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

By Linda Barrington | Go to book overview

nents, if we can care enough to launch a massive effort to save three great whales trapped in a hole in the Arctic ice, if we can debate reintroducing the timber wolf into Yellowstone Park, it is because we can now afford to do all these things and have learned to treasure the value of individual responsibility for preserving and managing natural resources.

But change has been episodic, not linear, as we have leaped from one long6pconfining plateau to another less than a half-dozen times since we escapedpso improbably -- our primate origins, which took 3 billion years of sporadic6pchange to create. Through all these sweeping changes is discernible the blurred outline of continuity in humankind's development of the capacity to6prespond to effort prices, to create cheaper techniques and products as substiptutes for dearer ones, and to accumulate and preserve knowledge, our most pprecious capital asset.


Notes

This article originally appeared as "Humankind in Prehistory: Economy, Ecology, and Institutions" in The Political Economy of Customs and Culture: Informal Solutions to the Common Problem ( 1993), edited by Terry L. Anderson and Randy T. Simmons . It is reprinted here with the permission of the publishers, Rowman and Littlefield.

I am indebted to Bob Heizer for first prevailing upon me to research and write on the economics of hunting and gathering when we were fellows together at the Center for Advanced Study in the Behavioral Sciences, 1971-1972; to Paul Martin for significant encouragement over the years as well as detailed criticism, comments, and corrections; to Robert Klein for helpful corrections; and to Adrienne Zihlman for references and comments leading to revisions in the second section. None of them can be held accountable for the difficulties facing an outside interpreter who must write without the intimate and important day-to-day operating knowledge of the sciences upon which this account is based. Finally, I acknowledge the comments of that master of economic prose, Robert Heilbroner, and many characteristically incisive comments from my friend Ed Ames.

1
This chapter is, and must be, a speculative extension of what we know from the paleoanthropological and biological records. This is because what we know about prehistoric humankind is interpreted from the artifacts and remains that our remote ancestors left behind and that have survived biodegradation, from backward extrapolation of what we know from the study of extant prehistorical societies during the last hundred years ( Boas 1897), and from genetic differences between humans and other primates today. One of our most important characteristics as humans is the ability to patternpsearch our data in order to make dumb facts speak and so increase our understanding. I make the case that economic principles help us to achieve this understanding. I refer to "natural," as distinct from "political," economy ( Hirshleifer 1978), but, as will be seen, I think the outlines of "political" economy emerged in antiquity.
2
Nonhuman primates, such as baboons and chimpanzees, are known to prey on small vertebrates. There is also evidence of elementary forms of planning and cooper-

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