The penetration of virgin lands by the Neolithic farmer who had evolved in a subtropical climate was by no means easy. He had to adapt to environments where he suffered cold and heat, wild predators and more insidious threats as paludism, tsetse, dysentery, worms and bacterial-viral diseases. For example, Plasmodium vivax, an unicellular organism that causes marsh fever, penetrates only those red blood cells that bear the “Duffy” blood group. Plasmodium falciparum parasites only the M and N blood group red cells. Pregnant women are particularly vulnerable to malaria because Plasmodium parasites readily colonize the placenta, where heavy infections develop with malign consequences for both the mother and the child. The absence of “Buffy” or else “M” and “N” blood group types renders some individuals almost immune to Plasmodium. As a result, they alone will be able to settle and survive in marsh fever-infested regions. These people will evolve in particular races, characterized by a particular blood group devoid of either “Buffy” or else “M” and “N” blood group types.
Also, the human species requires for its health several rare elements such as selenium, zinc, iodine, fluoride, cadmium and copper, as well as vitamins furnished by other living organisms. The composition of the land and the species of animals available for taming will further influence H. sapiens success at control of food production. To this must be added the availability of minerals, which favor his control over the environment.
8.5.1 Chemical elements and light
220.127.116.11 Sodium and potassium
First and foremost rank water and salt. Lack of either of these elements condemns a human culture to poor performance. Despite modern technological advances, fresh water is a commodity that must, even today, be locally available. Until about three hundred years ago, salt was a luxury item as heavily taxed then as is petroleum in Europe, today. Gandhi organized a protest in India on the issue of salt. The capital importance of salt ceased about 100 years ago.
A sodium deficit results from excessive sweating, drinking of plain water, low sodium diets and diarrhea. It produces mental confusion, delusion, apprehension, fatigability and muscular weakness. Evidently, the life in the tropics entails more frequent occurrences of sodium and water depletion, and life as a rule will be more difficult there, on that account.
The food provides for sufficient amounts of potassium (present in meat) but sodium is not so abundant and the human body is geared to save sodium. When a deficit in sodium appears, the kidney exchanges sodium for potassium. Sodium is reabsorbed in the blood stream while potassium is excreted in the urine. In some cases, this system of conserving sodium leads to a drastic depletion in potassium. The human body has no saving device for potassium. In the absence of any entry of potassium, losses are 1.9 grams potassium a day. To obtain these decidedly necessary 1.9 grams a day, an adult person should eat about 3 bananas, which are among the richest fruits in potassium content. Oranges are only half as rich as bananas. Yet, bananas penetrated Africa only very late in historical times. The lack of potassium results in mental depression and cloudiness, fatigability, weakness and diminished reflexes. It can be caused by diarrhea, burns, low potassium diets, excessive sweating. These are more frequent in tropical areas than temperate ones and can also be caused by indiscriminate use of diuretics such as tea and coffee.
Light affects the building of bones and sexual maturity. The gland under the influence of light is the hypothalamus, located in the head. Neural signals generated in the retina by light are transmitted to the hypothalamus and converted into hormonal output. It is also possible that light goes straight through the skull: the testis of male ducks increase during the spring months as a result of increasing daylight time even if the animals are blind.
The hypothalamus is a clock that functions in accordance with the duration of exposure to the sun. Contrary to Descartes’ belief, the hypothalamus is not the seat of man’s soul but is the seat of woman’s sexual awakening. Puberty is directly proportional to the amount of light received by the hypothalamus. The more light received, the earlier the sexual maturity. The first Europeans (Portuguese) entering in contact with Zanzibarians described them as “extremely strong, who are all black and walk all naked, except that they cover their nature. And they do jolly well because they have it very thick, ugly and even horrible to see“. The exaggerated development of the breasts that women put over their own shoulders is also mentioned. Rapid adulthood is of immediate biological benefit but is a long-range cultural handicap. People living in tropical areas have thus been put at a disadvantage in relation to the Nordics. A longer exposure to sunlight is a recent cultural trend in the West, with a drive to healthier living. An acceleration of the maturation process has been observed lately among people living in temperate countries, which may be due to healthier food and longer periods of exposure to the sun. Earlier pregnancies and shortened adolescences, earlier awakening to sexuality are precisely the drives that civilization tends or at least ought to repress for the creation of a human stock better able to absorb the cultural heritage.
