The human brain and culture co‑evolved (Lumsden and Wilson, 1981) during at least the past 70,000 years. In this chapter I will make the case for the position that a civilization can only develop when there is a division of labor, and when society supports a large base of "artisans."
The first artisan niche was probably the toolmaker, whose task was initially part‑time, but eventually became full‑time. Significant evolutionary forces were created when the first full‑time artisan was employed, and these led to the further specialization of the left brain (LB).
When the Pleistocene glacial climate began a transition to the Holocene interglacial, 14,650 yr BP (years before the present), the better climate set the stage for an explosive expansion of artisan niches. Increasingly complex economies allowed for higher population densities, which supported large, sedentary populations. New artisan niches were created, allowing for an increase in the artisan population. The increasing "presence" of artisans caused cultures to expand, and become more sophisticated. The artisan played a crucial role in creating civilizations.
The entire process of artisan proliferation, cultural elaboration, and the creation of modern civilizations, occurred because human culture and brain‑function genes co‑evolved. By this is meant that the civilized environment that was created by artisans, whose special abilities are at least partly due to the appearance of "artisan genes," changed the environment in such a way that artisan genes were more valuable, and were "selected" in greater numbers. This chapter describes some speculative mileposts along this interesting journey.
Pleistocene LifeI will argue that for the past 70,000 years one of the most strongly contested allelic competitions was related to the creation of full‑time niches within human tribes.
The world's climate was cold for most of the past 1.6 million years, a period referred to as the Pleistocene Epoch (from 1.6 million to 12,000 years ago). Brief warmings, or interglacials, occurred at approximately 100,000 year intervals throughout the Pleistocene. There was an interglacial from about 129,000 to 116,000 yr BP. At about 69,750 yr BP there was a brief several‑century warming, but it was too dry and not quite warm enough to qualify as a true interglacial. A brief warming occurred 34,800 yr BP. After an extreme cold period 18,000 yr BP, a gradual warming began. Erratic swings of warm and cold climate gave way 14,650 yr BP to an almost irreversible warming (the Younger‑Dryas cold interlude was from 13,000 to 11,600 yr BP), ushering in a true warm interglacial, called the Holocene Epoch, extending from 11,600 yr BP to the present.Prior to the “70,000 yr BP warm/dry episode” human tools were uniformly simple. After this warming event tools became abundant, standardized, and more sophisticated (in
Africaand Europe.) What caused the proliferation of quality tools? One possibility is that full‑time toolmakers appeared at this time.
In order to understand the importance of tool making we must imagine what life was like during the Pleistocene. What, for example, were the main "selecting forces" for humans? In the book Demonic Males (1996) by Richard Wrangham and Dale Peterson a compelling and disturbing description is presented of our ancestors, starting with woodland apes that split from the chimpanzee line 5 to 7 million years ago, then to proto‑humans living from 1.8 million years ago to 200,000 yr BP, and finally to our homo sapien ancestors of the past 200,000 years. All of these ancestors, like their chimpanzee ancestor, were preoccupied with territory, border raids, rape and even warfare ‑ accomplished, of course, by "demonic" males.A book by Lawrence Keeley, War Before Civilization (1996), carries this theme into the late Pleistocene and Holocene. An archeological record is described brimming with evidence for pre‑historic "wars" that were more deadly and pervasive than our bloodied modern experience. Women and children were not spared, except for abduction as new wives or to serve as slaves. The enemy's property was either destroyed or appropriated. Mass graves contain victims with embedded arrow heads or spear points.
Palisadesand fortresses with moats preceded castles by many thousands of years. The principal cause of death during the past 20,000 to 30,000 years, when the archeological record is good enough for these interpretations, appears to have been inter‑tribal warfare, with surprise raids being the preferred strategy.
Our ancestors must have lived in a world where survival depended on effectiveness in warfare. The tools of war during the last 200,000 years of the Pleistocene must have been clubs, axes, spears and eventually bows and arrows. The term "hunter and gatherer," in which men hunt and women gather, should be amended to "warrior, hunter and gatherer." Therefore, our "ancestral environment" (AE, also referred to by the more pedantic term "environment for evolutionary adaptation," or EEA), should be based not on the H&G model, but on a WH&G model!Colin Tudge (1998) summarizes emerging suspicions that throughout the past 100,000 years our ancestors supplemented a "hunting and gathering" mainstay by horticulture and pastoral "farming." Horticulture consists of weeding and clearing an area to provide for a greater growth of some naturally occurring plant that produces something that is normally "gathered." Pastoral farming consists of herding and later domesticating animals that were previously hunted. Both forms of "proto‑farming" invite banditry! And banditry will inevitably elicit defensive efforts by the proto‑farmers. Both bandits and farmers would require effective weaponry, and this increases the importance of artisans who specialize in weapon‑making.
