The Most Astonishing Anthropological Fact That I Know

At one point about 7,000 years ago, and for a period of about 2,000 years thereafter, the percentage of human males having offspring was reduced to 1 in 20 in Europe, Asia, and Africa, while female reproducers remained at previous levels. Wow. Take a moment, please, to think about how totally weird that is.

In other words, quite suddenly, only 1 in 20 males was having children. If you were a male, your chances of getting laid and having a child were pretty small–about 5 percent. This is known as the Neolithic Y-chromosome bottleneck and was occurring at the same time as the emergence of settled agricultural communities.

It seems that strongmen, alpha males, at the heads of settled agricultural groups eliminated their competition for females almost entirely, probably via truly breathtakingly brutal wars a) on foragers and wandering herders and b) between different patrilineal groups–killing off almost all other males or enslaving them and preventing them from reproducing. You might refer to this as the “Gang Wars” period of our prehistory. It is very likely that this astonishing cultural revolution among our ancestors gave rise to the intensely patriarchal and hierarchical city state that replaced the previous human foraging bands–the city state built around an oracular central monument–a temple mountain, from which the god/king ruled. This was strongman behavior with a vengeance.

And, ofc, both patriarchal monotheism and the notion of the ruler as god or as the god’s representative on Earth suited these people quite well. (It’s astonishing to me that millions of Americans don’t know that monotheism was a relatively late human invention. Instruction in history, in our schools, is pretty bad, but instruction in prehistory, in our K-12 schools, is almost nonexistent.)

However, within settled agricultural communities, numbers of males surviving to reproduce then started to grow again. Why? Well, population explosion in such communities was made possible by abundant (though not very healthy) grain, which produced more warriors and made those communities more powerful, and as those communities grew, they made increasing use of divisions of labor and of an underclass–with different people taking on different roles, as rulers, administrators, priests, builders, farmers, warriors, child-care workers, and so on, and many of these were not primary producers of food and had to be supported. It paid to have division of labor and a large subservient class–more men both to do labor and to sire more subservient laborers. In its full flowering, the Neolithic agricultural city state was intensely hierarchical (there was a huge underclass to support all those warriors, administrators, priests, and rulers) and patriarchal (for the most part–early states like Çatalhöyük may have been matriarchal.)

So, the adulation of the strongman that one saw and sees in, say, John Gotti, Vladimir Putin, Donald Trump, and people of that ilk has a long and ugly history–it emerged with what we call “civilization.” Trump is a wannabe strongman. He claims that the Constitution gives him the power “to do anything I want.” Ofc, he’s totally loony and turns into a sniveling lackey around the actual strongmen around the world whom he so wants to be like when he grows up.

The danger of reversion to fascism–to rule by strongman–is always there, folks, and preventing it requires education and constant vigilance.

About Bob Shepherd

interests: curriculum design, educational technology, learning, linguistics, hermeneutics, rhetoric, philosophy (Continental philosophy, Existentialism, metaphysics, philosophy of language, philosophy of mind, epistemology, ethics), classical and jazz guitar, poetry, the short story, archaeology and cultural anthropology, history of religion, prehistory, veganism, sustainability, Anglo-Saxon literature and language, systems for emergent quality control, heuristics for innovation
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3 Responses to The Most Astonishing Anthropological Fact That I Know

  1. Abby says:

    Interesting…it seems that the patrilineal custom of women tending to leave the clan to join their mates’ clan left the y chromosome gene pool very limited within each clan. Skirmishes that wiped out entire clans would have greatly reduced y-chromosome variance.
    I also believe that a similar human female bottleneck very likely occurred much earlier, probably during the transition to bipedalism, which resulted in the “hemochorial” placenta, making pregnancy so much more dangerous for humans than for other species.

    Liked by 1 person

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