

He also created a 14 minute video.  [HERE]

His website is [HERE]

His blog is [HERE]

Wednesday, January 16, 2019

Wild Free and Happy Sample 07


[Note: This is the seventh sample from my rough draft of a far from finished new book, Wild, Free, & Happy.  I don’t plan on reviewing more books for a while.  My blog is home to reviews of 199 books, and you are very welcome to explore them.  The Search field on the right side will find words in the full contents of all rants and reviews, if you are interested in specific authors, titles, or subjects.] 

Fire: Big Juju

Civilization would have never been possible without the domestication of a superpower we call fire.  Look around you, and eliminate everything you see or use that was directly or indirectly made possible by the combustion of coal, petroleum, wood, or natural gas.  For example: metal, concrete, plastic, glowing screens, internal combustion engines.  If you could magically eliminate everything enabled by fire-based processes, you’d immediately be sitting naked in a wilderness — except that your existence was also made possible by a fire-powered civilization.  You and I are fire children.

The original tool for kindling fire is called a fire drill.  Its spindle is a straight, pointed, dry wooden stick that is spun back and forth with the hands.  The tip of the spindle is inserted into a cone-shaped socket in a fireboard of dry wood.  Rapidly spinning the stick creates friction as it rubs into the fireboard’s socket, and eventually, if all goes well, a glowing ember comes into being.  The fireboard is then tilted to drop the ember into a fluffy wad of dry tinder.  The ember is gently blown on, forcing its heat into the tinder.  Finally, a wee flame emerges in a puff of smoke.  Success!

Tom Brown described a Native American legend about fire making.  One day, the Great Spirit gave people the “wisdom of whirling wood.”  The spindle was the male element, active and aggressive.  The fireboard was the female element, receiving the whirling spindle, and nurturing a glowing ember.  The ceremony was like two lovers passionately meeting, and giving birth to a powerful being.  The bundle of tinder was the Earth, which nurtured the new life into fullness.

The invention of the fire drill enabled our tropical primate ancestors to migrate into chilly non-tropical ecosystems, and eventually spread to all continents, even the arctic.  As hungry hominins, skilled at ambush hunting, moved into unknown lands, many species of megafauna gradually disappeared from the stage — millions and millions of animals.  Without fire magic, I expect that hominins would be absent in much of the world today — the regions having annual or permanent snowy seasons.  The Americas would maybe still be home to mastodons, wooly rhinos, sabertooth cats, and other beautiful wild giants.

The original hominin homeland, south of the equator in Africa, was a highly unlikely location for the emergence of civilizations.  Jared Diamond wrote that, of the crop plants domesticated in Africa, all originated north of the equator.  He added that no large herbivores suitable for domestication originally lived south of the equator in Africa — only the guinea fowl was enslaved in this region.  This implies that if we had never wandered out of our ancestral homeland, the planet might have remained unspoiled.

Anyway, some too-clever African ancestor succeeded in inventing the fire drill.  What if a hungry crocodile had dismembered this person ten minutes before the big discovery?  Would we have been likely to migrate out of Africa, and spread around the Earth?  Would the world of today be a civilization-free wilderness, home to fantastic numbers of animals?  Would London still be a vast ancient forest, home to hippos, elephants, giant deer, aurochs, and lions?  Would the Thames still thrash and splash with huge migrations of giant salmon?  Would a wee population of hominins still be chasing critters across the savannah — wild, free, and happy?

Types of Fire

Stephen Pyne, one of the world’s foremost experts on fire history, described three categories of fire.

(1) Natural fire is not ignited by humans.  Nature can start fires via lightning strikes, volcanoes, meteors, or falling rocks.  It rarely ignites when the temperature is cold, the ecosystem is moist, or where little or no fuel is present.  When conditions are ideal, these wild fires can quickly reduce large areas of forest or grassland to ashes.  This is perfectly normal and natural.  In regions where wildfires commonly occur, like America’s west coast, the vegetation consists of many species that are fire dependent or fire tolerant.  Some plants actually require fire to germinate their seeds.

