Posts Tagged ‘group’

1.1 How it started


Ten million years ago the climate became cooler and drier. Miocene jungles, that until then reached halfway into Eurasia, gradually retreated in the direction of the equator, being replaced by open savannahs. Five million years ago the jungle where our earliest ancestors lived in Northeast Africa, especially east of the Great Rift[1], started to undergo this change. It is here that our story begins.

Humanosophic version of the human family tree

Our earliest ancestors were hominid apes. Frans de Waal (Bonobo 1997) says that, if we want an image of our earliest ancestors, we should look at the bonobos. They are the only kind of chimpanzee whose environment never changed. A species will only change when its environment changes. The environment of our earliest ancestors[2] changed totally, so our early ancestors changed totally. The environment of the chimpanzee ancestors changed much later and partially, so the chimpanzees changed partially.
Here, we will name our earliest ancestors ‘our[3] ancestor-bonobos(ANBOs).

It took millions of years for their jungle to turn into a savannah. Our ANBOs never were aware of this change; for them the world was in every phase like it always was. So the adaptations to the new conditions passed unnoticed. But for our story these adaptations are crucial. Not the physical adjustments so much, but especially the social and mental, in short the cultural evolution.

The savannah is a diverse environment consisting of open woodlands, mixed with impenetrable shrubs and grasslands accommodating herds of many kinds of grass eaters.

Our ANBOs lived in the woodlands, where like many present-day apes, they spent the nights in nests high in the trees. But these woodlands along the shores of rivers and lakes didn’t contain the fruit trees their ancestors used for sustenance. For food, our ANBOs had to roam the open grasslands: a dangerous area because of the big cats that preyed on the grass eaters. The saber-toothed tigers were specialists in preying on pachyderms: rhinoceroses, hippopotamuses and (ancestors of the) elephants.

I want to emphasize that the Miocene (22 – 5 million years ago) savannah was characterized by megafauna (large animals) and was much more dangerous than the current Serengeti. Lions, saber-toothed tigers and giant hyenas were formidable predators. Though the little ANBOs were much stronger than we are now, they needed special armament to roam the grasslands safely. This was: throwing stones to keep the predators on distance.

This can be illustrated by the behavior of apes today. Jane Goodall tells the story of the adult chimp male ‘Mister Worzle’. The bananas she left for the chimpanzees in order to study their behavior in the neighborhood, also allured baboons (large and brave monkeys) that frightened some female chimpanzees. But Mister Worzle did not give a centimeter of ground and threw anything he could grasp: grass, branches, once a bunch of bananas (baboons happy!). Soon he discovered that stones worked better and that bigger stones worked even better. And he began to gather them on a heap.

Our ANBOs needed to become ‘professional’ stone throwers. They could not take a step on the open grasslands in safety without their armament of stones. Who did throw men or women?
Women carried babies and had to gather food stuff. Men with their stones made sure that the group went safely around over the open grasslands. Division of tasks from the beginning .
One stone was not enough to ensure their safety; the men needed a handful of stones. But how you can as an ape carry a handful of stones?

 skull sabre cat

Sabre cats – we already mentioned them – were specialists in predating fat-skins like elephant-like and rhinoceroses. They stalked such a meat fort and after a fierce sprint they turned open its soft underbelly (these cats could open their mouth unusually wide, the sabres laying in the extension of the skull (see photo). So they were not really ‘cats’.

Sabres ate only the entrails of their kill. The rest of the carcass was left to other animals. As soon as vultures started circling around from their high vantage point, lions and hyenas knew that a meal was coming. Lions were first, then the hyenas and the vultures ate the left-overs. Because of the steady supply of carcasses by the sabers the basically inedible, hairy or leathery skins and the skeletons stayed there. The ANBOs beat the bones for the marrow with their stones and used the hides to carry things[4]; with their long experience in braiding and wattling their sleep nests, tying these hides was easy.

But how will apes carry bags filled with stones? How do bonobos and chimps carry heavy things? They use their hands, so they must walk upright on their feet. Our ANBOs needed to become bipeds: without carrying some stones for armament, it would not be safe for them to venture into the open grasslands.[5] In tens of hundreds of thousands of years our ANBOs, having no other choice, turned into bipeds with longer and stronger legs, special pelvic and buttock muscles, special midriff and blood circulation[6]. At least they made a good start developing these properties, good enough for foraging on the savannah. They kept using their hands and feet for climbing: it was not safe to sleep on the floor, so they still needed them to make sleeping platforms high in the trees of the woodland.

Females had to carry their babies and gather food for themselves and the rest of the troupe, so they couldn’t carry and throw stones. Males couldn’t gather food: they had to offer protection, because hungry predators were always watchful for moments of unalertness. So our ANBOs cultivated a division of labor from the very beginning. Women and children gathered food: grass seeds, tubers and roots which they dug up with digging sticks[7], larvae and insects, eggs and small animals. The adult men did nothing but provide safety. The groups who practiced those behaviors most effectively, flourished (by keeping more young alive) and soon outnumbered the groups that were clumsier at these things. Through hundreds of generations, the population exhibiting these behaviors, were the fittest and survived.

The same mechanism applies to group harmony. Because of the big cats and the giant hyenas, the open savanna was a dangerous environment for apes and forced them to maintain strict group harmony. That was not a big problem at all: bonobos live in female-dominated groups characterized by group harmony, and solve tensions with sex.

Dentitions. Left: chimpanzee. Middle: australopith. Right: human

Clearly, our ANBOs probably ‘professionalized’ and optimized this behavior. The dentition of male bonobos still shows large canine teeth that can be used as weapons in sexual competition – although, chimpanzee canines are larger. Fossil australopith dentition shows reduced size of the canines: partially as a result of the need for grinding hard food like grass seeds, but also as a result of reduced male competition.[8] That our ANBOs solved all tensions with sex, is clear because while the size of the canines was reduced, the penises were enlarged! Of course the ‘attractive’ red vaginas of bonobo females and the heavy scrotums of bonobo males were not practical for bipeds, so those were reduced in size too. Every time the women were in estrus, this intensified male competition and group tensions. Therefore, the women’s periods became less noticeable as well. All these reductions were compensated with nice breasts and buttocks for the women, and continuous sexual willingness: mechanisms for reducing tensions and fostering group harmony.

Didn’t the men hunt? No way. Australopith bipedal locomotion was not fast enough to compete in hunting with the savannah predators. Nevertheless, besides birds eggs, insects and larvae there was yet another protein source for them on the savannah: hides.

Afbeeldingsresultaat voor h. erectus slacht olifant Savannah today: more open space than in the ‘cradle of humanity’ which we suspect was in the Afar region of Ethiopia of 5 mya: woodland with less open spaces; but we can imagine an AP-group walking one after another between the grazers on their foraging trip. They were no danger to the grazers; as long as those kept quietly grazing, this meant for the ANBOs that it was safe for them as well, and they walked calmly, with their free hand occasionally stripping off grass seeds to chew them; in the meantime the women were searching for the edible tubers, recognizable by their leaves; and then the group had to stop for some time while the men watched with their stones.

As already mentioned, the hides all over the place, left behind as less edible by the other meat-eaters of the savannah, provided a new niche for the handy ANBOs. There was protein-rich tissue left on the hides to pick and scrape them with the sharp edges of bones, shells and stones. And when a hide was scraped totally clean, it made a perfect bag to carry things such as stones, or it made a blanket to use in cold nights, a screen against sun, wind, or rain. These multipurpose hides were the ANBOs’ first and only property. The paleos lack attention for the importance of the hides in the technical development of our ancestors, an omission that is understandable because hides are not preserved at archaeological sites (just like digging sticks and similar soft-material tools).
But philosophers are allowed to speculate more freely for the benefit of our Great Story, to immediately correct it as soon as a scientific evidence disproves a speculation[9].

Actually, this use of hides marked the beginning of ‘the stone age’: the beginning of the use of stone flakes for processing hides.

Processing hides, soon slaughter of found carcasses, later slaughter of the prey carcasses of the men: until recent HG-times it is females work. Turning stones into useful tools as scrapers and knives is females work. Our primatologists tell us that male chimpanzees use stones only for impressing behavior but female chimps use them for cracking hard nuts. Stone technology was a female invention, even before the birth of mankind.

All these environmental changes and physical adaptations developed unnoticed by our ANBOs. Just like all apes 7 million years ago, they made their daily foraging routes in a vast foraging territory. In the course of two million years, ever more open grasslands became part of their territory and daily route. All necessary adaptations developed during this time. By 5 million years ago, the hominins (australopiths, bipedal apes), including our future ANBOs, were experienced woodland/savannah foragers.

What remained rather unchanged was their way of life. They would leave their woodland nests early in the morning, wander along a route they knew perfectly, gathering food along the way, and finally arrive at the next woodland where they would share the gathered food and then make their nests high in the trees. The only part of the routine that changed, was that instead of eating their food while ranging on the grass lands, they carried most of the gathered food (tubers, grass seeds, larvae, eggs, and so on) to their overnight place in some wood, to be distributed equally among all group members. This was necessary because the men had less opportunity to get food enough during the foraging: their vigilance could not be allowed to weaken for a moment because of the permanent threat of the hungry predators.
After dinner and before the evening twilight, everybody had to climb in a tree and braid her or his nest.

Like their ancestors they lived in groups. Not too large: too much mouths to feed; not too small because there were enough men needed for the protection against predators. This asks for a number of around 25 individuals. But the composition of a group constantly changed and there was also constant exchange with nearby groups.
This meant that harmony within the groups as well as between the groups was conducive to the flourishing of the population. Therefore natural selection selected harmonious behavior as ‘good’. Our ancestors became ‘good natured’[10].

During 99.5 % of the long time span our species existed, our ancestors were first gatherer-scavengers and later gatherer-hunters.

  1. Paleo Tim White points to the Middle Awash (Ethiopia) as ‘the window on human past’
  2. Assuming that they lived in the forest of today’s Ethiopia, now desert but in the words of paleo Tim White at the time ‘a lush environment’ with lakes and rivers.
  3. ‘our’ because bonobos and chimps have their ANBOs too
  4. See also Nancy Tanner and Adrienne Zihlman in Mothers and Daughters of Invention (1995).
  5. Other speculations about the origins of bipedalism, such as: better sight or less body parts exposed to the sun, lack the answer on the obvious question: why then didn’t the other savanna-dwellers like zebras or baboons become bipeds?
  6. For the physical adaptations: Elaine Morgan Scars of evolution . London, 1990
  7. Today’s woodland chimpanzee females are observed digging up tubers with self-made digging sticks!
  8. Mind also the reduction of the chewing apparatus from ape to human.
  9. After all, we did it thousands of years with Great Stories that were entirely dreamed up.
  10. For Frans de Waal even chimpanzees are Good Natured (1979)

1.7 the impact of fire control on communication

Most important was the impact of the campfire on communication. Before this forward momentum of fire control, communication was limited to daytime: during the foraging hours and the food sharing upon reaching the next sleeping place. Before twilight, for safety purposes, everyone had to climb high in a tree to make a nest, which effectively ended communication. But now, with a campfire keeping predators at bay, they could rest and communicate all night long! Those nightly hours could be used for nothing else but communication.

What did they communicate during this long nightly hours?

One might say: nothing at all, they just wrapped themselves in a hide and went to sleep while only one of them (a man of course) kept his eyes open and the fire burning. Speculating in this way however, one might easily overlook that they were a subspecies of bonobos: fervent communicators![1] In their new, more dangerous habitat they lived in closer togetherness than their rain forest ancestors, so they needed to be even more social. The new circumstances in combination with their bonobo-like inclination had already lead them to their new habit of names for the things.

So: what did they communicate? I propose it was the exchange of thoughts, expressions of what was going on in their mind: in other words, they were sharing emotions. For example the memory of some shocking event in the past day. Communicating these emotions took the form of performances. Let me dish up a possible ‘performance’ here.

The threatening encounter with the dangerous buffalo! The males had made a line with their stones at hand. The buffalo had hesitated, perhaps he remembered an encounter with a troupe of those apes, resulting in a hailstorm of painful stones. He scraped with his hoofs. After some long lasting seconds the buffalo had turned his back and moved.

Now, quietly around the campfire, a woman, with that threatening event in her mind, got up and imitated it with emotional gestures. The others screamed in approval. A man jumped up and imitated the buffalo. The emotional screaming increased. Other men jumped up and made the defense line, with imitated stones at hand. Then the ‘buffalo’ slunk off, and the screaming became jubilation. And calm returned in the group. But the nice performance stayed in everybody’s mind, and after several quiet minutes some women jumped up again and repeated the performance. And again, and again, until everybody wrapped himself in his hide to go to sleep. Evening after evening they did ‘the buffalo’ over and over, until a new event was subject of a new performance.

Generations after generations similar nightly performances became ever more sophisticated, and the gestured communication too. Sophistication means that the gestured ‘words’ underwent standardizing and shortening. Because when the beginning of a gestured ‘word’ is already understood, you don’t need to finish the whole gesture. In a group of women gossiping by sign language and cries, each woman wants to contribute her share. (Why women? Hunting men make no noise. But gathering women chatter and laugh: noise chases serpents away.)

Expressing such emotional thoughts the person used her/his whole body (just like bonobos do today) with accompanying cries. The others responded with imitating gestures and cries, and many of them jumped up and joined the communicating person. And when communicating very emotional items, the whole group was dancing and crying, over and over. From generation to generation, this behavior became ever more ritualized, controlled and refined.

When we say ‘ritualizing’, we mean, as neatly formulated in Wikipedia, “behavior that is formally organized into repeatable patterns, the basic function of which is to facilitate interactions between individuals, between an individual and his deity, or between an individual and himself across a span of time.” Ritual synchronizes the activity of participants, a phenomenon that contributes to group cohesion – which can also contribute to survival. Some scholars also suggest that human ritual behavior reduces anxiety. It makes me think of the ‘war dances’ of the Yanomamö[2] , as preparation of a raid. A more modern example may be the ritual drilling of recruits in the barracks.

They began dancing and singing around the campfire. In my view, dancing and singing cannot be separated here, which why we may call it dancing/singing.

  1. We can pass a fruit tree without noticing the chimpanzee group we were looking for, as it sits silently in the canopy. On the other hand, a group of bonobos will be heard from a far distance, screeching like a mob of barking dogs. See Frans de Waal’s book Bonobo (1997) and Craig Stanford’s book Significant Others (NY 2001)
  2. Napoleon Chagnon Yanomamö. The Fierce People (New York, 1983)

1.23 three steps into machism

Hunter-gatherer bands, stumbled in overpopulation-situation, in which the males have become warriors and aware of their importance for the survival of the band, take over the ancestral female dominance. That is the beginning of male dominance. The second step into machism is that men decide to build a men’s initiation house, somewhere in the forest or in a deep cave wideness, separating young boys from their mothers and from the world of women, stealing the holy flutes and other paraphernalia, and start their own male initiation ceremonies. The third step is institutional violence against women. This occurs only in the fiercest tribal warfare. In all tribal societies all over the world we see one of those three gradations of male dominance.

Chimpanzees are examples of how an overpopulation-situation, causing warfare between competing groups, also contributed to male dominance. But can we observe machism in our relatives, the chimpanzees? No. Among chimpanzees, dominant alpha males do need the support of women. As soon as this support fails, they lose their dominance.

