One of the weaknesses, in my opinion, to HBD is the focus on the Paleolithic and modern eras while glossing over the major developments in between. For instance, the links made between Paleolithic Western Europe’s Cromagnon Art and Modern Western Europe’s prowess (note the geographical/genetic discontinuity there for those actually informative on such matters).
Africa, having a worst archaeological record due to ideological histories and modern problems, leaves it rather vulnerable to reliance on outdated sources already discussed before on this blog. This lack of mention however isn’t strict.
Eventually updated material will be presented by a future outline of Neolithic to Middle Ages development in West Africa.
A recent example of an erroneous comparison would be in Heiner Rindermann’s Cogntivie Capitalism, pages 129-130. He makes multiple claims on precolonial African development to explained prolonged investment in magical thinking.
- Metallurgy not developed independently.
- No wheel.
- Dinka did not properly used cattle due to large, uneaten, portions left castrated.
- No domesticated animals of indigenous origin despite Europeans animals being just as dangerous, contra Diamond (lists African dogs, cats, antelope, gazelle, and Zebras as potential specimens, mentions European Foxes as an example of a “dangerous” animal to be recently domesticated along with African Antelopes in the Ukraine.
- A late, diffused, Neolithic Revolution 7000 years following that of the Middle East.
- Less complex Middle Age Structure.
- Less complex Cave structures.
Now, technically, much of this falls outside of what would be considered “neolithic”, even in the case of Africa. However, understanding the context of Neolithic development in Africa provides context to each of these points and periods of time by virtue of causality. Thus, they will be responded by archaeological sequence.
Dog domestication, Foxes, and human interaction.
The domestication of dogs occurred when Eurasian Hunter-Gathers intensified megafauna hunting, attracting less aggressive wild dogs to tame around 23k-25k ago. Rindermann’s mention of the fox experiment replicates this idea. Domestication isn’t a matter of breaking the most difficult of animals, it’s using the easiest ones to your advantage.
In this same scope, this needs to be compared to Africa’s case. In regards to behavior they are rarely solitary, so attracting lone individuals is already impractical. The species likewise developed under a different level of competition.
They were probably under as much competition from these predators as the ancestral African wild dogs were under from the guild of super predators on their continent.
What was different, though, is the ancestral wolves never evolved in an enviroment which scavenging from various human species was a constant threat, so they could develop behaviors towards humans that were not always characterized by extreme caution and fear.
Europe in particular shows that carnivore density was lower, and thus advantageous to hominids.
Consequently, the first Homo populations that arrived in Europe at the end of the late Early Pleistocene found mammal communities consisting of a low number of prey species, which accounted for a moderate herbivore biomass, as well as a diverse but not very abundant carnivore guild. This relatively low carnivoran density implies that the hominin-carnivore encounter rate was lower in the European ecosystems than in the coeval East African environments, suggesting that an opportunistic omnivorous hominin would have benefited from a reduced interference from the carnivore guild.
This would be a pattern based off of megafaunal extinction data.
The first hints of abnormal rates of megafaunal loss appear earlier, in the Early Pleistocene in Africa around 1 Mya, where there was a pronounced reduction in African proboscidean diversity (11) and the loss of several carnivore lineages, including sabertooth cats (34), which continued to flourish on other continents. Their extirpation in Africa is likely related to Homo erectus evolution into the carnivore niche space (34, 35), with increased use of fire and an increased component of meat in human diets, possibly associated with the metabolic demands of expanding brain size (36). Although remarkable, these early megafauna extinctions were moderate in strength and speed relative to later extinctions experienced on all other continents and islands, probably because of a longer history in Africa and southern Eurasia of gradual hominid coevolution with other animals.
This fundamental difference in adaptation to human presence and subsequent response is obviously a major detail in in-situ animal domestication.
Another example would be the failure of even colonialists to tame the Zebra.
This will just lead me to my next point. That is, what’s the pay-off?
Pastoralism and Utility
A decent test to understand what fauna in Africa can be utilized would the “experiments” of Ancient Egyptians, who are seen as the Eurasian “exception” to African civilization. Hyenas, and antelope from what I’ve, were kept under custody but overtime didn’t resulted in selected traits. The only domesticated animal in this region would be Donkeys, closer relatives to Zebras.
