Palaeolithic Politics

David Graeber and David Wengrow discuss human evolution and hierarchy, delving through accumulated academic literature to assess how early humans organised themselves.

David Graeber and David Wengrow: Palaeolithic Politics and Why It Still Matters 13 October 2015 from Radical Anthropology on Vimeo.

Graeber and Wengrow throw up some interesting probabilities and challenge accepted narratives about how hierarchy emerged. They suggest that ethnographic and archaeological evidence points to small bands of early humans coming together as temporary cities on a seasonal basis and that far from being politically naive, they were experimenting with different forms of organisation, hierarchical and non-hierarchical, both within bands and as collective cities - there is also evidence that these arrangements were purely temporary and they would switch between hierarchical and non-hierarchical forms between seasons. The coming together into these temporary cities appears to have been primarily for the purpose of ritual.

Typically, these hunter-gatherers would collaborate "pragmatically" or non-hierarchically while going about their daily life but formed into ritualistic hierarchies for celebration/occasion. Far from having stumbled unthinkingly into permanent institutional hierarchy, early humans would have been well aware of the advantages of both and seemed comfortable, moving between the two. As Graeber says of these temporary cities: "They used to set the thing up and rip it down and set it up and rip it down. One day they didn't rip it down; they forgot they could rip it down, and here we are."

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