From the very beginning of our species, defense was a male business. Males took care of the defense against big cats and hyenas, enabling woman and children to gather the food in safety. But while in itself this defensive task may have led to male dominance in overpopulation situation, it is not something that automatically also produces machism.

What made human males into machists? This is an important issue, because since the advent of overpopulation until modern times women have suffered from male violence and aggression, against our innate GH-nature. It is only recently (in our Western consumer societies) that women have begun to regain their ancestral high status. So what may be the historical root of machism in humans?[1]

As a general hypothesis, we may suppose that machism is characteristic for some horticulturalist tribes that live in overpopulation stress all over the world, but not for all of those. First, an example of a group where male dominance has been established, but without machism. An example are the Amazonian Xavante, described by anthropologist David Maybury-Lewis. The Xavante have chiefs, have extensive boys initiation ceremonies, but without violence against women. Because the Xavante live in relative peaceful coexistence with their neighbors, so not in permanent stress.

As an example of a band where not just male dominance, but also machism emerged, we propose another Amazonian band: the Yanomamö, described by Napoleon Chagnon. Their groups live in permanent threat of warfare. Chagnon observed[2] that young boys and girls are treated differently: the girls have to help their mothers at early age and spend a great deal of time working, while the boys spend their childhood playing with other boys. The boys are also encouraged to be fierce. When a toddler slaps his father in the face, father is glad and encourages his child to slap harder. From early childhood they see their mothers and sisters beaten up by their fathers and other men, for the slightest omissions. Even his mother encourages the young boy when he inflicts a blow on his sister. The boys are quick to learn their favored position with respect to girls.

[Note that this is characteristic of all the wild tribes, including the Arab, and thus for Muslims and many other not-western cultures. Even Western societies have not yet transcended the ‘tribal tribes’ stage. See Donald Trump: the example of stage I and II of our human nature par excellence. Civilization progresses painfully slowly.]

How can this cultural attitude have emerged in an ancestral egalitarian GH-society with female high status? Because an overpopulated world brought new situations, where for the first time women found their food sources plundered by intruders. In such a situation, they wanted fierce men to defend their food sources from stealing intruders. As overpopulation progressed, women also wanted fierce men to protect them against raiders who might abduct women who were collecting fire wood or garden produce. In such a hostile overpopulation-world, the ‘fittest’ groups are the groups with the most violent males.
Therefore, in these groups women will see violence as a good quality in males and promote this warrior-attitude in their men and sons.
It is because of the constant threat of being attacked by a hostile group that the Yanomamö have lost their traditional initiation rituals and religious festivals, and have serious problems with male youth.

The Xavante are not involved in warfare and still have their initiation rituals, age groups, songs and dances.
By advancing colonist plantations their habitat is so shrunken that they have ceased to be nomadic and live in horseshoe villages on the open savanna. But still women build the ‘beehive’ houses and collect the food, while men hunt tapir and deer, and plant crops (maize, beans, pumpkins) in shifting cultivation.

They have no problems with male youth because of their strict and hard young initiation period. And by the eight age groups in which the men live their lives every five years to their old age.



  1. First of all: is it not a pure AGR-characteristic. Some Australian aboriginal groups know machism, while on the other hand the continent traditionally did not provide the basic condition for agriculture (grains, fruits or vegetables that can be conserved until the next year). Agriculture was imported only recently, by English colonists. So by tradition, all 263 Aboriginal tribes are GHs.
  2. 67 The Fierce People (1983), chapter 4
  3. First of all: is it not a pure AGR-characteristic. Some Australian aboriginal groups know machism, while on the other hand the continent traditionally did not provide the basic condition for agriculture (grains, fruits or vegetables that can be conserved until the next year). Agriculture was imported only recently, by English colonists. So by tradition, all 263 Aboriginal tribes are GHs.
  4. 67 The Fierce People (1983), chapter 4
  5. David Maybury-Lewis Millennium (New York, 1992)

3. Human nature

Human nature is a three stage rocket.

1. On the most basic level we are a life form, like bacteria. All existing life forms strive to take as much energy as possible out of their environment, to maintain and propagate their own organism. The me-myself-and-I- inclination. This is still an influential incentive in us and it is or becomes dominant when we are in danger or think we are. And when it is tolerated by our environment and situation (a situation of power, e.g.).2. But we are (as apes et al) a kind of group animals. A group animal will be able to gather more energy sources when it belongs to a group then when it is alone. A group animal has an interest in the power of his group (collective) , in competition with other groups. This means that a group animal has to give up a part of his ego-inclination on behalf of the power of his group. Two incentives fight in the soul of the group animal: self-interest and common interest! How can it live with that internal conflict? By culture, by norms and values. The chimpanzees, who live under permanent threat of war with other groups, are the best examples of this. We know it as the fight between ‘good’ and ‘bad’ in our conscience. An aside: collectivistic systems like fascism and other forms of despotism always need to create a situation of war against a (foreign) enemy, to suppress opposition.

3. As group animals we bear in us both egoism and altruism. But as humans we bear in us a third incentive on top of both. In the cultural evolution of our ancestors, who lived for about two millions of years in small bands, as nomads on the verge of extinction, we couldn’t permit disharmony, not within our own band nor with neighbour bands from which we were dependent for sex partners, common hunting, exchange of knowledge and asylum in bad times. This human incentive is our nature of the ‘noble wild’ that each of us wants to be in his deepest desire. This deep incentive became frustrated in us some ten thousand years ago, when we came to live in an overpopulation situation, like the chimpanzees. Frustrated; but far too short ago to destroy this third stage in us.

How we acquired this third hyper-social quality, we will see in the next post: “How we became humans from apes”.

In modern philosophy, the thinking about human nature became frustrated by political correctness. The ongoing nature/nurture debate, a distinction made by Galton (1822-1911), is about what is most influential in our behaviour: the environment in which we are born and live, or hereditary and genetic factors. In post-modern philosophy the environmental factors were considered dominant. Scientific attention for hereditary and genetic factors was been associated with eugenics and even fascism. In reality both nature and nurture are playing their role in us, so in post-modernism, dominant in the years after World War II, the debate was severely biased. When I started in 1993 with the humanosophy-project, a friendly biologist still cautioned me for this pitfall. I’m happy postmodernism is ‘out’: it was a philosophical desert and standstill.

5. How we became humans 2: Stones

Our ANBOS had to become professional stone throwers. They could not safely take a step on the open grasslands without their armament of stones. One stone was not enough to ensure their safety; they needed a handful of stones.

But how can apes carry a handful of stones? On the open grasslands, plenty of animal hides could be found. Sabre toothed tigers ate the entrails of their kill. The hyenas with their mighty jaws were capable of eating the rest of the carcass, including bones, but left the basically inedible, hairy hides. So the ANBOS used those animal hides to carry things; and with their long experience in braiding their sleep nests, knitting these hides together was easy. But how would apes carry bags filled with stones? How do bonobos and chimps carry heavy things? They use their hands, and in order to do so they must walk upright on their feet.

In tens of hundreds of thousands of years our ANBOS, having no other choice, turned into ‘professional’ bipeds with longer and stronger legs, special pelvic and buttock muscles, special midriff, and adapted blood circulation. At least they began to develop these features in a way that was good enough for foraging on the savannah. They still kept the climbing facilities of their hands and feet: it was not safe to sleep on the ground, so they still had to make their sleeping platforms high in the bushland trees.

Females had to carry their babies and gather food for themselves and the rest of the group, so they couldn’t carry and throw stones. Males couldn’t gather food: they had to protect the others, because the predators were always watchful for moments of inattentiveness. So from the very beginning, our ANBOS cultivated a division of labour. Women and children gathered the food: grass seeds, tubers and roots (with digging sticks), larvae and insects, eggs and small animals. The adult men did nothing but provide safety. The groups with the most effective behavior flourished, kept more young alive and soon outnumbered the groups that were clumsy at these things. In tens of hundreds of thousands of years, through hundreds of generations, the most adept populations survived.

The same mechanism applies to group harmony. Bonobos live in female-dominated groups characterized by group harmony. They solve all tensions with sex. It is clear that our ANBOS ‘professionalised’ this behaviour too. Nice breasts and buttocks for the women (the ‘attractive’ red vaginas of the chimpanzee-women and heavy scrotums of the males were not maintainable for bipeds), large penises for the men, and continuous sexual willingness and unnoticeable oestrus of the women are all mechanisms for reducing tensions.

Didn’t the men hunt? No way. The bipedal speed was insufficient to keep up with the savannah predators. But thanks to the presence of predators such as sabre toothed tigers, there were hides all over the place, leftovers of the other carnivores of the savannah. The hides provided a new niche for the handy apes. The ANBOS could pick and scrape protein-rich tissue from the hides with the sharp edges of bones, shells and stones. And when a hide was totally clean, it made a perfect bag for carrying things, a blanket on cold nights, a screen against sun, wind, or rain, or a practical canvas for stone tools. The multipurpose hides were the ANBOS’ most valuable property. The ‘paleos’ lack attention for the importance of these hides in the technical development of our ancestors. It was the beginning of ‘the stone age’: the beginning of the use of stone flakes for processing hides.

All these environmental changes and physical adaptations developed unperceived by our ANBOS. Just like normal apes 10 million years ago, they made their daily foraging tracks in a vast territory. In the course of two million years even more open grasslands became part of their territory and daily route. All needed adaptations developed during this time. By 6 million years ago, our ANBOS were experienced savannah dwellers.

They had evolved into a new kind of chimp, a totally new species in the history of life on earth: the australopiths. The only thing which remained unchanged was their way of life. They would leave their nests early in the morning, wander along a route they knew perfectly, gathering food along the way, and finally come to the next wood where they would share the gathered food and then make their nests high in the trees. The only part of the routine that changed was that instead of eating their food while ranging on the woodlands, they carried most of the gathered food (tubers, grass seeds, larvae, eggs, and so on) to their camps to be distributed equally among group members.

99.5 % of the time we exist, our ancestors were hunter-gatherers. This is an important fact for understanding ourselves.

6. How we became humans 3: Names for the things


What makes our species so special, compared to other ones?

We are the only kind of animals who have names for the things.

All group animals have their specific kind of communication; without communication you cannot be a group animal anyhow. But no kind of animals possesses names for the things.

How can I be so sure of this?

Well, having names for the things does something with an animal. With names for the things it can talk with its companions about everything, even things that aren’t on the spot, on a faraway place or in another season, in the future or in the past. He can consult and devise plans. If other kinds had names for the things, we would have perceived it for a long time.

But … (you are not convinced) the vervet monkeys, and the chimpanzees, and … ?

You are right, they have some special calls for special things. Chimps have even a call for meat, distinguishing from the call for fruit. However, a chimp can only utter those calls in reaction on seeing (or smelling) fruit or meat. Moreover, in such situations our chimp cannot withhold such a cry. Also, he cannot call [meat!] when he just wants a beef burger. In the next blog I will go further into the implications of names for the things for the mentality of an animal.

The discussion about man’s first language was already animated in the eighteenth century, and dominated the first meetings of the Société de Linguistique (found in 1864) of Paris. Most of the presented ideas, especially those that emphasized sign language as the first kind of language, earned scornful laughter and to maintain the serious character of the meetings, in 1866 the direction of the Société forbade further presentations about language origins. The taboo on this subject also held  Darwin back in his theorizing about language origins. Darwin’s authority long discouraged later theorizing, especially about sign language as the beginning of our linguistic competence. And even today by far most linguists, theorizing about language origins, neglect this possibility. Without or with poor argumentation. Poor knowledge of the character of sign languages is a hampering factor also.

Language origins is essentially a matter of speculation. So all theories will remain speculative. However, there are weak and strong speculations; the latter are based on strong arguments and elucidate most questions.

As I suggested: most of the modern linguists see language as speaking and the ape vocalizations as starting point of it. None of the scientists see the implications of names for the things for the mentality of an animal and poses the question why our ancestors became the masters of the animal world, and not one of the other kinds of apes or animals. As long as one cannot answer this question (nor even imagine this question), we have a weak speculation.

OK, let we go to the next post, for a strong one.

7. How we became humans 4: Language – linguisticness

In one australopithecus group, some 4 million years ago, the custom of imitating things with the hands appeared. This started (in my scenario, perhaps you have another) as a playful performance between some girls.

At first my idea was that the more complicated new foraging environment enforced a sophistication of normal ape communication. However, recent discoveries of savanna chimpanzee women who dig up roots with digging sticks – without language communication! – convinced me that our linguality is not the result of a need to survive. The only other scenario I could imagine was that it started as a casual girl play.

The alpha woman had decided this morning that the foraging route was ‘that way!’. The girl on the right knew that this would lead to the place with the delicious berries! She wanted desperately to communicate her excitement with her friends. And she imitated [berry] with her hand. The sitting girl tries to imagine what is in the mind of her friend. The girl left is only agitated because they are in danger: the others are already on the way and the predators are always on the look-out. But then the sitting girl will get it. And she makes the imitating gesture too! And then there is laughter! All day long they make the same gesture, and laugh. The next day the foraging route leads to another place, and the other girl tries to think over another gesture for another thing. And again there is laughter all day long.

That’s my speculation. I made this picture of the pivotal moment. Perhaps you can imagine another and better scenario. But it has to be started with something: we are language-using creatures now.

This casual girl play (or something like that) was a performance that never happened in the whole history of life on earth: an animal that communicates a thing that is not there on the spot. An animal that communicates not a feeling or emotion, but a special thing that is in her mind. The imitating gesture is a name. A gestured word. It is a handle, a grip, with which you can grasp a thing in your mind and put it in someone else’s mind. No other kind of animal has this capability.

A casual girl play; when that particular day the alpha women or man accidentally would have been bad-tempered and annoyed, this play could have been stopped and then we would have been still normal australopitheci today.

But is was a nice, a creative, a generative play and it didn’t stop. It became a special group culture; when the girls moved to another group to find a partner, they took the habit along and so the culture spread over the whole tribe. Our earliest ancestors.

What then makes having names for the things so important for human evolution?

1. The feeling of distance between the ‘namer’ and the named thing. Normal animals are part of their environment; for our ancestors there became ‘light’ between them and their environment. Not yet on individual scale, more as the feeling of ‘us’ (our group) and their environment. The distance between subject and object. Our ancestors became the first and only animals who could objectify the world of things. Philosophers like Kant understand what I mean. Thanks, Kant.

2. Our ancestors became the first and only animals who could talk with each other about things that were not there, not on the spot or on that moment: a plant, a place, an animals, water, earthquake, volcano, yesterday, tomorrow, other season, you name it.

3. Knowledge obtained by the older generation could be transmitted more easily and in more detail to the younger generation; knowledge could accumulate in our ancestors.

4. Naming a thing gives a feeling of power over the thing. It is this aspect that helped our ancestors to lose of their animal fear for the fire and to use it; no other animal has ever achieved this.

5. Two know more than one, and with a group we can solve big problems: our ancestors could put together all individual intelligence, could brainstorm; they could develop plans, they could consult together. From the slow and scared new savanna-dwellers of the Miocene with names for the things, they soon became the hooligans of the Pleistocene African savanna.

