Sunday, October 04, 2009


Iain Banks has written a mixed bag of science fiction but, in general, Excession is one that I like. Excession carries this paragraph (actually, it's all one sentence except that it has a ... stuck in the middle. I think it's intended to be a continuous stream of visual ideas, but maybe not). Anyway, this was one of the bits I liked from the novel. The "Outside Context Problem" is what the novel is all about. The paragraph explains:

"The usual example given to illustrate an Outside Context Problem was imagining you were a tribe on a largish, fertile island; you'd tamed the land, invented the wheel or writing or whatever, the neighbours were cooperative or enslaved but at any rate peaceful and you were busy raising temples to yourself with all the excess productive capacity you had, you were in a position of near-absolute power and control which your hallowed ancestors could hardly have dreamed of and the whole situation was just running along nicely like a canoe on wet grass... when suddenly this bristling lump of iron appears sailless and trailing steam in the bay and these guys carrying long funny-looking sticks come ashore and announce you've just been discovered, you're all subjects of the Emperor now, he's keen on presents called tax and these bright-eyed holy men would like a word with your priests."

There do seem to be some inconsistencies there, but you get the idea.

This abstract appears to describe an OCP from the 18th century in what was destined to become southeastern USA. It certainly brought Banks' novel to my mind. The final line caught my eye, as it was supposed to.

"A reduced dietary breadth during the mission period may have contributed to the extinction of these populations in the eighteenth century"

Particularly the word extinction. So like excession.

John Hawkes has a post about the genetic changes in Europe between the origin of agriculture about 11,000 years ago in the Fertile Cresent and its arrival at the Western seaboard of Europe about 7,500 years ago.

In his classic essay "The Oil We Eat" Richard Manning cites archaeologists describing this rate of cultural spread as "blitzkrieg", specifically the leap across Western Europe in just 300 years.

This is the paper cited by Hawkes. The overwhelming impression I get is that mankind, the sort of mankind which had maintained a stable global population of around 10,000,000 for millenia, did NOT adopt agriculture. Agriculture was adopted by a subgroup of these humans. Agriculturalist genes then replaced those of hunter gatherers across Europe. I doubt the change was welcomed by the hunter gatherers.

Excession. Blitzkieg.

Oh, and if Manning is correct, famine. Gift of agriculture.



Anonymous said...


Are you a Daniel Quinn fan?

. said...

There's also an interesting observation in the documentary The Ascent of Man where Bronowski comments that agriculture made large-scale warfare possible - farmers created a surplus that could be "taxed" to support a warrior class who previously would have had to occupy themselves hunting food.

The farmers were tied to their land and their surpluses, so were essentially defenceless against exploitation.

Here it is in his own words (from Wikiquote):

"But war, organized war, is not a human instinct. It is a highly planned and cooperative form of theft. And that form of theft began 10,000 years ago when the harvesters of wheat accumulated a surplus and the nomads rose out of the desert to rob them of what they themselves could not provide."

Peter said...


But of course. Quinn has understanding. There's a post called The Two Rat Experiment on the blog. I think it encapsulates Quinn's ideas and also ties in to the concept from The Oil We Eat of the primary productivity. We only have sunlight, so much per year. This is the input to our global two rat experiment.

[Pax nuclear power which is stored star energy and fusion which is sunlight in a can I guess].

And re Taker culture. I cannot listen to the news, Susan Jebb, read a paper etc nowadays without I hear the voice of Taker culture.

Chainey, yes, that too has to be pretty accurate. But this is how order came to the agriculturalists. Pretty soon the raiders would be in residence.

Also the genes in Europe today are different from those of the agriculturalist storm troopers. But then it's just in fighting within the established order.


Tal said...

Iain M Banks used in a Hyperlipid post - best start to a Monday morning in a long time!

You wrote, "Agriculturalist genes then replaced those of hunter gatherers across Europe."

On this topic, any thoughts about Dr D'Adamo's blood type diet? Ever dabbled pre-LC? I'm a type A 'agriculturalist' who is supposed to have difficulty in digesting red meat. I eat rare steak often. Afterward I feel totally satiated yet incredibly light in stomach and body as a whole - I do not feel as though I need to sit around for an hour or two 'waiting for my meal to go down'!

