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Guns Germs and Steel The Fates of Human Societies. By Jared Diamond 1997. Text extracted from Chapters 1-10. After the Ice Age. Human societies began to change 13,000 years ago when the last ice age melted. After the Ice Age.

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Guns Germs and Steel The Fates of Human Societies

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Guns germs and steel the fates of human societies l.jpg

Guns Germs and SteelThe Fates of Human Societies

By Jared Diamond


Text extracted from Chapters 1-10

After the ice age l.jpg

After the Ice Age

  • Human societies began to change 13,000 years ago

    • when the last ice age melted

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After the Ice Age

  • Different societies resulted:

    • Some literate, industrial

    • Some illiterate, agricultural

    • Some hunter gatherers retaining stone tools

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Inequality and Extermination

  • “Those historical inequalities have cast long shadows on the modern world,

  • because the literate societies with metal tools

  • have conquered or exterminated the other societies."

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Yali’s Question

  • Yali, a New Guinea politician asked

  • "Why is it that you white people developed so much cargo and brought it to New Guinea,

  • but we black people had little cargo of our own?"

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Distribution of Wealth

  • To rephrase,

  • "why did wealth and power become distributed as they now are,

    • rather than in some other way?”

Distribution of Wealth in the World

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Common explanations

  • Racial or genetic superiority?

    • No objective evidence for this theory

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Common explanations

  • Cold climate stimulates inventiveness?

  • But Europeans inherited from warm climate peoples

    • agriculture,

    • wheels,

    • writing, and

    • metallurgy

  • Japan inherited

    • Agriculture, metallurgy, writing

    • Industrial Revolution

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Cro Magnons

  • Cro-Magnons moved into Europe 40,000 years ago.

  • Technologies:

    • Tools, needles, fishhooks, harpoons, bows and arrows, sewn clothing, houses, carefully buried skeletons, art, hunting big prey.

  • Displaced or killed off Neandertals

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Spreading Out

  • 40,000-30,000 years ago

  • Technology: water craft to cross from Asia to Indonesia to Australia and New Guinea.

  • Time period correlates to

    • massive extinction of large game in those places.

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Large Game in Eurasia

  • Diamond's theory:

    • large game survived in Eurasia because

    • humans took a million years

      • to develop tools

      • become lethal predators of large game

    • Gave Eurasian game time to adapt.

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Spreading to the Americas

  • 20,000 years ago

  • Technology: clothing and shelter to survive Siberia

    • led to migration to Americas by 12,000 BC.

    • It took 1,000 years for humans to get to S. America.

  • Time period correlates to

    • massive extinction of large game in Americas:

      • Horses, lions, elephants, cheetahs, camels, and giant ground sloths.

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Chatham Islands

  • 1835

    • Chatham Islands discovered by British Seal Hunting ship

    • 500 miles off coast of New Zealand

    • News told to native New Zealanders

  • Chatham Islands:

    • Abundance of fish, food

    • Inhabitants numerous

      • Don’t know how to fight

      • No weapons

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Chatham Islands

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Maori of New Zealand

  • Nine hundred of the native Maori people of New Zealand,

    • armed with guns,

    • arrived in the Chatham Islands

    • announced that the Chatham Islands people (the Moriori)

    • were now their slaves,

    • and killed those who objected.

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Moriori Slaughter

  • An eyewitness account said

    • "The Maori commenced to kill us like sheep...

    • We were terrified, fled to the bush,

    • concealed ourselves in holes underground, and in any place to escape our enemies.

    • It was of no avail; we were discovered and killed

    • -- men, women, and children indiscriminately".


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Maori Explanation

  • A Maori conqueror explained:

    • "We took accordance with our customs and we caught all the people.

    • Not one escaped.

    • Some ran away from us, these we killed, and others we killed -- but what of that?

    • It was in accordance with our custom".

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Natural History Experiment

  • This is a natural history experiment.

  • Both the Maori and Moriori

    • descended from the same Polynesian farmers who settled New Zealand.

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  • When the the Moriori moved to the Chatham islands

    • hundreds of years earlier

    • could not farm due to the cold climate, and

    • became hunter/gatherers.

  • They learned to live peacefully because their resources were so limited.

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  • The New Zealand Maori

    • continued farming

    • dense populations

    • more complex technology and political organization

    • ferocious wars:

  • The difference was geography.

  • Competing agricultural societies are prone to warfare

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Conquest of the New World

  • "The biggest population shift of modern times

  • has been the colonization of the new World by Europeans,

  • and the resulting

    • conquest,

    • numerical reduction ,

    • or complete disappearance

  • of most groups of Native Americans".

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  • The Incas were conquered by the Spaniard Francisco Pizarro.

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Pizarro’s Forces

  • Pizarro had 168 soldiers.

  • They were in unfamiliar territory,

    • ignorant of the local inhabitants,

    • were 1000 miles away from reinforcements,

    • and were and surrounded by the Incan empire

      • with 80,000 soldiers led by Atahuallpa.

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Guns, Germs and Steel

  • Pizarro had

    • steel armor

    • swords

    • horse mounted cavalry

    • guns

      • a minor factor

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  • Pizarro

    • ambushed and captured Atahuallpa

    • used religion to justify it.

    • collected a huge ransom in gold and silver,

    • killed him anyway.

Inca Gold

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  • In addition to horses and steel, conquistadors had:

    • Superior ocean going ships

    • Superior political organization of the European states

  • Carried infectious diseases that wiped out 95% of Native Americans

    • smallpox, measles, influenza, typhus, bubonic plague

  • Superior knowledge of human behavior

    • from thousands of years of written history.

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Why not the other way?

  • Still, why was it that the Europeans had all of the advantages instead of the Incas?