Weapon Making TransitionsI speculate that prior to the 129,000‑116,000 yr BP interglacial, every hunter/warrior made his own tools ‑ including axes, spears, bows and arrows, which were used for both hunting and warfare. After the 129,000‑116,000 yr BP interglacial, a part‑time toolmaker may have made most of these items. But during the 70,000 yr BP dry warming, migrations may have enhanced tribal conflict, rewarding those tribes with the best weapons. Any tribe that made use of a full‑time weapons maker would have enjoyed an advantage in inter‑tribal raids. The critical warming 70,000 years ago would then have completed a two‑phase transition between three states: 1) a culture in which "every man made his own weapons and tools," 2) part‑time tool and weapon making for the others, and 3) a tribal arrangement in which a specialist assumed full‑time responsibility for tool and weapon making.
Whether the first full‑time specialist appeared 120,000 yr BP, 70,000 yr BP, or 40,000 yr BP, the event would have been a milestone in human evolution. With a niche in each tribe for just one thing, such as toolmaking, genes for toolmaking could be evolutionarily selected at a rapid pace. Before that time, any genes for tool making are likely to have had deleterious effects on other phenotypic traits, which would have represented a serious penalty. But if a person's task is confined to mostly toolmaking, it doesn't matter if he is unable to perform as a warrior, for example. Fierceness isn't a requirement for toolmaking, nor is physical strength, fast reflexes, or endurance. A new era dawned for humanity when this new full‑time niche came into existence. Because of what followed, I shall refer to the people who filled these "weapon maker" niches as "artisans."Weapon Makers, Toolmakers and Artisans
The first full‑time weapon‑making "artisan" may have differed little in temperament from his fellows. It would make sense for him to train an apprentice after achieving competence, in order to preserve what had been learned through years of trial and error. This arrangement, in which an artisan takes on an apprentice, set the stage for the accumulation of advances in weapon making technique during succeeding generations.Anyone expert in making weapons is already more likely than others to make good tools. The axe that kills an enemy warrior is similar to the axe that chops a tree. The stone knife that cuts an enemy warrior's scalp for a take‑home trophy could also be used for skinning an animal. The first tools for constructive uses could have had their genesis as warrior weapons. The weapon maker was a natural choice for assuming tribal toolmaking duties as well.
If the apprentice is chosen by observation of who seems to have talent and temperament for toolmaking, and if this practice is preserved for many generations, then it is inconceivable that the genes would "overlook" this new opportunity. “Toolmaking genes” would have been rewarded, and they would become more abundant ‑ even if they meant the individual was poor at hunting and "war making." The artisan will have been released from the genetic limitations imposed by the need to preserve hunting and warlike traits. Initially, the niche would be limited to approximately ~2% of the male tribal membership, but an important process would have been set in motion.The toolmaker established a precedent for special status, and this precedent increased tribal readiness for establishing niches for other artisan work. Proto‑farming might have created three other niches for artisans: horticulture, animal herding and animal domestication. Individuals especially effective in these activities would contribute to a tribe's success, possibly saving them from extinction when the vagaries of climate or animal migrations brought hardship to those who relied too completely upon hunting and gathering. Tribes that "accommodated" proto‑farmers, in addition to full‑time toolmaking, should have fared better during the late Pleistocene. (If this sounds like "group selection," it is! I pursue this further in the next chapter.)
If the horticulture artisans produced a surplus of crops, and if they could somehow process them for "storage," then there would be payoffs for the new specialty of preserving surplus foods and building crop storage houses. Because of the physical demands of this work, the initial stage of construction was probably performed by men. Whereas we can easily imagine that horticulture was initially women's work, since gathering is traditionally for women, the first horticulturists were probably women. But a woman's labor is finite, and childrearing, regular food gathering and preparation, making clothing, and other domestic jobs set a limit on how much of her time could be devoted to new artisan tasks. Thus, over time, men must have assumed more and more full‑time jobs performing the horticulture tasks. Men probably were the initial pastoralists, since working with wild animals would probably be dangerous and require physical strength.As artisan niches expanded, it is inconceivable that genes would not have been affected by the new opportunities, and they must have responded by "producing" people who were talented artisans to fill the niches. If 10% of the jobs for men were artisan‑like, then in a steady state condition it can be anticipated that approximately 10% of men would be born with a phenotype having the artisan's talent and temperament. As tribes became technologically more sophisticated, the spectrum of abilities that people exhibited would have "matched" the broadening spectrum of niche opportunities.
