Nomadic groups migrate and mix

As homo sapiens step out of Africa, complexity compounds. Why? Thought. What is thought? A very long answer is possible; try this short summary. The chimpanzees could not ask, “Why are flowers so beautiful?” “Why does the earth provide food?” “Where did the our moon and the sun come from?” Humans could, and still do.

Humans are self-conscious, each searching, often as a spectator, for her/his place in the surrounding world. For other animals, time is now, but humans have a perspective of the past and speculate about the future. Animals can communicate, but human languages are much more complex, subtle and philosophical. Humans look for life’s meaning and are willing to sacrifice themselves for specific ethics or values, a trait not seen along the evolutionary line.

The groups were not exactly speeding along. Native Americans first arrived at the Bering Straits, connected at that time by a land bridge to Alaska. How long did it take to get there? Well, the distance from Africa to Bering Straits is about 6000 miles if the group were to travel in a straight line. The nomadic groups followed the food, not a compass. Suppose the wandering groups wandered 8000 miles to get to that land bridge to Alaska. The trip took 32,000 years, from 50,000 BCE to 18,000 years. To travel 8000 miles in 32,000 years meant they moved a quarter mile a year. If life expectancy was 30 years, a person spent an entire life in an eight-mile span. Peaceful, though; no one had ever been there before.

Nomadic groups lived off the plants and animals of the earth. Small groups, perhaps around fifty to one hundred, stayed at a location until the food supply waned; then move on. Gender equality existed as the males and females hunted animals and searched for wild fruit or nuts or anything edible. No sign of greed or cruelty, just, apparently, one happy family. The air was clean; the water was clean; no habitats had been destroyed. They existed in harmony with nature. That is how our homo sapiens ancestors lived for about 95% of their time on earth.

So, as each group was basically independent, what evidence does appear in artifacts suggests that the collection of emotional behaviors passed on from evolution’s beginning were still in place. Group independence did not last forever.

Fresh minds. As groups merged, had they experienced or did they know about power – a few people controlling many peasants? Did they know about inequality and prejudice? Had they experienced or did they know about one stronger group stealing all from near neighbors? These, and many more, would appear for the first time. Those next few thousands of years should be a challenge. One brief example.

One group of nomads reached the grasslands of Southern Russia and, over time, expanded north to Scandinavia and south toward Greece, with the separating groups later losing touch. Their lives incorporated the environment surrounding them. All was peaceful; truthfulness was required. Things were good.

But horses and metal weapons appear. Marauders from far away could reach and attack weaker neighbors. Cruel marauders stole cattle and crops and killed the people. Those senses of good, integrated beliefs of life and peace were challenged. Causing pain was contrary to their beliefs; but these marauders were doing serious harm.

Beliefs of on group were based in honesty, fairness and caring for others was challenged. The marauders, on the other hand, had contrary beliefs — one emphasizing and worshipping this kind of stealing and cruel treatment . The challenge for that first group: Doing damage to others is against our beliefs BUT without responding, our way of life – and out lives – are gone. What do they do?

(“Beliefs” was used where many would have used “religion” because current interpretation of “religion” is so very different. At this point, belief and behavior were inseparable.)

Hmmm. Tough situation. To answer, five groups – five civilizations – will be followed from the time these independent groups began merging into larger groups. The five civilizations are drawn from Europe, Asia and North America. Start at home in North America.

Artifacts show that Native Americans reached Wisconsin 10,000 years ago as that last glacier had moved north.   Had they moved in a straight line, that would have been 4000 miles, but from the Bering Straits around the glaciers was more likely 5000 or 6000 miles.   Rough estimate: Say 6000 years (18,000 BCE to 10,000 BCE) and 6000 miles. That comes out to about a mile a year. Estimates are that life span was about 30 years, so the average person in the group saw only about 30 miles of geography in a lifetime. In our time, that is about a three hour bike ride.

As glaciers withdraw, water levels rose, and the land bridge was no more. Those who made it across were isolated. News could not reach North America from Europe, Africa or Asia. To a lenient statistician, that first population of the North American continent provided about as good a random sample as possible. These tribes probably had no real communication with others ever since they left Africa and made their way to the Bering Straits. In our next post, we’ll explore these tribes.