  • Why didn't the Incas

    • invent guns and steel swords,

    • have horses,

    • or bear deadly diseases?


Inca Warrior

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Advantages of Agricultural Societies

  • More food, more people.

  • Domestic animals

    • Meat

    • Pull plows, carts

    • Transportation, war

    • Furs, fiber

    • Fertilizer

    • Deadly germs

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Advantages of Agricultural Societies

  • Sedentary Existence

    • Short birth intervals

    • higher population densities

  • Grain Storage

    • Support specialists:

      • Kings

      • bureaucrats

      • soldiers

      • priests

      • artisans.

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Unequal Conflicts

  • "Much of human history has consisted of unequal conflicts

    • between the haves and the have-nots:

      • between peoples with farmer power and those without it,

      • or between those who acquired it at different times."

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Independent Crop Domestication

  • Middle East (8,000 BC)

    • Wheat, pea, olive

  • China

    • Rice, millet

  • Mexico (3,000 BC)

    • Maize, squash, beans

  • Andes mountains

    • Potato

  • USA

    • Sunflower

Other people adopted these crops (and domesticated animals) later as a cultural package

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Adoption by Hunter-Gatherers

  • Sometimes domesticated plants and animals were adopted by hunters/gatherers

    • Native Americans in U.S.

  • Sometimes hunters/gatherers were displaced by agriculturalists

    • European expansion in Australia, Tasmania

Trugannini, last Remaining Tasmanian Aboriginal, 1868

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Head Start

  • "The peoples of areas with a head start on food production

    • thereby gained a head start on the path leading to guns, germs and steel.

    • The result was a long series of collisions between the haves and have-nots of history."

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Food Production

  • Food production often led to

    • poorer health

    • shorter lifespan

    • harder labor for the majority of people.

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Early Plant Domestication

  • Humans unknowingly selected for traits:

    • seed size, fiber length

    • lack of bitterness

    • early germination

    • selfing

    • dispersal mutations

      • wheat that does not shatter

      • seeds that stay in pods

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Sowing by Broadcast

  • Grains in Eurasia were sown by broadcast,

  • later in animal plowed fields to give monoculture.

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Digging Sticks

  • In the new world,

    • planting done by digging stick

    • no domesticated plow animals

  • Result: mixed gardens.

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80% of World’s Production:

  • Wheat

  • Maize

  • Rice

  • Barley

  • Sorghum

  • Soybean

  • Potato

  • Cassava

  • Sweet potato

  • Sugar cane

  • Sugar beet

  • Banana

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Major Domesticated Crops

  • No new plants domesticated in modern times

  • All of these domesticated  thousands of years ago.

  • Need a suite of domesticated plants to make agriculture work

    • Thus new plants domesticated where agriculture already successful

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Fertile Crescent

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Fertile Crescent Attributes

  • Mediterranean climate.

  • Wild stands of wheat

  • Hunter/gatherers settled down here before agriculture, living off grain

  • High percentage of self pollinating plants -- easiest to domesticate.

  • Of large seeded grass species of the world, 32 of 56 grow here.

  • Big animals for domestication: goat, sheep, pig, cow

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Meso America

  • In Meso America, the only animals domesticated were turkey and dog

  • Maize was slow to domesticate.

  • Occurred 5,000 years after domestication of wheat

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Big 5 Domesticated Animals

  • Horse

  • Cow

  • Pig

  • Sheep

  • Goat

  • All from Eurasia

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Large Animals

  • Of 148 large herbivorous or omnivorous species in the world

    • Eurasia had 72

    • Africa 51

    • Americas 24

    • Australia 1

  • Most cannot be domesticated

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Why have 134 out of 148 big species not been domesticated?

  • Diet too finicky

    • koala

  • Growth rate too slow

    • elephants, gorillas

  • Won’t breed in captivity

    • cheetah, vicuna

  • Nasty Disposition.

    • grizzly bear, African buffalo, onager, zebra, hippo, elk

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Why have 134 out of 148 big species not been domesticated?

  • Hard to herd (no dominance structure)

    • deer, antelope

  • Tendency to panic.

    • deer, antelope, gazelles

  • Solitary

    • only cats and ferrets domesticated

  • Territorial

    • rhino

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Easier to spread East-West

  • It was easier for domestic plants and animals

    • later, technology like wheels, writing)

  • to spread East-West in Eurasia

  • than North- South in Americas.

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  • Some crops domesticated independently in both S. America and Meso America

    • due to slow spread

      • lima beans

      • common beans

      • chili peppers

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  • Most crops in Eurasia domesticated only once.

  • Rapid spread preempted same or similar domestication.

  • Fertile Crescent crops spread to Egypt, N. Africa, Europe, India and eventually to China.

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  • East-West spread of plants, animals easier

    • due to same day-length, similar seasonal variations.

  • Temperate N. Africa crops did not reach S. Africa until colonists brought them

    • Sahara

    • Tropics

  • Tropical crops spread West to East in Africa with Bantu culture,

    • did not cross to S. Africa due to climate.

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  • Distance between cool highlands of Mexico and Andes was only 1,200 miles but separated by low hot tropical region.

  • Thus, no exchange of crops, animals, writing, wheel.

    • Only maize spread.

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  • It took 2,000 years for maize to cross 700 miles of desert to reach U.S.A.

  • It took another 1000 years for maize to adapt to U.S.A. climate to be productive

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Not a Cultural Issue

  • Some species like cows, dogs, pigs independently domesticated in different parts of the world.

    • These animals were well suited for domestication.

  • Modern attempts to domesticate:

    • eland, elk, moose, musk ox, zebra, American Bison

    • are only marginally successful.

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