Dawkins wrote about the hypothetical case of a population of "hawks" and "doves" living with specified payoffs (Dawkins, 1976), and he showed that natural selection forces should eventually lead to the establishment of a specific population mix. It was stable at this "stable point" because any displacement would tilt the rewards to those who were less populous. He called this dynamic an "evolutionary stable strategy," or ESS. The same argument should apply to tribal niches, and modern societal niches ‑ provided the niches are long‑lived and the forces of selection are natural. Thus, if a tribe "needs" only 10% of adults to engage in "infrastructure" matters (building and maintaining huts, clearing paths, building water storage structures, irrigation, sewage disposal, etc), we can expect that about 10% of newborns will be talented in these activities (assuming the payoffs are not drastically uneven). Another solution form, as Dawkins also points out, is that all newborns will be talented in "infrastructure" but only 10% of them will adopt that role when they grow up. Perhaps, in reality, we should expect to encounter something intermediate between these two extremes.A new complication arises when within one species two or more "types" of individuals are rewarded. Since females are the result of breeding with males of the warrior type, they cannot be expected to produce male offspring of the artisan type without invoking some additional selection mechanism. One candidate mechanism is to hypothesize that a new type of woman co‑evolves with the new artisan man. The artisan wife would have to assortatively mate with the artisan man for this to work. As Dawkins also explains (1982), daughters of a father who differs from the norm are likely to prefer men like her father, since she inherited some of her mother's predispositions. The theory for this has been worked out mathematically, and it is called "linkage disequilibrium." Therefore, it may be theoretically possible for boys to be born with a predisposition to become artisan men as opposed to warrior men, or politician men, etc., and still find women willing to marry or mate with them.
A simpler mechanism is for most of the new artisan genes to be located on the same chromosome, preferably close together. Then, when the sex cells are created by meiosis, the crossing‑over process is likely to preserve the association of artisan genes on the same chromosome segment of the new gamete, and thus pass to male offspring either an undiluted warrior type or an undiluted artisan type.Let it be noted, here, that the artisan performs tasks that require good left brain function. So when artisan niches expand, this is equivalent to stating that there are genetic rewards for genes that produce individuals who have especially well developed left brains. This will become an important point later in this chapter, and in subsequent chapters.
Problems Created by the Existence of ArtisansIf full‑time toolmaking led to toolmakers who were exempt from the dangerous exploits of war, who even began to lose their ancestral adaptation to hunting and war‑making, then what might have been the attitude of the hunter/warrior toward the toolmaker? Would they not make fun of the toolmaker for staying home with the women and children when they went out on dangerous hunting and raiding expeditions? Would they not be inclined to tease and intimidate the toolmaker, and steal his provisions? But since the person who makes superior arrowheads and spears is too important to go on risk‑prone hunts, especially if he is poor at such things, the tribe would be served well by customs that honored the toolmaker's special status. By stating that the tribe would be served well if the toolmaker is somehow allowed to safely pursue his labors without the threat of harassment by warrior men, I am actually saying that the warriors would be served well by customs that provide for the toolmaker's protection. This dilemma might have been solved by a ritualized granting of special status to the toolmaker, with taboos (eventually converted to "laws") requiring that his tool works and other provisions be off limits to the destruction or theft that might have been tolerated for non‑toolmaker victims.
Artisan men may have been shunned by women, for the simple reason that they can not protect a wife and offspring from "take‑over" males. Moreover, the tribe might benefit by artisan men not marrying, for a bachelor artisan would have more free time to practice his essential trade. (Might it be efficient if the genes also conferred upon the artisans a predisposition for homosexuality? This is a completely new theory for the origins of homosexuality.)An unmarried artisan would be without the benefits of in‑laws to support his case against unfair treatment by cheats and bullies, who might covet his possessions, food supply or hut. Social pressure is an important stabilizing force within a tribe. When someone cheats another, rumors of the wrongdoing spread, and although this may not restore equity it might at least serve to discourage a repeat offense. An unmarried man has half as many people belonging to the "relatives and in‑laws" category, who stand ready to support him with social pressure, rumor spreading, or literal assistance. These problems constitute a challenge to the tribe (or rather the genes within the tribe) to institute an effective structure of taboos that guarantee protection of the artisan from non‑artisan men.
