If our common ancestors were hunter-gatherers, which apparently they were, they would have been a very particular group of hunter-gatherers, with a very specific set of cultural practices, artifacts and values. They would have had a very specific language, for example -- and also a very specific type, or types, of musical expression, which is also a form of language, as well as dance, which can also be regarded as a language. They would have lived in very specific types of dwelling, and would have had very specific types of bodily adornment. They would have preferred very specific types of food, and would have had very specific methods and conventions governing the preparation of food, the curing of illness, the conduct of rituals, kinship, mating, arranging "marriages," rearing children, and, of course, hunting and gathering. They would also, most likely, have shared a very specific set of "core values," with respect to fundamental socio-cultural issues such as political power and control, relative freedom and equality, individualism as opposed to subordination, cooperation as opposed to competition, sharing as opposed to hoarding, violence as opposed to non-violence, etc.
If all of today's hunters and gatherers spoke the same language, had the same sort of music and dance, lived in the same sort of dwellings, used the same sort of bodily adornment, ate the same sort of food, used the same methods of curing illness and conducting rituals, had the same conventions governing sexual relationships, marriage, and kinship, had the same methods of child rearing, used the same hunting and gathering techniques, and shared the same core values, then it might make some sense to assume that "hunter-gatherers" the world over were perpetuating the lifestyle and value system of their -- and our -- "stone-age" ancestors.
But there are a great many different types of hunter-gatherers living in the world today, with certain things in common and other things not in common, so in order to claim "hunter-gatherers" represent our earliest ancestors it is necessary to universalize them first, which means removing most reference to specifics and in effect more or less "essentializing" them out of any real existence and into some idealized fantasyland -- i.e., turning them into a myth. Which is exactly what offends our thoroughly "post-modern" Millies of perpetual revision -- who have gone off just as far in the opposite direction: pointless cynicism and denial.
If it might look as though I am doing more or less the same thing, i.e., "essentializing" today's Pygmies and Bushmen in order to promote their lifestyle and values into the perfect represenatation of "Stone-Age Man," I assure you that this is not the case. The Pygmies and Bushmen of today (or, to be more accurate, yesterday) live very different lifestyles in completely different environments, with different languages, hunting methods, marriage customs, healing techniques, types of adornment, and customs for the distribution of food and other goods. They may be no more similar to their common ancestors than any other hunter-gatherer groups. What makes them special is not the fact that they more closely resemble our ancestors than anyone else, but that there are certain clues to the nature of the ancestral culture that only they possess. And I'm sorry, but it would be pointless to go over all these clues here, since I have already covered this topic abundantly in many earlier posts. (See the Table of Contents to find the first post in this series.)
What I want to do now is consider certain specific hunter-gatherer groups in an attempt to determine, however tentatively, which aspects of their cultures could be survivals from HBC and which might represent a variant or divergence from the ancestral model.
Let's consider, for example, the Hadza, a group of "hunter-gatherer" bands, some of which are still living a more or less traditional lifestyle in what is now Tanzania (formerly Tanganyika and Zanzibar). I happen to have the latest issue of National Geographic handy, containing a very interesting article titled The Hadza, and subtitled as follows:
They grow no food, raise no livestock, and live without rules or calendars. They are living a hunter-gatherer existence that is little changed from 10,000 years ago. What do they know that we've forgotten?(to be continued . . .)