Curation, Coexistence, Copying, and Choice

Curation, Coexistence, Copying, and Choice - 1 Curation,...

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Curation, Coexistence, Copies, and Choice 1 Jared Diamond, professor at UCLA, went on frequent trips to New Guinea because he liked birds. 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. Wheat and 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 barley. 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. Africa has its climatic areas that support these animals (like, once again, the Nile Valley) and also support
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Curation, Coexistence, Copies, and Choice 2 denser populations. Some animals in Africa, however, such as the elephant and the zebra are unsuitable for farming. Areas that sustain only these types of naturally adapted animals tend not to feature large-scale civilization. The key, in both the case of animals and vegetation, is to produce enough surplus to enable specialization that will lead to the growth of society, and the associated accumulation of wealth. (National Geographic 2005) This paradigm has direct implications for important questions in African archaeology. In particular, it has a great deal to say regarding the people who choose to continue or even revert to traditions and technologies when newer ones are available. According to Diamond, the implication for these people would be that their environment is to blame for failing to support these newer, and often more efficient, technologies. While accepting this reading is somewhat
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This note was uploaded on 11/22/2008 for the course ANTH 350 taught by Professor Cruz during the Fall '08 term at William & Mary.

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Curation, Coexistence, Copying, and Choice - 1 Curation,...

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