Sun deprivation leads to bone defects. This is because the building up of bones is accomplished by calcium and by the vitamin D synthesized under the influence of UV light. Rachitism may thus occur either because of lack of light or lack of calcium. For Caucasians living in sun-deprived countries, the daily requirement in vitamin D is 2.5 micrograms (i.e. 0.0025 mg). Fish (abundantly consumed by Eskimos, Norwegians, Swedes, seals, polar bears etc.) provides a good supply in vitamin D but, for most people, the daily intake is only about 1μg a day, the rest being provided by UV radiations. Elderly women and small children not exposed to the sun will, as a rule, develop osteomalacia and rachitism. Osteomalacia is observed in the Bedouin women of the Negev, since they live in black tents and are themselves entirely covered with black clothes. For pigmented people staying with traditional garbs, the dietary uptake of vitamin D becomes extremely important when they move to poorly irradiated countries where the atmosphere is polluted.
Calcium is abundant in nature (milk, bones) and excessive absorption of calcium produces stones in the kidneys. This is one of the most ancient afflictions of man, especially when he ventures into hot desert areas where salt and water are lacking. In South Africa, Bantus swallow and excrete 70% more sodium than whites: they are culturally different and like lots of salt in their food. This protects them from precipitation of calcium as stones in the kidneys, because calcium excretion increases when sodium excretion increases.
Lack of calcium results in numbness, muscle and abdominal cramps and leads to rachitism. The absorption of calcium in the intestines can be impaired by the phytic acid present in whole meal wheat flour. In a Caucasian diet, bread is leavened. During this process, a phytase destroys the phytic acid. Other cultures, as the Jews, Indians and Pakistani, consume unleavened bread (e.g. chapatti). This is sometimes sufficient (with lack of UV light exposure, vegetarian diet, no milk) to induce osteomalacia in some members of these human groups.
Lead, in minute quantities, interferes with enzymes and makes people less able to survive stresses. Pregnant women and young infants are particularly vulnerable. Lack of calcium exposes the body to lead poisoning. The threat is insidious: in England and Wales, the infant death-rate is directly proportional to the softness of the drinking water and in Canada, the death rate of the adult population occurs with as much as a 15% to 30% higher frequency when water is soft. This is because calcium interferes with the uptake of lead: the lead content of bones in soft-water areas is almost twice that of a hard-water area.
Cultural habits also have an incidence on lead poisoning. In early times, the main problem was the use of lead pigments in ceramic wares. With lead pigments, the color and brilliance of the glaze were attained with low kiln temperatures, which is important when fuel is expensive, the skills of the artisan rudimentary and the clay is earthenware. The lead of the glaze dissolves in acidic solvents, such as vinegar. Yet, vinegar was of common usage in early times, by necessity. Wine also is able to dissolve lead glazes. The Ancient Greeks knew about it but this knowledge was lost with the Romans, who drank about 3 liters of wine per day, laden with lead. The Romans also abundantly used lead in the construction of the pipelines and aqueducts that supplied cities with water. Will Durant suggests that the abuse of wine was the reason for the fall of Rome. With lead to help, he may be correct.
Nowadays, saturnism is due to lead pigments in paint, to lead-containing glazes used for the jugs wherein orange, apple or lemon juice are kept for children, while adults are exposed to lead when consuming alcohol prepared by the moonshiner in lead-soldered tubing of distillation units. In the US, the causative factors of childhood lead poisoning today are a dilapidated house where paint contains lead in the pigment, a toddler and parents whose emotional, intellectual, informative and economic resources are too deficient to cope with the family’s needs. The ingestion by a child of a few chips of paint a day, for 3 months, will result in drowsiness, loss of appetite, clumsiness, unwillingness to play. A few weeks later, lassitude evolves into stupor and culminates in coma. If death is avoided, a permanent brain damage may remain, ranging from subtle learning deficits to profound mental incompetence. In underdeveloped countries, the problem is very serious: e.g. in Karachi, in AD 2002, 322 out of 400 children between 3 and 5 had blood lead levels of more than the critical 10 micrograms per deciliter. There is a 5.8 decrease in IQ for every 10 micrograms per deciliter increase in blood lead level.