Bigger brains perhaps? Oh no. It was long after the birth of the facility of names for things, long after the first use of fire, long after the spread over the African continent and the first Out of Africa, that our ancestors got bigger brains. The more social an animal species is, the bigger the brains. Linguisticness is the most social of all social behaviors. So bigger brains are the result of it, not the cause.

Linguisticness! Ever more names for more and more things… In the end the whole environment of our ancestors, their whole ‘world’, existed of named things. Our ancestors got to live in a named world, a words world. That’s a sort of ‘virtual world’, and we still live in it. For us a thing only exists when we have a name for it. Isn’t it, Kant? (He nods.) We are linguistic creatures.

8. What is so special about linguisticness?

Our earliest ancestors were apes: normal animals. Now we are humans. A very, very special kind of animals: all that horrible predators such as lions and hyenas are now attractions in our zoos and nowhere it is vice versa. We are communicating via Windows Live Writer: no other animal does. We are abnormal animals What made us abnormal animals? Linguisticness.

It started with nothing. OK, it started with a stupid girls play: imitating/communicating with your hands something what is an image (idea)  in your mind.

An incidental new habit … a huge step towards becoming human! This was a totally new phenomenon in the history of life on earth. All group animals have their own means of communication. But in no other species can individuals communicate about something beyond their awareness, about something in another place, in another season, in the past or in the future. These gesture-imitations of things by our ancestor-bonobos were (the beginnings of) names for the things, enabling them to communicate on a new level.

Once an animal can name things, something special happens at the mental level. This is not only a better means for communication and cooperation. It is not only a way to transfer knowledge from one generation to the following, thus building up a reservoir of knowledge in the entire population. It also is the creation of a (feeling of) distance between the namer and the named thing, the creation (or experience) of distance between a creature and his environment. This was something entirely new in the history of life: a creature that was no longer totally dependent on his environment, a creature that could objectify things in his environment.

One might also see this as a parallel to the professionalizing of the ape’s ability of throwing, which furnished a distance between the thrower and the object: only this time in the mental sphere. Throwing  enables to keeping the predator at bay; naming enables to grasping the predator,  mentally. This supplies a feeling of power over the object, even – or just – when you are not powerful. This new faculty set our species apart from the animal world. It defines humanity. So we have to find a name for this characteristic. We choose linguisticness.

The term linguisticness is coined by the philosopher Heidegger, as English for his Sprachlichleit. But Heidegger was an idealistic philosopher, and deserved a scientific view on humanness. This missed the hermeneutic philosopher Hans-Georg Gadamer (1900-2002) either, but from his ‘magnum opus’ Truth and Method (Wahrheit und Methode) we derive its useful definition of linguisticness. We read in the chapter Seinsverfassung: “Linguisticness characterizes our human world-experience” … and the exercize of “the wirkungsgeschichtliche Bewusstsein”. We adopt this hermeneutic term and give it a humanosophic (and more comprehensible) content!

The road to linguisticness started ex nihilo (such as the Big Bang?), but I think it started from the very beginning. Because the need for more communication existed from the beginning, and the free hands with those ten fingers were available from the beginning. It started from nothing and it started slowly, like all developments in nature, like the beginning of life itself on earth.[1]

It started incidentally, with a single gestured imitation. But it proved to be a useful habit in a world which demanded better communication. So it grew quickly into ever more names for ever more things. Our ancestral tribe became an entirely new kind of animal in nature, a species with more flexibility and inventiveness than all others, even than other hominid populations whose groups remained without such a cultural habit of communication. Around the time of ‘the great jump’ of our species, ca 2.5 million years ago, all other hominids got extinct. Hominids is the name palaeontologists give to bipedal apes of the Mio-Pliocene period (Pliocene is 5 – 1.4 million years ago and Miocene is the preceding era). The common name for these Pliocene hominids is Australopithecus.

Our ancestor-australopiths developed more flexibility and inventiveness than other animals and even than other australopiths. Why? This was the result of the power of consultation and conference with one another. Two know more than one, and as a group you can solve big problems. One hooligan may be a timid boy, but as a group, hooligans are terrifying. It is the stack-up of inventiveness. Australopith groups without this facility of conferring with each another – boisei, robustus, aethiopicus, even afarensis– died out, presumably with some help of the ancestor-australopiths, the ‘hooligans’ of the Pliocene savannah. Abnormal animals! Linguistic apes!

[1] For three billion years, there was nothing to see – there weren’t eyes anyway; only the sky turned from brown into blue. And then: whoops! – from 500 million years ago on, little worms and crabs and fishes, plants and amphibians on the land, reptiles, dinosaurs and mammals, apes, us.

11. the impact of fire control on communication

I started my fire-paragraphs naming it ‘a big jump’. The most important aspect of it comes now:  the impact of the campfire on communication.

Before this momentum of fire control, communication was limited to daytime: during the foraging hours and the food sharing upon reaching the next sleeping place. Before twilight, for safety purposes, everyone had to climb high in a tree to make a nest, which effectively ended communication. But now, with a campfire keeping predators at bay, they could rest and communicate all night long! Those nightly hours could be used for nothing else but communication. They began dancing and singing around the campfire. In my view, dancing and singing cannot be separated here, which why we may call it danced singing.

Why danced singing? I repeat: for our ancestor-bonobos, normal ape communication (cries, gestures, facial expressions and other body language) was extended with a humanlike component: names for the things. Those names were produced with hand gestures, not with cries. For apes have no neurological control over their voice: ape cries are controlled by the limbic system. But they weren’t deaf, like present-day sign language users. Their gesturing came with accompanying cries. In the long evenings around the campfire, the growing gestural communication with names for the things became a proto-form of sign language: physically no more than an extension of their ape body language. The screeches were a proto-form of singing. Later more about danced singing. First: What did they communicate?

One might say: nothing at all, they just wrapped themselves in a hide and went to sleep while only one of them (a man of course) kept his eyes open and the fire burning. Speculating in this way however, one might easily overlook that they were a subspecies of bonobos: fervent communicators! In their new, more dangerous habitat they lived in closer togetherness than their rain forest ancestors, so they needed to be even more social. The new circumstances in combination with their bonobo-like inclination had already lead them to their new habit of names for the things.

So: what did they communicate? I propose it was the exchange of thoughts, expressions of what was going on in their mind: in other words, they were sharing emotions. For example the memory of some shocking event in the past day. Communicating these emotions took the form of performances. Let me dish up a possible ‘performance’ here. The threatening encounter with the dangerous buffalo!

The men had made a line with their stones at hand. The buffalo had hesitated, perhaps he remembered an encounter with a troupe of those apes, resulting in a hailstorm of painful stones. He scraped with his hoofs. After some long lasting seconds the buffalo had turned his back and moved.

Now, quietly around the campfire, a woman, with that threatening event in her mind, got up and imitated it with emotional gestures. The others screamed in approval. A man jumped up and imitated the buffalo. The emotional screaming increased. Other men jumped up and made the defense line, with imitated stones at hand. Then the ‘buffalo’ slunk off, and the screaming became jubilation. And calm returned in the group. But the nice performance stayed in everybody’s mind, and after several quiet minutes some women jumped up again and repeated the performance. And again, and again, until everybody wrapped himself in his hide to go to sleep. Evening after evening they did ‘the buffalo’ over and over, until a new event was subject of a new performance.

Generations after generations similar nightly performances became ever more sophisticated, and the gestured communication too. Sophistication means that the gestured ‘words’ underwent standardizing and shortening. Because when the beginning of a gestured ‘word’ is already understood, you don’t need to finish the whole gesture. In a group of women gossiping by sign language and cries, each woman wants to contribute her share. (Why women? Hunting men make no noise. But gathering women chatter and laugh: noise chases serpents away.)

Expressing such emotional thoughts the person used her/his whole body (just like bonobos do today) with accompanying cries. The others responded with imitating gestures and cries, and many of them jumped up and joined the communicating person. And when communicating very emotional items, the whole group was dancing and crying, over and over. From generation to generation, this behavior became ever more ritualized, controlled and refined.

When I say ‘ritualizing’, I mean, as neatly formulated in Wikipedia, "behavior that is formally organized into repeatable patterns, the basic function of which is to facilitate interactions between individuals, between an individual and his deity, or between an individual and himself across a span of time." Ritual synchronizes the activity of participants, a phenomenon that contributes to group cohesion – which can also contribute to survival. Some scholars also suggest that human ritual behavior reduces anxiety. It makes me think of the ‘war dances’ of the Yanomamö , as preparation of a raid. A more modern example may be the ritual drilling of recruits in the barracks.

This development towards better expression through more refined body control affected both dancing and singing. First the dancing. Our ancestors were sharing emotions in an evermore ritualized mode of body language: their bodily expression of experiences, feelings and thoughts evolved into a kind of ballet, of formal dancing. In the course of this evolution, the specific gestures for specific meanings became more formally stylized. A more modern example of extremely stylized and formalized dancing is the 19th century Balinese religious dancing (as described by Dutch colonials) where women told a complex story without any word – just by dancing. In a way, present-day sign language for the deaf functions in a similar way: especially when this concerns a message with emotional content, the sign language may look like a kind of ballet dancing.

Next the singing. Our ancestors were like bonobos, so much more expressive than chimpanzees, who are more silent. Just like their dancing was gradually ritualized, the accompanying cries and calls underwent ritualizing in the evening-after-evening performances. Over the generations, this gradually led to better neurological voice control. The more meaning and information one can convey by voice, the more impressive and effective the resulting performance will be.

I will get back to this combination of dancing and singing later, in the context of the origin of our religious feelings.

12. Homo erectus

6. homo erectus

The control of fire turned the ancestor-australopiths into Homo erectus. Fire use began in one group of ancestor-australopiths, but soon spread throughout all groups, by exchanges of sex partners and group interactions (in a way similar to the dispersion of agriculture later on). The H. erectus population dispersed over Africa and started the first Out of Africa migration into Eurasia.


Traditionally H. erectus is always imagined as a male. So I was glad to find a reconstruction of a female H. erectus on the blog-site “Kay Nou = Our House”. Thanks, Kay Nou. Her digging stick was nice; but she missed her hide bag. So I gave her one. Unlike in this picture, she was never alone on the savanna, nor elsewhere.

Finds from an earlier period, in the archaeological sites Dmanisi (1,7 million years ago) and Flores (descendants of Java hominids from 1,6 million years ago) show a more primitive hominid, with a more primitive toolbox. So many paleos today believe that it was an earlier hominid, H. habilis or H. rudolfensis that spread Out of Africa into the Far East, developing to H. erectus. A later erectus group returned to Africa as ancestors of the Turkana population. For the humanosopher, this theory of a much earlier Out of Africa migration corroborates the early use of fire, because moving out of the tropics requires fire-use.

13. lingual creatures


Our species is the only one in nature which controls fire. This unique capability was directly related to the fact that our ancestor-australopiths were the only species to become linguistic creatures, developing names for the things. Let me expound the new concept of linguisticness that I already mentioned before.

A linguistic creature experiences his world as a named world. It knows his world just like all other animals know their world. But with names for the things, it can confer about those things with companions: two know more than one, and a whole group can solve big problems. As mentioned before, names for the things created a (feeling of) distance between the namer and the named thing, the (experience of) distance between a creature and its environment. Between subject and object: our ancestors became the first and only creatures who could objectify things. Objectifying generates (a feeling of) power over the things. It resulted in the use of fire, and this in turn facilitated the jump forward of nightly gestural group communication. It generated a new kind of power over other species of animals, making our ancestors into the ‘hooligans’ of the savanna.

Names for the things is what made us humans. It may have been the result of a casual and fortuitous girls’ play. It was not necessarily caused by some gene mutation or brain growth or the emerging of syntax: such developments were rather result, not cause.

Having several names for several things is by itself not enough to become a lingual creature. Look at the family Washoe. This is the group of chimpanzees who were made to learn ASL (American Sign Language) when they were young and in a human family setting, presently living at the CHCI of Central Washington University of Ellensburg, in the lifelong care of Roger and Debbie Fouts[1]. The Washoe chimpanzee family is able to use some 300 different names for 300 different things. You may call this proto-language, but this does not necessarily mean they experience their world as a “named world”. What makes an ape into a lingual creature? In other words, what transforms animal gesture communication into a language?

Apart from the fact that the language competence of these apes-in-prison lacks roots in an inborn disposition like ours: inherent to language is a stock of words, a vocabulary, an inexhaustible stock of names for a countless number of things – linguists (language philosophers) speak of generivity. This makes one’s whole world into something that can be experienced primarily as a world of named things, and makes the consciousness of an ape with such a language competence into a linguistic consciousness.

How do we produce our present spoken vocabulary? With phonemes: sounds that have no meaning of their own (the vowels and consonants of the alphabet), but are the building blocks of an endless number of words. We produce those phonemes with our speech apparatus: throat, tongue, lips and cheeks. But apes cannot produce enough similar phonemes, because their throat is too short and their tongue too narrow. Experiments in training a young chimpanzee to speak resulted in p-p for papa and c-p for cup, pronounced without vowels. The most serious handicap however is that apes cannot really control their voice. Their cries are neurologically driven by the limbic system: an evolutionary older part of the brain, the same that also produces our own cries of pain or anguish or rage or ecstasy. When we hit our thumb with a hammer, we cannot withhold a cry of pain: the older parts of our brain are beyond conscious control.

How could our ancestors – even Neanderthals may have lacked the modern speech apparatus – build up a stock of gestured words without being physically able to produce phonemes? In his groundbreaking research on modern sign languages of the deaf (such as American Sign Language, ASL) William Stokoe[2] has showed that gestured languages can be just as flexible in combining gestures as spoken languages can be flexible in combining phonemes. Stokoe named the sign language alternative for phonemes cheremes: gestures without intrinsic meaning which by combing them can be used as building stones for an endless number of gestured words. Just like we speak all our words by uttering a limited number of phonemes in countless different combinations, modern ASL achieves something similar by combining 55 cheremes (base gesture elements).

So the gestured ‘sign’ language of our ancestors may have evolved from simple gestures denoting specific objects, into a stock of names or a vocabulary using combinations of cheremes, making an unlimited number of ‘words’ from a limited number of base elements: small and quick hand configurations, hand locations and hand movements.

To illustrate this development, let me briefly go into a nice parallel: the similar development of script (written language). 8.000 years ago, ever more people in the Middle East lived as farmers in villages. Each family contributed a part of the yield of their fields and cattle to the ‘temple’ (the common hall for religious anniversaries, for meetings and barter with other villages, and for emergencies). To prevent parasitical behavior and envy, the temple functionaries needed to register each family’s contributions exactly. In early Sumeria, these notes were engraved in the clay of the storage urns (later of clay tablets). The first notes were pure imitations, drawings. These were at best ‘minimal art’: a representation divested of all that was not strictly necessary for identification.

In due course, these representations became more and more stylized symbols. This was the start of Sumerian writing: pictograms, simple representations of what was meant. A simple depiction of a head stood for <head> and two wriggling lines for <water>. But soon these two symbols combined meant <drinking> and even <drink>. In this way, the pictograms became more and more schematic. The big jump came when some pictograms got a sound value, mostly the initial sound of the word-symbol. Soon there was a complete alphabet. The symbols did no longer point to some specific object, but came to represent just sounds – initially mostly consonants. By combining these by themselves meaningless symbols, now every possible word could be written easily. Such written language made it possible to record personal messages, enactments and laws, oral traditions, heroism of the successive kings, important events, scholarship, philosophy, everything. This written language started the historical era (before the invention of script, it was prehistory).

