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Guns, Germs, and Steel The Fates of Human Societies By, Jared Diamond. Group Members: Mike Gregory, Leslie Day, Kyle Senescu, and Peter Estlick. Thesis. Yali’s Question

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Guns germs and steel the fates of human societies by jared diamond
Guns, Germs, and SteelThe Fates of Human SocietiesBy, Jared Diamond

  • Group Members: Mike Gregory, Leslie Day, Kyle Senescu, and Peter Estlick


  • Yali’s Question

  • “Why is it you white people developed so much cargo and brought it to New Guinea, but we black people have little cargo of our own?”

  • Why did wealth and power become distributed as they now are, rather then in some other way? For instance why weren’t Native Americans, Africans, and Aboriginal Australians the ones who decimated, subjugated, or exterminated Europeans and Asians?


  • Penetrated no farther than northern Germany and Kiev

    • Lacked the necessary technology to survive in the cold (needles, sewn clothing, and warm huts)

Cro magnons

  • Technology allowed them to live and adapt to cold environment

    • allowed them to migrate to colder places.

    • Modern people expanded into Siberia around 20,000 years ago.

      • may have led to the extinction of Eurasia’s wooly mammoth, and wooly rhinoceros.

        “About 40,000 years ago the Cro-Magnons, with their modern skeletons, superior weapons, and other advanced cultural traits spread into Europe. Within a few thousand years there were no more Neanderthals, who had been evolving as the sole occupants of Europe for hundreds of thousands of years.”

Australia new guinea
Australia/ New Guinea

  • Many radiocarbon dated sites attest to human presence in Australia/ New Guinea between 40,000 and 30,000 years ago.

  • Early Australians and New Guineans were probably capable of traveling over water barriers, using watercraft. Evidence for watercraft does not happen for about 30,000 years later anywhere else in the world.

  • Australia once had big mammals much like Africa today. Big animals including a giant kangaroo, a giant python, land dwelling crocodiles, and a 400 lb. Ostrich like flightless bird.

  • His theory is that humans killed these animals. “Personally, I can’t fathom why Australia’s giants should have survived innumerable droughts in their tens of millions of years of Australian history and then would have chosen to drop dead almost simultaneously (at least on a time scale of millions of years) precisely and just coincidentally when the first humans arrived.”

Migration to the americas
Migration to The Americas

  • Earliest human remains found in Alaska date back around 12,000 B.C followed by a profusion of sites south of the Canadian border and in Mexico just before 11,000 B.C. These sites are called Clovis sites. Named after the Clovis arrowhead found at these sites.

  • The Americas filled up very quickly because people were reproducing at a rapid rate. This led us to travel and expand more south to Patagonia. We went from the Canadian/ US border to Patagonia, which is about 8,000 miles south of Canada in 1000 years. An average of about 8 miles a year, which would make sense because they were hunter gatherers and needed to keep moving in order to have adequate food.

  • Like Australia/ New Guinea, the Americas had originally been full of big mammals. One can pinpoint many of the big mammals extinctions to happen around the time of the first findings of human bones. The Shasta ground sloth and Harrington’s mountain goat in the Grand Canyon area both disappeared within a century or two of 11,100 B.C.

Chapter 2 a natural experiment of history
Chapter 2: A Natural Experiment of History

  • On November 19 ship carrying 500 Maori armed with guns, clubs, and axes arrived followed on December 5, by a shipload of 400 more Maori. Groups of Maori began to walk through Moriori settlements, announcing that the Moriori were now their slaves, and killing those who objected.

  • The outcome of this event could have been predicted. The Moriori were a small group of hunter gatherers, had very simple technology and weapons, had a lack of strong leadership, and were inexperienced at war. The Maori invaders came from opposite conditions. They had a dense population of farmers, had a long history of wars, had more-advanced technology and weapons, and also had strong leadership.

  • This story illustrates a brief, small-scale natural experiment that tests how environments affect human societies.