The removal of materials containing lead, because of its deleterious effects on mental ability, has become an obsession in Western culture today. The remedies imposed by our elites are sometimes worse than the evil: the petrol additive lead tetraethyl has now been entirely removed from gasoline supplies and replaced by a platinum-palladium catalyst in vehicle exhausts. Traces of this catalyst have now been found in the wild expanses of Greenland, showing that it is now polluting the air in Western countries. This pollutant, as a very fine dust, could be responsible for allergic ailments like asthma, the incidence of which is increasing markedly. Burnt lead tetraethyl formed non-gaseous solid derivatives, which never left the exhaust systems and were never dangerous to health.
Another element that directly influences man’s ability to cope with the challenges of the environment is iodine. The thyroid gland needs iodine to be effective. In the absence of iodine, the gland hypertrophies and a goiter develops. The thyroid favors healthy growth by regulating the rate at which the cells of the body convert nutrients by the consumption of oxygen. Deficiency in thyroid hormone during the first three months of pregnancy turns the newborn infant into a cretin.
Soils washed through heavy rains are deficient in iodine, which is soluble and leaches out. Very depleted regions are those where intense glaciations took place. Mountainous regions are also often iodine-poor, as are soils along rivers that periodically overflow their banks. The steady replenishment of iodine in terrestrial soils from atmospheric iodine tends to reverse the effects of glaciations and other factors of deperdition. The degree of replenishment is affected in a complex way by distance from the sea, wind, rain and amounts of iodine in the precipitation. In addition, some areas of the world have natural deposits of iodine. A map of the world shows that iodine is deficient in France, most of South America, large parts of North America, the Balkans, Central Africa (fig. 8.25).
Figure 8.25. Iodine-poor soils.
Further, some plants are goitrogenous, as are Brussels sprouts, cabbages, soya-beans and turnips, which inhibit the use of iodine by the thyroid gland.
Nowadays, deficiency in iodine is corrected by balanced diets composed of seafood. In former times, this was not the case. Cesar believed that a goiter was a racial characteristic of the Celts. Chinese physicians were always concerned with drugs able to eliminate goiters. Egyptians advised goitrous persons to eat the salt of a particular deposit, which presumably contained iodine. The etiology of goiter and its sequels are now principally due to heavy reliance on a goitrogenous staple diet amplified if the cook of the family does not prepare seafood or fails to impose it on the child.
8.5.2 Arable soil
For a farmer, the quality of the soil is of paramount importance. Yet, many parts of the world have lateritic soils (fig 8.26) that are unsuitable for the production of food on an intensive scale. The quantity of food produced on such soils will rapidly decline and hamper further developments.
Figure 8.26. Laterite soils in tropical regions. Note that the soil of Siberia is not more productive.
Laterite is a red or yellow mineral-rich acidic earth that turns into a brick-like form when exposed to air. In India and Africa, it is a source of iron and has been a building material since prehistoric times. It is used in tropical regions for huts and roads as well as for the realization of such an architectural marvel as the temples of Angkor-Thom built by the Khmers.
Laterite is rich in iron and aluminum, sometimes also in manganese and nickel. In tropical countries, with high temperatures and heavy rainfalls, the normal organic components of the upper layers of the soil are leached out. Calcium, potassium, sodium, iodine and other elements required by plants are eliminated. This elimination is helped by a hot climate that favors the growth and multiplication of bacteria, insects and earthworms that break down the organic material and aerate the soil. The humus does not accumulate and the oxygen of the air penetrates the porous soil, where it oxidizes the iron and aluminum. This process generates in the course of time large deposits of bauxite (aluminum) or hematite and limonite (iron) ores.