There are two ways to imagine how a protection could be accomplished. Tribes that just happen to include taboos prohibiting intimidation and theft will prosper more than other tribes. This is a "group selection" theory for the development of taboos, and eventually the rule of law. An alternative is to suppose that genes are created (and are present in the population at large) which predispose people to respect "fairness." And such predispositions favor the adoption of specific tribal laws which protect artisans (and are available for dealing with other specific fairness issues). This is a more "robust" path toward the creation of laws. It requires the co‑evolution of genes and culture, dealt with below.It is possible that the laws which were meant to protect artisans, whose numbers were surely small, were made use of to some lesser extent by the others. Although the others would have had less need to use the laws on their behalf, the opportunity nevertheless existed for these others to "borrow" the protections of status meant for the artisans by presenting themselves as having artisan abilities. (A theory for "status" might be developed from this idea, but not here.)
The responses just described constitute the beginnings of a new type of culture, one based on concepts of "fairness." The fairness "culturgen" must have been unfamiliar when it first became a tribal law ("culturgen" is a term for an element of culture, introduced by Lumsden and Wilson, 1981). It must have been extremely frustrating for warriors to resist taking advantage of the artisan. The idea of "status" was old, but the idea of a special status for an artisan, someone who could not defend his possessions or wife in the traditional manner, was new. It would serve as a model for new kinds of status that are indispensable for a modern civilization.Further Problems with the Existence of Artisans
Let us be mindful of the sobering fact that all of our ancestors before the Holocene lived in a tribal setting. Tribes flourished or floundered as a group. It would be amazing if we didn't have many genes adapted to tribal living. The tribe needed an artisan, and the artisan needed the tribe. The tribe fed him, and protected him from the cruel, harsh world outside the tribal setting.It's difficult for us in this individual‑worshipping, modern culture to imagine how restrictive, confining and enslaving the tribal setting was, and how important group evolutionary dynamics were. It is often stated that banishment from the tribe was equivalent to a death sentence. The kind of liberated, individual‑thinking that we take for granted today would have been rare for our tribal ancestors. Criticizing tribal rituals or beliefs would have been unthinkable, unless the individual was willing to leave the tribe and go live by himself, leaving no progeny, which is an evolutionary dead end. Maybe some people did this, but none of them are our ancestors.
In a tribal setting it makes sense for some of the membership to have assigned roles that contribute to tribal welfare. Individuals could have performed these roles better without the burden of family. Hence, bachelorhood (maybe even homosexuality) could have had a place in the tribal society. To use a recent example, we should all be thankful that Beethoven wasn't a family man, and that Einstein didn't allow family responsibilities to burden him. A whole host of other lesser people could also serve the tribe in this way (as they do in today's society), and they would be better able to make their contributions by eschewing family responsibilities.These people, the artisans, were expected to make individual contributions to the greater good of the larger group, and part of their individual sacrifice might have been to forsake marriage. To the extent that the artisans were expected to remain single, any young man with artisan abilities would have been perceived by women as a bad mate prospect. Parents may have steered their daughters away from men who appeared to be on this path of individual contribution. Tribal people must have had their terms for geek, or egghead, and they would have served the purpose of discouraging young women from being attracted to “bad bet” mates. So, anti‑intellectualism may in fact have its origin long ago, with the artisan playing the role of today's intellectual, being shunned, yet valued for the greater good.
In spite of all the special privileges bestowed upon the lucky artisan, he must have had many unexpected challenges to his individual welfare. Survival of the tribe is evolutionarily irrelevant except to the extent that the tribe's survival was a precondition for the survival of the genes within the individual. Thus, loyalty to the integrity of the tribe would have been valued by all. But the artisan is a special case. Artisans in all tribes might have been viewed as somewhat interchangeable. For example, if one tribe triumphed in battle over another, they might actually go out of their way to not kill or injure the enemy's artisan, for they could abduct him, and put him to use back home. Now, knowing this, every tribe should be suspicious of their artisan's allegiance to tribal survival, for he would have a less compelling reason for adhering to such an allegiance. Hence, even in the absence of evidence that his allegiance should be questioned, the artisan should be a worthy target of suspicion, and he should be treated as someone prone to tribal disloyalty.The artisan trade must have brought with it many risks. Imagine a condition in which one tribe is being beaten down by a neighboring tribe, and weakening year after year. Might the artisan want to escape before it's too late, and thus avoid the risk of having to be captured during battle? He might even be at risk of being killed by his own tribesmen during their defeat, as a form of "scorched earth" strategy that is even today sometimes practiced. These conditions are conducive to all kinds of complicated intrigue, all revolving around the questionable loyalty of the artisan to the tribe. All artisans must have been both loved and hated by his fellow tribesmen. During battle, indeed, they would want to protect him because he makes their arrowheads. However, he would be the first to defect in the face of a deteriorating tribal situation, for he would be accepted by any other tribe. Oh, how his fellow tribesmen must have loathed his envious position.
