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Sapiens 5  History's Biggest Fraud

Page history last edited by Ian Kimber 6 years, 4 months ago



Second part of the course


The first part of the course dealt with the fact that history began with the cognitive revolution that opened the way to fictive language and mental and physical imagery.  Mankind lived with its environment and spread and expanded across the world but his hunter gatherer activities affected the ecology significantly.


IanK comment:   Possible subjects for discussion.


Did it the easy hunting of large fauna to extermination result in overpopulation and food shortages once the large fauna died out? and did this drive the agricultural revolution? 


On the other hand is the drive for all species to increase their population make this development and lowering of aspects of living standards more acceptable?


Re domestication.  The drive to survive and multiply is an important feature of all evolution.  Is it best to see that the agricultural revolution was neither man's exploitation of nature or plants and animals exploitation of man but a mutual benefit contract to increase population?


5 History’s Biggest Fraud 

This set looks at the Agricultural revolution and comes to some surprising conclusions.  Firstly the agricultural revolution did not result in an improvement in living standards because it reduced the range of food in the diet, increased the amount of work to be done and increased the risk of famine because people could not the easily move.  It also resulted in a population explosion which in effect froze agriculture into the system because hunter gatherers require more space to live than agrarian societies.


The presenter also turns the concept of evolutionary “progress” on its head in the sense that domesticated plants and animals in effect exploited mankind to their own evolutionary advantage advantage because it results in evolutionary success while many plants and animals do not respond well to attempts to domesticate them.


Segment 1   6 - 1 - Lesson5 - History_'s Biggest Fraud - Segment 1 [21_08].mp4


The agricultural and domestication of plants and animals started out in one or two specific areas of the world  the Middle East is the best known but it also included Central America, New Guinea and China at closely similar times.  Why did this happen in these places.   Most species of plants and animals are not suitable for domestication.  These few species  like wheat rice and Maize lived in the areas where agriculture started.


The recommended book "Guns Germs and Steel"  by  Jared Diamond discusses the suitability of plants and animals for domestication and describes the process of the development of agriculture.  


It was thought that the agriculture and herding life was easier than hunting and gathering but it is now appreciated that this was not so for the main bulk of the population.  Agriculture allowed the production of much more food and a population explosion it also created an elite group that had most of the good life.  


It is suggested that the crops suitable for domestication "exploited" mankind to their own ends rather than the other way round!  Wheat is one of the most successful plants on plant earth.  The efforts required to cultivate, fertilise and water wheat created stress based diseases to man an animal evolved for hunting and gathering  requiring makind to become fixed to a location near the crops and not free to roam.  The same is true for the other staple vegetable crops.


Segment 2   6 - 2 - Lesson5 - History_'s Biggest Fraud - Segment 2 [23_05].mp4


How and why did wheat and other staples domesticate mankind? it did not offer a better diet in fact it restricted it or better security  because there is a dependance on crops that may fail  or a better life generally because cultivation required a restricted range of physical activity which caused joint wear  it did not reduce conflicts because people were tied to their crops land and animals if challenged they had to fight to survive and could not run away and it lead to an increase in violence. It is wrong to judge the agricultural revolution by later results. It is estimated that the male population had a 25% death rate from violence in the earlier days of the agricultural revolution   (cf about 1% in later times)


Cultivating wheat and other staples did produce much more food from a given area of fertile land  this allowed the population to increase greatly by a factor of ten or more and allowed women to have babies more frequently.  Evolution measures "success" by numbers of people not by their happiness.  Why did mankind chose this?  not consciously it was a process of many steps in a gradual transition from hunting and gathering locked in by the need to feed more people.


Infectious diseases also increase because of transfers from domestic animals and poor sanitation in close groups and villages.  They were also less resistant to disease because of their restricted diet.



 Attempts to improve life made in fact things harder for the people.


Segment 3   6 - 3 - Lesson5 - History_'s Biggest Fraud - Segment 3 [29_36].mp4


Why did this make things harder?  Simple plant and wait agriculture is easy. However as population grow bigger more reliable harvests were needed plants given more attention like watering and weeding produce much more and the effort gradually increased.  The better life did not materialise because of the continuing population growth.


Firstly the population increase and the poor diet made them weaker and increased infant mortality.  It also made them vulnerable to drought and theft.  Why then was it not abandoned?  It took so long for this to happen that the hunter gatherer skills had been lost and the population was too large. Also as today luxuries that save us time and make life easier tend to become essentials. Even if only a small proportion of hunter gatherer bands in an area became farmers the larger more concentrated populations allowed them to defend themselves and drive the hunters away  but defences need to be built and maintained.  