Lush tropical vegetation tends to isolate the soil from the eroding effects of the tropical climate and somehow impedes the process from proceeding in full swing. This is extremely fortunate otherwise the totality of the oxygen of the atmosphere would very soon be used up for the oxidization of the laterite soils. One wonders what are the reasons for it not happening. Tropical vegetation itself is usually deceptive; it is created by the abundance of moisture and recovers a soil that is essentially inhospitable and unproductive.
When such soils are ploughed, these lands yield an amazingly small return and soon become infertile. Fields laid bare to the air harden into stone. Food production in the tropics, raised to meet the pressure of a rise in population, will meet with failure in most cases. This has been the experience of Ford in Fordlandia (Brazil) and the same experience greeted the rulers of that country in Iata, also in the Amazon basin, in 1983. It has been the experience of Castro in Cuba, of the cotton planters in the United States and of many African countries that too easily dismissed the know-how carefully amassed by former colonial planters.
The type of farming practiced in such an environment is of the “milpa” type. Small clearings are made, on which many crops are planted. After about two years, the soil is exhausted. The clearing is abandoned and a jungle-type growth of shrubs, vines and low trees may take over. When the clearings are large, the cleared areas are permanently lost to agriculture after a few crop cycles have worn out the soil. The Amazonians solved the problem by mulching and use of human dejections, which transformed about 20% of the Amazonian land into black earth, suitable for horticulture. The Amazonian population was, before the arrival of the Portuguese, sedentary and abundant.
Very probably, the Mayas were forced out of Yucatan due to the laterisation of the soil they ploughed once the swamps dried up. The Aztecs lived in a mountain valley not subject to such an intense erosion and had the good luck to improve upon a technique originally employed in the valley to grow maize, so as to reach a very intensive scale. In South East Asia, where a third point of agricultural evolution blossomed with the growth of rice, which yields about 20 times more grain per acre than barley, the Mekong river has the habit of flooding during the monsoon. In this way, the land is replenished every year with a new layer of silt. Laterisation of the soil presumably doomed the Khmers.
8.5.3 Available plants
All plants are not equal in their capacity to assimilate CO2 and H2O for the production of sugar, which is the basis of biomass. Most plants, extending from blue algae, green algae, lichen, ferns and most trees and bamboo’s up to the majority of the flower plants (potatoes, tobacco, wheat, barley, sugar beets), are thriving on a primitive system of CO2 assimilation: CO2 is assimilated through photosynthesis but between 30% and 50% of it is lost again during the process of diurnal respiration. During the Carboniferous period, about 350 million years ago, plants appeared whose efficiency in photosynthesis was considerably augmented by reducing the diurnal respiration process to nil. In these modern plants, the efficacy of CO2 assimilation is doubled. They grow about twice as fast as other plants and thrive mainly in tropical dry lands. Best known are the papyrus, maize, sugar cane, sorghum and mil of which some considerably helped in the development of the civilizations that relied on them.
About 10,000 years ago, most early agriculturists mastered certain practical notions of plant genetics and artificial selection. The cultivation of maize, barley, sorghum, mil, rice, sugarcane, which all belong to the grass family, present an array of characteristics that received the name “domestication syndrome”. For example wheat, maize and mil bear a small number of thick cobs securely attached to the stem, with the grains maturing simultaneously. This is a genetic character much appreciated by the farmer. The wild plants do not possess these characteristics and, if they had had them, would soon have lost them due to lack of adequate dispersion in time and space. The germination of the grains of the domesticated plants proceeds also simultaneously and rapidly. This is demanded by the farmer for an easy exploitation of his fields and is opposite to what happens with the homologous wild varieties. Finally, a soft envelope of the grains is required from those plants that are destined for cooking, while wild varieties heavily protect their grains. Cultivated plants may differ enormously from their wild parents. The difference in morphology of maize from the wild plant is so great that their parenthood was not recognized until about 1960.
The reason why the Neolithic farmers could select and keep domesticated plants is that about 10 different genes that are located on one single chromosome specify the characteristics of the «domestication syndrome» all in all. All the characteristics useful to the agriculturist are transmitted together. For the cultivated varieties of these plants, there exists a genetic stability that the agriculturist, with attention and work, can keep.
