Kulturkreis scholars brought history back into the study of allegedly timeless peoples. They relied on diffusionist principles, believing that similarities among cultures could be shown to be the result of cultural influence, rather than the result of a universal human nature, and that circles of interaction among various peoples could and should be delineated by the professional anthropologist.The above is not quite accurate, since an important aspect of Kulturkreis thinking involved not only cultural diffusion but what would now be called "demic" diffusion, or diffusion resulting from the migrations of a particular population or lineage over thousands of years -- very similar to the sort of thing population geneticists are now doing. Regardless, there was a rather violent reaction against the Kulturkreis school and against anything resembling their ideas, and for good reason, because there was, at that time, far too little evidence and also no idea whatsoever as to where any particular aspect of culture might have come from or the paths it might have taken from its point of origin to its various destinations. And far too little in the way of historical information of the sort that could be used to test Kulturkreis theories, which could get pretty fanciful.
Times have changed, however. There is now far more evidence than ever before, and a huge literature based on intensive field work and historical research done by a great many scholars over many years, not to mention a vast store of recordings, photographs and films. We also have the Internet, which gives us Seven League Boots with which to stride through and sift endless reams of material, both relevant and irrelevant.
Over and above all of this, and of paramount importance as far as I'm concerned, the genetic evidence, supplemented by the long-neglected but imo crucial musical evidence, has given us a historical baseline from which we can view a very wide field of human activity in an organized, coherent and systematic manner. Or, to put it another way, from the standpoint of our (admittedly hypothetical) baseline, all "evolutionary" roads lead to the same point in time and very roughly the same place, somewhere in either east, south or central Africa.
In the past the comparison of similar artifacts and practices, though vaguely interesting in itself, told us little to nothing about their origin or their meaning, forcing researchers to speculate wildly regarding various clues that might or might not point to the desired "center." Now, however, our baseline can be regarded as a ready-made center from which all else can be seen to emanate. We no longer need to scratch our heads over all the various instances of a particular item and how each may be compared to each -- all we need do is compare each instance to what can be found in our baseline culture (HBC) and ask ourselves whether or not this is likely to be a survival from it. It's not so much a matter of proving that some particular instance is in fact such a survival, because that would be almost impossible to do, as opening the door on a fresh approach to comparative studies of the sort that could help us organize and systematize our search for history -- and meaning. As I said before, our baseline can be seen as a kind of observatory:
Which returns me to my topic for the day: the beehive hut. Here's a hut that might look familiar, since it's essentially the same sort of thing we've already seen among the pygmies and bushmen:
Only it's a Hadza hut. As I mentioned earlier, the Hadza, based in East Africa (Tanzania), are hunter-gatherers who have much in common with both pygmies and bushmen:
The Hadza still live in bands, hunting with bows and arrows, gathering roots, tubers and wild fruits, as man lived 10,000 years ago . . . The Hadza speak a click-language, they don't have chiefs, houses, or a political system, and they roam the land in small bands with little sense of tribe.They are a bit of a mystery, however, because their genetic profile is unlike any other in the world and their music is also atypical, quite different from that of most other African groups. Is the very familiar look of this hut simply a coincidence? Could it have been independently invented? The Hadza live in a part of Africa extremely remote from either the Tropical Forest of the center, or the Kalahari desert of the south, so it seems unlikely that they could have learned to make such huts from pygmies or bushmen. Unless the lesson took place many thousands of years ago, when Khoisan peoples may have lived in East Africa. Or unless this type of hut is, as I suspect, a direct survival from HBC.
Here's a painting of some more beehive huts, very much like the pygmy, bushmen and Hadza ones:
Only these are from Australia. Australia might seem extremely remote, certainly very far from Africa. But you know what -- it is exactly the same distance from HBC as are the pygmies and bushmen, at least as far as time is concerned. If a particular method of making huts is a survival from HBC, then what does it matter how distant it might be from its place of origin? It's generally accepted that humans migrated all over the world from Africa, so does it really make a difference how far they wandered, so long as they were intent on maintaining their traditions? And if there is anything we know about indigenous peoples, it is their absolute fixation on their ancestors and the traditions associated with them.
Here are more beehive huts, from roughly the same part of the world, New Guinea:
Getting back to Africa, here are beehive huts from the Dorze people, of Southwest Ethiopia:
The Dorze are not hunter-gatherers, and in fact have a culture considerably more complex than that of the pygmies or bushmen. Their music, however, has many striking points in common with P/B style, including rather elaborate interlocking counterpoint, and yodel as well. I don't know about those huts, though. They are definitely built to last, unlike the others we've seen. Was there some evolutionary process that began with HBC, or are these huts a completely independent invention? Would it be possible to find a string of huts in various places leading up to the Dorze type that might represent different "stages" in their evolution? Would it matter if we could find such intermediary "stages"? I'm not sure. One thing I do know, however: if the geneticists are on the right track, then the Dorze, like every other people now living in our world, are descended from HBP. If their ancestors had beehive huts, then why would it be surprising to find beehive huts among them now?
Similar speculations arise regarding huts by other, more "advanced" African groups, such as the Zulu and Swazi:
But who can say how far the reach of the beehive hut tradition may have extended? Is a modern observatory a survival from the same tradition?
Australia -- "Aboriginal hut without its turf covering."
I'll leave you with the following words of wisdom by anthropologist Edward Sapir:
For chronological purposes, cases of the interrupted distribution of a culture element are of particular importance. In a general way, a culture element whose area of distribution is a broken one must be considered as of older date, other things being equal, than a culture element diffused over an equivalent but continuous area. The reason for this is that in the former case we have to add to the lapse of time allowed for the diffusion of the element over its area of distribution the time taken to bring about the present isolation of the two areas, a time which may vary from a few years or a generation to a number of centuries. . . [T]he interrupted distribution of a culture element gives us a minimum relative date for the origin of the culture element itself. The element must have arisen prior to the event or series of events that resulted in the geographical isolation of the two areas ("Time Perspective in Aboriginal American Culture, a Study in Method." Geological Survey Memoir 90: No. 13, Anthropological Series. Ottawa: Government Printing Bureau (1916), p. 41).