The earlier development of signed language may have followed a similar route. The cheremes (snippets of sign language) initially came into human communication as very simple and direct gestures. In due time, some gestures got the function of syllables: they evolved into building stones (cheremes) for signed words. Didn’t those cheremes make the gestured communication slower? After all, instead of making one primitive object-sign, you now had to combine some small gestures (cheremes) to indicate the same object. This question can be answered in two ways.

In the first place we can refer to the universal linguistic abbreviating propensity: the aversion to repeat an already uttered word or sentence element – and when you repeat it nevertheless, you do it mainly to give it extra emphasis. We may assume that from the beginning there was a natural tendency (just like in modern sign language) to make the language gestures as fast and simple as possible, if only for communication efficiency: when just the start of a gesture is already enough to be understood, you don’t need to finish the whole gesture. The faster you can produce gestures, the shorter the time you need to make your point or to contribute to a discussion.

In some cases however, the use of cheremes (even when these were as small and fast as possible) may have resulted in more complexity. For instance, instead of one gesture for the object “ tiger” you might now need to use a combination of three quick cheremes to indicate the same object. So why would people opt for increasing complexity? Here the second answer comes forward. The price one may have paid for a little more complexity, at the same time bought a huge advantage: thanks to using cheremes, the number of possible words and expressions now became really limitless. While primitive sign language might have had a gesture indicating “tiger”, it may not have had gestures specifying “reddish tiger” or “wounded tiger” or “a cloud in the sky shaped like a tiger”. The use of cheremes made it possible to say (gesture) all this, and more.[3] Eventually, they made it possible to discuss even abstract concepts for which no simple gesture would ever have been adequate. How important this was, we will see when discussing the evolution of the creation story as a central factor in the evolution of mankind.

Now three other questions occur that have to be answered. Firstly, is it admissible to infer ancestral behavior from the cultures of present-day hunter-gatherer tribes? The humanosophic answer is: yes we may, because there is a continuum between our modern behavior and that from our ancestors, a continuum that is transmitted by genetic inheritance, tradition and inveterate habits. Old usages and practices and customs stay alive till they no longer fit. The same goes for language characteristics: deeply rooted in communication practice, they are transmitted from generation to generation as a vital part of a culture.

But if is this a valid comparison, then may we also assume that the signed communication of our ancestors developed towards the same level of sophistication (especially regarding the emergence of cheremes) [4] as modern sign languages such as ASL (American Sign Language)? Our deaf populations possess modern human brains, don’t they, and are integrated into a modern urban culture that requires more sophistication, for example in order to discuss the stock exchange by ASL? The humanosophic answer is: yes, we may, because the modern sign language is a flower out of the seed from the gestured linguality of our Early Human ancestors. In essence, it is the same flower as we can see sprouting when our modern babies pick up language from their environment, irrespective of whether this is gestured or spoken language.

The third occurring question is: why would people eventually switch from gestured to spoken language? The answer is that signed language may be adequate, but less so when you have your hands full, or in a situation that you can only hear each other. For this reason, from the very beginning visual communication has been supported by making sounds such as guttural and dental clicks, labial sounds, and emotional cries. Even from the beginning of gestured communication, such vocal additions were structural word parts. So we may suppose a continuum between the most primitive gestured communication and the ‘click!’-languages of nowadays San people of southern Africa (and our own gesturing even when we are talking on telephone). There has been, however, a turning point in this continuum: the rise of the ability to communicate with sounds alone, without gestures. We will talk about this in the paragraph Anatomical Modern Humans.

To summarize: in the paragraph about the first use of fire, we speculated about the Australopithic population to which we could attribute the wonderful innovation of controlled use of fire. We found Kadanuumuu (estimated 1,5-1,8 m. high) a good representative because of his humanlike posture, much taller than “Lucy” (1,1 m. high, dated 3,2 million years ago), and yet hundreds of thousands of years older. We supposed the use of fire here because such a taller population of Australopithecus afarensis must have had better food at his disposal. In its turn, control of fire in our view assumes the presence of linguality.


Excavations between 2005 and 2008 in the Afar Region of Ethiopia uncovered an upper arm, a collarbone, neck bones, ribs, pelvis, sacrum, a thighbone, a shinbone and an adult shoulder blade. The partial Australopithecus afarensis fossil is dated 3.58-million-year-old and nicknamed Kadanuumuu, ("Big Man" in the Afar language).

Fragment of Kadanuumuu’s lower arm bone  to muse about: apart from throwing stones, this very 3.58 mya bone may have been used to gesture with companions. Kadanuumuu as a lingual creature!

‘Ardi’, Australopithecus ramidus, from 4,4 mya Afar Rift Ethiopia, had an ape-like short thumb. The hominid species Australopithecus sediba, recently found in South Africa, was presumably from A. africanus origin and possibly a transitional species to H. habilis and even H. erectus. It has a humanlike thumb but is only 1.98 million years old, 2.42 years younger than Kadanuumuu. Somewhere during those 2,42 million year-long interval, the more humanlike thumb of Sediba must have evolved. The skeleton of the much older Kadanuumuu, “Big Man” provides no hand- or foot bones, so in fact we cannot know yet what kind of thumbs he may have had. Hopefully, ongoing archaeological research will clarify this.

[1] see

[2] William Stokoe (1919-2000), Professor at Gallaudet University of Washington, DC, was the creator of the linguistic study of the sign languages of the deaf. Before, the sign language used by the deaf was generally believed to be a corrupt visual code for spoken language, or elaborate pantomime. Stokoe’s first and eye opening book was Sign Language Structure (1963) and till the end of his life he was the indefatigable champion of the language of the deaf.

[3] cheremes emerged in thousands of generations of dancing/singing the creation story of their world. The story grew in detail and complexity; so did the gestured representation and performing.

[4] The research of Stokoe and others on signed language reveals how easy it is to produce adjectival or adverbial and other elements of syntax with modification of or additions to the gestured words by facial expression and posture changes: “Adjectives need neither to precede nor to follow nouns as physically distinct elements but can appear simultaneously as modifications in the performance of the sign language word. Likewise, adverbial modification of gesture action is natural effect of the way that visible gestures are performed.” Other grammatical elements of language such as the pattern of Subject-Verb-Object emerge spontaneously and inevitable in a social phenomenon as language: one cannot participate when one doesn’t know the meaning of the spontaneously emerged words, as little as one doesn’t follow the spontaneously emerged rules. Chomski’s speculation that grammar is the essential characteristic of human language doesn’t make sense. Names for things is the essential characteristic.

14. lingual consciousness


There must have been a moment in history when acting from instinct became less dominant than acting from deliberation and consulting. No two captains on the ship of your thinking! With the advent of fire control, our ancestors demonstrated that unlike normal animals, they were no longer acting purely by instinctive reaction to sensory impulses.

Thinking? Animals? Of course animals do think. Most kinds of mammals and birds make scenarios in their brains: they weigh the different possibilities of what can happen or be done, in order to choose what is best. Intelligence is widely spread! We are used to seeing some kinds of animals or birds as more intelligent than other kinds, but every species exhibits its highest level of intelligence in its own special niche. The tortoise is the most intelligent animal in the tortoise niche. And where instinct is concerned: only ‘lower’ kinds of animals act exclusively by instinctive reactions. Group animals act largely by learning, example and intelligent trial and error. The animals we use to label as ‘most intelligent’, are nearly always group animals. But intelligence is a personal quality: as far is intelligence is concerned, not all dogs are created equal.

But consciousness is unique to humans, isn’t it? It depends on how we define ‘consciousness’. If you mean: being aware of one’s environment, then this applies to animals as well. Every mammal does continually process environment information, unless it has been knocked out. Do you mean: self-conscious? Apes, elephants and dolphins evidently display self-consciousness. As proven in several experiments[1], they are able to look in a mirror and be aware that they see themselves.

What then is unique to humans? The main difference is not that we, as all mammals, are thinking beings, but that we on top of this animal thinking have names for the things. Animal thinking is the manipulating of things with representations (mental images of the things) in the brain. In our human thinking, these representations have labels, ‘handles’, ‘grips’: the names that enable us to ‘grasp’ things. So we are able to handle things better: not just when communicating about them, but also for easier and more inventive thinking. If we define creativity as the ability to combine things, then our names for the things make it easier to make new combinations, and therefore to think in a creative way.

So when we speak about a concept of ‘human consciousness’, we really ought to name this lingual consciousness. Consciousness is not unique to humans, but lingual consciousness is.

[1] p.e. G. G. Gallup (1970) Chimpanzees: Self-recognition and after him many others on other animals in addition to elephants and dolphins

16. Religion explained


Religion Explained: The Evolutionary Origins of Religious Thought is the title of a 2001 book of Pascal Boyer, a French-American anthropologist. Because of its actuality and its daring title it is a much discussed and translated book. Most of the reviews, however, are not very enthusiast, complaining of its dry and abstract philosophical and cognitive-psychological argumentation. Even more serious is the conclusion that the book does not really explain the phenomenon of religion. Boyer himself excuses this lack of satisfactory explanation with the statement that “religion is not a single entity resulting from a single cause.”[1]

But is he right? Couldn’t religion in essence be just that: a single entity resulting from a single cause? For the humanosopher, who explains consciousness as lingual consciousness, the obvious mission here is to unravel the real evolutionary origin of religious thought.

Our ancestors, now armed not only with stones and sticks but also with fire[2], spread from the tropics to the temperate zones in Africa and Eurasia. It was a slow migration: about 30 miles per generation. When a successful group became too numerous, tensions arose and then soon a little group of young women, children and men would decide to move to a new territory. I assume that this land may already have been known because adolescents had to make a long journey as part of their initiation in adult life – upon their safe return, they were able to recall for the remainder of their lives the faraway regions and people they had encountered on their journey.

The settlers of new territories were the first humans who gave the mountains, rivers, lakes, marshes, fruit trees and wild animals their names. For humans, lingual consciousness became more dominant than the instinctive consciousness of other animals: in that lingual part of our mind, things exist to the extent we have a name for it. For our ancestors, as lingual creatures, those first name-giving settlers were the creators of their tribal territory. People always had (and still have) the practice of defining a total group as one person (The American for all Americans, The Australian for all Australians) and in a similar way, our ancestors spoke of The Big Ancestor.

I dare not to speculate exactly when and where this process began. The first hard evidence (in my opinion) of how these humans expressed the experience of their world in danced singing, is Bilzingsleben: an archaeological site in Germany, a H. heidelbergensis campsite from

370.000 years ago (Reinsdorf interglacial). This is the first known place with evidence of a special dance place between 3 huts[3].

reconstruction Bilzingsleben camp site of Early Humans, 370.000 years ago

These Early Humans were lingual creatures. But humans are part of the animal world. In their own mind, they were not lingual creatures but animals. Honestly spoken, not even in our mind, dear reader, we ourselves are lingual creatures. I mean: we are not continuously aware of it. Just like fishes are not aware of water. The Early Humans felt they were animals originating from a special kind of animal. Their way of thinking was totemistic.

We may compare the Early Humans’ step into new territories with a newborn baby’s entrance into a new world. Right after the sudden and painful experience of birth, felt as a cruel separation, newborn babies would like to be part of their mother again, just as they had been before. They feel strangely isolated. During the long time they sleep, this isolation is felt less acute, especially when the usual moves, shakes and sounds continue. But when awake, they need the unceasing and loving attention of their mother and others to give them the confidence of safety. Slowly and gradually, neurological programming can then do its work letting them grow up, step by step, to normal childhood and maturity.

The same step by step development characterizes the experience of the environment (world) of our ancestors. As lingual creatures they lived in a named world; a world full of named things. For these Early Humans it was an ever growing number of names for an ever growing number of things. This mass of names would grow into a chaos in their heads if it lacked any structure. The most obvious structure herein is, is the story: the linear a-to-z telling. This structuring function was accomplished by their creation story: the ritual story of how their world had begun and developed, inclusive humans, up to how it was now. (Their ‘world’ was the tribal territory, and ‘humans’ were the people of their tribe. People of other tribes, with strange languages, were not real human because “they couldn’t even talk”; but they could become human by adoption or marriage: by incorporation in the tribe, which for them was humanity.)

We today, being lingual creatures, are in this respect not really different from Early Humans: we still need to comprehend our world in a story. It strings loose facts and events together into a coherent whole that provides meaning. When a moving, stirring event befalls us, we feel a strong need to tell it to others: we feel sharing it is the best way to come to terms with it. For the humanosopher, the loss of the monotheistic creation story in the free world’s consumers society, without replacing it with a new and more suitable alternative, is the cause of the moral decline. Our conscience has no longer a common, universally shared basic story. In the Introduction I referred to Tony Judt and his tormenting concern. In Part Two I will present a potential solution.

The little group of young women, children and men who were the first to settle new territories, were the first ones to give the things in that territory their names. For lingual creatures, this is what defines the existence of things. For their descendants, the ancestral settler group was personified in ‘epic concentration’, The Big Ancestor.

We need to emphasize here that this tribal Big Ancestor is in no way synonymous with the figure of God as worshipped in today’s main monotheist religions (Judaism, Christianity, Islam). That modern God was constructed 400,000 years later: only a few thousand years ago. We will discuss the recent origins of this monotheistic God concept later. The tribal “Big Ancestor” we are talking about here – who was not regarded as a specific person but rather as a reference to the mythical ancestral group – was a very different concept. This was not a man, nor a woman, nor some kind of animal: it was something in between.

The early Big Ancestor is in essence ourselves – it personified the first little settlers group – and even later thinkers and shamans have always remained aware of this. In the classic Greek-Roman culture of the first century BC, this still was the central and deepest mystery of the Mystery Cults and of the Gnosis movement: that God is ourselves. Let us take a closer look at him, in the form he still figures as a central force in the creation stories of present-day ‘primitive’ populations such as the Australian Aboriginals.

The creation story of such tribes still tells how in a long-ago Dreamtime[4], the Big Ancestor entered the tribe land on a special place and began to journey all through the known world. Everywhere on his journey She/He/It deposited mountains, lakes and trees and all the special features of the land. She/He/It also left, in a special place, the little souls who could fly into the wombs of women who passed by that place, the same place to where the souls return after death. The Big Ancestor could travel through the sky or under the ground. Once finished with his creation effort, She/He/It departed from the land through a special hole in the ground: the land now was ready for the tribe.

Special creations (mountains, trees, animals etc.) were also important Figures in the Story, with special tasks or abilities. This Story of the creation of their world was so important to them, that they believed their world would come to an end when they no longer sung-and-danced their world. And that makes sense: it was a named world for them. And it still is for us – but we are familiar with the fact that the world goes on even when we are never dancing-and-singing it.

In the dawn of humanity there never was a tribe without a sung-and-danced Creation Story. Over thousands of generations of singing-and-dancing the essence of our world and our community, this practice has become so-to-speak a part of our genome. It lives on within each of us as our religious feeling. We are born with the expectation of experiencing a sung-and-danced representation of the world and togetherness. When a baby cries, it will be quiet or even begin to smile when mama sings-and-dances with the baby in her arms. This is the base of the religious feeling that remains with us even when we are convinced secularists or atheists. It is this ancestral practice of dancing-and-singing the world that makes us “incurably religious” as theologian Dorothee Sölle defined it[5], even though she herself did not see the link.