Thanks for this food for thought!


Ken said...

Gregory Cochran: Day Two

"It is also the case that gene variants that already exist and are fairly common can also influence the fitness of individuals under selection. Since they start out with higher frequency, they can respond more rapidly to new circumstances. An example: a 5% edge can increase a gene's frequency from 40% to 60% -- a 20% increase in gene frequency -- in just a few generations. A completely new mutation starts out with a single copy and takes thousands of years or more to increase from near-zero to 20%".

Maybe the lack of continuity was due to the majority of the European hunter (and relativly little gatherering) population having gene variants adapted to a low carb diet.

When agriculture was introduced those who had been best adapted to a hunter gatherer diet were at a disadvantage, they may have stagnated or even dwindled

A population explosion took place but it was in in the descendants of the few people who had rare variants that were adaptive (for glycemic control ect.) on agriculture's high carb diet.

LeonRover said...

I find it a "nice" connection that Iain M, a Scot, may have genetic connections to the Celtic Population Fringe. I saw a reference to a recent study to a similar Celtic fringe in some animal species.

BTW, a "lightning war" which lasts 300 years? Archaeologists may live in a very slow time frame; in a relativistic analysis, their resting frame is moving at 99% the speed of light relative to rest of us.

caphuff said...

Enjoyed the post.

I have this nagging suspicion agriculture (and particularly grain domestication)was a byproduct of beer brewing (which-came-first-wise, that is).

The sequence would be:

1. alcohol spontaneously fermented from various wild plants is occasionally found in the wild (I don't know, in puddles or whatever.)

2. This intoxicant is recognized and valued almost immediately as a powerful social lubricant; i.e. it helps immensely the beta males and females to get laid and procreate.

3. Consequently a lot of attention is paid to the circumstances around which the magic brew is found in the wild. Eventually they put 2 and 2 together and figure out how to cultivate & ferment the plants and thus ensure a steady supply.

5. Because more people are getting laid on a regular basis due to regular alcohol consumption, populations explode.

6. Necessarily, to keep up with ever-growing demand, they begin to organize society around this activity.

4. But they end up with a lot of leftover surplus. Eventually someone figures out how to make bread out of it.

5. Presto, the disease of modern civilization is born.

caphuff said...

PS: I must have been drunk when I numbered those sequences!

Senta said...

caphuff, replace bread in #4 with pretzels and I'd say you've got yourself a theory!

Peter said...

I've only had one glass of wine so at the moment I think you are merely a genius. Another glass and I'll pass out so hopefully I'm safe from commenting further..............

lightcan said...

So, what's the story then with the Paleo diet? Are the genes that different or it is a matter of subtle nuances? Is the Paleo diet hypothesis useless because the premise is wrong?

caphuff said...

Pretzels'll work!

But seriously, a decent buzz seems to be about the only end result that might possibly have motivated some paleos to exchange their supposedly more easy-going and healthier HG existence for the comparatively miserable, famine-prone drudgery of farming!

Why would they put themselves through that just to get food(!) if they were already expert at getting it from game and wild plants?

The extreme lengths to which people will go for a drink are, after all, well documented. (See, e.g., Prohibition Era, U.S.; Quest for Holy Grail, Dark Ages, UK, etc. . . .)

Don Matesz said...


Can you give a link to the Two Rat Experiment blog you mentioned in a comment? On whose blog will I find it?

I agree with you and have the same respect for Quinn. I like Manning's work also -- Against the Grain.


Peter said...

Taliesen, well, that's the stuff that comes to mind in the quiet patch of A&E at 3am in the morning.......