Polynesia continued
Polynesia Continued

  • “What can we learn from all of Polynesia about environmental influences on human society? What differences among societies on different Polynesian islands need to be explained?”

  • Large populations that thrive with food production such as domestication of animals and farming have time to develop technology. We can see that without efficient means of production of food, people had to hunt for themselves, and didn’t have the time to develop new weapons or technology. With efficient production of food, people are able to specialize in other areas.

Chapter 3 collision at cajamarca
Chapter 3: Collision At Cajamarca

  • The Spanish Conquistador Francisco Pizarro led a group of 168 Spanish soldiers to the Inca city Cajamarca on November 16, 1532.

  • Major battle between New World and Spain

  • Atahuallpa was absolute monarch of the largest and most advanced state in the New World, while Pizarro represented the Holy Roman Emperor Charles V (also known as King Charles I of Spain), monarch of the most powerful state in Europe.

  • The Spanish (only 168) killed about 5000-6000 of the panic stricken Incas, and captured the ruler Atahuallpa. Later exploiting him for a ransom that would give Spain a massive amount of gold, then later killing Atahuallpa.

How did pizarro come to be at cajamarca why didn t atahuallpa instead try to conquer spain
“How did Pizarro come to be at Cajamarca? Why didn’t Atahuallpa instead try to conquer Spain?”

  • Pizzaro had European technology, like the ships that took them to the Americas. Lacking such technology, Atahuallpa did not expand overseas.

  • Spain had a centralized political organization that enabled Spain to finance, build, staff, and equip the ships.

  • The invention of writing which Spain had and the New World did not.

Hunter gatherer societies
Hunter-Gatherer Societies Atahuallpa instead try to conquer Spain?”

  • Move frequently in search of wild plants and animals, no permanent home

  • Smaller population

    • Hunter-gather mother can only carry one child along with her few possessions

      • Nomadic hunter-gatherers would space their children about 4 years apart

        • Breastfeeding, sexual abstinence, infanticide and abortion Smaller population

    • Hunter-gather mother can only carry one child along with her few possessions

      • Nomadic hunter-gatherers would space their children about 4 years apart

        • Breastfeeding, sexual abstinence, infanticide and abortion

  • Relatively egalitarian

    • Lack of full-time bureaucrats, and have small-scale political organization at the tribe level

      • All able bodied hunter-gatherers are obliged to devote most of their time acquiring food

Agricultural societies
Agricultural Societies Atahuallpa instead try to conquer Spain?”

  • Within last 11,000 year people started turning to termed food production:

    • domesticating wild animals and plants, and eating the livestock and crop

  • Must remain near fields and orchards

  • Early farmers

    • spent more hours per day at work

      than hunter-gatherers

    • smaller less well nourished

    • Suffered from serious diseases

      and many died

Agricultural societies1
Agricultural Societies Atahuallpa instead try to conquer Spain?”

  • Can store food surplus

    • denser population by permitting a shortened birth interval

      • Can bear as many children as they can feed

        • Birth interval around 2 years

  • Once enough food stockpiled, political elite can gain control of food produced by others

    • Assert taxation, escape the need to feed themselves and participate in full-time political activity

    • Surplus food also used to feed professional soldiers, priests, artisans and scribes

To farm or not to farm
To Farm or Not to Farm Atahuallpa instead try to conquer Spain?”

  • Food production and hunting-gathering were alternative strategies competing with each other

  • Food production caused by:

    • Decline in the availability of wild foods

    • Depletion of wild game

    • Increased availability of wild plants

    • Development of technologies for collecting,

      processing, and storing wild foods

  • Took thousands of years to shift from complete dependence on wild foods to a diet with very few wild foods

    • In early stages of food production people both collected wild foods and raised cultivated ones

Transition from hunter gatherer societies to farming societies
Transition from Hunter-gatherer societies to Farming societies

  • Transition came rather fast in Fertile Crescent, as late as 9000 B.C. people still had no crops or domestic animals