(2) Anthropogenic fire is started by humans, deliberately or unintentionally.  It can be ignited in many different ways — fire drills, flint and steel, friction matches, electric sparks, machinery, power lines, chemical explosions, atomic bombs, and so on.  Until recent centuries, it primarily burned biomass fuels like wood, grass, or dung.

Unlike modern societies that burn fossil biomass imported from distant lands, preindustrial communities had firm limits on the firewood available nearby.  At its peak in A.D. 1050, the Native American civilization at Cahokia (near modern St. Louis) was home to 30,000 folks who cooked and heated with wood.  This was twice the number of folks living in London at the time, and London was Europe’s biggest city north of the Alps.

Cahokia’s homes were wood framed and thatched, and the palisade that surrounded the settlement was made of logs.  They had no carts, horses, or iron axes.  By 1250, it was a ghost town.  Did they run short of fuel, overhunt, deplete their topsoil, perish from warfare, experience a climate surprise, or all of the above?

Anthropogenic fire has been used extensively around the world to alter ecosystems, in order to make them more suitable for agriculture, herding, and wild game.  More on this subject later.

(3) Industrial fire is a more recent variation of anthropogenic fire.  Its primary fuel is associated with fossil biomass — coal, petroleum, and natural gas.  It can burn anywhere — in airplanes, ships, diamond mines, and skyscrapers.  It can burn on barren sand dunes, in soggy rainforests, or in the frozen arctic.  Industrial fire is often designed to burn automatically, like in a furnace or water heater.

Fossil biomass consists of enormous deposits of sequestered carbon.  Coal is rainforest vegetation that accumulated over the course of 60 million years.  Oil and natural gas come from dead phytoplankton that accumulated over 250 million years.  Combined, this is a one-time 310 million year stash of extremely high quality energy.  Industrial civilization is furiously burning this fuel on a huge scale, at an increasing rate.  Every day, the remaining fuel is further depleted, to support the survival of several billion humans who live like there’s no tomorrow.  What could possibly go wrong?

Pyne says that the civilization of our grandparents was limited by the amount of fossil fuel reserves remaining — eventually, the fuel gage would drop to Empty, and the party would end.  The current generation has a new and closer limit.  Before the needle ever hits Empty, the planet will become an ecological catastrophe.  The Big Burn is belching out far more harmful waste than our planet’s ecosystem can absorb.

The oceans are acidifying.  Carbon is building up in the atmosphere, resulting in rising temperatures and intensified storm systems.  Ice packs are melting, and sea levels are rising.  More than a billion people survive on food grown on cropland irrigated with water from melting snowpack and glaciers, which are shrinking.  Acid rain is hammering forests.  Millions of people are sick and dying from the perpetual haze of industrial air pollution.  And on and on.  Fire is powerful juju.  Wistfully modifying Smokey the Bear’s slogan, “Only you can prevent anthropogenic fire!”

Wednesday, January 2, 2019

Wild Free and Happy Sample 06

[Note: This is the sixth sample from my rough draft of a far from finished new book, Wild Free & Happy.  I don’t plan on reviewing more books for a while.  My blog is home to reviews of 199 books, and you are very welcome to explore them.  The Search field on the right side will find words in the full contents of all rants and reviews, if you are interested in specific authors, titles, or subjects.] 

Bipedal Locomotion

Baboons survive today because their ancestors evolved a successful approach for living on the savannah.  They did this by organizing into powerful bad ass gangs.  Like all other non-human animals, baboons still survive by living in the manner for which evolution has fine-tuned them, free from addictions to crutches like fire or complex weapons.  They stayed in their tropical homeland, and could possibly remain there for another million years, if the human turbulence in their ecosystem mercifully mellowed out.

Unlike baboons, our ancestors took a radically different approach to surviving on tropical savannahs.  They quit knuckle walking, evolved an upright posture, and became bipedal — standing, striding, and sprinting on two legs, not four.  This transition reduced or eliminated their ability to quickly scamper up trees, where they were less vulnerable to predators.  So, a new category of primates was born: hominins — bipedal ground-dwelling primates. 

