Book Summaries History

Chapter 3: A Day in the Life of Adam and Eve (Sapiens)

Ancient foragers had very different lives to us now. In some ways better, in other ways, worse.

They were known as the original affluent societies. They had less sickness, traveled in groups so there was no chance of epidemics. They encountered no more than 200 people in their lifetime. There was no industrial pollution or car accidents to worry about.

The ate a more varied diet (nuts, meat, fruits). If famine hit, they were not fragile. They moved somewhere else. They had better lives. They worked 4 to 6 hours per day, went hunting and had a lot of time to just hang out, tell stories, and gossip.

Think of a Chinese factory worker who works 10 hours a day in a polluted environment only to go home to wash dishes and do laundry in a cramped up apartment.

Or think of the agricultural peasant who ate rice for breakfast lunch and dinner. Foragers didn’t have dishes to wash or laundry. Their lives were simpler and in many ways of higher quality.

But there were negatives that came with bring a forager – it is not all glorious. It is true that they lived more exciting and healthier lives but occasionally they died from a snake bite or a lion or they died from illnesses that are highly treatable today. They had barbarous sacrificial rituals, they committed infanticide regularly and they would kill the elderly people of the tribe who held them back.

We know this information from two sources, but both give us an incomplete Idea of what life was really like. Some information comes from artifacts leftover (which are incomplete and don’t tell the whole story) and other information comes from modern foragers in areas of the world that have not been industrialized (but have been influenced by industrialized neighbors).

There is some evidence that shows that our brains have actually gotten smaller since our foraging ancestors. Today, genes can be passed down by unimpressive individuals who may specialize in something not very useful (A water carrier can procreate). Whereas ancient foragers each had to be remarkably useful. They had to be sharp and skillful, and they had to be physically strong. To be able to survive in harsh climates, one had to be a very impressive creature and only those were able to pass down their genes. 

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"Silence is the best expression of scorn" - G.B. Shaw

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