I'd sort of thought that the sequence might be an initial replacement of general HG genes with a massive spread of limited HG genes from an initial pool in the Fertile Crescent, maladapted and ill on grains, but breeding fast and well able to destroy HG habitat and the HG food chain. HGs too probably, as Andrew Eldritch quotes from the AK47 manual, "destroy personel". There would then be an explosion of genetic adaption in the agriculturalists as wheat weeded out those not able to breed particularly well on a wheat based diet. Just musing. I suspect it's far too soon to be able to say from a genetic map what adaptions in genes have gone on to a particular diet. Oh, except things like HLA B27 (>60%) is very common in northern HGs and rare in tropical areas (<5%) where starch consumption might well feature in HGs as well as subsistence agriculturalists diets... But an explosion of evolution, absolutely. There was a new niche and new selection pressure. And it's not over yet.

Reminds me of the effect of the intensive care environment on bacterial evolution. Unfortunately, with the sophisticated evolution techniques in bacteria, this means days not centuries.

Leon, 300 years certainly is to an archeologist!

Lightcan, I guess it depends. The paleo diet is generic, not specific. ie, there never was "one" paleo diet. But all of us are just 10,000 years away from this generic, which is pretty close. Some will be better grain adapted than others. To me, one of the things I think we are ALL adapted to is starvation. All cultures, all lifestyles, with a very few modern obese exceptions, are adapted to intermittent starvation. Everyone has always been able to go without eating for a period, hence running your metabolism on butt fat, ketones and a couple of days of glycogen during the run in, has always been essential. Obviously we have lost this selection pressure in the developed world, but we won't have lost this essential ability it in the hundred years or so that food has been reasonably continuously available to bulk populations. Hence my preference for the OD over pure paleo, while keeping an eye on paleo logic. Even I will accept that there might be a small subgroup of the population who are gluten tolerant. I may not have met any of them but...

Don, uuuh, self citation (oops). Might update it with the problems that would accrue from us all eating down the food chain hence allowing 10 times the current few billion humans to be produced. Where will be park all of their SUVs?


Peter said...

Oh, blood group diet Taliesen...

I got about 5 pages in to it and gave it back to the person who had lent it to me. Could have something, but I found it unreadable.


lightcan said...

Oh, I got it from what you said above to Ken. Thanks a lot for the link to Hawks. I wish I had an Anthro 101 first, but kept reading about Ardi, the lactose tolerance and other things. He says that selection occurs quicker in a bigger population and this is totally relevant to the question of gluten tolerance today. I wonder what is really happening. So even if the majority of Europeans and thus American colonisers had early exposure to wheat it doesn't mean that their bodies are ready to deal with it, yet.
Thanks a lot.

JohnN said...

" of the things I think we are ALL adapted to is starvation. All cultures, all lifestyles, with a very few modern obese exceptions, are adapted to intermittent starvation."

Hi Peter,
This is true enough about adaptation. Perhaps human (or any living species) more than just adapts to or tolerates but even thrives on periodic/episodic starvation.
Carl Zimmer's recent article in the NYTimes illustrates the (beneficial) autophagic activities of proteasome and lysosome on cell recycling during period of starvation.

OPC can work both ways. I'm reminded of "The Man Who Would Be King" (film) with Sean Connery and Michael Cain where it ended badly for the Gods.

Theo Tiefwald said...

There is a misperception that settled agriculturalists totally replaced hunter-gatherers in Europe.

It is partially true, but instead of European hunter-gatherers the people who the agriculturalists supplanted were more often pastoralists who herded cattle for their milk and meat and often supplemented that with hunting/gathering.

Theo Tiefwald said...

Also, in addition to herding cattle, Northern Europeans also herded a lot of swine too, and captured and domesticated very fatty birds like geese, ducks, etc. In Scandinavia and elsewhere they ate a lot of fatty/oily fish.

So they weren't all hunter-gatherers as people like to say...they were pastoral herders too.

As time progressed, it seems that they had no choice but to acquiesce to more settled forms of agriculture because as populations increased they simply ran out of sufficient land to herd all their livestock as they began to 'trespass' on to others territory. So adopting agriculture probably decreased territorial disputes too.

Theo Tiefwald said...

"Oh, and if Manning is correct, famine. Gift of agriculture."

Actually, it seems to me that grains (especially wheat) were/are grown as a protective hedge against famine.