The earliest bipedal primate is the subject of controversy.  It may have lived as early as 6 million years ago.  By about 4 million years ago, our ancestors’ feet had become less useful for grasping (climbing trees), and more attuned for walking smoothly.

In Tanzania, 3.6 million years ago, two bipedal ancestors left their footprints in wet volcanic ash.  In 1978, at the Laetoli site, scientists discovered 70 of their fossilized footprints, in a sequence that was 88 feet long (27m).  These ancestors were probably Australopithecus afarensis.

Why the shift to bipedal travel?  Over time, as climate change expanded grassland, the distance between groves of trees increased.  Knuckle walking is OK for short trips, but striding is more comfortable and energy efficient for longer journeys.  Standing upright provided a better view of the surroundings.  It also made them more visible to hungry predators.  It freed up their hands for carrying things like food, water, infants, embers, and tools.

For brief high-speed getaways, hominins were far slower than galloping chimps.  Alfred Crosby noted that bipedal striding is like walking on stilts, and it increases the odds for falling down.  Four-legged critters (quadrupeds) like canines, cats, or horses move in a manner that is far more graceful, stable, and speedy.

On the savannah, evolution typically selected for prey animals that were better high speed escape artists.  Consequently, it also selected for the predators that were more effective at killing them.  If prey gradually got larger, predators gradually got larger.  If prey got faster, so did the predators.  If prey got too good at surviving, they would overgraze the savannah and starve.  If predators got too good at hunting, they would eliminate their prey and starve.  The ecosystem was an endless bloody evolutionary soap opera.

With regard to our ancestors, evolution advanced an unusual mutation.  Instead of size or speed, it selected for heat tolerance and long distance running.  Compared to four-legged critters, standing upright exposed less of their bodies to hot sunbeams, and their bushy hairdos provided extra heat protection.  Their nearly furless bodies, equipped with three million juicy sweat glands, allowed them to shed body heat better than other savannah mammals. 

Tree-dwelling primates enjoyed a diet majoring in fruit, which grew all around them, all year long.  On the savannah, there was less fruit, so foraging required travelling farther, and finding other things to eat.  Some believe that our ancestors became bipedal to improve their success at scavenging — beating competitors to fresh carcasses.  Bernd Heinrich wrote that at Yellowstone Park, dead animals are reduced to a pile of bones in just seven hours.  In Africa, hyenas devour the bones too.

The person you see in the mirror has a body that is optimized for running, not walking.  Your toes and heel tendons provide a bounce when your foot hits the ground, improving energy efficiency.  Your legs and spine are fine-tuned for jogging, keeping your head and eyes steady.  Skilled runners gracefully glide along, lightly skimming across the land.

The shift to bipedal locomotion resulted in some radical changes in our ancestors’ skeletons.  Notably, the pelvis got narrower, which reduced the size of the birth canal — the passageway through which fetuses pass during birth.  This challenge was dealt with in two ways.  (1) Birth occurred earlier, when brains were smaller and less mature.  This extended the duration of childhood, the spacing between births, and the need for extended parental oversight.  (2) Since bipeds no longer slept in the trees, they could grow heavier and bigger.  Increased size was an asset for hunting and defense.  Longer legs enabled longer strides, which boosted running speed.  Larger bodies retained water better, delaying dehydration.

Bipedal locomotion was an unusual evolutionary experiment.  Few if any humans still live in the manner for which evolution fine-tuned us, a practice known as persistence hunting.

Persistence Hunting

On the savannah, predators made speedy attacks, and their prey attempted quick getaways, but both soon had to find shade and chill out, because bursts of high exertion promptly led to overheating.  Consequently, predator attacks were resolved quickly.  If a charging lion failed to promptly take down its target, the attack ended, and the prey might live to see another day. 

Our ancestors gained the ability to engage in steady long distance running, hour after hour, in the oven-like midday heat of tropical savannahs.  Once a chase began, the prey animals immediately scattered.  The hunter quickly selected an animal that was less strong and speedy, and began trotting after it.  Even when the prey was miles ahead, the hunter would doggedly follow its trail, reducing its ability to rest and cool off.