This "work harder for a better life trap" has happened collectively and individually throughout human history.  One of the laws of history are "luxuries tend to become essentials".   


Not everyone became agriculturalists there were always some hunter gatherers around.  Agriculture also restricted the possibility of hunter gatherer activities by creating barriers of settled populations.  So any remaining hunter gatherers in the area suffered as well and giving up to join the settled population became more attractive.  Some also will have become marauding thieves praying on defended farming villages in large bands.


This shows that all economic "improvements"  Need very careful consideration 


All this is just one possible story. 

There is however another possibility that is the development of religious beliefs and the desire to build large structures to express these ideas collectively.   A possibility illustrating this is  Gobekli Tepe in Turkey are around 10,000 years old and the people were hunter gatherers unlike Stonehenge which was a gathering point for an agricultural socierty.  This area is one of the earliest sources of domesticated wheat quite close to the main structures.  It was suggested that agriculture was needed to to be able to support the building and maintaining of the cultural centre and not that the development of agriculture spurred the development of religions.  


Which came first agriculure or religion?  is a big question and is being explored in other areas where agriculture developed independently.  


So far only agriculture has been considered  we must now look at mankind's relationship with animals during this perio



Segment 4    6 - 4 - Lesson5 - History_'s Biggest Fraud - Segment 4 [24_13].mp4  


The domestication of animals may have started as selective hunting only killing spare males and weak animals and also culled on animal behaviour.  They would also protect them from other predators.  and then try to hold them in safer areas and make them easier to catch and select with traps and pinch points.


Another route was the capturing and keeping of live animals against a shortage of prey.   The selection of animals for their submissive natures gradually led to full domestication.


There was also a growth of potential draft animals.  The origins of these animals in the wild define how the domestication grew.   Domesticated cows sheep, goats, pigs and chickens are the most widespread animals of any species and they are probably the most miserable animals on earth.   Chickens are probably the worst.  Similarly draft animals have to operate under severe restriction


This often involved "cruel and violent" means compared with the potential natural life of the animal in the wild.  Males not required for breeding are usually castrated.  Restraining with halters and  harness and whips and prods. other more violent means like hobbling and mutilation to make them dependent on human feeding.  


Many of these methods are in common farming and animal husbandry today.


The great increase in domesticated animal population was good for the species but not for the lives of the animals.  This is a common factor in all developments in time.  The progress of mankind as and its domesticated slaves as species is not necessarily good for the lives of the individual people or animals (or plants?)


The agricultural revolution resulted in a very large change in human society and this is the subject of the next lecture.


return to 1 Index page Sapiens A Brief History of Humankind


Comments (15)

Simon Tam said

at 12:36 am on Dec 23, 2017

Because of the success in agricultural revolution, human species could now produce more food than they could consume within a specify period. However, not all of these surplus produced are fully utilised, shared or adapted for future use (e.g. put into cans). Rather, they are simply dumped as waste in order to maintain a "fair" and "reasonable" price level for that particular commodity. Yes, human species had the luxury to select better products for consumption or to dump sub-standard products into bins, how about other species that may be also relying upon these as their food sources in the food chain? To my understanding, the benefit of agricultural revolution could hardly be deemed as "mutual". If an domesticated animal had a right to choose its own fate, it will more likely choose wildlife than to be domesticated. At least, in wildlife, it will has more freedom in choosing its own mate.

Ian Kimber said

at 5:19 pm on Dec 21, 2017

Whilst I agree that humans can live in much larger groups and very close together and will survive in extremely adverse conditions even including resource limitations. They still recognise strong ethnic religious and class distinctions and these would probably be the main stress factors that you would see where the cracks in society develop. Just the sorts of things that are at the root of most of the major conflicts across the world at the moment. The days of the simple wars of acquisition and empire building appear to be over fo the moment.

Miall James said

at 11:34 am on Dec 21, 2017

Had a quick look at your references, Ian. Not quite sure how transferable to humans the results are. Plenty of humans have lived in close proximity to each othger..... mediaval cities and so on, and indeed do so today. I don’t think that the migrants we see... for example crossing or try to cross from Libya ....... are necessarily escaping from paricularly crowded situations. They are, I suggest, more analogous to the 'poor and huddled masses' once welcome in the US.

Ian Kimber said

at 5:50 pm on Dec 20, 2017

I have not got my original reference recorded, i probably read about it in the scientific press however a quick google search produced these references which go some way to what I was talking about although food resources were not finite in these experiments.



Miall James said

at 7:02 am on Dec 20, 2017

Must admit I didn’t know about the herbivore/predator ‘arms race’ theory, although it doesn’t seem unreasonable. Have you got a reference to the experiments with rats and society?

