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This chapter is a discussion of what could be called prehistoric humans. They could just as well be called pre-civil, pre-military or pre-agricultural. All of these factors go together. It is a time frame of approximatly 6 million years ago until, perhaps, 40,000 years ago. Perhaps it is the present. In any case this is to look at the ecology, genetics, technology, and beliefs of what were usually considered paleolithics and the later neolithics.
Stone age, as do paleolithic and neolithic, refer to the types of tools used. Tribal refers to a social system. Hunter/gatherer/collector/scavenger refers to energetic acquisition strategies of related niches in different environmnts. Big game hunters is synonamous with neolithic, when new tools and hunting techniques appeared about 400,000 years ago.
In Homo-Sapiens evolutionary history were braichiators or "tree swingers" such as modern day gibbons. A specie in that ecology requires not only hand, arm, and shoulder development for swinging from branch to branch, but also a very acute stereo vision for proper orientation and landing. This is the case for all simians and so the visual ability of a gorilla is second only to that of a human, birds not excluded.
Later were upright standing species exploiting the ability to forage over large areas by energy efficient bipedilism. Visual acuity was useful here for a different purpose, but served excellently the requirements for large capacity scanning of the large area foraged. The upright posture also freed the hands that were so versatile as to be seemingly pre-adapted to tool use and manipulation. Social grooming would have enhanced the dexterity and sensitivity of the hands. By the time human ancestors were walking upright they still did not have relatively large brains. By the end of the hunter-gatherer ecologies, all humans had relatively large brains and well developed neo-cortex.
If you consider the 4 million year old human bones referred to as Lucy, she represents one of the earliest forms of humans that had the skeleton for walking upright, but she definatly had the "brain of an ape". That is to say that her neo-cortex was no more developed than that of an ape. By that time, she was different from any present day simian that we can study. In present simians, a general rule is that the less that the specie dwells in trees, the more the development and utilization of aggressively based social hierarchies. Ground dwelling baboons are agressive and have an highly developed social structure. Tree dwelling gibbons and orangatangs are solitary and non-aggressive. This is going to relate to early humans, but we are not the same. The upright stance alone should have changed the rules in this case. Humans developed a social structure more complex than the baboons, but less based on aggressiveness. We specialized in cooperation. This probably would have been a fundemental driving force from very early on that is a key element of human survival and development.
It is not just upright stance that distinguished human ancestors from what we consider apes. Tool use, bipedalism, cortical development, language use, social nature and other traites made humans profoundly different from apes quite early on. The actual relationships between the causes and effects may never be deduced. Luckily, for the purposes of this discussion, only trends must really be examined. Still, it would be quite interesting if the use of cooperation as a strategy, was a fundemental cause in subsequent human developments.
Depending on locally dictated conditions, both parents make a great investment to raise a child. In addition, for humans, the social structure allowed extended family and foster family to help educate and socialize the child. Learning was from the whole social group. The social group infrequently changed members and the genetics were not highly variable in the group. It was a stimulating environment overall. Sometimes it is useful and quite accurate to refer to these groups as "tribal" as opposed to hunter/gatherer/collector/scavenger, to describe them by their social form instead of their resource acquisition strategies.
The hunter/gatherer/collector name refers to techniques that varied between the paleolithic and neolithic, mostly on scale and complexity. This would include tool making techniques and the associated hunting techniques. These hunting techniques refered also to abilities of cooperation and comunication that had evolved over time. It seems likely that the moralities of the paleolithic and the neolithic would have changed similarly. As tools and techniques became more developed and complex, the importance of extensive training for children would have increased. Since there was a qualitative change in the complexity of survival techniques, there should have been a qualitative change in the raising of children and of the morality of the tribes that hunted the big game. Childhood and education would have been extended.
This is quite a short synopsis for the millions of years that is called the evolution of humanity. In this case that is appropriate and necessary. No one knows that much about early roots of humanity. We are basically refered to as Homo sapian, the thinking ape or Cro Magnon in reference to the type of culture and people in what is present day France. We do not presently know what happened to our relative, Homo neanderthal. We may be related or descended. It is not known presently, though genetic studies should yield that answer before long. (They now say we are not related). So it becomes quite a question to really say much about their morality- Their learned survival strategies. At the same time, what seems important for long periods through the development of humans, will probably be the some of the most important basic factors now and in the future.
Morality refers to learned behaviors. That means education or more specifically, this would have referred to education and protection by the family. Massive factors are all related. Language development, extended childhood, education, monogamy, ancestry knowledge, complex social systems, tools and many other factors are so interdependent and interwoven, that it will be impossible to sort out what co-evolutionary procedure occured. Still, all of these describe essential elements of human survival strategies. Luckily, they are not nearly as important here as they are diverting, so the questions of chickens and eggs are intentionally avoided.
Certainly, many widely diffent moral forms existed in early human groups. Different forms of reproductive habits and resource strategies would have existed at different times. Each tribe represented an evolutionary experiment. There would have been vegetarians, carnivores and cannibals; monogamys and and matriarchies. All strategies would get tested and this present is what humanity has become. We are still extremely variable, but many patterns are now basic and many experiments have been concluded.