Persistence hunting requires no weapons.  Hunters must possess a deep understanding of animal behavior, great skill in the art of tracking, an intuitive mind, a healthy body, and sufficient water and nutrients for a long run.  Kalahari people had exceptional tracking skills.  Women were as good as men, or better, at interpreting spoor.  At the end of a successful pursuit, the prey might collapse from exhaustion or heat stroke, or simply stop running.  If the hunter found it still alive, he could suffocate it or bonk it on the head. 

Liebenberg was maybe the first civilized person to participate in persistence hunting (he nearly died from heat stroke).  He observed a six and a half hour chase that covered 21.7 miles (35 km), on a day when the temperature ranged between 89°F and 107°F (32°C and 42°C). 

He noted that tracking encouraged wild people to develop heightened abilities for intuitive thinking, because the tracks of their prey were rarely clear and complete.  Knowledge of animal behavior helped to fill in the blanks and suggest the most likely escape route.  The mental process was fast, automatic, effortless, and often unconscious.  Intuition also enhanced social relationships.  Wild people were far more sensitive to each other than folks in the modern world, whom Liebenberg saw as being severely handicapped by shallow or dysfunctional relationships.

Maybe our ancestors learned persistence hunting from hyenas, who hunt in packs, using their super-sensitive noses to follow animals until they are exhausted.  Or, maybe they first learned by chasing small, slow moving critters.  Somehow, maybe several million years ago, our hominin ancestors learned the clever trick of using overheating and exhaustion as deadly weapons — and the keys to survival.

Every gardener who has experienced backaches or sore knees, is painfully aware that evolution did not fine tune hominins for spending long hours on their knees or bent over, engaged in tedious repetitive movements — digging, cultivating, planting, weeding, picking, threshing, grinding, and so on.  What you see in the mirror is a body optimized for long distance pursuits across hot African savannahs — a meat-loving hunter and forager.

Bears have never forgotten their identity, consequently they confidently continue to live like bears, which is why they remain perfectly sane, and have no need for psych meds.  The same can be said for all the wild animals alive today.  The glaring exception is a super large mob of modernized persistence hunters who have become extremely disoriented by memory loss.

Young children, even in the deepest darkest McMansion suburbs, are fascinated by bears, lions, horses, bunnies, piggies, and others.  They play with teddy bears, pretend to be horses, and love looking at animals in picture books.  The kids are animals, and their hominin ancestors have been fascinated by animals for six million years.  Sadly, most will spend their lives in a reality where most of the animals they’ll closely experience will be thoroughly domesticated critters purchased for companionship or status display.

Jung said that we still retain unconscious memories of our arboreal past, when falling out of trees caused big fear.  Many of us have suddenly awakened with a gasp when a dream included a sudden plunge.  Nightmares commonly involve being chased or attacked by dangerous predators.  In crowded movie theaters, when the woman is about to be stabbed by a psycho killer, the hall explodes with loud squeals and screams, like our primate ancestors in a distant rainforest.

Over the last six million years, every species of bipedal primate has gone extinct, except one — and almost all of us have abandoned persistence hunting as a routine component of basic survival.  Don’t worry.  Close your eyes and imagine what humans might become if we spent the next 200,000 years sitting on couches, staring at glowing screens, washing down greasy pizza with fizzy sugar water.

Running Goes Global

By and by, as hominins spread far beyond the savannahs of tropical Africa, so did persistence hunting.  It spread around the world, because it works, and because evolution fine-tuned us for doing it.  For almost the entire hominin saga, we lived on our feet.  Running was a key factor in our ancestors’ survival, until we got wheels, four legged slaves, and other weird and troublesome things.

Tim Flannery reported that the Aborigines of Western Australia would pursue an individual kangaroo until it was overheated and exhausted.  The chase could take several days.  Johann Kohl wrote that the Ojibway would often run down elk, especially in the winter, when deep snow soon wore out the animal.  Hunters on snowshoes could pursue the animal for hours.  Kohl also mentioned a Sioux hunter who chased a bear to exhaustion.

