Memes and population size was: Memetic trapping and wars.

From: Keith Henson (
Date: Sun 06 Jul 2003 - 22:36:12 GMT

  • Next message: Wade T. Smith: "Re: Memetic trapping and wars."

    "It was around this time that, as the economist Michael Kremer has noted, Mother Nature happened to conduct an experiment that underscored the value of large social brains. Melting polar ice caps severed Tasmania from Australia and the New World from the Old World. Thereafter, just as you would expect, the larger the landmass and hence the population, the faster subsistence technology progressed. The people of the vast Old World invented farming before the people of the smaller (and, at first, thinly populated) New World. And the Aborigines of yet smaller Australia never farmed. As for tiny Tasmania, modern explorers, on contacting the Tasmanians, found them lacking such Australian essentials as fire, bone needles and boomerangs."

    "In almost every way, the initial lives of the Tasmanians were identical technologically to the Australians. But as the isolation continued, the 4,000 Tasmanians began to lose their technology. By 4,000 years ago, they were not making very many bone tools. Instead of the original 1 bone/3 stone tools ratio, only 1 bone tool for every fifteen stone tools is found in deposits of that time period. By 3,500 years ago, Tasmanians were no longer making bone tools. (Flood, p. 177) The loss of bone tool technology had implications. No longer were they able to use bone tools to sew their clothing. The Tasmanians simply draped the animal skin over themselves and tied it onto them with animal skin. Considering the cold climate of Tasmania, this was rather poor clothing. Stone tools were not attached to handles as was done on Australia, but the Tasmanians held each rock and used it to cut the trees. This is absolutely the most primitive form of stone tool use and is less efficient than would be the case if the tool was hafted. (Hafting is the process of attaching a handle to the tool) Imagine if you can, chopping down a tree by holding a sharp rock in your hand. By 3800 years ago, the Tasmanians had given up fishing. In spite of having a tremendous food source all around them, they no longer ate fish. This means they had given up or lost the technologies for nets, and traps. The Tasmanians had become seal hunters. All they needed for seal hunting was a big club to slaughter the young. During later times, the only fishing which took place was the collection of shellfish. The women would cover themselves with seal fat and dive for shellfish. (p. 181) Boomerangs, barbed points, and ground axe heads were not found among the Tasmanians. All of this technology, possessed by their Australian ancestors, was lost. "

    It is an interesting point that a particular set of technology memes may
    (very likely does) require a population larger than some critical number.

    Keith Henson

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