Curation, Coexistence, Copies, and Choice
Jared Diamond, professor at UCLA, went on frequent trips to New Guinea because he
His academic foundations were in biology.
He was primarily an ornithologist, and
some of the most unique birds are to be found in New Guinea.
But his physical trips to New
Guinea led him on a further intellectual—anthropological—one, when a New Guinean man asked
him why white men have so much “cargo” (here synonymous with “wealth”), and why New
Guineans have so little. (National Geographic 2005)
The asking of this question is filmed as a dreamlike sequence that repeats throughout
National Geographic’s documentary version of the book Diamond published presenting the
answers he found.
The basis of his argument is that environmental conditions presented certain
people with the opportunity to create state-level societies and large-scale civilizations, leading to
the amassing of wealth by some.
Others, he asserts, were not so favored by the climate they
inhabited, and struggled to “break even” in terms of survival. (National Geographic 2005)
The documentary starts by focusing in on the Middle East, where cereals were able to be
grown, and structures were constructed for saving and preserving grain year-round.
barley, in particular, are emphasized.
Echoes of this can be found in the Nile Valley, where the
alluvial deposits in the floodplains allowed for the cultivation of cereals, especially wheat and
Also mentioned is the cultivation of sorghum and millet in Africa, which correlates, like
cereal production, with sedentism leading to larger civilizations. (National Geographic 2005)
(Phillipson 2005, 167, 184-189, 195)
Aside from plants, the animal resources available for domestication contribute extremely
heavily to the growth of large-scale societies.
Animals serve as a source for meat, milk, clothing,
fertilizer, and transportation.
Certain animals, like goats and sheep, domesticated readily.
has its climatic areas that support these animals (like, once again, the Nile Valley) and also support