Bernd Heinrich wrote about the Penobscot tribe chasing down moose, and the Navajo and Paiutes wearing out pronghorn antelopes.  In Southern Africa, hunters chased steenbok, gemsbok, wildebeest, zebras, and others.  Wendell Bennett wrote about the Tarahumara people of Mexico pursuing deer and turkeys until they collapsed.  

Peter Nabokov noted that some Tarahumara lads could run 170 miles (273 km) without stopping.  Mexicans would hire them to capture wild horses, sometimes chasing them for two or three days, until the horses could run no more — while the men remained fresh.  Nabokov quoted a Hopi man: “Long ago when the Hopi had no sheep, no horses, no burros, they had to depend for game-capturing on their legs.”

Nabokov provided numerous accounts of Indian messengers traveling great distances.  One ran 50 miles in six hours.  A Mojave lad ran 200 miles (322 km) in 24 hours.  Seven days a week, a Tarahumara man ran a 70 mile (112 km) route, carrying a heavy mailbag.  After running 15 miles (24 km), Zuni runners still had a slow heart rate and no signs of fatigue.  Men in their seventies continued to have tremendous endurance, as well as low blood pressure.

For wild people in open country, running was essential for communication, warfare, hunting, ceremonies, and rituals.  Apache boys of 8 to 12 years old regularly ran to improve their endurance and pain tolerance.  They ran carrying big loads, and they ran up mountains.  Apache warriors were much stronger and braver than the U.S. Army lads sent to exterminate them.

Nabokov wrote that 4-year old Navajo boys had to get up before sunrise every day and run four miles before having breakfast.  Speed and strength were essential when attacking enemies, or being attacked.  No one will help you in this world, you must run to get strong.  Your legs are your friends.

I spent many years sitting indoors at school desks, learning reading, writing, and arithmetic, loading my brains with the ideas necessary to be an obedient, punctual, productive cog in the industrial society that’s pounding the planet to pieces.  Wild Native Americans, during the years of their youth, were being taught to be strong, brave, and extremely healthy.  They learned the skills needed to survive in their ecosystem, in a low impact manner.  During their entire lives, they sent nothing to landfills.

Wednesday, December 19, 2018

Wild Free and Happy Sample 05


[Note: This is the fifth sample from my rough draft of a far from finished new book, Wild Free & Happy.  I don’t plan on reviewing more books for a while.  My blog is home to reviews of 199 books, and you are very welcome to explore them.  The Search field on the right side will find words in the full contents of all rants and reviews, if you are interested in specific authors, titles, or subjects.] 

Savannah Pioneers

When our ancestors moved from the forest to the savannah, they began a journey into an entirely different way of life.  Critters that evolution had fine-tuned for arboreal living were poorly prepared for surviving on open grassland.  They were not big, strong, or speedy.  They didn’t have horns, fangs, or claws.  They couldn’t digest grass.  They had to adapt to different sources of food, and different threats to their survival.  It took centuries of trial and error to develop new ways of living, and hundreds of thousands of years to evolve new and improved bodies fine-tuned for their unique experiment.

In the early days, our ancestors were not apex (top level) predators, they may have been more like walking meatballs, easy prey for big cats, packs of hyenas, huge crocodiles, and other hungry carnivores.  Chris Stringer mentioned genetic research indicating that today’s Earth-pounding mob of Homo sapiens trace back to an ancestral population of about 10,000 breeding individuals.  Earlier, a million years ago, in the Homo erectus era, there were just 20,000 breeding individuals.  For a very long time, our ancestors existed not too far from the brink of extinction.  It wasn’t easy being a highly vulnerable ground-dwelling primate.

Scavenging and Primitive Hunting

Our ancestors on the African savannah were hunter-gatherers, and their diet majored in plant foods, with a regular supplement of highly nutritious animal foods.  In the early chapters of the great hominin adventure, they were not expert hunters with effective weapons.  Meat was acquired via scavenging and primitive hunting.  With bare hands, they could grab critters like grubs, grasshoppers, termites, maggots, snails, shellfish, lizards, and frogs.  They could kill animals sleeping under bushes, dig up others from their burrows, chase down slow moving aardvarks and porcupines, and snatch immature youngsters.  Large birds could be knocked down by throwing clubs.

