The Other Side of the Frontier: Economic Explorations into Native American History

By Linda Barrington | Go to book overview

1
Economy, Ecology, and Institutions in the Emergence of Humankind

VERNON L. SMITH

This chapter is about who we were in prehistory and how we were shaped by economic principles. 1 Of the many models that one encounters in the antiquities literature of humankind, unabashedly economic models are rare, almost nonexistent. Such models are easily dismissed as reductionist economic determinism because they appear not to account for the richness of culture. The tale of humankind that I will relate is a relatively simple model of the influence of opportunity cost and human capital accumulation on our development from bipedalism through tool manufacturing to anatomically modern Homo sapiens, with big-game hunting, art, language, and the beginning of agriculture. I think it is an exciting story -- perhaps humanity's most important story.


Life Emerged Early, Bipedalism and Homo Very Late

The earth and other planets, formed by the condensation of gas that produced our solar system, are about 4.5 billion years old. Elementary life forms, whose remains have been found in Australia and South Africa, appeared 3.8-3.5 billion years before present (B.P.), which is about as early as life as we know it could have emerged. But multicellular animals are not found in the fossil record until much later, some 650 million years B.P., and those of modern form that are believed to be antecedents of humankind appear about 550 million years B.P.

In Africa, sometime between 10 and 5 million years ago, bipedal protohumans almost certainly split off from the forerunners of today's chimpanzees

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