Case in point: grains are easy to grow, they can be stored as surplus calories for long periods, and they hold so many concentrated calories, and thus they'll keep people alive (albeit in a degraded/unhealthy state) until the livestock or other fat sources can recover post-famine.

Theo Tiefwald said...

One last comment of mine (for now), a book recommendation; it's from 1939 and it is entitled "Nutrition and Physical Degeneration: A Comparison of Primitive and Modern Diets and Their Effects" -

It tracks how the rise of the modern sugar-laden, carb-heavy, and starchy diets in many nations has led to a deterioration of health in the countries which adopted those types of diet.

Peter said...


My favourite "reverse" OCP, in one of my least favourite films, was the tragic case of the galaxy conquering aliens who hit an OCP when they invaded Earth on Independence Day. A sophisticated civilisation of unspeakable complexity performing a routine invasion and losing. Bit like the head native of Banks' emergent civilisation throwing his spear at the ironclad, dropping it down the funnel and exploding the boiler. Classic.

Uh oh, I think Quinn has ruined my outlook on civilisation!


Thanks for the hints. I'll try and do better. Do you have any info about the pastoralists in Western Europe, say around 10,000 before present? And the elimination of famine by agriculture?


lightcan said...

Peter is a gentleman and doesn't argue for the sake of it especially if he doesn't have all the information, but I think the issues are more complex, Theo.
Regarding grains as a palliative for famine, it all depends on their diet, doesn't it? If they didn't have enough meat for everybody until the next summer the loss of the crop for that year would have been catastrophic. In Scandinavia, I don't really see them eager to grow wheat, when they have such short summers. Vegetables weren't really grown for food, not even in the middle ages, from what I understand. Sure, Irish people didn't munch on carrots when the potato crop failed and that was 160 years ago. I thought wheat cultivation started before regular milk consumption and not the other way around. It's hard to believe also that the herders ran out of land for their stock. Ah, well the scientists are still debating the issue, so I'm just eager to discuss the topic, hope you don't mind.

lightcan said...

From the abstract for the 'Science' article: 'After the domestication of animals and crops in the Near East some 11,000 years ago, farming had reached much of central Europe by 7500 years before the present.'

That means that let's say 8000 years ago there was no herding of animals in central Europe and much less in Scandinavia. There was a period of influx/migration around that time that brought with it different ways of procuring food/different culture and a different gene pool.

lightcan said...

Have a look at some info on Scandinavia I found
The hunter-gatherers (...) existed in parallel with farmers for more than a millennium before vanishing about 4,000 years BP
-> Neolithic or post-Neolithic population introgression or replacement in Scandinavia.
Isn't this fascinating?

Peter said...


The concept that people took up agriculture as a a means to deal with expanding population is utterly wrong. For a few million years we slowly expanded our population as HGs or GHs, depending on your latitude. Species wax and wane. At this stage the Earth's Primary Productivity allowed about 10,000,000 high level human predators. If there wasn't enough food, there simply wouldn't have been the population. You cannot make people out of thin air. You don't have as many Inuit per 100 km2 as you might have Pygmies in equatorial Africa. This is the core of the two rat experiment. You can actually get population explosions and crashed in large herbivore populations but they seem to be an exception and localised.

Some sort of balance existed for humans, with a few unfortunates keeping numbers stable. We've all got to die some time...

It's only once you start to steal more of your share of the Primary Productivity, by replacing grass with human semi-food of grain and guarding it, in effect you are stealing Primary Productivity from other species, that you can explode your population. Other species then die. We are exterminating species at an unprecedented rate. We have taken their share of the Earth's Primary Productivity. They don't have it, they disappear. We have it, our population explodes. No individual without food, they simply don't exist. If there is food, they appear.

Interestingly much of the human exploding population is hungry. Perhaps we forget this in the First World. Primary Productivity is not equably shared at the moment. Plus we are currently living beyond the Primary Productivity based on the stored Primary Productivity from ancient herbage, oil. When it's gone it's gone. Not sure the Earth is making new oil deposits at the moment!

This is how I understand Quinn.