It’s easy to forget that rocks can be lethal weapons.  Wendell Bennett wrote that the Tarahumara people of Mexico threw stones with remarkable accuracy, killing rabbits, birds, and animals up to the size of coyotes.  Some of their groups did more hunting with stones than with bows and arrows.

Alfred Crosby wrote that any human more than eight years old, male or female, can throw projectiles farther and more accurately than any other species.  This ability gave us the power to effect change from a distance.  Well-thrown projectiles could drive away hungry predators or kill a plump bunny for dinner.  Researcher Frans de Waal noted that stone throwing chimps also have “impressive long-range aim.”  (Ouch!)

Crosby noted that a few hundred years ago, Europeans visiting Samoa got a painful lesson in the superb stone-throwing skills of the natives.  Of the 61 men sent ashore, 12 were killed by well-thrown rocks.  Humans also invented the rock-throwing sling, which was even more deadly, especially when loaded with lumps of lead.  Many of the conquistadors visiting Mexico had life-changing experiences while getting stoned by the angry sling-twirling Indians.

Scavenging is getting meat from carcasses that you didn’t kill — leftovers from large carnivores, or animals that died from other causes.  In later times, as the ancestors became more skilled at hunting, scavenging was not abandoned.  Meat is treasure, no matter how it is acquired.  Scavenging was often less work and less dangerous than pursuing and killing an animal.

During the day, our ancestors paid careful attention to the skies.  When vultures flew in a specific direction, they might be en route to a fresh carcass.  Circling vultures were strong evidence of a banquet directly below.  Once you got a hot tip, it was best to move quickly, in an effort to beat other scavengers to the banquet.

Hyenas work in gangs, and can quickly strip the scraps off carcasses, leaving few leftovers, if any.  Their arrival time was sometimes delayed by their need to stop, pant, and cool off from time to time.  Our ancestors were far better at shedding heat, an important advantage.  If hyenas or jackals arrived first, it was sometimes possible to mob them and drive them off.  On lucky days, it was possible to steal lunch from a lone cheetah.

Lions were another story.  To drive them away from a kill, surprise was important.  You and your buddies should suddenly charge, waving your arms, shouting, throwing rocks, swinging clubs, or maybe start a grass fire upwind.  Smart scavengers never tried this when lions were just beginning their lunch feast, and were still very hungry.  It was best to wait until they were full and ready for a nap.  Lions rarely consume brains or marrow, and sometimes leave some meat scraps for the intrepid.

It was also important for scavengers to pay attention to trees.  When leopards didn’t completely consume a kill at one sitting, they stored the leftovers up in the branches.  Leopards are night creatures.  If you found their unguarded stash in the daytime, there was less chance of getting shredded and devoured by an angry cat.

Right now, your eyes are following a track of squiggly scratches, and your mind is comprehending meaning from them.  My thoughts and actions created those tracks, and they contain specific meaning for those who have learned how to interpret them.  The farther you are able to follow my tracks, the more you will learn about me.

Similarly, animals leave behind tracks and other signs as they move across the land.  Folks who are skilled at reading this information can accumulate pieces of a story.  They can perceive a fantastic amount of information by studying spoor — footprints, urine, feces, saliva, blood, fur bits, feeding signs, smells, sounds, and so on.  Spoor provides clues about the animal’s species, gender, size, behavior, direction of travel, time of passage, and so on. 

Fresh tracks left by a game animal indicated that it had passed through the area, and the direction it was moving — essential information for hungry hunters.  Also, spoor left by large carnivores indicated predators on the move.  Following their tracks might eventually lead to a recent kill, and a carcass to scavenge.

The San

Louis Liebenberg is a South African lad who has spent years on the Kalahari Desert with the San people (other names include Khoisan, Bushmen, !Kung).  He was not a nerdy anthropologist, he directly participated in hunts, and eventually became a skilled tracker.  He wrote two outstanding books about tracking, scavenging, and persistence hunting.