A variety of plants must have been initially cultivated in response to the magic-religious urges and rituals of primitive man. Alcohol and sweets are made from a variety of sources. It is not necessary to postulate that the consumption of plants in prehistoric times was solely due to wild gathering. Small gardens destined for ritual purposes may have been kept. One may suppose that the need to eat plants (instead of getting drunk on their fermented juices) and growing them in large numbers on ploughed fields arose at the beginning of the Neolithic period, due to worsening climatic conditions.
Under this stress, the farmer would have collected and kept only those plants that were apt to be easily grown. Once the proto-farmer had discovered that sown grains gave rise to new plants of the same type, then, almost automatically, a selection of those plants would have occurred when the genes of the “domestication syndrome” were located on one single chromosome and behaved as if they were only one gene, or where auto-fecundation was the rule. In other cases, the excluding of unsuitable hybrids would have been too difficult and the passage from garden keeping to cultivation of plants in ploughed fields would have failed. The ease of domestication of plants such as mil, rice, sorghum does not make it reasonable to believe that their domestication occurred only once, in one single geographic area. It seems that, where the wild plants existed and where the pressure to thrive on plants arose, there occurred a domestication.
Palaeobotanical studies demonstrate a brutal increase of pollens in the villages of the Near East by 9700 BP, which is explained only by the existence of fields. This increase was associated by an increase of rodents and an architectural revolution that evolved from circular huts to rectangular or square juxtaposed rooms, some of them being destined for the storage of grain. On can then pinpoint the definitive domestication of plants in the Near East to the eighth millennium BC.
In the Near East, the plants evolved were wheat and barley. Once found, these plants were carried towards other regions such as North Africa, China, Europe. In some cases, these plants could not adapt to the climatic conditions and other plants were locally developed, such as rice, potatoes, ignames, cocoa-nuts, bananas and bread trees. In most cases, wheat and barley are superior since they store a lot of energy into a small and easily conserved volume. The work needed to produce food is very demanding at planting and harvesting times but, in between, it leaves time for the farmer to dedicate himself to other occupations. This is not true for rice, which needs constant but not arduous attention. Rice is ideal for hot, humid tropical regions where heavy work is difficult. Also, women can make a success of it.
About 10,000 years ago, the total population of the earth was no more than 5 million people. Each human being had 25 km2 at his disposition and about 5,000 varieties of alimentary plants for his subsistence. Today, we are 4.5 billion. Twenty-eight people occupy each square kilometer of the globe with a maximum of 150 consumable plants at their disposition, of which only 29 are intensively used.
8.5.4 Available animals
Animals used in the Near East were oxen, swine, goats, sheep and donkeys. Bovine, swine and sheep were maintained in Europe but the Danubian region did not appear to know stock raising at all. The Chinese cared principally for swine. So did the Melanesians, which is understandable as it was difficult for them to transport cattle overseas. In middle Egypt, swine were ignored in favor of bovine and sheep but the swine were well known in the region of the Fayoum and of the Nile delta.
The animals tamed in the Near East are rather docile. Camels and reindeers are more difficult to tame and handle than sheep and ox, as is the indocile llama and the elephant, especially the African type. Hannibal and Pyrrhus used small North African elephants in their campaigns against Rome but this animal species was soon exterminated. Egyptians tamed baboons and tried to tame gazelles. This proved impossible, as it proved impossible to tame zebras. Buffaloes are not easy to tame either, unless castrated. In Africa, only the Nubian ass was available besides the North African elephant but donkeys cannot stand humid climates, which precludes their adaptation to equatorial regions. The horse and camel had disappeared from America about 11,000 years ago, leaving for taming only the tapir, turkey, parrot, llama, agouti and the dog. Bees were domesticated.
In America, the main cultivated plant was maize. Other plants were cultivated, in great variety, so that the impression is that the Neolithic American farmer was not interested in the taming of animals. The Mayas knew of the turkey and the bee. Aztecs had domesticated the dog, turkey and the duck. Peruvians had the dog, llama and guinea pig (agouti). A similar observation of disinterest for animal taming can be made for South-East Asia, Japan and Africa. This comment is unfair since these regions did not offer many animal species to tame and it is this poverty that focused the interest of the farmer on plants.
