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“We were home”

In her book When the Land was Young, Sharman Russell works a sensitive exploration of North American archaeology today.  She visits and talks with archaeologists on site.  The book is written more as poetic prose than dry hard science.  Here is one of my favorite excerpts:

Vance Haynes is here today mapping a well he thinks was dug by the Clovis people. ‘They had the same gray matter as you or me’, he says.  ‘They were at a different stage in their technology, that’s all.’

The second question is like hitting a bruise, the pain of our postindustrial angst. Was it better?  In the last two centuries we have had small but diverse groups of hunters and gatherers to study.  Some had lots of leisure time; some didn’t.  Some starved  on occasion; some hardly ever.  Much depended on the physical environment.  Still this doesn’t touch the heart of the question, which is about spirit not matter.  Was it better emotionally?  Were we better?  Were we more alive, more human, more engaged?

Anthropologist Robin Fox says yes.  He mourns the ‘Paleoterrific’ not because it was better but because it is where we belong.  There we reached ‘the limits of our evolutionary adaptation’.  We were few in number, tribal, creative, dependent on nature, in awe, in touch, in our natural setting.  We were home.


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