One time, Liebenberg asked some San trackers if they could actually recognize the spoor of an individual antelope.  They burst out laughing at his incredibly stupid question.  They couldn’t imagine anyone not being able to do this.  When they see a human footprint, they immediately know which individual in their band made it.  Children can identify the tracks of their parents.  Footprints are as unique and recognizable as faces.  To see the footprints of an unknown stranger was highly unusual, and would inspire caution. 

More anthropology books have been written about the San than any other wild people.  Geneticists have found that they have the oldest DNA of any living culture — it is the genetic foundation of nearly all modern humans.  Their genes are the closest to the ancient female from whom all living humans descend, known as Mitochondrial Eve.  Thus, your family tree likely leads back to ancestors similar to the San.  (Pygmies are the second oldest living culture.)

The San have been hunter-gatherers since the dawn of humankind, and they enjoyed a way of life that managed to survive into the 1970s.  Eight hundred years ago, the San homeland included all of southern Africa.  Since then, Bantu and European herders and farmers have displaced them from lands suitable for grazing and agriculture, forcing the San into the Kalahari where, on average, two of every five years are drought years, and severe droughts occur one in every four years.

There are large regions of the Kalahari that are quite flat, an endless landscape having no notable landmarks for a white boy like me, who would quickly become hopelessly lost, and turn into vulture chow.  The San, on the other hand, always know exactly where they are, across large regions, because they orient themselves by the layout of plant communities, noting their size, shape, position, and unique features.  They know the face of their land as well as they know the faces of their family.

Richard Lee wrote about the San.  Their primary food was mongongo nuts, which dropped once a year, but could be gathered all year long.  Meat was their second most desired food.  The Kalahari provided them with about 100 edible plant species, which they were careful not to overuse.  The San expected periodic times of scarcity, so they reserved some plant species for drought food.  Portions of their territory were set aside for lean times.

John Reader wrote about an extreme drought in Botswana that lasted three years, resulting in the deaths of 250,000 cattle and 180,000 people.  The San didn’t starve.  Each week they spent 12 to 19 hours foraging for their sustenance.  They lived in one of the harshest environments on Earth.  At the same time, hungry farming people had shifted to foraging during the drought, so the San lands were supporting a larger population than that of normal times.

Elizabeth Marshall Thomas has spent a lot of time with the San.  She wrote her first book on them in 1958, and her third in 2006.  Like any intelligent culture, their safety net included mindful family planning, to avoid the problems caused by overpopulation, and its trusty companions: environmental degradation, hunger, and conflict.

Because of low body fat and vigorous physical activities, San women began menstruating later.  Some did not have regular monthly periods.  Children were usually nursed for about four years, which further reduced their mom’s fertility.  Most of the women had one to four offspring.  Nomads moved frequently, and belongings and infants often had to be hauled long distances.  A woman could only carry one infant, so just one twin was kept.

When a child could not be kept, the woman gave birth alone, away from the camp, and buried the newborn before it drew breath.  In their culture, a newborn did not immediately become alive, so disposing it was OK.  Crippled or badly deformed infants were not kept, because they would be a drain on the wellbeing of the band.  To avoid unwanted pregnancies in harsh times, it was common for folks to abstain from intercourse. 

Jon Young is the star of several YouTube videos on nature connection.  He was an early student of Tom Brown, the famous author of many books on tracking and nature awareness.  Young visited a number of wild cultures to find those that remain most closely connected to nature.  He discovered that the San people were incredibly well connected.  They refuse to enter houses, because people who live indoors go insane.

Young says that with the San, you always feel safe.  They are super intelligent, super happy, super vital, and great problem solvers.  You never feel competition.  The people are in love with every aspect of the ecosystem around them, celebrating with childlike wonder through all stages of their life.  Every person in that community is committed to the flowering of every other person.  They are incredibly aware of their surroundings at all times, because a brief lapse of attention can kill you in lion country.