Another aspect of conflict which is beginning to cause problems is the tendency of some socieies to prefer having sons, and that society having the ability to either control the sex of foetuses (foeti?) or, having determined the sex early in pregnancy abort females. Having a surplus of young males in a society is known to be a recipe for disaster!

Ian Kimber said

at 8:44 am on Dec 19, 2017

You have to remember that the reptilian domination of the earth was a full ecosystem dominated with an "arms race" between giant herbivores and giant predators. there have been strong suggestions and some evidence that these were in trouble because of their large food requirements damaging the forests that fed them and causing mass migration for some time before the meteor strike. Mankind at the moment does not have a predator capable of exercising any sort of evolutionary control over its population and the only restrictions to its excesses are a lack pf food and internal conflicts. There are some frightening experiments involving watching the behaviour of large colonies of rats in a spacious rich
"rat friendly" environment with a fixed but initially plentiful supply of food as the population density increases and conflict rises to control the population.

The large increase in civil wars around the world in recent years may be an initial indication that this sort of stress is starting to affect sections of mankind.

Miall James said

at 7:23 am on Dec 19, 2017

I’m not sure that 'runaway population growth of a dominant species’ was always controlled by ‘simple’ evolutionary processes. Reptilian domination of the earth was ended not by the various species running out of steam, but by a cataclysmic casual event. There’s some evidence tool, that the Dark Ages in western Europe at least were, at least in part, the result of a major volcanic eruption which effectively ‘abolished’ summer for quite a few years.

Ian Kimber said

at 6:17 pm on Dec 18, 2017

Considerable social pressures are rising to improve humankind's relationships with the ecosystem in a much more sustainable and considerate way. The real problem is that the earth is already seriously overpopulated to achieve anything like an ideal system and achieving population stability let alone a reduction will be extremely difficult and require completely new economic thinking.

Simon Tam said

at 9:31 pm on Dec 17, 2017

Just have a quick view on Segment 4 6 4, just speechless. Frankly speaking, reality is always cruel and frustrated. We feel more quilt than our ancestors because there are a number of significant changes over the recent years in our core values and relationships with other organisms in various trophic levels within the food chain.

Ian Kimber said

at 3:44 pm on Dec 17, 2017

He may be but I just think that he was looking at things in a totally detached realistic way. it is blatantly obvious that both humans, animals and the ecosystem in general have been radically changed by the impact of humankind in the same way as several other violent evolutionary changes have taken place in the past.

The most notable one was the effect of photosynthetic cells that produced the oxygen in our atmosphere that enabled animals to evolve and killed of most of the anaerobic bacteria that were dominant at that time and chased them into corners of the ecosystem.

In the past this sort of runaway population growth of a dominant species was eventually controlled by basic evolutionary rules we at least have the possibility of recognising this problem and controlling ourselves into a sustainable population and a reasonably balanced ecosystem before the inevitable happens. As to whether we have the self control to do this only time will tell.

Miall James said

at 12:18 pm on Dec 17, 2017

While I was aware of most of the practices described, I think my horror was as a result of them all being described one after the other in graphic detail. Kept wondering if the speaker was himself a 'veggie'!

Ian Kimber said

at 12:04 pm on Dec 17, 2017

I too have just completed watching this lecture and updated my notes and I am interested in discussing this topic with you or anyone else who wishes to join in.

Most of the farm and food animal husbandry descriptions in this segment of the lecture are in common practice today. It may be that many people are not fully aware of them or the implications related to what might be the natural lives of animals. Could you please expand on what made you particularly horrified by the presentation?

Miall James said

at 7:27 am on Dec 17, 2017

Just listened to Segment 4 6 - 4 - Lesson5 - History_'s Biggest Fraud - Segment 4. Don’t think, thinking about it, that I’ve often been quite as horrified by something like this. Anyone else listening and want to discuss?

Ian Kimber said

at 9:48 am on Dec 12, 2017

There are a lot of topics well worth thinking about and discussing in this section. I am a bit busy with other jobs at the moment but hope to get back soon with some thoughts on these topics after I have completed some of the jobs I need to do before the festive season.

Miall James said

at 5:22 pm on Dec 11, 2017

Got as far as 6-3 so far. Very thought-provoking, and I like the idea that wheat is controlling man, not the other way round. Sort of, anyway. It’s also notable that modern hunter-gatherers, such as the Native Australians, do not have temples lthough they have sacred sites, such as Ayers Rock/Uhuru. Why, though did said native Australians not move on into agriculture as pretty wsll everyone else did, except Amazonians and on or two other isolated populations. Isn’tt there a native whaet/rice/maize equivalent?

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