This instinctive reaction does not just apply to babies. Many grown-ups will feel an urge to dance when hearing dance music. In a similar way, many people will experience deeply rooted feelings when hearing religious music such as the Matthäus Passion or In Paradisum. And in fact, the chants by the public in football stadiums do also have the same effect.

All these common, instinctive reactions to singing and music led me to presume that the sung-and-danced creation stories by our ancestors played an important role in the group cohesion, which is why this social song-and-dance mechanism is basically still working even in the nature of western people today.

The creation story as described above evolved over thousands of generations, along with the evolution of the prehistoric economy. In the creation stories of a few present-day tribes (such as Australian Aborigines) we can still recognize its original form.

[1] “Religion Explained’ reminds me of “Consciousness Explained” by Daniel Dennett: this book didn’t explain consciousness either

[2] this position seems seriously questioned in the recent PNAS article of Roebroeks and Villa (March 2011) “On the earliest evidence for habitual use of fire in Europe”. However, they emphasize that their research concerned (a) the European fire use and (b) the producing of fire: they didn’t question the use of fire by keeping smoldering charcoal obtained from a natural fire

[3] I was glad to read that Steven Mithen in his book Singing Neanderthals (2006) describes this same excavation, with the “demarcated space for performance (!) … to sing and dance, to tell stories through mime, to entertain and enthrall …” [‘mime’: Mithen has no idea of linguality, and even speculates that Neanderthals had not yet language!]

[4] an important concept of the Aboriginals, but one that is found with ‘primitive’ populations all over the world: it indicates the time of the beginning of being human, when the ancestors felt themselves still being animals, a part of the animal world, not yet lingual creatures with their existential incertitude as ‘worrying apes’

[5] Dorothee Sölle (1929 – 2003) was a German liberation theologian and writer who coined the term Christofascism

17. Anatomical Modern Humans (AMHs)


As said before, sign language is an extension of body language. Not just the hands and fingers play their role, but also the arms, facial expressions, and posture and movements of the body as a whole. In early humans’ emotional and dramatic performances, this body language function merged into a kind of dancing which over time became more and more ritualized. One of the essential features of dancing has always been the repetitive movements, which (just like walking, jogging or playing sentry-go) release endorphins. As such, it serves as one of our uncertainty-allaying mechanisms.

As for singing, I already mentioned how our ancestor-bonobos probably were very communicative animals, screeching emotionally all day long just like present-day bonobos. From the beginning, vocal sounds accompanied their gestured communication. Besides the screeches that were beyond conscious control (being driven from the limbic system) there probably evolved a more intentional application of conscious (neocortical driven) sounds like [puffs] and [clicks] and [mmms], to support the communicating of still primarily gestured names for things. Such non-vocal sounds proved useful in the dark, too[1]. In the dancing-singing of the Creation Story, the neocortical control gradually emerged over many generations: in line with Steven Mithen[2] I assume that the Neanderthals were indeed already more or less ‘singing Neanderthals’.

Most scholars assume that the AMHs (Anatomical Modern Humans) were the first real speakers to communicate with spoken names, while for them the gestures were reduced to an accompanying role. In a relative short time during the great migrations, these AMH descendants of the African early humans replaced earlier humans wherever they showed up. These Anatomical Modern Humans are our nearest ancestors: every human today is an AMH.

Scratching on ochre from Blombos cave, South Africa.

Now what made these first AMHs so special? A genetic mutation, says Richard Klein of Stanford University.[3] Other paleos do not agree, but they do not offer a satisfying answer on the question either. Sure is that (apart from anatomical differences) the AMHs in Africa were culturally quite different from all earlier humans. Unlike their predecessors, they used bone, antler and ivory to make fish hooks and harpoons. For the first time in human history, they also relied on sea food: their camp sites were characterized by shell middens.

At the Blombos cave some chunks of ochre were found that were marked with cross-hatched scratches 70,000 years ago: perhaps the first graphic symbols ever. And the research of Richard Klein[4] shows how the AMHs hunted buffaloes with more sophisticated weapons. But still the question remains: why did AMHs develop this new behavior, while the Early Humans did not?

I have my own humanosophic hypothesis here. Communicating with only one’s mouth and without further body language makes lying more easy. When trying to lie with sign language, you have to keep too much nerves of your body under control (and the person you are trying to deceive, will already be closely watching your body language). The others will see more easily that you are lying. Even in today’s sign language for the deaf, lying is much more difficult than in spoken language[5]. But when you communicate primarily by sounds, you can lie with a poker face.

Of course the AMHs didn’t lie every day or even every year. But the fact that they could so when needed, may have made them a tiny little bit more self-confident and individualistic. This growing inner confidence made them a little more flexible, a little less restricted to rigid traditions. In the early human mindset, thus far mainly formed by traditions and rituals, tradition and truth were two closely related concepts. Once people became aware they were able to lie (to deviate from truth) this may have made them, by inference, more aware of the possibility to deviate from tradition as well. Eventually this made them more inventive. Unlike their conservative[6] Neanderthal counterparts, the AMHs began to manufacture new kinds of hunting weapons (such as fish harpoons and fish hooks) from other material than the traditional stone: bone, antler and ivory. These helped them to open a new food niche which until then was not being used by other early humans: the water world.

Maybe I overplay my hand with this theory about the effect of the new spoken communication. We also might simply ascribe the transition from Early Human to AMH to the fact that the AMH ancestors in the glacial period of extreme dryness were forced to search for alternative food sources – which they found at the coast, in lakes and in rivers. Therefore they became coastline dwellers, adapting to feeding on shells and other water animals. The oldest harpoons, found at Katanda, date from 90,000 years ago; the beads, used as jewellery, found at Blombos cave, are from 75,000 years ago. Christopher Hensilwood, the paleo who found them, says: “There’s more and more evidence that they could fish and hunt large mammals, and that they were making fine bone tools. When our ancestors left Africa, they were already modern, already thinking and behaving in many senses the way we do today.”[7] However, this still leaves the question open why these Early Humans were able to make these ‘modern’ changes, and why this did not happen earlier than some 90.000 years ago.

Their extra nutritional niche: mollusks, fish and other water animals, enabled them to feed larger groups. The groups of the Early Humans numbered around 30 people; those of the AMHs could number around 100 people. In a small group, new ideas may find not enough support and die away, while in a larger group new ideas may easily find at least some followers. Furthermore: as a consequence of better nutrition, the number of AMH-groups also increased, which in turn caused more inter-group exchange of goods and ideas over larger areas. Hensilwood[8] points out the increase in population of modern humans, and how this easily explains both the new, modern behavior that lead to the ‘Out of Africa’-migrations, and the “creative explosion” that took place around 45,000 years ago in Europe. But the question why these Early Humans managed to achieve this, and why it did not happen earlier than some 90.000 years ago, is still waiting for a scientific answer (maybe our humanosophic approach can offer better answers here).

Vocal communicating – just by larynx and mouth – must have had a strange effect on an Early Human: making her a tiny little bit more individualistic, a tiny little bit more independent from traditional thinking. Yes, I see this as a female attainment again; for the still-gesturing men this may have been a female foolishness, too weird and unreliable to use it in their ritual prayers to the Big Ancestor before hunting. Women had a big share in the daily danced-singing of the Creation Story, but also in the allaying and charming and medicating of illness. I think the first shamans were mostly women.[9] So initially, the sophisticating of traditional sign language with ever more meaningful vocalizations may have been primarily a female concern.

Harpoons of 90.000 years ago, jewelry of 75.000 years ago: AMH-behavior may have flourished around 100.000 years ago. Also the consequences from this behavior: increasing population and perhaps some population stress, resulting in the first Out of Africa II movement. This first emigration wave (we could name it OoAII-A) not only let his traces in Skhul and Qafzeh (dated around 100.000 years ago) but also the first AMH-groups arriving in the Far East.

[1] the dark … for the Early Humans we have to consider their very sharp vision; even the slightest light was enough for them to see in the dark

[2] Steven Mithen Singing Neanderthals (2006) proposes the term Hmmmm for the pre-linguistic system of communication used by Early Humans: an acronym for Holistic (non-compositional), Manipulative (utterances are commands or suggestions, not descriptive statements), Multi-modal (acoustic as well as gestural and mimetic), Musical, end Mimetic

[3] a friendly but rather negative review of his (and science writer Blake Edgar’s) book The Dawn of Human Culture (2002), including his theory that spoken language was the result of a genetic mutation, immediately followed by a cultural ‘big bang’, has been written by Derek Bickerton in Scientific American Sept. 2002, “A Bare-Bones Account of Human Evolution”. The review ends: “The likeliest conclusion is that language as we know it arose most probably through some fusion of preexisting capacities, around the time our species originated more than 100,000 years ago. Precisely how this happened remains one of the great unsolved scientific problems. Unfortunately, Klein and Edgar don’t bring its solution any nearer.”

[4] he discovered that the Early Humans from the Klasies River caves concentrated on eland—large antelopes—instead of the more dangerous buffaloes, although buffaloes probably outnumbered eland in the local environment. In more recent sites, by contrast, buffalo bones dominate those of eland. “Something happened after 50,000 years ago that allowed people to hunt buffaloes.” (Klein, R. G. & Cruz-Uribe, K. (1984) The Analysis of Animal Bones from Archaeological Sites (Univ. of Chicago Press, Chicago).

[5] we remember the reactions of American deaf people on a speech of Ronald Reagan: they saw he was lying

[6] we were in the excavation site Veldwezelt-Hezerwater (Belgium): two Neanderthal campsites, one from 130.000 ya and another from 34.000 ya. On the question: is there difference in stone technology? was the answer: not at all!

[7] in National Geographic News, April 15, 2004

[8] Christopher S. Henshilwood is a Research Professor at the Institute for Human Evolution, University of the Witwatersrand. With Francesco d’Errico e.a. he excavated the Blombos cave (near Cape Town, SA) and found ornament shell beads from 75,000 years old. So 5000 years older then the engraved ochre chunks mentioned before. The oldest shell midden, the ‘hallmark’ of AMH-behavior, is also found at Blombos cave … dated 140,000 years old

[9] Remnants of this tradition can still be found in several aboriginal cultures, for example in Siberia; see also the work of Mircea Eliade.

19. Migration waves and genetic diversity


The first OoA-migration was around 2 millions of years ago, by H. ergaster groups. Researchers name this OoA-I, and the later one from around 100,000 years ago by the AMH groups is called OoA-II. Within the latter, we see two migration waves: OoA-IIa (between 115,000-74,000 years ago) and OoA-IIb (65,000 years ago, after the Toba bottleneck).


The AMHs in East Africa developed from a more long and slender, ‘nilotic’[1] Middle-Stone-Age population type some 200,000 years ago. They first dispersed over the African continent,[2] replacing the Early Human populations, who disappeared. 130.000 years ago, a small group left the continent and began dispersing all over the world.

Map of early human migrations according to mitochondrial population genetics. Each character represents a different haplo group. All Out-of-Africa groups descend from the African L3M group.

OoA-IIa took place in a warm period when the Sahara barrier was green. So perhaps the first AMHs left Africa along the Nile. As mentioned above, AMH hand axes are found on the Arabian Peninsula dated 125.000 years ago. Paleos have found fossil AMH remains dated 120,000 years old in the Mount Carmel caves Skhul and Qafzeh (Israël). Their stone assemblages did not differ from those made by the Neanderthals who had survived the severe cold period after the Toba catastrophe in the same caves, which during that period were abandoned by the AMHs. The paleos see the latter as ‘archaic AMHs’, because they do not yet show the more modern life style of the Blombos populations in the Southern tip of Africa.

We can follow the migrations by looking at archaeological remains. We can also reconstruct them by looking at the dispersal of different types of musical traditions

humans, because in the rest of the world the genetic diversity is much smaller. Tishkoff[4] also suggests that the group which migrated out of Africa came from northern East Africa. "The diversity of groups in Ethiopia and Somalia is intermediate between that of the rest of Africa and the rest of the world," according to Tishkoff: "perhaps this group was isolated from the rest of the African continent before they migrated into the Middle East and Europe." As said, this first OoA-group doesn’t show the life style of the southern AMHs of Blombos cave and other sites. So this archaic group may have been driven northwards along the Nile by the population pressure of more modern AMHs from the south. Because their first appearance outside Africa is on the Arabic Peninsula, near the Strait of Hormuz (Jeben Faya, 128,000 years ago) and they appear in the Levant 8000 years later, it is also possible that they left Africa by crossing the Strait of Bab en Mandab. Or should we suppose two emigration groups of archaic AMHs? Because their stone technology is a little different.

Most of the ‘archaic AMHs’ (OoA-IIa) moved ‘beachcombing’ to the East. In this relatively warm period, lush vegetation on the Arabic Peninsula made it habitable for grazing animals and their human predators. Recently, African-looking hand axes have been found in Jebel Faya (UAE)[5] . From there, migration to India may have taken place, where we find them

Semang woman, descendant of OoAIIa-people

“spearing dinner and filleting meat” 76,000 years ago in Jwalapuram.[6] At the moment of the Toba catastrophe, most of them had already passed that area, beachcombing farther eastward. Their descendants populated Sundaland and eventually reached the Sahul continent (New Guinea, Australia, Tasmania). Today we still find descendants of these early AMHs in the jungle of Malaysia: the Semang (see photo). The Malaysians name them Orang Asli, and in the Philippines they are named Negritos.

In their homeland Africa, the AMHs recovered soon after the Toba disaster. Since that time, they developed the modern life style we already mentioned: indicated by fish spears and other tools from bone, ivory and antler, shell beads, engravings on ochre lumps. And perhaps they used spoken language. About 65,000 years ago, their coastal population became large enough to start the OoA-IIb migration wave. This time, they crossed the red Sea at the Strait of Bab el Mandab. Presumably in several waves (see the second map below).

The OoAIIb-migration (post-‘Toba’)

By 45,000 years ago, or possibly earlier, they had settled in Indonesia, New Guinea and Australia.

Today’s Australian Aboriginals are descended from the first humans to travel far from their African origins. (From: “Aboriginal genome analysis”, Nature. 477, 28 Sept. ’11)

The modern humans entered Europe, inhabited until then by Neanderthals only, around 40,000 years ago. The Neanderthals, who were Early Humans, now were confronted with a totally different kind of humans: noisy, numerous, armed with farther reaching spears and living from fish. People who didn’t react on your gestured communication. So as a Neanderthal, you could better avoid confrontations and retreat into an area without fish. By 35,000 years ago, the AMHs had populated most of the Old World and forced the Neanderthals into mountain strongholds in Croatia, the Iberian Peninsula, the Crimea and elsewhere. The Neanderthal groups became isolated from each other, suffered ever more from inbreeding and would become extinct 25,000 years ago.

Finally, around 15,000 years ago, humans crossed from Asia to North America and from there to South America. The white regions on the map is territory that was never been tread by humans before.

[1] Nilotes are often described as gracile in build, being slimmer and of greater stature than the average human, and having long limbs with very long distal segments (forearms, calves). This characteristic is thought to be a climatic adaptation to allow their bodies to shed heat more efficiently.