Re pastoralism, yes, I understood it is more recent than grain. The culture which swept across Europe is what Manning calls the beef-wheat people. Dairy from about 8000 BP as far as I know...


caphuff said...

Peter: "Plus we are currently living beyond the Primary Productivity based on the stored Primary Productivity from ancient herbage, oil. When it's gone it's gone. Not sure the Earth is making new oil deposits at the moment!"

Although I've heard there is now some debate as to whether fossil fuels are actually derived from "ancient herbage." Haven't got a source on that. I seem to recall reading about it somewhere recently, though.

Peter said...

Interesting. Is it thought to be an Earth-Formation derived source of hydrocarbon (in which case there is absolutely NO replacing it at all), or some other planktonic/animal derived product, in which case it's still PP derived.......?


caphuff said...

I don't know how to embed links but here's a recent NYT article on it.

"Goncharov and his colleagues in Russia and Sweden have experimentally shown for the first time that ethane and heavier hydrocarbons can be produced under the pressure and temperature conditions of the upper mantle, the slightly viscous layer of the earth directly below the crust. Their research was published this week in Nature Geoscience.

"Our results provide a link which was previously missing or was doubtful because of a lack of in situ measurements ... for the upper mantle conditions," Goncharov said. "Thus, our work suggests there is a possibility for the [abiogenic] oil formation in the deep earth and that there is a potential to find more oil fields than expected if one assumes that oil could be formed only biogenically.""

Peter said...

Hmmm, so a possibility of ad-lib supply derived from geophysical forces.... At least that might solve the petrol requirement issue for the vegetarian SUVs, even if it doesn't address the parking problem...

No one seems too hopeful about large amounts (as yet), but it's certainly an interesting link.


gallier2 said...

I don't know why they claim they are first to show that higher order alcane can form from methane under heat and pressure. The Russian-Ukrainian made these experiments in the fifties.

The best site on the subject of abiotic oil is IMHO
It's the only one which presents something resembling science. With studies with experimental results and with explanations for the often brought up counter claims (biotic signatures in oil and therpene content etc).

lightcan said...

Peter, I understand the two rat experiment and the idea of population growth based on available food supply (the example with the island) and how we take from other species to their detriment causing an unsustainable explosion of our population.
I was taking issue with Theo's comments from a more or less uninformed perspective and after reading all the comments on that blog (I know, I'm mad) I realised that it's important to be even more specific and precise. Maybe mentioning the period would be better, in Scandinavia there was a later Neolitic, obviously, a longer transition, some groups regressed to HG life style, due to their specific circumstances that influenced the adoption of cereal cultivation (wet and short summers, soil problems) and their success with it. Related to the mitochondrial DNA analysis the specialists are still arguing about the HG populations and the subsequent migrations and their corresponding specific DNA.

Peter said...


The dienekes link is fascinating now I get to read it. Gotta go work soon and back-shifts give no free time but...

Oh BTW I was thinking re Scandinavia and co existence of HG's and agriculturalists. What do you think about climate/geography limiting agriculturalist food production to a slower population increase than in more temperate areas, so slowing population growth and territorial encroachment?


Peter said...

Hi Gallier2,

More reading...


Echolight Studio said...


thanks for the pointers and insights; and particularly for WAP's book.

i don't think any of us has read it yet. ;)

Theo Tiefwald said...

shel - no problem. Lots of other good books @

A good quote from that book "Nutrition and Physical Degeneration: A Comparison of Primitive and Modern Diets and Their Effects" that examines how the adoption of modern diets negatively affected Gaelic peoples living in the Scottish Outer Hebrides - QUOTE: "A dietary program competent to build stalwart men and women and rugged boys and girls is provided the residents of these barren Islands, with their wind and storm-swept coasts, by a diet of oats used as oatcake and oatmeal porridge; together with fish products, including some fish organs and eggs. A seriously degenerated stock followed the displacement of this diet with a typical modern diet consisting of white bread, sugar, jams, syrup, chocolate, coffee, some fish without livers, canned vegetables, and eggs." -

It seems like the most important grain for many Northern European peoples has long been OATS (for physical food) and BARLEY (for beer), and not WHEAT. There is a major difference between those grains. After corn/maize, oats have the highest lipid content of any other grain/cereal. So oats are definitely preferable to wheat, and they can be grown in far Northern Europe (even Iceland!).