This brings to light another perspective to the Russian Fox experiments, that is, why have pet foxes not been a trend for Eurasians prior to the 20th century? It can be assumed then that attempts of animals domestication simply where not worth investment in the wake of already domesticated animals, even if one grew up in a society/genetic culture at this time that harnessed the skills.
For instance, a slow herd of Eland can be huddled and domesticated but will it pay off compared to the gains from investing into adapting diffused animals into a new environment? (This will be expanded upon as well into the future).
Elephants are nice for large colonial projects, but unique herding discouraging local diseases that also disrupts population density again effects the utility of large bodied animals. Investing in agriculture and iron proved more successful.
Cats actually domesticated themselves and lacked any real utility prior to feasting on urban pests. In Africa, with highly mobile groups as will be explained later, investment in cats weren’t going to change much. Wild Guineafowl, however, were useful to tame in West Africa and use to eat insects.
As can be seen here, Pastoralism is roughly as old in Africa diffused from the Middle East as compared to Europe. Both lacked independently raised species prior to it and making few innovations in regard to in situ beasts beyond the foundation. (Advancement in plant management preceding developed agriculture, a sort of skill that would parallel dog domestication for husbandry, will be discussed in a future article).
And given how advanced Mesoamericans became without draft animals, as mentioned before, their importance seems to be overplayed from a pure “indigenous” perspective. The role in invention itself ought be questioned as well in what we can actually infer.
Borrowed, so what?
In a thought experiment, lets consider some key details in diffusion. The invention of Animal Domestication or Metallurgy is by no means something to be glossed over as an independent invention. Over-fixating on this however in turn glosses over some other details on successful diffusion.
Why would a presumably lower apt population adopt a cognitively demanding skill, reorient it’s way of society around it, without attributing this change to an internal change of character compared to before? Living in a new type of economy system as a trend it undoubtedly bound to result in a new population in regards to using cognition to exploit resources. This would require contributions to their own to the process.
This applies regards to African Domesticated breeds,
Viewing domestication as an invention also produces a profound lack of curiosity about evolutionary changes in domestic species after their documented first appearances. [……] African domesticates, whether or not from foreign ancestors, have adapted to disease and forage challenges throughout their ranges, reflecting local selective pressures under human management. Adaptations include dwarfing and an associated increase in fecundity, tick resistance, and resistance to the most deleterious effects of several mortal infectious diseases. While the genetics of these traits are not yet fully explored, they reflect the animal side of the close co-evolution between humans and domestic animals in Africa. To fixate upon whether or not cattle were independently domesticated from wild African ancestors, or to dismiss chickens’ swift spread through diverse African environments because they were of Asian origin, ignores the more relevant question of how domestic species adapted to the demands of African environments, and how African people integrated them into their lives.
The same can be said for Metallurgy,
We do not yet knowwhether the seventh/sixth century Phoenician smelt-ing furnace from Toscanos, Spain (illustrated byNiemeyer in MA, p.87, Figure 3) is typical, but it isclearly very different from the oldest known iron smelt-ing technology in sub-Saharan Africa. Almost all pub-lished iron smelting furnaces of the first millennium calBC from Rwanda/Burundi, Buhaya, Nigeria, Niger,Cameroon, Congo, Central African Republic and Ga-bon are slag-pit furnaces, which are so far unknownfrom this or earlier periods in the Middle East or NorthAfrica. Early Phoenician tuyères, which have squareprofiles enclosing two parallel (early) or converging(later) narrow bores are also quite unlike those de-scribed for early sites in sub-Saharan Africa, which arecylindrical with a single and larger bore.