[2] "We found an enormous amount of diversity within and between the African populations, and we found much less diversity in non-African populations," Tishkoff told attendees today (Jan. 22) at the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science in Anaheim. "Only a small subset of the diversity in Africa is found in Europe and the Middle East, and an even narrower set is found in American Indians." (Science Daily, Jan 25, 1999)

[3] Journal of World Prehistory March 2003 “Language, Symbolism and Music – An Alternative Multidisciplinary Perspective” from Francesco d’Errico et al.

[4] Penn State University

[5] by Hans Uerpmann of the University of Tübingen and his team, in 2010

[6] according to Petraglia and his colleagues

20. Good natured


This is the title of the philosophically most relevant book of primatologist Frans de Waal (1996). Now we get to the point I mentioned before: that during 95,5% of all the time that our species can be considered human, our ancestors lived as gatherers-hunters. In these millions of years, our human nature has been formed. In the most recent eight thousand years (0,5% of our history) that we have been living as settled farmers, our original gatherer-hunter nature has been frustrated, but not wiped out.

First, something about a question that has been much debated in the last few thousand years of philosophy: is human nature intrinsically good or bad? Many philosophers from the past, for example Plato or Hobbes, tended to the second option. In many forms of religious belief, for example ultra-orthodox Protestantism, an inherent badness – sinfulness – of human nature is postulated as well. On the other hand we have had philosophers, such as in the 18th century Enlightenment, who opted for a positive – sometimes even naively positive – view on human nature: just let Reason reign, install true democracy, and everything will be alright. Both views on human nature are simplistic and one-sided because implicitly, they are based on moral presumptions about what constitutes “good” versus “bad” behavior.

In more modern philosophy, the trend is rather to avoid such moral presumptions about human nature. Modern philosophy has often (and not always in a fruitful manner) been reduced to playing with words and abstractions, while claiming to not being able to contribute much when it comes to moral matters. Whether we like it or not, by avoiding such moral positions, modern philosophy does no longer function as the moral beacon it once, alongside religion, was in human society and has made itself in a social sense largely irrelevant.

As for the anthropologists, they too seem to follow a pessimistic philosophical view on human nature. In the 1950s, shortly after World War II, among them the “killer ape hypothesis” of anthropologist Raymond Dart was influential. According this hypothesis, war and interpersonal aggression was the driving force behind human evolution. Science writer Robert Ardrey expanded on this idea in African Genesis (1961), suggesting that the urge to act violently was a fundamental trait of the human mindset. Ethologist Konrad Lorenz also emphasized this pessimistic view of human nature with his book On aggression (1966). According Lorenz, animals, particularly males, are biologically programmed to fight over resources. Movies such as Planet of the Apes (1968) show that this issue affected popular opinion[1]. In 1996, Wrangham and Peterson followed the Dart/Lorenz trail in their influential book Demonic Males, suggesting an evolutionary connection between violent chimpanzees and violent man. However, in the same year the Dutch/American ethologist Frans de Waal countered with his influential book Good Natured.

The reader will already understand that the humanosophic view follows the latter view. Wrangham and Peterson even presume that our H. erectus ancestors deceived others and waged wars. We think that war emerged simply as the result of overpopulation: as the consequence of a social, not an inherent problem. H. erectus groups were sparse and needed each other for their survival. When two groups met each other, this was more reason for feast than for war: the groups needed each other for interchanging experiences and partners, and presumably for handing out sparks of fire[2]. As for the deceiving, we already presumed that H. erectuses were sign language communicators, for whom deceiving is more difficult: with body language, it would mean having to hold many muscles under more conscious control, which is difficult even for present-day sign language communicators.

Other convincing concrete evidence of our assumption of peacefulness is furnished by the most primitive people of present-day mankind: the scarce little populations of pure gatherer-hunters, like the Inuit and the San people. If it had been our ancestors’ nature to deceive each other and to wage wars, then these last of the gatherer-hunters would demonstrate a similar war-faring culture. But on the contrary, these are very peaceful people.

Many of the other primitive groups we know today, like the Yanomamö in the Amazon area and the Mountain Papuans in New Guinea, are not just gatherer-hunters anymore but rather horticulturalists. These groups live in a totally other situation than the gatherer-hunters: a situation of overpopulation, since too many groups have to share limited resources. This situation leaves them no other choice than to fight for survival. It is such overpopulation that forced them to give up the pure gatherer-hunter lifestyle. But in the long run of human history, this overpopulation is a relative recent phenomenon.

Human nature as we view it, is a three-stage rocket. The first stage we share with all living creatures, even with bacteria and plants. It is the individual drive to take as much energy as possible from the environment to stay alive and procreate. It is this self-centered survival drive that still gets the upper hand in real or imagined panic situations.

The second stage: our ancestors were group animals. By living in a group they were able to extract energy, to stay alive and procreate, in a more efficient way than an individual. Theoretically there are three kinds of groups: firstly the insect-groups like ants or bees where the individual is no more than a component of one collective organism, secondly the herd-groups like swarms of fishes or sparrows, and herds of zebras or buffaloes[3], and in the third place the social groups of highly self-conscious animals such as elephants, dolphins and apes.

We are apes, so for our second stage we have to look to the group animals and especially to the bonobos and chimpanzees: our next of kin. In the permanent survival fight between their groups, chimpanzees have an individual interest in being a member of the strongest group. To keep their group strong, they must minimize the internal fights. When two chimpanzee males do have a fight, then afterwards they try desperately to reconcile. Bonobos use sex for minimizing internal group tensions.

These group animals to which we humans belong, are driven by two contradictory impulses: egoism (the me-myself-and-I drive) and altruism (you have more chances to survive and to pass on your DNA in an harmonious group, so you must curb your egoism). These two impulses are at right angles to each other and would condemn individuals to a paralyzing indecision if they did not have a calming mechanism at their disposal: manners, rules for social intercourse, culture, ‘norms and values’. Basically this mechanism is present with all group animals,[4] and in a more complex manner, similar mechanisms still keep us humans together. In moralistic philosophy, the two opposite impulses (altruistic vs. egoistic) often correspond with concepts of good and evil.

This ‘norms and values culture’ only works within a coherent group. It does not extend across different groups: in fact, it is a form of egoism-as-a-group. It does allow aggression and violence against any other groups. But we saw that the groups of Early Humans were small (about 25 individuals) and rare, and so they needed each other. During the countless centuries that our ancestors were Homo, there was rarely any reason or opportunity for aggression and violence between groups at all. The groups needed each other for their survival: for exchange of sex partners, knowledge and experience. When two of these groups met, it was occasion for a feast.

However, as for the moralistic good and evil, how should we label violence against other groups of the same kind? Good or evil? So we have to define what is ‘good’. Good is what is conducive for the survival. For the individual survival? Then purely egoistic, self-centered behavior would be ‘good’! But usually such behavior is not good for the group as a whole: from the group perspective, such egoistic behavior is ‘evil’! So ape groups developed ‘norms and values’, developed a primitive form of morality: for a group animal, good is behavior that is conducive for the survival of the group.

As for the third stage of the human nature rocket, our ancestors developed a social norms and values culture that extended beyond the limits of one’s own group: as long as our ancestral Early Humans were pure gatherer-hunters, they were are able to behave as noble wilds, living in harmony with their natural environment, with each other, and even with other human groups. And because that long-long time has determined our human nature, we are still noble wilds in our deepest desires. For humans, harmony is good.[5] ***It is the result of natural selection: in the harsh environments groups with harmony flourished more than quarreling groups. After thousands of generations, inclination to harmony became an innate tendency.

We still long for harmony, we still feel that being kind to each other is the most livable basis for society. Since we became AMHs (the last 100.000 years after 2 million years of being gatherer-hunters) this basic social feeling got perhaps somewhat frustrated when larger groups of 150-200 individuals evolved. But it only got frustrated totally after we became horticulturalists, with all the warfare and machismo that this recent lifestyle implied. The lowest point was reached in the class-based societies since 5000 years ago, with slavery, mass cruelties and monotheism.

Today we have a chance for recuperation. The unique quality of humanity is that we are capable of reflection. This capability may be seen as a further refining step on the path of extracting energy from the environment and of passing-on DNA. On the basis of reflection we may become aware that all groups of humans have the same interest: surviving on the planet Earth. Beyond our own planet, there is no alternative place available for extracting our energy and for passing-on our DNA. Once we see the need for it, we humans have the capability to make the next step beyond group harmony: global harmony between all our groups.

Our universal basic story, the science-based new ‘creation story’, may serve as an essential building stone for this reflection.

So are Wrangham & Peterson wrong with their Demonic Males? No, not wrong, but biased and overlooking the long-long evolutionary human history of low population density that repeatedly brought us to the verge of extinction. Wrangham & Peterson and their adepts see only ‘stage’ 1 and 2 as human nature. They are obviously ignorant of the peaceful nature of our longtime pure gathering-hunting existence, unaware of the more recent effects of overpopulation, and therefore unacquainted with the overall historical development of human nature.

[1] perhaps influenced by the German/American humanist psychologist Erich Fromm, in 1986 under US auspices the Seville Statement on Violence stated that while patterns of human aggression may be inherited, warfare need not be a necessary consequence

[2] even today Andaman groups have to ‘lend’ fire when their own fire has been extinguished by accident

[3] the herd is still the best environment for the individual to realize its me-myself-and-I interests, but its survival is best served by being as un-individualistic as possible in appearance and in behavior

[4] Frans de Waal Our Inner Ape. Why We Are Who We Are (2005)

[5] *** Not for humans only. Recently biologist Radersma of University Groningen published his thesis (2011) about research on great tits. Nest with an equal number of male and female chickens flourished better than imbalanced nest: less quarrel and competition and loss of energy

22. Overpopulation


Our species started in very harmonious groups with the women as the dominant gender. Survival on the savannahs was extremely precarious. Groups living in harmony flourished better than groups with tensions: natural selection advanced harmony within the groups or tribes. Millions and millions of years of harmony is what made us the most social beings in nature, while the other side of our nature – violently defending ourselves and our kin – was pushed far away to the background. On the sparsely populated savannahs, such violent behavior was just not needed for survival.

Why then are men the dominant gender now? Why did Plato live in a time of civil war and slavery? Why then a Holocaust, Nanking massacre or, more recently, the Rwanda tribal mass murder? Why was our natural tendency to live in harmony overshadowed by other, more violent tendencies? We find the answer in the chimpanzees, and the keyword is overpopulation.

We may assume the ancestors of the chimpanzees lived more harmoniously than their descendants now, and again climate changes were a main cause here. Two million years ago, the start of the Ice Ages caused a dryer climate, shrinking the rainforests area. This shrinking of their territories caused overpopulation among the ancestors of the modern chimpanzees, which incited a more fierce struggle for survival. Struggle and war made the males more important. In the fiercer competition between different groups, the groups with the most violent men had a better survival chance. This process repeated itself with each new Ice Age, over and over again, about twenty times. In the long run, this made chimpanzees more violent (unlike for example bonobos, who thanks to a different environment were able to retail their original nonviolent lifestyle).

For our ancestors, this situation of overpopulation started not 2 million years ago, but just some 100 thousand years ago in Northern Africa, where the Anatomically Modern Humans (AMHs) had appeared as descendants of a local African Middle Stone Age (MSA) population, who in their turn were descendants of the African Homo erectus.

The tropical H. erectus (par exemple Nariokotome Boy) and the MSAs had been long and slender. Just like the stocky figures of the Neandertals (NT-s) had adapted to a colder climate, their African contemporaries (the MSA-culture, you could see them as Afro-NT’s) had adapted to a hot climate. Their being long and slender also meant longer necks with more place for a lower throat and a bigger pharynx. Our pharynx plays an important role in singing and making vowels. This makes spoken language possible.

We already told about the communication moment. In most discussions, you get little time to make your point and each woman wants to contribute her part. From the very beginning, their voices played a role in the sign communication. When communicating in the dark, or with full hands, they always felt pressed to put more lingual content in their vocal sounds, with clicks! and pfffs! and mmms![1]. I also mentioned the influence of the daily dancing-and-singing of the Creation Story in gradually developing more cortical voice control. For the long and slender Afro-NT’s, longer necks may have facilitated this process. 100.000 years ago, the communication of this African population was in the midst of a transition from pure sign language supported by a few sounds, to ever more spoken language supported by gestures.

I think this had to do with the females in the first place. Women were dominant in religious performances, like they were dominant in medical care and magic. Males should never put the success of their hunting at risk by using female speech to pray to the Big Ancestor: they clung on the sacral sign language for their hunting prayers. Nowadays before each hunting trip, the Semai hunters still use sign language to pray to their Big Ancestor. When we look at the important role of gestures in sacred rituals today, we see that sign language must have survived a long time in the sacral singing-and-dancing of the Creation Stories which had such a dominant place in the lives of our ancestors.

To get back to the point: why war and why male dominance? We saw that with chimpanzees, overpopulation brought fighting and fostered violence in males. The same mechanism applies to humans in more recent times. During most of our evolution, populations grew slowly and the world was wide. So equality between the genders or even female dominance was common in the groups and clans. But because women will defend their children, and may quarrel to find their place in the status order, they will often look for a powerful hulk as an arbitrator. It is quite possible that from the earliest times, even female dominated communities had a headman. Of course, he had to be accepted by the women[2] and under female control. In larger and later groups, males and females may have lived apart for most hours of a day, and each have had their own rituals, but even then a headman ‘headed’ a group.

We still see the same in all tribes with incessant and hopeless tribal wars: it occurs always and only in a situation of overpopulation. But why do all these tribes know machism (male dominance) and sometimes severe violence against women? Why this unproductive suppression of their indispensable and attractive partners in life? This may be the consequence of the female dominance in the long, long times before the overpopulation situation. In times of survival fights however, the ‘fittest’ groups are the groups with the most violent males, as we saw. Therefore, women began to see violence as a good quality in males and to promote this warrior-attitude in their men and sons.

The males learned their warrior qualities were very, very important. And by inference, they began to see their own rituals as far more important than the rituals of the women. In many cultural myths all over the world this is illustrated by the element of males taking over the holy flutes for their own ritual use.

The first indication of overpopulation (accompanied by the start of wars and male dominance) in European AMHs may date from the onset of a cold period of OIS-2[3] about 35.000 years ago. Hunting territories shrunk, groups were driven together in the southern refugia. The cave paintings of Chauvet and elsewhere may be seen as male initiation sanctuaries: as places for secluded male rituals, separated from the women. At the same time, female rituals became more concentrated on the growing importance of food plants like peas and lentils, the boons of Mother Earth which they venerated with the renowned Venus figurines such as the Willendorf statuette.

Venus of Willendorf, Austria. Limestone, ca 25.000 BC

Many paleos wonder why the AMHs in Europe developed brilliant cave paintings and Venus statuettes (the ‘Upper Paleolithic Revolution’), while those living in Africa for much longer did not produce that many art works. For example, archaeologist Richard G. Klein theorizes about some brain-related gen mutation leading through symbolic language to symbolic art. We think there is a more simple explanation: artistic activity may have been fostered by a colder climate, where in a long icy winter (when people lived mainly from food gathered in autumn) there was less to do. This may be corroborated when we compare the activities of Inuit gatherer-hunters with African gatherer-hunters such as the San.

