Mappae Mundi: Humans and Their Habitats in a Long-Term Socio-Ecological Perspective : Myths, Maps and Models

By Bert De Vries; Johan Goudsblom | Go to book overview

6
Increasing Social Complexity

DE VRIES

…des populations denses sont généralement douées d'une civilisation supérieure:
elles ont en effet su résoudre les problèmes économiques, techniques, sociaux et
politiques posés par les fortes densités.

Gourou 1947: 3


6.1. Introduction

One of the great questions about human societies is how they emerged and transformed -and sometimes decayed–in the face of environmental change. With increased capabilities to use animals, store food and manage water supplies came a surplus of food exceeding the needs for bare survival. This allowed the rise of warriors and priests, administrations, palaces and temples–at least so the story goes. It has been related in previous chapters as the process of agrarianization, with many linked driving forces specific to given cultures and ecological regimes. Within each group of humans there would have been individuals with different skills and traits. Each group was confronted with different environmental opportunities and threats–and neighbours–and evolved in a continuous process of response and adaptation. Among some, the dominant trend may have been to live 'the good life'. Among many, the increase in social complexity occurred in response to the need and wish to bring forth food, water and shelter from an exacting and unpredictable natural environment. In the process, some groups settled down and developed forms of agro-pastoralism that developed into large-scale land clearing and irrigation efforts; others never settled down remaining mobile nomads with large animal herds. Often neighbouring groups of humans became an ever greater enemy and war and migrations–as well as trade–intensified.

In previous chapters the natural environment has been described as a background against which the first steps into the second, agricultural regime were set. We now focus

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