The small number of animal species domesticated by humans may be due to satiation. Some species were so satisfactory that other alliances were never contemplated, even if possible, or were abandoned. In Europe, rats and mice were combated during the Middle Ages with the domesticated ferret. When cats became available, the use of the ferret was abandoned. Within the felidae family, some lineages as the lynx and the leopard show a distinct aversion to affiliative behavior with humans whereas others, as the ocelot, show affection toward humans that is more intense than that shown by cats. Yet, its alliance was not contemplated.
8.5.5 The principal American import: The potato
In America, two cultivated plants are the root crops potato and sweet potato. The sweet potato was cultivated in the New World for at least 4,000 years. Once the European arrived, the sweet potato quickly found its way to the Philippines, Japan and Malaysia by traveling on Spanish galleons and to Africa, India and Indonesia on Portuguese ships. The potato, cultivated by the Peruvians under the name “papa”, was present in Hawaii and Easter Island about 100 years before the birth of Columbus. It arrived there from Samoa or from the Marquises, where it was cultivated about 400 AD. Polynesia received the plant through either a raft originating from the mainland or, as plausibly, it was conveyed as a seed by migrating birds such as the golden plover, and then rediscovered in Polynesia. The Spaniards introduced it into Europe in 1535. From Spain, it passed to Italy under the name “tartaffi” and thereafter into Germany under the same name, “Kartoffel”. These plants, especially the potato, were important for the further development of Europe, in later times.
These initial opportunities and restrictions were fundamental as far as the future of the various Neolithic endeavors was concerned. The absence of suitable animals in many parts of the world must have been a tremendous drawback for further cultural developments in those regions, especially Africa. The dog, pig, water buffalo, sheep, goat, camel and horse all have a Eurasian origin and were introduced into Africa only about 3,000 years ago. The occupation of the land became successful only after the introduction of the taro and the banana from India, about 2,000 to 1,500 years ago to the East Coast. Iron metallurgy was introduced through Carthage in Cyrenaica, where it was practiced around 600 BC. After Alexander exposed Egypt to the Greek culture, the working of iron expanded, around 300 BC, towards Nubia and Ethiopia, to reach Central Africa. Finally, the Portuguese imported the sweet potato from America. These various adjuvants allowed a substantial increase in African population numbers.
Neolithic populations had thus by no means an option to raise the best suited animals or to use determined plants for farming purposes. They were heavily restricted. Yet, an adequate supply of proteins and calories to the body is essential for further human development.
8.5.6 Proteins and calories
The promise of Yaveh to his people in the Sinai desert was to bring them to a land with an abundance of milk and honey, which embody proteins and calories. Milk is most readily obtained from cows and sheep although camels, goats and horses also can produce it. Note that, without adequate fodder, cows will be used for traction of carts, not the production of milk.
While milk can be made into cheese, that presents the advantage of great concentration of nutrient material into a small volume, honey can be fermented into mead. Hydromel is presumably the most ancient alcoholic beverage known, probably used during Paleolithic times. It is obtained merely by the dilution of the honey and needs no planting effort. Hunters could prepare it. An adequate dilution of honey from 82% sugar down to 25% will allow a satisfactory fermentation.
Once agricultural endeavors bore their fruits, grain and fruit displaced honey as a source of alcohol. Wine seems not to have been an invention of the Old High Cultures but of less developed tribes such as the Achaeans. These Achaeans usually associated Dionysus with a swarm of bees as well as with grapes. The advantage of grapes over honey and other sources is that the juice of ripe grapes contains the right amount of sugar and nutrients to start vigorous fermentation forthwith. Fermented beverages had the advantage over others to possess microorganisms that provided the human organism with badly needed vitamins, while being an excellent source of calories. Such a source of nutrients ought not to be neglected when the diet is generally poor; yet, for cultural or religious reasons, it sometimes was (e.g. Islam).