Later on, other events contributed to overpopulation and male dominance. About 16.000 years ago, in the northern hemisphere, the big mammals (mammoths, cave bears, giant deer, sabre toothed tiger, etcetera) became extinct. This was the time of the invention of bow and arrow, and the domestication of the wolf. This also was the time of the dispersion of AMHs all over the world, including the Americas. This was the time of beginning horticulture. In regions of Eurasia with a high density of shabono’s (the temporary villages or long-houses of semi nomadic horticulturers) the first acute struggles for survival arose.

But on a more fundamental level, it was only the situation that had changed (war), not the males or the women themselves. So the males had to suppress their incertitude, to allay their own doubts: they declared their newly-won importance holy. A deep incertitude of the males may have contributed to a new phenomenon: a constant denigration of female abilities. Present-day religious fundamentalists still display this primitive incertitude, by isolating and over-protecting their wives, by limiting female freedom of action, or by demonizing love affairs or abortions.

A good question is: was machismo not a legacy of the early AMHs? Was their immigration Out of Africa not a result of overpopulation? Even the most egalitarian tribes like the Mbuti (Congo) know a certain degree of machismo. In the past, Mbuti males annexed the molima, the rites of the holy flutes and excluded the women from it. As a part of the present ritual, women still disturb the males’ ritual crying that the men have stolen the molima and the holy flutes from them.

So when you say machismo may be very old, I agree. For example, as we can see with chimpanzees, machismo may always have been a strategy to cope with situations of overpopulation and/or competition. Both peacefulness and a warrior-attitude have always been strategies to cope with specific environmental challenges. For most of human history, a predominantly peaceful way of living was the most successful way to interact with the environment. When about 20,000 years ago overpopulation started to become an environmental factor, gradually a warrior-like style of living became the more successful attitude.

I paraphrased a few pages from the book The other side of Eden (London, 2001) about the lifestyle of ‘noble wilds’. But human nature is a three-stage rocket. So here is an anecdote about noble wilds in an overpopulation situation, already forty years in my mind, so I have forgotten the source. It is from a visitor or missionary :

Oh what a noble people, so respectful for each other and for their children! So much better humans than we in our western civilization!

One day men learned that strangers were roaming in the north of the territory. So they had to go down there. Perhaps whiteman would like to come along? Oh yes, sure, whiteman was always ready to learn some new.

They stalked the camp of the strangers. It appeared that the men were hunting and the women gathering, so they found only old people and children in the camp. All of them were slaughtered ruthlessly. A desperate girl crawled to the petrified onlooking visitor for help. “Oh, you want to fuck her, whiteman?” asked a helpful Indian, “wait a moment”– and he pushed his spear through the girl’s body into the ground.[4]

From this story we may conclude that we are very social, but only to those we see as fellow humans. For the Indians, the strangers were not fellow humans. Not even humans. To them, these others were rather a form of harmful wildlife that you need to destroy. It can also be concluded that this awful behavior didn’t make them less social: it had survival value. Only one group can make a living from a given territory. Those Indians didn’t have a government to regulate their behavior. In any threatening situation, selfishness is dominating, and this also applies to a GH-collective. Today we still see the same behavior in AGR-societies such as Rwanda. It can be seen in any civilization, such as the Japanese (the Nanking massacre) or the German civilization (Holocaust). Such behavior can be revived by ideological indoctrination and can happen even when the supposed threat is in fact an imaginary one. In the just-mentioned cases, the Tutsi, the Chinese, the Jews were not a real threats, but ideological indoctrination had caused them to be felt as a threat. In a sense, such indoctrination created an imaginary overpopulation situation.

[1] in the 1950s, the American Hayes couple raised a chimpanzee, Vicky, as if she was a human child: this was intended as an experiment of training in speaking. But the only result was ‚mama’, ‚papa’. ‚up’ and ‚cup’, soundlessly spoken

[2] As described by Frans de Waal, even the dominant bonobo females prefer an alpha male, because females to one another have difficulties in amending quarrels; but the alpha female makes the foraging decisions, not the alpha male

[3] Marine isotope stages (MIS), marine oxygen-isotope stages, or oxygen isotope stages (OIS), are alternating warm and cool periods in the Earth’s paleoclimate, deduced from oxygen isotope data reflecting temperature curves derived from data from deep sea core samples.

[4] surely not from Jesuit Relations, field letters from the missionary priests, published for two hundred years beginning in the early 17th century as a fundraising tool. Because the Jesuits found their own civilization superior, and urged the native men to beat their children and to suppress their women

23. Leadership and animism


We humans are the only species that can individually consult each other in order to handle the challenges of our environment. Having started long ago as a tiny population of apes trying to survive in a hostile environment, thanks to this special faculty we now are the dominant vertebrates. This special faculty enabled our ancestors to survive in hostile environments and climates, and to survive big catastrophes that for many other species spelled extinction. It is this uniquely human faculty of being able to consult each other in order to make common decisions (democracy) that we will present as the base of a new, universal human self-confidence.

In the original groups of 25 individuals that existed at the time when our human nature was formed, during the long-long time of our Early Human ancestors, it may have been relatively easy to arrive at common decisions. In his 1990 book Our Kind. Who we are, where we came from & where we are going, Marvin Harris looks at today’s small populations: with 50 people per band or 150 per village. Everybody knows everybody else intimately, people are bound together in the reciprocal exchange of killed animals and gathered food. Examples of these are !Kung People of Botswana and the Inuit of Alaska (both still true hunter-gatherer cultures), and the Mehinacu of Brazil’s Xingu National Park or the Semai of Malaysia (both horticultural societies).

Since chance plays a great role in success of hunting and even in gathering, individuals who have a lucky catch one day, may need a handout on the next. So the best way to guarantee a daily portion of food is to be generous. Anthropologist Richard Gould said: The greater the amount of risk, the greater the extent of sharing”. Richard Lee in The !Kung San (1979) watched small groups of men and women returning home every evening with the animals, wild fruits and plants that they had killed or gathered. They shared everything equally, even with camp mates who had stayed behind and spent the day sleeping or taking care of tools and weapons. “Not only families pool that day’s production, but the entire camp – residents and visitors alike – shares equally in the total quantity of food available. The evening meal of any one family is made up of portions of food from each of the other families. Foodstuffs are distributed raw or are prepared by the collectors and then distributed. There is a constant flow of nuts, berries, roots and melons from one family fireplace to another until each person resident has received an equal portion. The following morning a different combination of foragers moves out of the camp.”

What about leadership? To the extent that political leadership exists at all among simple band-and-village societies, it is exercised by individuals called headmen. However, they lack the power to compel others to obey orders. How can such a headman lead?

Among the Inuit, a group will follow an outstanding hunter, especially the leader of the whale hunting party. But in all other matters, his opinion carries no more weight than any other man’s. Among the Amazon Indians, headmanship is mostly an irksome job. As the first one to rise in the morning, the headman stands in the middle of the village and shouts, rousing his companions. If something needs to be done, it is the headman who works at it harder than anyone else. After a fishing or hunting expedition, he gives away more of the catch than anyone else. In trading with other groups, he is careful not to keep the best items for himself. Among the Mehinacu the headman is a kind of scoutmaster. Among the warlike Yanomamö he is the captain at the raids. It is his task to patrol outside the shabono (village) in the morning and to risk being shot by a raiders group. He has also to maintain the biggest garden in order to feed guests (every man tries to keep his garden as small as possible!)

Among the Semai, who are horticulturers like the Amazon Indians and with a gift economy too, the headman is more a spokesman for public opinion than a molder of it. Disputes in the Semai community are resolved by holding a becharaa (public assembly) at the headman’s house. This assembly may last for days and involves thorough discussion of the causes, motivations and resolutions, ending with the headman charging either or both of the

disputants not to repeat their behavior lest it endanger the community. Somebody who neglects the becharaa verdict, is really endangering his life[1]. In hunter-gatherer societies, the principle of making decisions by reaching consensus of all adults in the group is the most frequent model of decision-making, although there are a few exceptions. The Gwi hunters in Botswana discuss their intentions carefully to avoid mutual interference (see photo).

Today most tribal AMM-groups, usually numbering some 150 people, are horticulturers living in an overpopulated region. Even when they live in peace and equality, in every social group nonconformists and malcontents try to use the system for their own advantage. Individuals who take more than they give and lay back in their hammocks while others do the work. But such freeloaders have to watch out for the shaman. In the past, every band- and village society had such a shaman or witch-doctor with a special aptitude for communicating with the spiritual world and more specific: with the tribe’s Big Ancestor (in later times: God). To go into trance they took hallucinogenic substances, danced to a monotonous drumbeat, inhaled magic smoke. For healing they had a rich repertoire of huffing, puffing and sucking practices, and multiple other tricks. This shaman, woman or man, was not a headman. In their spiritual world, illness or disease was not primarily physical, but rather caused by evil spirits. But from her or his divinatory trance, the shaman could pinpoint and accuse a freeloader, who might be lucky to be only expelled.

Navajo amulet pouch

In all aspects that we will encounter in the following paragraphs about the transition from small populations to modern democracy we have to realize that our ancestors were animistic creatures: believing that souls or spirits exist, not only in humans, but also in animals, trees, plants, rocks, mountains, rivers, the sea, the air and so on. People always believed – and some of us still believe – that these spirit beings can be induced or compelled to help us in hunting or winning a match, in healing from an illness or winning in the casino, in surviving a dangerous voyage or going to heaven. For example, among the Inuit each man had to have a hunting song: a combination of chant, prayer and magic formula that he inherited from his father or his uncles. Around his neck he wore an amulet: a little bag filled with tiny animal carvings, bits of claws and fur, pebbles, insects, and other items, each corresponding to a personal spirit helper who protected him against hostile spirits and helped him to succeed.

Another human characteristic that stems from our ancestors is tribalism: a strong feeling of identity with our parental tribe. As modern free market consumers, today we have learned to view ourselves primarily as individuals. But for a member of a tribe it is nearly impossible to feel what it means to be an individual. Being a tribal person means: being a member of one special family, and this family being part of one special clan. A broader loyalty may be felt for the special tribe to which that one clan belongs. An even wider loyalty can be felt towards a group of related tribes, but only in confrontation with a common, shared enemy: without such a shared enemy, the tribes’ unity will disintegrate. That is what we have to keep in mind when we progress in the cultural evolution from the small groups to more complex societies. In some cases, even in modern societies tribalism can be apparent: for example, the Nazi ideology and its built-in antisemitism can be interpreted as a ‘modern’ form of tribalism.

[1] presumably Otzi, the ‘iceman’ found in 1991, is such a maroon

24. From headman to Big Man: the rise of distribution


Just like today in small tribal societies such as the !Kung San and the Semai, in the past reciprocity was long the only form of exchange practiced in egalitarian band- and village people. Among more agricultural populations, another way to give and take arose with the seasonal feasts among the bands. When wild seeds ripened and game was abundant, neighboring bands gathered on a special place, each bringing an abundant stock of food and beverage in baskets and bags, for a days long festival of dancing and singing and the ritual renewal of group identity. A well-known archaeological example of such a festival place is the famous Gobekli Tepe site.

Gobekli Tepe, East-Turkey: a huge hill full of sanctuaries, built from large outhacked sandstone pilars, dated some 9000 years BC

At such occasions, no longer the headman alone could be responsible for the abundant stock of food and beverage: each family had to help with contribution of food and beverage. The headman now functioned as the administrator of the stock.

When agriculture became the prime source of food, saving this stock became a permanent and institutionalized necessity: a stored surplus to overcome bad harvests. The headman-redistributor became the Big Man: a prestigious figure with a storage building to whom each family turned over his surplus on preservable food such as wild cereals, nuts and sweet potatoes, yams or taro. Only on places where such products could be harvested or cultivated, could redistribution emerge and with it the role of the Big Man. This is why even today we won’t find Big Man figures in Aboriginal tribes: in Australia, there were little to none preservable and storable products to cultivate.

Full agriculture leads easily to overpopulation stress. A situation of overpopulation happens to apply to our next of kin, too: the chimpanzees. It is interesting to look back for a moment to apes here, as they represent the most primitive component of our nature. For most of our evolution time, we lived rather like the peaceful bonobos. But when suffering from overpopulation stress, we live more like (less peaceful) chimpanzees.

Do chimpanzees have Big Men? Normally in chimp groups the alpha males change every four years. But Frans de Waal mentions one interesting case.[1] One alpha man managed to remain in charge twelve years, manipulating his rivals by redistributing surplus food. Even when he was not the successful hunter himself, he distributed the coveted prey. The largest morsels were for the most serious competitors, and for himself he took little or nothing. Chimpanzees are political animals.

Back to our own species: the Big Man became a prestigious figure. Even when he had to work harder and to reserve smaller and less desirable portions for himself, the headman-distributor was compensated with admiration and prestige. Every woman was proud to become his wife, and he was good enough to embrace many of them. Every boy’s ambition was to become a Big Man. For who has the say over the redistribution, has the power at his grasp. The council of the eldest remained an institute to be taken into account, but the growing power of the Big Man and his guard, especially when he functioned as headman in wars, made this institute by slow stages into an applause machine.

A classical anthropological study of Big Man is the late Douglas Oliver’s The Pacific Islands (1951). He studied the Siuai, a village people living on one of the Solomon Islands in the South Pacific. In the Siuai language, the big man was known as the mumi. Organizing great feasts and publicly demonstrating the tribe’s (and his own) prosperity by giving things away was the essence of mumihood. Therefore, great mumis consumed less meat and other delicacies than ordinary men. The Solomon Islands saying is: “The giver of the feast takes the bones and the stale cakes; the meat and the fat go to the others.”

As long as those Big Man societies lived in peace, there was little inducement to change anything. But the combination of seaworthy canoes and restless, energetic young men enticed to visit other settlements and islands, to trade, exploration and raiding. The great mumi consumed less and gave much, gaining prestige and adoration. His ongoing effort helped to increase production: the mumi and his followers initiated agrarian methods and improvements such as dams and canals. All this augmented his prestige. His (again, restless and energetic) sons inherited this prestige and adoration without having to establish it by modest and self-sacrificing behavior. Their young followers weren’t content with ‘bones and stale cakes’ either. It were these young men who manned the canoes, and it depended on the defensive force of the visited settlement whether it became a trade visit or a raid.

An exceptional form of Big Man-ship came to exist among the Kwakiutl and other Pacific Northwest Coastal Indians 2000 years ago. They were not yet horticulturists and yet they knew Big Men. The cause was environmental: this population lived in an exceptional rich biotope. There was plenty of food; the staple food was salmon. Six or seven times each year rich schools of salmons swam up into the rivers for spawning upstream, and one could catch them even by hand. When the technique of drying fish made it possible to keep it in store, this led to a kind of ‘mumihood’: chiefs who boosted production to arrange ever more splendid and wasteful feasts (potlaches) for other tribes.

