Before continuing, let me repeat the basic principle behind the method I'm employing here:
Our method will be simple. Any attribute found to be shared by at least one group in each of the three populations with the deepest clades, i.e., Eastern Pygmies, Western Pygmies and Bushmen (EP, WP, Bu), should be taken seriously as a possible survival from the time the ancestors of all three groups were united as one -- the group I'm calling HBP. You could call this the "triangulation method."Our common ancestors (Hypothetical Baseline Population or HBP) may have been short, because all Pygmies, and some of the most traditional Bushmen groups are also short. Their shortness may be due to an adaptation to tropical forest life, but there is no reason to assume this was necessarily the case, since we have no way of knowing where this phenotype originated. If the shortness of the Pygmies is due to some hormonal factor not shared by Bushmen then the similarity in size can most likely not be attributed to their common ancestor. If, on the other hand, they do share such a factor, it seems likely that it can. This can certainly be tested.
Since poison arrows are commonly used by EP, WP and Bu (Eastern Pygmies, Western Pygmies and Bushmen), then our triangulation method suggests that poison arrows are likely to have been used by HBP, which would mean that the bow and arrow itself is part of the same archaic heritage. A recent finding at Sibudu Cave in Southern Africa of an arrowhead very similar to those used by Bushmen, dating to possibly 61,000 years ago, reinforces this theory. On the other hand, poison arrows are also used by other groups in Africa who may possibly have passed this technology on to both Pygmies and Bushmen, so more research is needed.
We are on much more solid ground with respect to the musical evidence, at least as far as I'm concerned, since my own research over a period of many years has convinced me that the striking similarities in this respect among so many Pygmy and Bushmen groups, representing all three regions of my "triangle," can be explained only on the basis of a common heritage from a common ancestor. The considerable evidence in support of my theory can be found throughout this blog. If I am right, then what I have called Pygmy/Bushmen style (P/B) played an important role in our ancestral culture (HBC).
On the basis of the remarkable photographic and ethnographic evidence I've presented, it seems clear that beehive huts of a type found among all three populations must have been a part of HBC. It also seems likely that HBP were hunter-gatherers, hunting with either bows and arrows or spears, but probably not nets, which appears to be a more recent technology. Interestingly, however, we have no solid evidence that they could not have also done some farming or even had some domesticated herds. Hunting and gathering traditions are strong among all three populations, making it extremely likely that HBP hunted and gathered their food, but that does not mean other subsistence technologies might not have also been present that were subsequently lost or minimized. It's only when we cling to outworn notions of evolutionary "stages" that such possibilities can be dismissed out of hand.
It's hard to say whether shamanism in the strictest sense was a part of HBC, but certain practices central to shamanism almost certainly were, since trance, possession, transmission of important information via dreams, transformation into animals, and supernatural healing are found among almost all Pygmy and Bushmen groups.
As far as kinship is concerned, it seems likely that HBP either had no kinship system at all or a very loosely defined kinship system, since by all reports, kinship terminology among most Pygmy and Bushmen groups is often borrowed from neighboring tribes and is in any case consistently flexible and loosely applied. This raises the question of whether HBP had a fully developed language at the time of earliest divergence. I won't get into this very difficult and controversial issue here, but will refer you to an earlier post in which this possibility is discussed: Did the Pygmies Ever Have a Language of Their Own?
One of the most meaningful and interesting questions we can ask about any society concerns its "core values," the fundamental ideology, passed down from generation to generation, that controls the way people think about themselves, their traditions, and the world at large, shaping both their sense of identity, and, ideally at least, their behavior. And, as we have discovered, there does seem to be something almost "Utopian" about the core values that could be attributed to HBC. Time and again, in one report after the other, from almost every possible source, historical, ethnographic, anecdotal, mythological, we find Pygmies and Bushmen described in very similar, almost glowing terms, as: egalitarian, gender-equal, mutually cooperative, non-violent, individualistic, and almost "communistic" in their obsession with the equal sharing of vital resources.
It is certainly true that there are a great many exceptions in day to day behavior that call such an ideal picture into question, and many anthropologists have been dismissed as hopelessly "romantic" for idealizing such societies. As Alex Liazos has reminded us in his remarkable book on Colin Turnbull, there are indeed a great many troubling aspects of Mbuti Pygmy life that have all too often been glossed over because their traditional value system appears so attractive. It is also true that the many portraits of "Utopian" societies found in Western literature stress the profound difference between the professed ideal and the horrific reality that all too often lurks behind the facade. We know all too well of Twentieth Century attempts to impose Utopian societies that have invariably resulted in completely unrealistic social monstrosities that became hopelessly unsustainable and ultimately collapsed.
Should the Pygmies and Bushmen of today therefore be judged according to their "Utopian" core values or their day to day behavior, which often seems in conflict with their values? Or, to put it another way, can "Utopia" actually exist as a real, sustainable possibility, or is it always at heart a sham. I can't provide an easy answer to such a question, but if the triangulation method can be relied upon, and HBC was indeed, as it would seem, a society equally torn between a Utopian ideal and an all-too-human reality determined to test the limits of that ideal, then such a society could most certainly be regarded as sustainable, since essentially the same mix of "Utopian" values and fractious behavior appears to have persisted over tens of thousands of years.
There is of course a great deal more that could be said regarding all of the above, and a great deal more evidence to add to the picture we have thus far painted, but the point I would like to leave you with for now is that we do indeed appear to have arrived at a baseline of human cultural history, a point zero from which we can consider everything we now see in literally every human society in the world around us, from the most "primitive" to the most "advanced." Think of our baseline as a kind of observatory.