1.16 noble savages

One of the authors, Couwenbergh with a real HG, be it a nice reconstruction in Neanderthal museum, Metmann,
from a unsuccessful photo of the other author, Van Setten

In the previous chapter, we exhibit a culturally optimistic view on human nature. Many of our readers, however, may have in mind recent books such as Keeley’s War Before Civilization: the Myth of the Peaceful Savage or Constant Battles: The Myth of the Peaceful, Noble Savage. [1] These studies contradict our ‘good natured’-view, you may argue.

Of course we studied these books eagerly. But they do not really contradict or falsify our ‘good natured’-view. Keeley produces an impressive list of massacres by and among pre-Colombian populations.

He neglects the cause: overpopulation stress. He only remarks that populations that did not engage in war, “were isolated nomadic groups (for whom flight is an option)”. Would he really have no idea that our ancestors lived millions and millions of years in “isolated nomadic groups”?

He compares the average deaths per year among the studied pre-Colombians caused by warfare with the percentages of our times, including the massacres of World war I and II, and concludes that the last percentages are very modest. And he ascribes this to the effects of civilization.

LeBlanc’s book Constant Battles emphasizes ecological imbalance as cause of war. Imbalance, provoked by primitive colonizers of islands, or by primitive agriculturers. Like Keeley, LeBlanc overlooks overpopulation as cause of war. He praises H. erectus people who didn’t induce ecological imbalance, but he considers chimpanzee warfare as evidence of our innate belligerence (ignoring that this behavior is caused by overpopulation). Therefore his Constant Battles is not invalidating our “myth of the peaceful, noble savage” as its subtitle pretends to do.

The overpopulation stress begins to flash at the horizon, at the appearance of the AMHs, the human variant to which we all belong today.

  1. War Before Civilization: the Myth of the Peaceful Savage (Oxford UP, 1996) by University of Illinois Professor L.H. KeeleyConstant Battles: The Myth of the Peaceful, Noble Savage (NY 2003) by archeologist Steven A. LeBlanc.

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Used abbreviations

GHs: gatherers/hunters (the phase from 2 million years ago to 10.000 years ago)

AGRs: agriculturers (the phase from 10.000 years ago till now)

NT(s)Neanderthal people

MSA(s): Middle Stone Age people (African NTs)

AMH(s): Anatomical Modern Humans (H sapiens people), like we are

(m)ya: (million) years ago

ANBOs: Ancestor Bonobos (ape-men), our earliest human ancestors

Paleos: all scientists that are important for our story.