Peter said...

You're a tease Shel!


lightcan said...

Yes, Peter, definitely.
And I don't even know if in Sweden they had wheat or oats. (Wink to Theo) They're talking about a wave of migration coming from Ukraine, which could be considered a northern region. Oats still need to be soaked in an acid medium, I think, according to Stephan, who has read W.A. Price's book. (double wink)

Stephan Guyenet said...

Just wanted to remark that subsistence agriculturalists typically suffer more frequent and more severe famines than hunter-gatherers (ref: "Health and the Rise of Civilization" by MN Cohen). This has been true throughout history and continues to be true today.

The reason is that HGs are not usually living at the limits of their environment's productivity. They usually skim off the best foods in their environment and leave the less tasty ones for periods when the preferred foods are unavailable. So frank, long-term starvation is actually not common in HGs.

Agriculturists rely on one or a few predominant crops for calories, and are at the whim of climate and storage conditions. They have all their eggs in one basket, which leads to periodical starvation. Agriculture trades higher per-acre calorie productivity for lower nutrition and more frequent starvation.

Peter said...

Cheers Stephan, I'd sort of thought along those lines...


Theo Tiefwald said...

I fully agree that the nomadic hunter-gatherers and herders of the past were much more physically robust than most modern settled/agricultural humans. That is indisputable. However, remember also that their lives were often short and brutish, and many didn't live to advanced ages wherein true knowledge and understanding (i.e., civilization) could flourish.

The real question is: do you believe the more robust physical health trade-off has been worth it? Settled agriculture eventually led to the rise of many advanced civilizations, whilst before that (for untold thousands of years) many human groups weren't much better than packs of ravenous nomadic wolves. They were more physically tough of course, but utterly degraded, stupid, and insanely violent...human beasts.

However, you all are correct that settled agriculture in modern times has led to a massive population explosion that will indeed lead to huge problems in the next few decades unless drastic population stabilization countermeasures are made absolutely mandatory WORLDWIDE. Mass nomadic immigration must cease to Western nations lest we become swamped in our more stable and pleasant (agricultural) nations by a rising tide of dimwitted and brutish 3rd world hunter-gathereresque humans.

People should do what they can to re-create or re-enact a healthier hunter-gatherer type of lifestyle/diet/exercise while still realizing that due to civilizational purposes we live within more stable and prosperous settled agricultural societies.

Just a bit from another book I just came across on the split between nomadic hunter-gatherers vs. settled agriculturalists:

"In the countries in which Nomads fed their flocks and herds and grew temporary crops of grain, there was, as is usual in uninterfered with nature, a balance between animal and vegetable life. Animals feed upon the land and manure it, but they do not ravage it. When human pastoralists entered these countries, there entered with them an altogether new danger, namely a form of terrene animals so advantaged by their upright position, their hands and their large brains, that they have the capacity to override the natural law of balance. They could breed more animals than the land could permanently support; they could break up the natural life-cycle of a district by using all that the soil produced, and then, when exhaustion of the soil came, move on to another district. With weapons forged from the iron of the Altai Mountains, these Nomads could cut down trees and shrubs and, with their ability to create fire from flint or friction, they could burn as well as cut down. The ash of the burnt trees and shrubs gave the manure of their substance to the land and enabled the Nomads to grow good temporary crops for a number of seasons. They, in short, as men, had power; and power in this sense may be defined as the ability to exceed the limitations set by nature.

