The similarity could be explained in cognitive terms, I suppose, as evidence of a universal human aptitude for solving tricky structural problems in similar ways. Levi-Strauss might well have been intrigued by the structuralist possibilities, also indicative of a universal logical capacity at work even in the most "savage" of Pensée Sauvage. I won't pursue such pathways here, but I must admit I find the possibilities intriguing.
When we turn to a comparison between Hadza huts and those of Bushmen the situation is radically different. Here too, we find a very strong similarity:
But in this case the circumstances are also similar, in fact just about identical. Both huts are dwellings, they are typical for both groups, and they serve identical functions, despite the fact that they were constructed in totally different environments. Moreover, the two groups share a very similar hunting-gathering lifestyle, along with a very similar, essentially egalitarian, value system. And since the Hadza also live in Africa, suggesting at least the possibility of an historical association at some point in the past, it might not be all that difficult to persuade even the most dedicated anthropological "splitter" that there just might be a connection of some sort between them.
Next, let's consider a cluster of huts from a totally different part of the world:
In this case, all the above similarities apply (roughly), except for one. These huts are not from Africa, but Australia. Because of the vast distance between the two continents, no possible historical connection can be inferred -- unless we are willing to consider common origin, i.e., survival from an ancestral culture common to the ancestry of both groups prior to a divergence that could only have taken place tens of thousands of years ago. And here just about anyone with any anthropological or archaeological training will balk. No one wants to return to the bad old days of Kulturkreis thinking. Hardly anyone is prepared to accept even the possibility that any tradition could be perpetuated unchanged over such a vast expanse of both space and time. And as a result, the characteristic fallback position regarding similarities of this kind, even the most striking, has become: independent invention.
It's very difficult to argue with such people regarding this issue (as will be evident to anyone who reads what German Dziebel has to say in the comments sections of this blog), because independent invention appeals so strongly to common sense. After all, what seems more likely, the survival of the same tradition over many thousands of years among hundreds of different groups in remote parts of the world, or independent inventions of something similar in many different places, due simply to coincidence?
To dispel the myth of independent invention it's important to realize, first, that inventions of any kind, in any society, are very rarely independent. They are almost always variants of cultural elements already in play, or else borrowings from some other group. The automobile is based on the horse and buggy, which is in turn based on the simple horse-drawn cart, which already takes us back many thousands of years. The computer is based on the electronic calculator, which is based on the adding machine, based on calculating machines developed in the early 1800's, based on 17th century prototypes by Leibnitz and Pascal, all of which are preceded by the Abacus, which takes us well into the BC era.
Second, it's important to realize that indigenous societies value the passing on of ancestral traditions far more than they do innovation. In fact innovation is actively discouraged in such societies. I would challenge anyone reading here to find an instance of truly independent invention of any kind recorded in the ethnographic or historical literature over the last 2,000 years for any such group. When we see change it is almost invariably based on outside influence of some sort, or else gradual modifications or improvements of cultural elements already long established.
Moreover, if we want to assume that some group of this kind invented the beehive hut at some point in their history, we need to ask ourselves what sort of dwellings might have preceded it, and what their motivation would have been to change to some new design despite their otherwise strictly traditional lifestyle, and why that new design would just happen to resemble a beehive hut. And why so many other groups in so many other parts of the world, and in so many different environments, would make a similar change from a traditionally established dwelling, to essentially that same type of beehive design, each with reasons stemming from a different cause, with the similarities to all the other designs purely due to coincidence. (Remember that beehive huts are found in a great many different environments, so convergent evolution due to environmental adaptation won't hold much water.)
While it might seem as though a design as "simple" as the beehive hut could have been invented many times in the past, as a convenient means for hunter-gatherers to put together a handy, temporary dwelling, beehive huts are by no means all that simple and in fact a considerable amount of careful planning and effort goes into their construction. I challenge skeptics to design an experiment along the following lines. Hire several teams made up of people from many different backgrounds and cultures, with the sole proviso that none come from cultures where beehive huts are found. Drop each into a different environment where beehive huts are known to have been commonly used in the past. Inform them that they are to live in this environment for at least a week and instruct them to build temporary shelters for themselves, solely from materials normally available to hunter-gatherers, that will hold up decently during that period. If even a single instance of a beehive hut is produced I would be extremely surprised. What one would expect to see would be various types of lean-to shelters, or crude rectangular designs of various sorts. The closest thing to a beehive hut that such a group might come up with might look something like this, for example:
Here we have a photo of a crude teepee-like framework, covered by skins. A shelter of this kind would be far simpler to design and construct than a beehive hut, and yet serve its purpose equally well, I would think. Why would anyone interested only in cobbling together something simple and practical, with minimal effort, want to go to the extra trouble of building a shelter that required all the following steps (from the website Home Home on the Ridge, based on Poverty Point culture):
Eight willow branches, each 10 feet tall, for the uprights
About eight willow branches for the crosspieces
Bark from the willow branches or string
Lots of palmetto leaves
Indoor hut: a large piece of cardboard for the base, cardboard corner scraps to secure the framework, hot glue gun, and exacto knife
Outdoor hut: post hole digger or a digging stick to dig holes for the framework
1. Use a string and a pencil as a large compass. Draw a circle on either the cardboard (inside) or the dirt (outside.) The diameter of the hut can be as big as you like. Experiment with the different diameters because a larger diameter will result in a shorter hut. All of your willow poles will need to be the same length.
2. Divide your circle into eight equal parts by marking halves, fourths, and eighths.
Marks for Post Holes
3. Dig eight holes for your upright poles along the circumference of the circle.
Outside: Use a digging stick just like the Poverty Point people may have done or use a post hole digger to make your holes.
Inside: Hot glue a cardboard corner square scrap along the diameter of the circle where you want the "hole." Ask an adult to use an exacto knife to "dig" the hole by cutting into the scrap piece of cardboard.
4. Build the upright section of your hut by placing two willow branches in the holes on opposite sides of the circle.
Outside: Stomp dirt back into the hole around the pole.
Inside: Squirt hot glue in the hole before you place the branch in it.
5. Bend the two opposing branches so that they form an arch. Overlap the branches and tie them together at the top with a strip of willow bark or string. Continue with steps 4 and 5 until you have connected all four pairs. Tie the pairs together at the top of the house.
6. Add horizontal crosspieces around the sides of the hut by tying branches to your uprights. The distance between the crosspieces will be determined by the size of your palmetto leaves. The palmetto leaves should overlap each other, so the distance between the layers of crosspieces should be slightly less than the measurement of the palmetto leaves from the stem to the tip. This will probably be about one foot.
7. Leave room between two of the uprights for a door into your hut.
8. Tie a palmetto leaf to the bottom crosspiece. Use the end spikes on the palmetto as string by tearing them all the way to the stem (if they break off, just use the next spike.) Put both palmetto spikes over the crosspiece and then bring them back to the front of the palmetto leaf. Tie the spikes together in a square knot (right over left, then left over right) on top of the palmetto leaf.
9. Continue tying palmetto leaves on the crosspieces, overlapping them so the rain won't get in your house. Each palmetto leaf acts like a little umbrella. When you get all around the bottom level of the house, begin tying leaves on the next level up, making sure that the top leaves overlap the ones on the lower level. Continue adding levels of crosspieces and palmetto leaves until you get to the top!
10. Leave a smoke hole at the top of your house, but DO NOT build a fire in your hut! Remember that the real huts were 12 to 14 feet in diameter.