    • were entirely dependent on wild foods

  • By 6000 B.C. some societies were almost completely dependent on crops and domestic animals

  • Fertile Crescent may have faced less competition from the hunter-gatherer lifestyles than in other areas

    • Food production package soon became superior to the hunter-gatherer lifestyle

  • Two-way link between rise in human population density and the rise in food production

    • Much denser populations of food producers enabled them to displace or kill hunter-gatherers by sheer numbers

  • In areas suitable for food production hunter-gatherers met 2 fates:

    • Displaced by neighboring food producers

    • Survived by adopting food production themselves

Crop domestication
Crop Domestication societies

  • Growing a plant and thereby consciously or unconsciously, causing it to change genetically from its wild ancestor in ways of making it more useful to human consumers

  • There are 200,000 of species of flowering plants

    • Only few thousand eaten by humans

      • Few hundred have been domesticated

  • Only few areas of the world developed food production independently, and did so at widely different times

  • Food production arose independently in:

    • Fertile Crescent, China, Mesoamerica (central and southern Mexico and adjacent areas of central America), Andes and possibly adjacent Amazon Basin, Eastern United States

  • Earliest in the Fertile Crescent for both plant and animal domestication

    • Largest zone of Mediterranean climate

      • Mild wet winters, long hot dry summers

Animal domestication
Animal Domestication societies

  • Animal selectively bred in captivity and thereby modified from its wild ancestors, for use by humans who control the animal’s breeding and food supply

    • wild animals being transformed into something more useful to humans

  • Candidate for domestication:

    • any terrestrial herbivorous or omnivorous mammal species weighing over 100 lb

      • only 14 such species were domesticated before 20th century.

  • Eurasia had most candidates, 72 due to large landmass, diverse ecology, habitats ranging from tropical rain forests through temperate forests, deserts and marshes to tundra’s

    • Lost fewest candidates to extinction in the last 40,000 years

    • Percentage of candidates actually domesticated is highest in Eurasia

Animal domestication1
Animal Domestication societies

  • 5 out of 14 became widespread and important around the world:

    • Cow, sheep, goat, pig and horse

      • many have changed in various ways from their ancestors

        • cows, pigs, and sheep became smaller

        • several have smaller brains and less developed organs

          no longer needed for use of escape from wild predators

  • ancient 14 were spread unevenly all over globe

    • N America, Australia, and sub-Saharan Africa had none at all

    • 13/14, including all major 5 confined to Eurasia

  • Reasons why 134 species were not domesticated:

    • Growth Rate, Problems of Captive Breeding, Nasty Disposition, Tendency to panic, Social Structure, Diet

Major axes of the continents
Major axes of the Continents societies

  • East-West

    • Allowed crops to quickly launch agriculture over the band of temperate latitudes

    • Crops spread so rapidly because they were already well adapted to the regions to which they were spreading

      • Within 1,600 years the Fertile Crescent package of crops and animals spread over 5,000 miles east-west

  • North-South

    • Large landmasses with a very large north-south axis results in slow diffusion

    • Africa and The Americas

      • Most of the Fertile Crescent founder crops reached Egypt very quickly and spread to Ethiopia, but stopped after that

        • Domesticates never made it south of the equator until around 8,000 years after they were domesticated in the Fertile Crescent

Fertile crescent
Fertile Crescent societies

  • Fertile Crescent’s first domesticated crops and animals came to meet humanity’s basic needs:

    • Carbohydrates, protein, fat, clothing, traction and transport

  • Earliest site for many developments:

    • Cities, writing, empires and civilization

      • All sprang from a dense human population, stored food surpluses, and feeding non-farming specialists made possible by the rise of food production in form of crop cultivation and animal husbandry

Continental differences in axis orientation affected the diffusion of food production, and other technologies and inventions

The invention of the wheel in Southwest Asia spread rapidly west and east within a few centuries

The wheel invented independently in Mexico failed to spread south to the Andes

In general, societies that engaged in intense exchanges of crops, livestock, and technologies related to food production were more likely to become involved in other exchanges as well

