In our first post over seven months ago, we began to recreate for you the world of the Middle East 5,203 years ago. Our first post began with the Last Glacial Maximum, which occurred 20,000 years ago. To mankind, 1,000 years represents only 5% of our current warming period. 20,000 years ago, the world was a colder and drier place, because a huge amount of its water was locked up in glaciers covering much of the upper mid-latitudes of the northern hemisphere–as it had been before, although always followed by a warming, melting period. Here’s the graph I used in post #1. It’s germane to what follows.
Source © Scientific Explorations with Paul Doherty © 2003. 22 November 2008
Lacking contrary evidence, mankind appears to have wasted the opportunities of earlier warmings, if we are correct in assuming that farming and other signs of Neolithic progress in the current interglacial were never achieved during previous Global Warmings (and lost during the rigors of the following Glacial Maximums). During our interglacial, when the ice began to melt (as it had between the prior ice ages), man reacted differently. It is important to note that Holocene man is anatomically different from the predominant Neanderthal man of prior warming periods. Bones of Cro-Magnon, or more accurately “European early modern humans,” have not been found that date back more than about 40,000 years (2 ticks before the present on the X-axis scale in the above graph), which is about the time Neanderthal man disappeared. Cro-Magnon’s descendants made hay while the sun shined. As we have now seen, they took advantage of the Holocene warming, started farming, then innovating. We’re still innovating. But, the heavy lifting was done by these ancestors. Inventing an iPhone isn’t like inventing the wheel, fabricating pottery, taming wildlife, domesticating modern grains to feed millions, and inventing leveraged weapons to defend ourselves.
Hunting and gathering had been a zero-sum game. Life had been a contest of survival against death dealt by starvation, pestilence, weather, and predators. During the past 10,000 years, man has made great progress harnessing nature. The following table shows the steady growth of population, which is an undeniable measurement of taming nature. Of course, we know that recent decades have seen near zero population growth in countries with advanced economies, where population growth is only supplied by immigration. Japan’s recent experience is a good example, for immigration is tightly restricted and the population growth rate is negative. Europe would be similar, if it hadn’t encouraged immigration (which is proving a double-edged sword). The United States has had robust population growth through its management of immigration policy (most recently laissez-faire).
Intervals of World Population Doubling. Source.
You will note in the above table that population growth took 4,200 years to double from 5,000 to 800 BC, but only 600 years to double again by 200 BC. Then 1,000 years from 200 BC to 1,200 AD (slowed by the collapse of the Roman Empire). Then only 500 years (1200-1700 AD), despite the Black Plague. Then 200 years to 1900, then 65 years to 1965. It If you plot this data on a 7,000 year scale, it will look pretty much like a hockey stick. However, the path of world population is likely to taper off, even decline as zero growth factors dominate the trend line.
Map of the Ancient Fertile Crescent. Source.
The Fertile Crescent, mainly Egypt and Mesopotamia, pioneered large-scale farming, which, through continued innovation, feeds today’s burgeoning population. Problems of starvation in our world are distributional or political problems, not production problems. Only politics restrains the next major innovation in farming: genetically modified crops. As zero growth comes to the largest countries, excess food production will dramatically increase supply and lower prices, if producers and markets remain unfettered.
Food in great quantities was beginning to be produced in Egypt 5,203 years ago. But, there is much more to life than a full belly. During that proto-literate time, Egypt was divided into petty kingdoms from the delta to the falls. Archaeologists know much more about what happened at different specific places during that period, than about the political situation, mainly because this period was not yet being recorded. Written history is still hundreds of years down the road. But we know about some specific events, and repetitions of some rituals, notably the human sacrifices that accompanied petty kings, nearly identical with the bloody-mindedness we previously encountered in the Uruk civilization, at Ur and the Naqadan civilization at Hierakonpolis.
Let’s go back 5,203 years to Hierakonpolis in Egypt, when the world population was growing a little more than a million per year. We’ll catch our time-travelling bus in front of the Clarion Hotel in Shepherdstown, WV. The City of New York found out what we did to “poor Gilgamesh” on the last trip, and will prohibit our departing with firearms. The bus is leaving in 12 minutes. Most of us survived the trip to Uruk in October, but only a quarter of us dare board the bus again, and we’re openly packing sidearms and a few assault rifles (freely permitted in West Virginia). Our less intrepid companions have come to see us depart from the safety of the curb, and will then go to the bar and drink our health, then feast, and sleep until our return, tomorrow at noon.
The bus returns us to the Clarion at noon. The stay-behinds ply us with questions as we get off the bus, but we’re tight-lipped. One counts us aloud, until satisfied we all came back. Some of us are wild-eyed, others morose. We’re exhausted, but it’s more than that. Some of the stay-behinds sniff the air, opining that our clothes smell like smoke. We go to our rooms without comment. The stay-behinds grow surly and pout as we file by. We travelers check-out before dawn, without adieu to the stay-behinds, and go our own ways. I drive a couple of archaeologists to Dulles airport, as they’re flying to Hierakonpolis today, starting their digging season. We smirk at each other as they pass into the security area, then I drive home.
A few months later, I open my new National Geographic and read the story of a dig by the window.