African ironworkers adapted bloomery furnacesto an extraordinary range of iron ores, some of whichcannot be used by modern blast furnaces. In bothnorthern South Africa (Killick & Miller 2014)andinthe Pare mountains of northern Tanzania (Louise Ilespers. comm., 2013) magnetite-ilmenite ores contain-ing up to 25 per cent TiO2(by mass) were smelted.The upper limit for TiO2in iron ore for modernblast furnaces is only 2 per cent by mass (McGan-non 1971). High-titanium iron ores can be smeltedin bloomery furnaces because these operate at lowertemperatures and have less-reducing furnace atmo-spheres than blast furnaces. In the blast furnace tita-nium oxide is partially reduced and makes the slagviscous and hard to drain, but in bloomery furnacesit is not reduced and combines with iron and siliconoxide to make a ﬂuid slag (Killick & Miller 2014). Blastfurnace operators also avoid ores containing morethan a few tenths of a percent of phosphorus or ar-senic, because when these elements are dissolved inthe molten iron, they segregate to grain boundaries oncrystallization, making the solid iron brittle on impact.
Bulls (and rams) are often, but not necessarily, castrated at a
fairly advanced age, probably in part to allow the conformation and characteristics of the animal to become evident before
the decision is made. A castrated steer is called muor buoc, an
entire bull thon (men in general are likened to muor which are
usually handsome animals greatly admired on that account; an
unusually brave, strong or successful man may be called thon,
that is, “bull with testicles”). Dinka do not keep an excess of
thon, usually one per 10 to 40 cows. Stated reasons for the
castration of others are for important esthetic and cultural
reasons, to reduce fighting, for easier control, and to prevent
indiscriminant or repeat breeding of cows in heat (the latter
regarded as detrimental to pregnancy and accurate
Since then, Pearl Millet, Rice, Yams, and Cowpeas have been confirmed to be indigenous crops to the area. This is against hypotheses of others. Multiple studies show late expansion southwards, thus likely linking them to Niger-Kongo speakers. Modern SSA genetics revealed farmer population expansion signals similar to that of Neolithic ancestry in Europeans to their own late date of agriculture in the region as well.
Made multiple remarks on Africa’s “exemplars”, trying to construct a sort of perpetual gap since the Paleolithic by citing Renfew’s Neuroscience, evolution and the sapient paradox: the factuality of value and of the sacred. However, Renfrew doesn’t quite support the comparisons he made and approaches a whole different point.
The discovery of clearly intentional patterning on fragments of red ochre from the Blombos Cave (at ca 70 000 BP) is interesting when discussing the origins of symbolic expression. But it is entirely different in character, and very much simpler than the cave paintings and the small carved sculptures which accompany the Upper Palaeolithic of France and Spain (and further east in Europe) after 40 000 BP.[….]
It is important to remember that what is often termed cave art—the painted caves, the beautifully carved ‘Venus’ figurines—was during the Palaeolithic (i.e. the Pleistocene climatic period) effectively restricted to one developmental trajectory, localized in western Europe. It is true that there are just a few depictions of animals in Africa from that time, and in Australia also. But Pleistocene art was effectively restricted to Franco-Cantabria and its outliers.
It was not until towards the end of the Pleistocene period that, in several parts of the world, major changes are seen (but see Gamble (2007) for a more nuanced view, placing more emphasis upon developments in the Late Palaeolithic). They are associated with the development of sedentism and then of agriculture and sometimes stock rearing. At the risk of falling into the familiar ‘revolutionary’ cliché, it may be appropriate to speak of the Sedentary Revolution (Wilson 1988; Renfrew 2007a, ch. 7).[….] Although the details are different in each area, we see a kind of sedentary revolution taking place in western Asia, in southern China, in the Yellow River area of northern China, in Mesoamerica, and coastal Peru, in New Guinea, and in a different way in Japan (Scarre 2005).
Weil (2014) paints a picture of African development in 1500, both relative to the rest of the world and heterogeneity within the continent itself, using as his indicators population density, urbanization, technological advancement, and political development. Ignoring North Africa, which was generally part of the Mediterranean world, the highest levels of development by many indicators are found in Ethiopia and in the broad swathe of West African countries running from Cameroon and Nigeria eastward along the coast and the Niger river. In this latter region, the available measures show a level of development just below or sometimes equal to that in the belt of Eurasia running from Japan and China, through South Asia and the Middle East, into Europe. Depending on the index used, West Africa was above or below the level of development in the Northern Andes and Mexico. Much of the rest of Africa was at a significantly lower level of development, although still more advanced than the bulk of the Americas or Australia.