Several months ago I ran into an entry in Futurity titled “For Early Humans, Life was no Picnic 1.8 Million Years Ago.” The article is about research that mapped out what the landscape of the Olduvai Gorge was like during the time two of our ancestral human relatives inhabited the region. The short lived (30-40 year life expectancy) and short statured (4.5 to 5.5 feet tall) creatures had extremely hard lives, we are told.
And how do we know this? How do we know their lives were extremely difficult? How do we know life was not, in fact, an actual perpetual picnic for these folks?
Because, despite the fact that food and water were plentiful and shade and shelter were abundant, they had to compete with so many carnivores for meat.
So—and ignoring the fact that as omnivores their access to food was orders of magnitude greater than any carnivore they were ostensibly in competition with—life was hard for Paranthropus and Homo habilis because they couldn’t simply grab some McDonalds on the way home or pick up a roast for Sunday dinner at the local grocery store.
It’s amazing anyone was able to survive long enough to reproduce. Their populations must have been microscopic and constantly teetering on the verge of extinction. It’s astounding that evolution had anything to work with at all! Seriously?
I mean, seriously.
It is vitally important that we understand that the lives of our hunter-gatherer ancestors (and contemporaries) were (and are) full of unimaginable hardship and suffering. Hobbes’ assertion that life outside the warm and protective embrace of civilization is solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short has become a mantra. The declaration that an uncivilized life is a life of toil and unimaginable hardship has been enshrined—literally, as an idol might be placed in a shrine and regularly showered with offerings and ritual expressions of worship.
It is vitally important that life outside of civilization is impossibly hard. It is vitally important that we understand how good we have it. It is vitally important that we know this right down to the very fibers of our modern civilized being because it is absolutely not true.