The principal fuel supplying energy to the body is glucose. Its most critical user is the brain, for which glucose is as essential as oxygen. The brain requires daily about 100 to 145 grams of glucose or its equivalent (i.e. other sugars or alcohol). The blood must continuously supply this glucose. The main reserve of glucose of our body is stored away in the liver under the form of glycogen. However, this reserve amounts to considerably less than 100 grams. Between meals, the proteins in the body’s skeletal muscles are broken down to provide the material necessary for production of glucose by the liver. During prolonged starvation, the drawing of energy from the skeletal muscles slows down because the body would loose 50% of its muscles in 3 weeks and die. In response to starvation, the brain promptly adopts derivatives of fatty acids (beta-hydroxybutyrate).
This ability to survive starvation is restricted to adults. If a child is deprived of food, growth stops immediately because the young body has a high requirement of energy necessary to build protein. A child who has suffered undernourishment early in his life and for an appreciable length of time will never reach a normal size for its age even if it is fed enough later on to restore a normal rate of growth. This is part of the reason for the small size of many people in impoverished countries. Particularly critical is the first year of life because the brain is still growing and developing during that time: underfeeding results in a permanent physical stunting of the central nervous system. Starvation interferes with cell division and leaves the child with a permanent deficit in the number of cells in the brain.
A little food is of course better than no food at all. Yet and paradoxically, the edema of famine develops most often in cases of semi-starvation. A semi-starved person’s survival time may actually be shortened if he survives on a diet consisting mainly of sugar and deficient in proteins. With such a deficiency in proteins, the child shows the symptoms of kwashiorkor. The typical signs of kwashiorkor are apathy, loss of appetite, edema and changes in skin and hair. The body shows a marked drop in concentration of key enzymes and these enzymes may be less active. The reason for these changes is that the brain of a semi-starved child or adult nourished with starch and sugar continues to depend on glucose for its activity. Since glucose continues to be supplied by way of food, the need to synthesize glucose from proteins is not acutely felt. Consequently, only a small amount of amino-acids is released into the blood stream, which is not sufficient for the synthesis of key enzymes and other proteins and, therefore, the body shows the devastating effects of protein deficiency.
This phenomenon is an indication of the evolution of man’s present metabolic resources. During the hunting and plant gathering phases, hunger periods took the form of general undernourishment and the body evolved adaptations to improve metabolic efficiency for such a contingency. It is however only recently that the Neolithic revolution took place and that human populations came to depend heavily on a single cultivated plant staple for food. This is a situation with which the human body is yet not prepared to cope.
The Neolithic farmer succeeded in controlling the food production but, through this process, the food had lost some of its nutrient value in the meantime. For example, wild plants produce grains that contain proteins whereas cultivated plants have grains that contain mainly sugar. The abundance of energy provided by sugar allows the planted grains to grow fast and simultaneously, within a sowed field. However, this means a general weakening of the population thriving on it because the needed proteins are absent. Larger numbers of people are sustained by the food produced but the activity and lifestyle of most people is reduced.
The habit to feed on milk and animal fat was acquired by Neolithic populations who raised cows and goats. The dromedary was probably raised initially by South Arabian people solely for its milk. These sources of proteins and energy were apparently needed by the West to raise to a higher cultural level. Other Neolithic populations whose efforts were directed mainly at vegetable foodstuffs -often by necessity as the African Negroes, Japanese, Indochinese and Amerindians-, did not even develop the enzymatic mechanisms required for the assimilation of milk. If they do ingest it, they get diarrhea.
A diet poor in calories can be as bad as a diet poor in proteins. This is especially true of children. The child deprived of calories rather than proteins develops the emaciated condition of marasmus, which is a wasting away of the body. In many cities, mothers of low-income families are often abandoning breast-feeding early, either because of convenience, work requirements or in imitation of more affluent classes. As a result, infantile marasmus is now becoming common.
Psychological factors also play a role in a child’s well being. The amount of time separating two births in a family is more important for the development of the child than is the child’s place in the order of births. Children have a negative view of themselves when the closest siblings are two years apart. If the space between siblings is under one year or over four years, this negativity disappears. The reason for the negative view is because parents do not meet the demands and pressures of the child for a close interaction and a supportive and relaxed relationship. Note that grand parents who enjoy much more leisure time are able to fill in the needs. Unfortunately, contemporary social habits tend to confine them in retirement homes. The discrepancy in intelligence of various human races and social strata may sometimes be due to a lack of information about the needs of infants at the dawn of their life; This is then a self-perpetuating inferiority since the deprived children will in turn become neglectful parents.