When we first stood upright comfortably, the family and "tribe" were essential elements of survival. As the brain and social complexity progressed, the family and social group becomes even more important as a survival strategy. The development of dexterity, visual acuity and hunting skills would have had increasing importance to survival, but the most important element to the individual would have been the society they lived in. Dealing with the social environment was what required a refined intelligence.
The moral strategies of the tribes relates to the desires of the individual to gain status within their society, and its rewards. Be a sucessful hunter.. and gain status in the society. Have beauty and fertility and status... Then one gets a mate with high status. Then morality dictates that one helps the children to survive and get status. Over all of this is the context that status is within the community and reproductive pool of the tribe. The efforts of the individual must serve the tribe nearly as much as the individual or their immediate family. It is possible, that for humans, the individual must serve the tribe more than themselves, at times.
Status for both men and women would have come from children. Status for men would have accrued from food collecting, especially hunting. This would have been less true for women, because though they do much of the food collecting, they generally do not hunt. Both masculine and feminine beauty would have confered status. Status would come from deference, or inherited status. Deference is respect for the children of those that had earned high status. Status would have come from the technical skills, including tool making, shelter construction, art and shamanism. *There would have been individuals lacking the physical abilities to actually dispatch animals in the hunt, yet having a superior ability to find or track game. They would still have had the status of the hunter. The point is, that survival skills were and are a fluid thing, especially in the context of the tribe.
It is easy to see that tribes would specialize into their niches even though humans are fundementally generalists. These specializations were fine as long as the environment did not change greatly, but it did. Natural disasters, moving ice and other tribes would all cause disruptions that the tribe and individuals had to adapt to. In R, disturbed, ecologies status would come from demonstrated success. In K, stable, ecologies, status would have come more from the appearence of a balance of the present survival strategies.
In an ancient human society the social group was relatively unchanging. An individual was always dealing with the same group of individuals. In a situation where interaction is with a close community, moral strategies include honesty, loyalty and dependability. Survival was based on family and community structures to do the long task of child raising. All tribes followed long established survival patterns.
Due to the generalist nature of resource utilization by hunter/gatherers, situations would have been rare where specialization could produce sub-niches within any tribe. Tool makers and Shaman would be considered exceptions, but genetically, they were part of the tribe. Tribalists are just not adaptive enough to have much specialization
The social forms of the tribals included typical patriarchal or matriarchal hierarchies primarily based on family relationships. Always there is the aggressively based hierarchy of the males based on his potential for polygamy and aggressive dominance of resources other than females.
The female hierarchy was highly variable depending on locally dictated conditions and the nature of the social structure of the tribe. Many resources were controlled by the males, but female fertility was the preeminent value until the time of the cities.
Males exhibit fraternal behavior in that they enjoy each others company. This probably reflects the cooperation required for hunting. This cooperation ability is very important in a technological society. In any team effort, it is easy to see and understand the potentials that humans have that let them make a team more than an individual. This is an ability inherited from our ancestors that needed to be able to cooperate effectively while hunting. This cooperative potential will be as important in the future as it has been in the past, perhaps more.
Fire, sticks, stone tools, customs, social forms and many other factors worked and interacted as humans in the basically stable ecology of the hunter-gatherer, were changed over time as selection and adaptation worked on the genes. The environmental features of hominid ecology underwent fairly continual change for 6,000,000 years ago until the last ice age.
The hunter-gatherer ecology was relatively stable in that the resources and resource acquisition strategies did not drastically change. Another indicator, population density, did not qualitatively change as has been happening since then. For 6 million years the hunter-gatherer existed without dominating or overwhelming their environment.
Development of human social, genetic and technical abilities along with the unstable conditions of the ice ages led to big game hunting. Largely it was this that set in motion broad changes in human ecology that are still progressing today, especially relating to technology and resource strategies. These changes will not stop until a relatively stable ecology is again achieved.
Human ancestor species were highly social before they entered this ecology and they became more so in the human tribal groups as it was favored by evolution. A good deal of intelligence is required for social behavior because it involves remembering and understanding interactions with many different individuals. According to Richard Leakey, social behavior before agriculture peaked with the big game hunters of 300,000 to 50,000 years ago. The hunting of large game animals required a high degree of communication, coordination, and cooperation. Then, when large beasts were caught, they were shared by the tribe.
During this whole time, evolution focused on tool using ability, bipedalism, dexterity, adaptability and social behavior. Cooperation, within the tribal social system, composed of families, was the basis of their survival. The term "tribal" refers to their basic survival strategy, which was also their social structure. A tribe is an organizational system.
Vision is still our primary sense and is now used for resource production and quality data acquisition. Bipedalism continues to provide for very versatile mobility (though we use machines to help now) and frees the hands to allow for mechanical manipulation. Hands that developed for grasping branches and grooming are now used for manipulating tools. The technical and social talents of the hunter-gatherer are now used in a different ecology for the academic and technical expertise that provides our energetic resources as well as our social organization techniques.
Hunter/gatherer/collector/scavenger humans were a broad ranged, highly social, primitive-tool using omnivore who used limited techniques, bipedalism, visual acuity and cooperation to become a predator at the top of the trophic levels, a herbivore utilizing high energy content plant food and a scavanger. Their most notable features were their individual behavioral adaptability or learning ability and the correspondingly long developmental period and need for extensive education. Also important was the extremely variable and adaptive social system.
Human survival is based on the cooperation of family groups to raise and educate children.