Thursday, November 29, 2007

The Age of Crushed Skulls

This was originally posted on Tuesday, October 31, 2006 at my older blog on myspace. I've long been trying to become comfortable with the public perception of myspace as the high schooler's social network (and then trying to wrap my silly mind around the notion that facebook is the college version - how the fuck does that make sense?)
But you know what? Me and my pals are on myspace, and we like to keep-up with each other there (even though every day brings on a new pornbot from a friend's phished account). Also, frankly, as you can tell by this site's layout, I am not really even remotely aware of how to make a web page (it's called temerity, I've learned).
Be that as it may, I am going to slowly post here things I've been posting there over the last several years, some moldy oldies.
I am really fascinated by the Silk Road this semester.
This is a path, basically, that pastoralists have been following since, seemingly, pastoralism became a subsistence strategy for humans (somewhere nearing the ninth century BCE ~ 11,000 years ago). This is when villages are possible, and when dogs become domesticated.

It seems that we didn't domesticate dogs in the sense that we got a wolf cub and raised it to be cool with people. THis wouldn't be possible because wolves are imprinted with fear of "not-wolves" within 19 days of birth. Domesticated dogs, however, are impressionable up into the ninth week. Wolves have huge teeth that in comparison make dogs teeth look cute. Wolves have huge brains and can learn to escape a pen by watching it opened by a person once. Chino never learned how to do that. Wolves are afraid of "not-wolves" so much so that they will run quickly and far-far away (so far away that they may not return to that site for a ful 24 hours). This is not at all like a dog, who will return within minutes.

In a village setting this means that a wolf that was willing to eat out of the waste pile (like Chino does with my compost pile) would have an easy source of (low quality but abundant) calories. Those wolves that consistently demonstrated a tolerance for humans in this respect were able to turn those claories, granted not into big wolf brains, but into its offspring. That's right, being dumber wolves meant it was able to do it more. We can see toady in some cultures, like in certain East African pastoralist societies, this symbiosis at work: upon the child entering into toddlering the child would be given a puppy. The pup was there to watch after the toddler (by eating its poop).

People talk about pure bred dogs and dogs that have part wolf in it, like this is a good thing. It's not. In the case of the latter, you now have a dog less likely to want to be around others. In the case of the former let us consider the Silk Road. I bring this up because domestic dogs are demonstrating culture - a culture that seperates dogs from wolves. I would like to suggest that this difference is very much like that between homo sapiens sapiens and neanderthals. Both may interbreed (and I think have) but they are radically different.

The silk road did not arise because the empires of Japan, Korea, and China wanted to have contact with the Empires of Europe or Africa or India. To think of the Silk Road in this way is similar to asking, "Why do all American Civil War Battles occur in National Parks?"

The Silk Road (as we are calling it, itself a Germanic phrase from the 19th century) is simply the path that shepherds have carved over 11,000 years. They walk their sheep from nice pastures in the winter to the fresher mountainous pastures of the summer. Then they beat feet as soon as the Fall comes so they don't get caught in a blizzard. Half a million sheep per half a dozen shepherds who have with them about five dogs each (total dogs ~ three dozen).

These dogs have been socialized to sheep the way we socialize chihuahuas to Paris Hilton: give the person the dog within the first month of its birth. In the case of shepherd dogs you isolate the dog from other non-shepherd dogs and put them in pens with sheep. THey grow up thinking that they are like sheep in the same way that Paris Hilton must think that her dog thinks it's a person. The dog, nobley, remains silent as to how it sees these relations.

There is nothing special about these dogs, any ol' dog would do this, you just gotta catch the dog early enough. And so the breed is pointless. Another reason breed is pointless is this - Once you're on the trail, you cannot keep a bitch in heat from getting impregnated. Dogs go into heat twice a year (diestrus). That means (since the average shepherd travels on average 370 -520 miles per year) that there is a huge spreading of genetic material over a geographic area. You could get knocked-up in New York and end up pregnant again traveling back from Washington DC!

This is true with people. In fact, another interesting phenomenon between dogs and people is this: Dogs are not any particular color, at all. It seems that domestication cares very little for coat color. The phenotypes that matter are size and thickness of coat. Foxes bred in isolation (those that were more curious about people and tolerant of people were allowed to breed) in Russia within seven generations had piebald coats (like dogs). There was no advantage to the foxes looking like this - they were bred to be tolerant of people and a side development was the variety of coat color. This is true with people too.

There is something called the "founder effect" in genetics. Imagine that parvo wipes out all the dogs within a 50 mile radius, except yours. Then another bitch, with its shepherd, comes along one season. All of a sudden the dogs within your 50 mile radius look an awful damn lot like that bitch that came through by chance. This becomes especially true if say, people in that radius have a taboo against all dogs but white dogs. That means they kill all pups that don't have that mutation for being white. Voila, you got what people call a breed. What we're seeing here is that there are pressures for breeding - usually it just comes down to available calories that can be converted into breeding.

