Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Are we better off than the Caveman?

Bill Schindler, an anthropology professor at Washington College, says "No". He asserts that fewer people have mastered basic survival skills today than at any other time in human history. These skills, he argues are essential to understanding what it means to be human. He teaches a class in Experimental Archaeology and Primitive Technology in which students learn to build fires with wooden hand drills, make rope from plant fibers, and gather tree nuts, among other things.

He claims that things were not as bad in the old days as we think they were. Early humans did not rough it alone. They traveled within larger migratory groups, and possessed an intricate knowledge of the local environment and seasonal changes. They knew “where to be and when to be there,” Schindler says. “In terms of diet, bone strength, lack of disease, we were actually doing much better in the past than we are now.” Early humans had to be much more inventive, adept at problem-solving, and subtly attuned to changes in the natural environment than we are. Their need to cooperate made them socially connected, as people nowadays are desperate to be (“Think Facebook,” he says). Early humans may even have been smarter than us: Cro-Magnons had larger brains than we do today. Ancient peoples faced dangers but little routine emotional stress, and few of the chronic illnesses that arise from poor diet and lack of physical activity. They can also teach us a lot about how to interact with the natural world.

He actually lives a sort of primitive life. His family forages for wild fruits and greens, and fishes and hunts for much of its protein. His youngest son has killed and butchered his first buck. They also brew beer, and bake bread in an outdoor oven, for which they split the wood.

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