How shepherd and wolf remade Eurasia in their image (part 1)
I found it interesting that Gwynne’s portrait of young, Comanche men flows seamlessly from descriptions of total barbarity to the almost axiomatic conclusion that they were the “most free” young men who ever lived.
"human sexual dimorphism, not something concocted out of whole cloth by a malign sage of the steppe."
Shhhh! don't say that out loud.
Very Interesting. Am really enjoying your big picture articles!
I'm not sure if it's implied in your explanation for why males (and sexual reproduction) exists, but at the very least I think you've left unsaid, and perhaps simply missed, the most important reason for sexual reproduction.
Consider an asexually-reproducing creature such as an amoeba, that simply reproduces by dividing. If in the process of division there is a mutation (an error in DNA transcription), the result is one branch of the family tree with the mutation, and one without; there is no way for the mutation to spread back to the other side. As lineages multiply over time and each lineage develops its own mutations, it eventually leads to creatures so different from each other that you just have to call them different species. There is no way for a mutation from one lineage to combine with a mutation from another.
With sexual reproduction, however, this problem is solved. Favorable mutations can combine across lineages, while unfavorable mutations will tend to die out. The result is that the population as a whole retains its identity as a single species, rather than each lineage eventually becoming its own species. Of course it's still possible for some branches to develop into different species for other reasons, such as geographic separation (bonobos and chimp populations divided by a river, for example) -- basically any condition that divides the population into separate mating groups that don't mix at all for a long enough time.
Interesting perspective, skillfully woven together to make a fascinating story. Though perhaps the underlying facts are less certain than implied?
"we now know that neolithic europeans were just as violent as the yamnaya". Could you reference that?
As always, very interesting and deep thinking. Minor quibble: I think the rise (and fall) of the Dakota, Cheyenne, and Comanche as steppe nomads was much briefer than the 5,000 years you mention. The glory of the Plains Indian world did not come about, I think, until the introduction and adoption of the horse - the first modern horses were introduced to the Americas in the 16th century, and it probably took until the 18th century for the warriors of the Plains to become the culture that the United States Army encountered - and by the end of the 19th century, the free-roaming nomads of the Plains had been subdued. I think that in cultural terms, this evolution was amazingly fast. Note that according to Father Powell, I think, the Cheyenne had a song reminiscing about their lives in the Eastern woodlands, before they were pushed west, and before they had horses, and before all they had to eat was "this horrible buffalo meat."
Very good! It's semi-related to your essay but I have recently been wondering about the organisation of family structures and how they changed as states began industrialising, is there a paper/book that covers this in a comparative context (eg. how Japanese families adapted to industrialisation as compared to Indian families)?
Most books I've read on this subject present the idea that nomads were occupying marginal lands unsuitable for agriculture. Far from warrior lords who terrorize the world, they (and/or their forebears) were too weak to hold on to more fertile land and got ejected into the periphery where the land (including weather, geography etc) is only good for raising cattle. As soon as they are able, they return (necessarily in force, since they weren't much wanted in the first place) and, within a few generations, blend right back into the rest of the agriculturalist population.
This narrative strongly disagrees with the idea that nomadism was the next killer app. Rather, it was an adaptation, by a bunch of cast-outs, to life on marginal lands. They returned to agricultural society as soon as they could force their way back in. The terrors from the steppes had no dearer hope than to become part of peasant societies (admittedly, as kings and nobles, but then so too did the peasants).
Wow I had some familiarity with the culture of those Native American groups and I've been avidly reading your series of the people of the steppes, but had never made the connection between their common cultural characteristics and common technological adaptations (i.e., horses). Yet another reminder that so many of our own culture's traits we cherish as uniquely developed by us are but semi-deterministic outcomes of the contingent conditions of our lifeways.
Is "Deywos" etymologically related to the latin "Deus"?
Would non-pastoralist farmers engaged in "slash-and-burn" patterns of not-completely-settled village life be classified closer to the relatively peaceful early farmers or violent nomads in your view?
My understanding is that the most popular explanation for the shift from aesexual reproduction to sexual is "Red Queen Theory", in which recombination helps against pathogens that can devastate a population of clones. But sexual reproduction could still exist in a species full of hermaphrodites. That's more common among plants, whereas the existence of exclusively male organisms seems to be linked to the mobility of animals:
I've heard it given as a stylized fact that polygamy tends to be prohibited as the wealth of a society goes up (and with it the potential for inequality), since other men just wouldn't tolerate a Gates or Buffet having as many wives as they could afford. I suppose the persistence of polygamy among the Gulf states after a number of them became very wealthy flies in the face of that.
“ it took millennia to perfect milk, cheese and wool production, and the harnessing of oxen as beasts of burden.” Teleology clashes with the high quality of most of the narrative.