The growth of the brain in the womb is protected at the expense of other organs, whose malformation shows effects only after several decades of life. Normal babies who have encountered adversity in the womb have a handicap versus babies whose intrauterine growth went without problems. It is known for years that a fetus without enough folate can’t build and seal a backbone; excess of alcohol interferes with the wiring of the nervous system, which in turn prevents the adequate development of arteries. For years, it is known also that low birth weight, often associated with prematurity, is linked to a range of problems such as respiratory infections. However, it is now becoming evident that fetal environment influences adult disease susceptibility; low but normal birth weight in full-term healthy babies is a marker for susceptibility to diseases that show up 50 years later, such as coronary hearth disease, hypertension, stroke, type II diabetes. Maternal malnutrition is most likely to be responsible. In fact, a troubled environment due to stress, allowing the introduction in excess of stress hormones in the bloodstream of the fetus, which in some cases prompt the fetuses to restrict their body’s growth in order to protect their brain, appears to be the main cause of the later ailments, indicating that it is not only the mother’s condition that matters but what reaches her fetus through the placenta19.
A baby born underweight is conditioned in the womb to anticipate fewer nutrients, and gains more for each gram of food it consumes, so that it is overweight by the time it reaches school age. Inhibiting this catch-up growth –easier said than done- will preserve kidney function and normal blood pressure in adults.
8.5.7 Ceramics, weaving, wheel and wagon
The Magdalenians, Solutreans and Gravettians modeled figurines in clay of which some were baked. However, they produced no baked clay baskets. Australians and the people of South East Asia of 40,000 years ago used clay slabs. Again, no baskets were made. Baked clay baskets were not produced either by the incipient food collecting communities that appeared in the Near East 9,000 years ago. The first signs of use in an extensive way of pottery in the Near East appear about 7,000 years ago and were accompanied by the weaving industry. The practical knowledge sustaining these two activities is immense. In the New World, the Amerindians evolved these techniques but were never aware of the potter’s wheel.
The invention of the wheel, cart and wagon does not seem to be due to the refined Mesopotamian civilization. It seems to be rather a multiple invention produced in Transcaucasia, where the conditions for its appearance were just about right: the vehicle will be invented in societies that have a need to move heavy loads considerable distances over a land that is fairly flat and firm. Timber must be on hand for the building of the vehicle, as must also be available refined tools such as stone axes and copper or bronze tools needed for its construction. A prime mover stronger than man must be available to make the wheels turn. These requirements are so stringent that indeed only Transcaucasia could be the birthplace of the wheel. As prime mover, the castrated ox was at hand in this region.
The first evidence available (fig. 8.27) shows that wheeled transport initially depended on heavy vehicles with discs 20, as opposed to spoked wheels; light vehicles with spoked wheels and harnessed to swift animals were a later development that combined advanced technology (bronze tools and wheelwright’s craft) with the domestication of the horse.
Figure 8.27. The oldest portrayal of a vehicle with wheels is Sumerian and dates from 3000 BC.
The oldest evidence of wheeled transport dates back to somewhat more than 5,000 years ago. It appears to have been produced in Transcaucasia from where it was swiftly adopted by the Sumerians, in lighter, timber-saving fashion. Introduced in the treeless steppe, it rapidly made its way to Holland and Denmark, where it was found at least by 2500 BC. It was introduced into China somewhat later than 1500 BC. The first evidence of the use of horses for the traction of chariots appears under Hamurabi, in 1800 BC. By 1500 BC, improvements were such that the chariot, drawn by two horses, could carry two persons, one of them being a warrior whose weapon was the bow. By 1400 BC, the nasal ring inherited from the ox and adapted to the horse was abandoned and a more rational traction was implemented. At that time, the horses were only 1.4 meter high, which they still are today in the Gobi desert. By 700 AD, the horse had evolved sufficiently so that, instead of chariot-carrier, it could be used mounted. The horse and the bow and arrow then became the preferred weapons of the Nomad.