02/13/06 - stone age man

In today's excerpt - life in the Stone Age.  The author, Douglass North, postulates that prehistoric pre-agriculture 'bands' of humans would sometimes reach points where their population numbers would exceed food supply, and therefore they would be motivated to prevent their numbers from increasing:

"As population grew over the million or so years of man's history ... at first, man hunted the larger animals. A number of kill sites with great quantities of bones have been found, indicating that the hunting tactic of driving large animals over a cliff was employed. It is possible that man's increasingly efficient ability to hunt the great cold-weather animals—the mammoth and the woolly rhinoceros as they retreated northward—contributed to their extinction, [since their disappearance in North America coincided with the appearance of humans.]

"We should expect, however, that groups ... would initially try to develop stable relationships between the population of the band and the [food] resource base. These bands would limit fertility by taboos, infanticide, and various other means. ... Moreover, we should expect that these bands attempted to develop a set of customs and rules to regulate hunting, and in a way that would maintain stability. ... Precisely the kind of homeostatic relationships that the anthropologists have described as existing among contemporary primitive societies ..."


Douglass C. North


Structure and Change in Economic History


W.W. Norton & Company




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