People of areas with a head start on food production thereby gained a head start on the path leading toward guns, germs, and steel

Evolution of germs

Major killers of humanity through our recent history have been infectious disease that evolved from animal diseases:

smallpox, flu, tuberculosis, malaria, measles, and cholera

Evolution of Germs

Man with smallpox

Epidemics been infectious disease that evolved from animal diseases:

  • Spread quickly and efficiently

  • Illness is acute

  • Ones who recover develop antibodies

  • Tend to be restricted to humans

Agriculture and the spread of disease
Agriculture and the spread of disease been infectious disease that evolved from animal diseases:

  • Agriculture sustains much higher population densities than the hunter-gatherer lifestyle

  • Farmers are sedentary and live amid their sewage


Use of writing originated in Southwest Asia, Mesoamerica, and China

Other cultures

Blueprint copying

Idea diffusion

Initially used in complex stratified societies by elite groups

Writing was not used by hunter-gather societies

Some complex societies never developed writing

(i.e. Incas, sub-Saharan West Africa)


Technology and China

  • First printed (stamped) document

    Cretan Minoan Phaistos disk - 1700 B.C.

Technology and China

  • For inventions to flourish, society must accept them.

  • Influences

    • Economic advantage

    • Social value and prestige

    • Compatibility with vested interests

    • East with which advantages can be observed

Levels of society

Band and China

5 to 80 people

Related by blood



Hundreds of people

Fixed settlements


Thousands of people

Intensive Food Production


Over 50,000 people

Many villages and a capital

One or more languages and ethnicities

Good at developing weapons for war, providing troops, and promoting religion

Levels of Society

  • Australia is by far the driest, smallest, flattest, most infertile, climatically most unpredictable, and biologically most impoverished continent

  • Australia is the sole continent where, in modern times, all native peoples still lived without any of the hallmarks of so-called civilization-without farming, herding, metal, bows and arrows, substantial buildings, settled villages, writing, chiefdoms, or states.

Native australians
Native Australians infertile, climatically most unpredictable, and biologically most impoverished continent

  • Developed some of the earliest known stone tools

  • Developed by far the earliest watercraft

  • Australia was colonized by Europeans

    • Today Australia is populated and governed by 20 million non-Aborigines

      • most of them of European descent

New guinea
New Guinea infertile, climatically most unpredictable, and biologically most impoverished continent

  • New Guinea became the part of Greater Australia with the most-advanced technology, social and political organization, and art.

  • New Guinea’s population is not only small in aggregate, but also fragmented into thousands of micro populations by the rugged terrain:

    • swamps in much of the lowlands

    • steep-sided ridges and narrow canyons alternating with each other in the highlands

    • dense jungle swathing both the lowlands and the highlands.

Why australia did not develop metal tools writing and politically complex societies
Why Australia did not develop metal tools, writing and politically complex societies

  • Aborigines remained hunter-gatherers

    • other societies developed populous and economically specialized societies

  • Australia’s aridity, infertility, and climatic unpredictability limited its hunter-gatherer population to only a few hundred thousand people

    • compared with tens of millions of people elsewhere in the world.

      • Meant Australians had far fewer potential inventors

North and south chinese
North and South Chinese politically complex societies

  • Northern and Southern Chinese are genetically and physically different

    • Northern Chinese

      • more similar to Tibetans and Nepalese

      • they tend to be taller, heavier, and paler,

      • with more painted noses, and eyes that appear more slanted

    • Southern Chinese

      • more similar to Vietnamese and Filipino's

How china became chinese
How China became Chinese politically complex societies

  • From the beginnings of literacy in China, it has had only a single writing system

    • Modern Europe uses dozens of modified alphabets

  • Of China’s 1.2 billion people, over 800 million speak Mandarin

    • language with by far the largest number of native speakers in the world.