Nature followed the rule of return, and the Nomads, unlike the true farmers, failed to follow the, rule of return. Indirectly, by cutting down trees and shrubs for fuel and for ash, they made the soil drier. Rain fell and was by nature broken into a fine spray by trees, shrubs and thick grass and was thus evenly and widely spread in the topsoil. The topsoil, sheltered from sun and rain, stored the water. By slow evaporation from the vegetation, the water was returned to the air. But where excess of cattle fed upon the land and where trees and shrubs were widely burnt, the soil was exposed, dried and powdered, and then blown away by the winds or washed away by the rain. So a district of desert was formed, which forced the Nomads to move on. Nature then returned and in many cases restored the ravage. But if the destruction of fertility had been too great or if the half-recovered soil was again used for crops and grazing, permanent deterioration was the result.


(continued below)

Theo Tiefwald said...

(continued from above)

"The Nomads, then, lived a life of ill-balance by not following the rule of return, which is the only stable rule of living. They were, therefore, forced to live a life of chance. They depended on the seasons and, as the seasons varied, they themselves were necessarily speculative. In this character, indeed, they were like to other kinds of speculators, many prominent at the present time. Speculators disregard the rule of return. They strive to gain without giving; they disregard future generations; they are indifferent to the sufferings of others, provided they themselves can escape suffering. Yet eventually there is no escape from the effects of these actions, because ultimately their values are destructive and not conservative.

As long as the Nomads failed to use settled agriculture and limit their cattle-breeding, life was sometimes generous to them, sometimes even-handed, sometimes, at seasons of drought, harsh. At times of harshness, mounted on their horses they organized wide-sweeping hunts of wild animals for their food. If further pressed, they were forced to move on and this sometimes entailed making raids into the lands of their neighbours, who, in their turn might raid or join with them in raiding. Then, with increasing numbers, they might successfully, make themselves masters of the land of settled farmers and the food and wealth, which they had not the wit to get by their own skill and toil. Hence they praised war, not as a means of defence in the way in which a sturdy peasantry has so often successfully defended itself and its soil, but as a means to mastery and wealth. To them life was not only a struggle for existence, but a will to power over their enemies, an assertion of the right of the better-armed and of the more savage nature over what they regarded as possible, and if possible legitimate, prey. They terrorized when they attacked, and, when they conquered, they were successful owing to the speed of their attack, the terror they aroused, and the human slaughter they effected. All these characters of theirs ultimately, therefore, arose from their attitude to the soil. The soil was something to be exploited and even plundered for their gain. This attitude was in the sharpest possible contrast to the tenet of the Babylonians, that the soil belonged to their god, or to the sanctity with which the soil was endowed by the followers of Zoroaster. These faiths of the holiness or wholeness of the soil were, as we shall see, faiths of the farmers; the very word cultivate is derived from the Latin verb colere, of the two-fold meaning of tilling and worship.


The Nomads have been the great human desert-makers, and the deserts of the Gobi, the Lop Nor, the Taklamakan, the Registan, the Great Salt Desert, the Syrian Desert, and even the Arabian Desert and the Sahara of Africa are due to their treatment of the soil. Nor is this desert-making by men at an end. It is going on at the present, as future chapters will show, in North and South America, in Russia, in Asia, in North and South Africa, in Australia, and even in the islands of New Zealand and the West Indies, with a speed that outstrips that of the Asiatic Nomads, so much so that it may even be said that man, in this proud scientific era, has paid for his all-too-swift advance by the loss of terrene capital, of the fertility of the soil. He has become the great transferrer of this capital to other fields than those of the soil, and, by his destruction of the soil, has foredoomed himself to God knows what impending calamities, exceeding those brought about by the Asiatic Nomads, unless he calls a halt.

It is this fact which gives this dissertation on the Nomadic character its present significance."


Peter said...

Theo said about mankind:

"They were more physically tough of course, but utterly degraded, stupid, and insanely violent... human beasts."

Hmmmm an interesting viewpoint. You've not read Quinn. I'd try him if I were you. Which I'm not. Phew.


Larry T, said...

Would it be far-fetched to speculate the abrupt local change in mitochondrial DNA taking place with 'incursion' of supposedly violent farmers reflects cellular-level mitochondrial selection in hunter-gatherer cells imposed by abrupt dietary change rather than the effect of physical violence between farmer and hunter-gatherers? Don't have enough biology to answer the question for myself.