Alas, the modern intellectual is heaped with the same scorn and ambivalence. During WWII the scientists and engineers who powered the war machinery were the artisans of their day. Britain’s Alan Turing played a crucial role in breaking the code of the German’s Enigma Machine, and helping the war effort immensely (interestingly, Turing was “gay”). After the war Werner von Braun was snatched by the Allies as if he were a prized booty of victory. How ruinous it would have been to the Axis if the Allies had captured von Braun at the beginning of the war. The Germans were short‑sighted to allow Albert Einstein to leave, and a few others, who contributed to the conception and building of the atomic bomb. We may never know if Heisenberg intentionally did not work diligently to build the atomic bomb onReturning to the tribal setting, think of how the artisan must have viewed his fellow tribesman. The warriors he must have viewed with disdain, for couldn't they see that the warrior was mainly “fodder” for useless battles (that settled nothing as far as the artisan was concerned). The women who willingly became burdened with child‑bearing, couldn't they see that they were being used for the tribal goal of producing warrior fodder?
's behalf. Such is the power of the modern artisan, for if Heisenberg had pursued the atomic bomb successfully, Germany could have easily won the war. Germany
And what about the tribal chief, who protected the artisan from exploitation by the more savvy and intimidating warrior? The chief was the artisan's benefactor, so the artisan would at least have to pretend to view him with a more loyal heart. But the chief must have thought of his artisans as a "useful asset" ‑ like a herd of cattle, needing protection in the same way as a cow or goat. The king must have secretly snickered over this person unworthy of battle, inexcusably effeminate, but also essential for tribal survival, and contributing to the chief's job security. So the chief must have had to control his ambivalent feelings toward the artisan better than the other tribesmen.The artisan does not completely belong to his tribe. Rather, you could say that he belongs to his trade. For whichever tribe fails him, his trade will remain as his means for livelihood. The artisan secret motto might have been "if you're good at your trade, the tribesmen will come a courting."
The Holocene Artisan ExplosionThe 5000 year climate transition from 18,000 to 13,000 years ago was a watershed period for human evolution. For the first time very large tribes assembled and adopted sedentary lifestyles. As glaciers receded they exposed new fertile lands, bathed in warmth and rain, and farming became more feasible. The domestication of both plants and animals was practiced more widely. Artisan opportunities exploded, expanding from weapons and toolmaking to such novel things as animal breeding, irrigation, grain storage, record keeping, trading, and tax collecting.
The Holocene should be viewed as an epoch of food surpluses created by sedentary economies, driven by the dramatic expansion of new artisan niches, which in turn created ever‑more artisan niches. This positive feedback dynamic fueled an explosion of cultural change, as well as an exploding population. Large population centers influenced farming practices across ever‑larger surroundings.
Many aspects of the way humans lived underwent dramatic change during the early Holocene. One that deserves comment here is that social life for the first time faced the challenge of having to deal with strangers who were not enemies from a rival neighbor tribe. Indeed, some of the strangers encountered in everyday life might have come from tribes that used to be rivals, but who could no longer be treated as enemies since they were a useful part of the expanding new economy.How confusing it must have been for the first super‑tribesmen: they were surrounded by unfamiliar faces, yet these unknown faces were not the enemy. What profound implications this must have had! Aggressive behavioral responses that were meant for strangers must have been triggered at subconscious levels, almost continuously, for early Holocene man while he conducted commerce on busy city streets among strangers engaged in a similar commerce. The new conditions of public life called for a change in one's attitude toward "society," as well as one's relation to it.
The glue that held together tribes numbering in the hundreds, as with smaller primitive societies, was based on "inclusive fitness" relationships and repeating "reciprocity" dealings with familiar tribesmen whose history of faithful past dealings was known. The new social setting required a greater adherence to explicit "rules" ‑ which resemble taboos. Concepts of "fairness" were changed, as they included "outsiders" for the first time. Barter of goods for goods, and goods for services, and services for goods, became an everyday way of meeting needs. Artisans, who worked with their brains instead of their brawn, were a newly respected class. Whereas perhaps 2 to 4% of the pre‑Holocene tribe was an artisan, perhaps 10% or more of an economically connected population were artisan‑like. Artisan types proliferated; instead of just toolmakers, the new artisans constructed irrigation works, farmed, processed food, stored grain, tended markets, made clothes, kept records and governed.What had happened to the old structure, with just hunter/warriors and maybe a part‑time toolmaker? Few people hunted, and the warrior class had shrunk to a minority, with diminished power. Things had been turned upside down during the hectic few millennia spanning 13,000 to 6000 years ago.
This was the transition to a new condition called “civilization.”
Return to Table of Contents