But what about when there ain't no food? Those that are able to sustain themselves longest (the "fittest in the classsical Darwinian sense") have a better chance to reproduce. What if all the dogs but this white one make it? What if people record that as important - that it was a white dog? Now we're only breeding white dogs in our culture. It's not more useful, it's a matter of confluence of taste (artificiality) and chance (arbitrarity). This is possibly why most of the world today has dark hair and dark eyes. Except where?

Nearly 11,000 years ago (just around when the glaciers were receding from their maximal reach at the beginning of the Neolithic/end of mesolithic ages), modern humans were moving around. Possibly they were following big game (thus stressing the hunter aspect of gatherer/hunter). They probably were in a sense following big game because some of the biggest (most calorie rewarding) food was on the move, because it was getting really hot where they were.

Imagine something like a huge mammoth literally dying of heat stroke consistently and quickly over a span of about 500 years in a region like Afghanistan. This ain't a long amount of time and the only breednig mammoths are those that are good at walking away from humans (those tolerant of humans are not reproducing - they're being eaten; those sticking around are dying from an adaptation to a climate increasingly hostile to their very being. I don't the people are hunters in the sense that they are way smart and aggressive (just like today most are dumb and lazy), I think these people just put two and two together and followed the path of least resistance. Staying in the tropics meant too many predators and walkin around with these huge, dying animals meant scraps were good for us. Just like dogs follow us.

Also, imagine that in the recently opening northern Europe, you are following this game and the game runs out. You wander around eating what you can. Another group of people comes along - not many (11,000 years ago the world's population is less than that of metro Atlanta > 5 million). These people are floored because: 1, they ain't seen another human for two years; but more significantly, you're a woman with blue eyes and blond hair. Only in the vaguest memories are their blondes and you're a walking vague memory so obviously you are special. You breed. Not only do you breed, but your phenotype is isolated as being special and only your blonde children are allowed to breed. Just like a dog. Are you a special breed? Only in the same sense that a shepherd's dog is.

Below are two citations form Wikipedia. I've been supremely interested in the ancient people of central asia and I've been looking up odd things about human migrations and wars. The first is to compare with the last. Culture moves slowly in Europe because few groups are interacting with one another, unlike in central asia where huns, turks, alans, hans, the gamit are bumping into one another's sheep and towns for millenia.

..The Swedish-Norwegian Battle Axe culture, or the Boat Axe culture, appeared ca. 2800 BC and is known from about 3000 graves from Skåne to Uppland and Trøndelag. The time of its appearance and spread over Scandinavia has been called the Age of the crushed skulls, because from this time there are many finds of buried people with crushed skulls and not only men, but also many women and children (Lindquist 1993:43). Its introduction was violent and fast, and a very likely candidate for an Indo-European (and specifically earliest-Germanic) invasion...
from Wikipedia, ..Corded Ware Culture..

..Lapis lazuli was being traded from its only known source in the ancient world .. Badakshan, in what is now northeastern Afghanistan .. as far as Mesopotamia and Egypt by the second half of the 4th millennium BC. By the third millennium BC lapis lazuli trade was extended to Harappa and Mohenjo-daro in the Indus valley...
from Wikipedia, "Silk Road"

Quickly (within a couple hundred years) we see that people are exchanging cultural artifacts from India to Norway. Hell yeah the violence was swift. One minute you're marveling at lapis lazuli up there in the Baltic sea, literally within five generations you are marveling at this awesome technology called the hunk of metal on a stick (an axe). All you've got going for yourself now is that there are way more exotic men and women. You may not live to see the day when your "ethnic" group is on the other end of the violence, but that you happened to have a distant relative that happened to have had blonde hair and blue eyes and lived an extra couple of years after everyone else in the group (the founder effect) has allowed you to turn your mates' crushed skull into the khaganate's progeny.

Don't worry. From the 15th century to now the blondes have been increasingly on the right side of technology. Hopefully it doesn't kill us all.

I'd like to also suggest that what is the difference between following animals bigger than you (why is that hunting) and following animals smaller than you (that is pastoralism)? Seems to me to be about the same thing. You know what the big difference is? The way the two groups talk about themselves. Gatherer/hunters have a radically different view of their place in the cosmos (say, responsive to the conditions of the environment) and pastoralists view themselves as more independent of their environment. Like the way the Bible talks, being responsible for other people like they were sheep (your property, something external of who you "are") which, as if you didn't notice, is a tall tale from a bunch of pastoralists. Very similar to two other major pastoralists - Jews and Muslims. Did you know that the Pashtun (indigenous) people of Afghanistan call themselves b'nai israel (children of israel)? The next nearest neighbors of Afghans are Chinese muslims....

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