Kwakiutl chiefs also became war leaders who by boasting and potlatches recruited men from neighboring tribes to fight alongside them on trading and raiding expeditions. The Tobriand chiefs were equally war lords. Anthropologist Malinowski stated that they conducted systematic and relentless wars, venturing across the open ocean in their canoes to trade or to fight with islands over a hundred miles away.[2]

What was the root cause of this propensity to warfare, universal among horticultural and early agricultural societies? Especially societies that had seaworthy canoes or riding horses? Two million years long our ancestral groups lived in peace with each other, so making war is not an inherited property. However, when we discussed “Human nature” we already saw that good was “what is conducive for the survival”. Picking fruits and other food is good. Hunting other animals is good. For the AMHs who were living in evermore larger groups and who were confronted with a situation of overpopulation,[3] other groups were not human. Humans were people of their own tribe only: people with which one could communicate. ‘Inuit’ means ‘human’. ‘Yanomamö’ means ‘human’. People with another language weren’t really humans: they couldn’t even talk properly. When Early Human groups met each other, it was a reason to feast: they knew each other and there were relationships. But when AMHs were confronted with a group of strangers, fighting and murdering was good, because only one group could live from the territory.

Raiding another group was good. The winner of the confrontation seized the survival means of the looser. In situations of overpopulation, raiding is good – but dangerous too. The young Jane Goodall was the first to discover that chimpanzees raid each others’ groups. Chimpanzees patrol into another group’s territory very quietly, hoping to meet a single foraging man and to kill him. When they repeatedly succeed in doing so, the other group is weakened so much that they can take over all its women. In The Fierce People about the Yanomamö we can read that these people behaved in a very similar way.[4]

An important factor in the propensity to warfare were the young men. The !Kung were alert for high aspirations of young men and had their methods to “cool his heart and make him gentle.” The Mehinacu and other Amazon tribes invested much time and effort in long and extensive initiation ceremonies during which the young men were ‘tamed’ and integrated in the males’ world. The Yanomamö lived under such an overpopulation stress that they had no time left for initiation rituals, and consequently they had a serious problem with their young men. The problem was worsened by the fact that most men had more wives, which caused a women shortage: in many tribal societies, finding women is a motive for raiding[5]. Generally, in most cases it were the young men who manned the canoes and were eager to kill and to become a man.

The root of all this evil is that the victims are not seen as fellow people by the slayers. Or perhaps the root is that we believe what we like to believe. Power corrupts. When we are in power, it is easier to believe that our victim is not a fellow human but some kind of weed. For raiders such as the young horse-riding Mongols or seafaring Vikings, villages of unarmed farmers were a sort of fruit that they only had to gather.

It is the raiding that has been the motivation to develop counter-measures in the form of religious structures (monotheism) and political actions (subduing ‘wild’ tribes), both aiming at the restoration of social order in the interest of trade and prosperity. This is what we mean by ‘civilization’ as a historical process.

[1] He told it at a lecture that I attended

[2] The Trobriand Islands, 1915

[3] Even the American northwest coast Indians (Kwakiutl et al.), still being hunters and gatherers, arrived in an overpopulation situation, due to the richness and abundance of their territories, populated by some hundred tribes. It led to sedentism, trade, warfare, social stratification. Perhaps the potlaches were a means to avoid and reduce wars between the tribes. The population never reached the phase of city states and empires because it lacked cereals. (James Deetz, The First Americans, Time/Life, 1973)

[4]Strong villages should take advantage of weaker villages and coerce them out of women; to prevent this, the members of all villages should therefore behave as if they were strong. Thus, the military threat creates a situation in which intervillage alliance is desirable, but at the same time spawns a military ideology that inhibits the formation of such alliances: allies need but cannot trust each other. They are obliged to behave aggressively in order to display their respective strengths. Alliances between villages involve casual trading, mutual feasting, and finally the exchange of women. The most intimate allies are those who, in addition to trading and feasting, exchange women. Alliances with trade and feasting but without proceeding to woman-exchange, are weak alliances. Nevertheless they serve to limit the degree of war. The Yanomamö tend to avoid attacking those villages with which they trade and feast, and rarely accuse each other of practicing harmful magic. Allies bound to each other by ‘affine’ (marriages-bound) kinship ties, are more interdependent: are under obligation to exchange women.” Napoleon Chagnon The Fierce People (NY 1983) p. 147

[5] Remember the ‘rape of the Sabine women’, an episode in the legendary history of Rome

35. The power of human cooperation


We, authors, assume that such a common new belief can easily be found because we all have in common that we are human beings, with the same origin story and the same desire for happiness. We ought to share a belief in the power of humanity, based on the power of names for the things, the power of consulting each other, the power of democracy. The free market economy is slowly globalizing and will hopefully free more and more people. This process will progress more smoothly with the presenting of a story that, in the end, will have the power to replace old, restrictive religious views.

The idea that we will try to offer here, may be seen as an advanced form of the utilitarism of Jeremy Beckham and John Stuart Mill – based on their maxim the greatest happiness for the greatest number of people – advanced by means of the progress of the sciences and humanities in our free market society.

As for the greed characterizing today’s free market society, is that also good as a propelling mechanism, furthering the greatest happiness for the greatest number of people? For our actual neo-liberal market economy, the goodness of greed (introduced by the 1987 movie Wall Street) was propagated as a leading principle by Ayn Rand in Capitalism: The Unknown Ideal (1966). After the worldwide collapse of the financial system, Rand’s disciple Alan Greenspan, former chairman of the US Federal Reserve System (FED), declared "It is not that humans have become any more greedy than in generations past. It is that the avenues to express greed had grown so enormously" and he suggested that financial markets need to be better regulated.[1]

We already defined human nature as a ‘three-stage rocket’ propelled by (1) selfishness, (2) group sentiment and (3) our inclination to harmony. We emphasized that all three inclinations are still active in each of us, dependent from the circumstances. We stressed that the third inclination (to harmony) has always been strong as a result of natural selection, serving survival in harsh environments. Tendency to harmony is good.

Our authors’ vision about the role of greed is that when humans miss a common basic story, this negatively affects our tendency to feel common responsibility (stages 2 and 3 of the rocket). Thus, everybody regresses to the first-stage drive of human nature: selfishness – which implies greed. But for human happiness we need the third-stage drive: striving for harmony.

The fading away of the old Christian basic story that used to define our humanity made consumers feel free. But the omission of our philosophers in seeing the resulting gap and in providing us with a new and better basic story made many people selfish, unconcerned and socially unresponsive. The lack of a beacon in the form of a common Story tended to make parents more hedonistic and less responsible, without setting adequate limits for their children and without setting an example in keeping harmony. Whole generations of youngsters are now growing up without a basic story that might give meaning and sense to their life, and without involvement in the common good. Today, we reap the bitter fruits of living decennia without an effective basic story.

We can overcome this oppressing situation by calling attention for a new basic story, that is in fact waiting to be picked up. How to spread the word: that is our challenge for now. With this book we want to promote not just a motivating universal belief in our common future: we also want to promote the promoting of it.

[1] presenting the Federal Reserve’s Monetary Policy Report in July, 2002

36. Promoting the new Story for Mankind


We have to face three main questions. To summarize:

The first question is why we do need such a new Story. As we tried to point out above, our free market society needs such a new base for shaping human identity and morality, one that can replace the waning old religious creation stories.

The second main question is what, if indeed we do need such a new Story, should be its content. We think that content should focus on a new, coherent, multidisciplinary sciences-based vision of human history since our emergence from ape-hood: the history we tried to outline in the first part of this book. We need not repeat that here.

The third main question is of course: given (1) we see the need for such a Story, and (2) we manage to assemble a meaningful and inspiring content for our new common Story, then (3) how should we proceed to spread it around the world, without forcing it onto people as the old religious institutions tended to do? How can we make sure that gradually, maybe slowly but nevertheless surely, it is accepted and embraced by socially responsible leaders as our new shared source of inspiration, identity, morality and social responsibility?

In our vision, developing, reconstructing and corroborating the material for this content needs to be formally established and permanently coordinated as a joint effort by all the leading universities and research institutes worldwide. Ideally, such an effort ought to be organized under auspices of, and initiated by UNESCO.

In fact, the 1948 UN Universal Declaration of Rights already hinted at the root of our new common Story, albeit in general terms. Its Preambule begins with: “Whereas recognition of the inherent dignity and of the equal and inalienable rights of all members of the human family is the foundation of freedom, justice and peace in the worldThe Dutch philosopher Bernard Delfgaauw (1993) interpreted this text as: every person’s humanity requires recognizing and protecting his inherent dignity. This dignity is an essential aspect of our human identity. In the scientific, religious and political context of 1948 it was not yet possible to work out more exactly what might be the basis for this human dignity and identity. But in the meantime, this may have become a little less difficult. Why?

Since then, the scientific situation has improved greatly: increased prosperity led to better funding which intensified valuable field research in disciplines such as archeology, paleoanthropology and ethology. Tremendous technical advances in research instruments and methods brought results within reach that were unthinkable a few generations ago. Thus, our factual knowledge about human history increased considerably and continues to increase rapidly.

As for the religious situation, there were major changes since 1948 as well: in their defensive struggle with rising consumer individualism and freely accessible TV and internet information, religious institutions have begun to lose (or loosen) their formerly suffocating grip on people’s minds. Thinking became more free in various parts of the world and will inevitably continue to do so because the multiplying daily-life consequences of spreading free market opportunities are, quite simply and obviously, irreversible. Veiled Muslim women are desiring (and buying) French designer bags today. Even the most radical American TV evangelists or the fiercest Iranian ayatollahs are all, in the long run, fighting a lost battle.

Only the political situation may be more problematic now than it was in 1948. Perhaps our assessment should be that just like individual consumers have become more independent and self-conscious, in some ways countries, cultures and political movements have become more independent and self-conscious as well – especially outside the Western part of the world. For example, since 1948 most colonies have become politically independent countries and thus more active in demonstrating their own identity. In 1990 Muslim countries such as Sudan, Iran and Saudi Arabia launched their own alternative Cairo Declaration on Human Rights in Islam, based on the Shariah. An openly secular UNESCO project could certainly expect heavy and well-organized political opposition from the Muslim world. Maybe such an official UNESCO project would, for the time being, be feasible in an ideal world only.

This does not mean we should give up on the idea. It does mean however, that the propagation of a new, non-religious, both scientifically founded and morally inspiring Story of Mankind should be planned carefully. This propagation should be effectuated by a series of small tactical steps, avoiding the counterproductive error of trying to do too much at once. The latter would only generate religious and conservative resistance that otherwise may be addressed more easily.

Of course we are not so naïve as to believe that religious-political resistance from various parts of the world will be avoidable – on the contrary, we expect such resistance to be very strong, fierce and emotional. Such strong reactions might actually be a good thing, as indignation and protests from conservative religious backgrounds may help to further public discussion and thus increase publicity and public awareness of the matter.

So let us try now to outline a hypothetical – indicative, nothing more – scenario in the tangible form of a possible ten-year time line. We hope, if you will allow us a little joke, that you will not confuse this proposal with something in the order of the infamous Ten Year Plans in Stalin’s Soviet Russia: of course we mean something entirely different here. And of course we are aware that even the best planning will always need to be changed because of the harsh and unforeseeable reality.

Year one: This very booklet is intended as the first little step. We hope it may help convince some thinkers of the desirability and feasibility of a New Story project, inciting them to write some articles, reviews or reactions pleading for a more coordinated effort to further discuss it. This may draw a substantial number of other thinkers into a public discussion.

Year two: We hope this discussion might evolve into a kind of action group, informal at first – for example in the form of an internet forum – but gradually taking shape as a more organized group, with some kind of presidium and formal membership. The first concrete goal of this society could be to organize a congress or convention, where the society would decide on its own structure, name, goal and action plan.

Note: for the next years we assume that the actual course of events would follow from such a society’s democratically agreed decisions. But in order to concretize a potential scenario, we will just fill in those next years in a hypothetical way here.

Year three: *** At this point the authors of this booklet disagree about the character of the humanosophic project, being a plea for a new basic story for mankind. The disagreement is not ideological, it emanates from a different scientific attitude. Dr. Henk Van Setten is a scientist (historian) and Frans Couwenbergh is a portraitist, be it with academic background. We agree that the free market society and its democracy, as well as the people who lost their old basic story and the youngsters who grew up without such a common narrative, need a new basic story. We agree that this new story for mankind has to be scientifically based. We disagree in the character: is it a beliefs project in the first place or is it a scientific project?

In my view it is a beliefs project. The project has to bring a new belief: in the power of mankind, the human power of consulting each other, the power of democracy. The base of this belief is the story of how we have become humans from apes: the story we told in the foregoing chapters. From the very beginning the basic stories – creation stories – were mythic. They did their unifying work without any science. Still today, in many societies the monotheistic and other basic stories function without any science. In the Western societies, the monotheistic basic story loosens it’s unifying potential, not because its unscientific content but because monotheism is collectivistic: an oddness that is incompatible with the ruling free market economy that needs free consumers.

The new story for mankind will, in my view, derive its power on its completeness, it’s explaining , its answers on the Big Questions. Being as scientific based as possible is helpful, but not essential. Essential is it’s being there. Not as a Book, but as a never ending project. The new basic story is meant for the young people such as on the photo as well as for their addressees: both live without something: a basic story.

The project as I see it is: a broadly respected institution such as the UNESCO presents the project and appoints a small group of science writers to manage the project. The team emits a body narrative. The whole scientific world is invited to comment this body narrative. In three years the team has to process the comments as well as possible in the ‘preliminary-definitive’ Grand Story. In the next three years the new comments have to be processed in the second ‘preliminary-definitive’ Grand Story, and so it will be a never ending project, growing along with the science.

For co-author Henk van Setten, my approach is too amateurish. For him it has to become a scientific undertaking in the first place. Not the work of science writers and philosophers but of scientists. It has to result in a 500 pages volume, perfectly underpinned and provided with footnotes. Only after this standard is accomplished, the new basic Story can start functioning as a kind of scientifically based and universally acceptable Bible.

For me, the scientific component is less important than the psychological component. Mankind never in his history needed scientific underpinning of the center of its linguistical world: the creation story of it. Even the patriarchic Adam-and-Eve-story functioned two millennia without any scientific underpinning. In a free market world, wherein sciences are available, a new common origin story has to be scientifically underpinned, but it is not its most important aspect. To accomplish the new story for mankind as a scientific project, aiming a standard work, could take a hopeless quantum of years because of the different insights and viewpoints. When it comes to a standard work in the end, it will only add a volume in one’s book case, such as the magnificent The human past, edited by Chris Scarre (Thames and Hudson, 2005, 781 pages) [1], € 42,50.
And the effect of all this scientific labor? In my view this approach misses the democratic impact and involvement, it misses the agitation, the commotion, the turmoil, that awakens the attention of the people worldwide. The pure scientific approach also misses the never-ending-character.

But I surmise that our dispute will equally occupy the intended convention. So let us await the conclusion of the majority.

Based on the social and academic weight of the action group and its individual representatives – we hope of course to enlist influential members from different scientific and cultural backgrounds – the convention might outline the general scope, components, goals and priorities of an international multidisciplinary research project aiming at filling the most acute gaps in our knowledge and compiling a broad “story of mankind” based on all kinds of scientific contributions. In other words, building a more or less complete overview of how humans came to exist: like what we tried to outline in the first chapters of this booklet, only much better detailed, better referenced, conforming to high academic standards.

[1] “the most authoritative introduction to social, cultural, and economic developments in human prehistory. Using a regional and chronological framework, this groundbreaking book highlights the enormous diversity of human experience and the ways in which archaeologists are able to learn about it.”

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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.