Anthropology/human evolution


Something that has always baffled me is why certain cultures never progressed beyond primitive states. I've always wondered why some societies never embraced or developed "modern" technology and continue to live in aboriginal circumstances. There are many examples; certain African tribes, the Inuit and Eskimo peoples, and Australian aboriginals, to name a few. Early Europeans once lived in similar conditions, yet they progressed beyond this state and developed into highly sophisticated civilizations with amazing breakthrough inventions. Why do you suppose that they became so adept at creating technological breakthroughs and moved beyond living in primordial conditions while other people continue to live in huts made of cow dung or ice? Do you think it has anything to do with genetic disposition? Thank you.

Hi Ben,
Many of the groups you name, Inuit, various African tribes, Aboriginal Australians, have fully adopted "modern" technologies (firearms, cell phones, automobiles, etc.).  They also universally display the quality of "behavioral variability", that is the ability to devise multiple solutions to the same problem and to deploy single solutions to multiple problems.  This pretty much puts paid (refutes) the idea that there are genetically based differences in human creativity that follow any geographic pattern.
That some groups did not develop state-level societies owes a lot to geography and history.  This is an enormously complex subject, one that Jared Diamond has done a great job of explaining it in his Pulitzer Prize-winning book, Guns, Germs and Steel.
I hope this helps.
John Shea


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John Shea


Questions about Old World prehistoric archaeology (especially Stone Age) of Europe, Africa, and Western Asia, prehistoric human and hominid behavior, primitive technology, origin of modern humans, extinction of the Neandertals. IMPORTANT: Between February 14 and September 01, 2014, I will be on sabbatical leave. During this time I will have limited access to email. This means that there may be very long periods (i.e., weeks) between your posting a question and my having time to answer it.


>20 years as a professional anthropologist based at a research university.

Journal of Field Archaeology, Journal of Archaeological Science, Lithic Technology, Evolutionary Anthropology, Current Anthropology, Mitekufat HaEven (Journal of the Israel Prehistoric Society), Paléorient, Annual of the Department of Antiquities of Jordan, American Anthropologist, Geoarchaeology.

Ph.D (Anthropology) Harvard University, 1991.
BA (Archaeology) Boston University, 1982.

Awards and Honors
Sigma Xi Distinguished Lecturer 2012-2014

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