  • China has been Chinese, almost from the beginnings of its recorded history

Technology politically complex societies

  • China’s east-west rivers facilitated diffusion of crops and technology between the coast and the inland

  • Developed by far the earliest cast iron in 500 B.C.

    • The following 1500 years saw the outpouring of Chinese inventions

      • paper, the compass, the wheelbarrow, and gunpowder

Polynesia politically complex societies

  • Austronesian realm-Taiwan, the Philippines, Indonesia, and many pacific islands was originally occupied by hunter-gatherers

    • lacking stone tools, pottery, domestic animals and crops

  • Beginning around the fourth millennium B.C. polished stone tools and pottery were present on Taiwan and other islands

  • The last phases of expansion during the millennium after A.D. 1 resulted in the colonization of every Polynesian and Micronesian island capable of supporting humans.

Double outrigger canoe
Double outrigger canoe politically complex societies

  • The double outrigger canoe allowed travel between the islands

  • The invention of the double outrigger canoe may have been the technological breakthrough that triggered the Austronesian expansion from the Chinese mainland

Hemispheres colliding
Hemispheres colliding politically complex societies

  • The largest population replacement of the last 1300 years has been the one resulting from the recent collision between old and new world societies

Why europeans reached and conquered the lands of native americans instead of vice versa
Why Europeans reached and conquered the lands of Native Americans, instead of Vice Versa

  • The most glaring difference between American and Eurasian food production involved big domestic mammal species

    • Eurasians had 13 large mammal species

      • became its chief source of animal protein, wool, and hides, and people and goods transport compared to Americas one species.

Proximate factors behind the conquest of the americas
Proximate factors behind the conquest of the Americas Americans, instead of Vice Versa

  • Differences in germs, technology, political organization and writing

    • Diseases-the infectious diseases that regularly visited Eurasian societies:

      • small pox, measles, influenza, cholera, plague, tuberculosis, typhoid, malaria and others

      • Native Americans hadn’t developed the immunity of genetic resistance to these diseases like Eurasian’s had

Advantages of european invaders over the americas
Advantages of European invaders over the Americas Americans, instead of Vice Versa

  • Eurasia’s long head start on human settlement

  • More effective food production

    • greater availability of domesticable wild plants and especially animals

  • Europe’s less formidable geographic and ecological barriers

Africa Americans, instead of Vice Versa

  • Most Americans and many Europeans equate native Africans with blacks

    • Even before the arrival of white colonists, Africa already harbored blacks and whites

  • One quarter of the worlds languages are spoken only in Africa

  • Humans have lived in Africa longer than anywhere else

    • Our remote ancestors originated there around 7 million years ago

      • anatomically modern homo sapiens probably arose there since then

Food production
Food Production Americans, instead of Vice Versa

  • Earliest known evidence of food production comes from the Sahara

    • Saharans began to tend cattle and make pottery (later sheep and goats)

    • Today the Sahara is too dry for food production

  • Also arose in West Africa and Ethiopia by around 2500 B.C.

Africa s collision with europe
Africa’s collision with Europe Americans, instead of Vice Versa

  • Just as in their encounter with Native Americans, Europeans entering Africa enjoyed the triple advantage of guns and other technology, widespread literacy, and political organization

    • All 3 advantages arose from food production

      • Smaller area for indigenous food production

      • North-South axis which retarded the spread of food production and inventions

      • Africa’s paucity of domesticable native plane and animal species

  • Europe’s colonization of Africa had nothing to do with the differences between European and African peoples themselves as white racists assume

    • due to accidents of Geography and biogeography

Good points
Good Points: Americans, instead of Vice Versa

  • He reviews human history on every continent since the ice age

  • Gives the history of mankind in a unique and insightful way.

  • Explains our world’s geography, demography, and ecological changes.

Bad points
Bad Points: Americans, instead of Vice Versa

  • Very repetitive throughout the book

  • He asks more questions than he answers

  • goes too in depth about some things

    • ex. seeds, where he could be focusing onother important things, and if you have any others