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In which John Green investigates the dawn of human civilization. John looks into how people gave up hunting and gathering to become agriculturalists, and how that change has influenced the world we live in today. Also, there are some jokes about cheeseburgers. Created by EcoGeek.
Video transcript
My name is John Green and I wanna welcome you to Crash Course "World History" Over the next 14 weeks together we will learn how in nearly 15,000 years humans went from hunting and gathering... "Mr. Green, is this going to be on the test?" Yeah, about the test. The test will measure whether you are an informed, engaged, and productive citizen of the world. And it will take place in schools and bars and hospitals and dorm rooms and in places of worship. You will be tested on first dates, in job interviews, while watching football and while scrolling through your Tweeter feed. The test will judge your ability to think about things other than celebrity marriages whether you will be easily persuaded by empty political rhetoric and whether you be able to place your life and your community in a broader context. The test will last your entire life and it will be comprised of the millions of decisions that when taken together make your life yours and everything...everything will be on it. I know right, so pay attention! In a mere 15,000 year humans went from hunting and gathering to creating such improbabilities as the airplane, the internet, and the 99 cent double cheeseburger. It's an extraordinary journey, one that I will now symbolize by embarking upon a journey of my own... over to camera 2...Hi there, camera 2, it's me, John Green, let's start with that double cheeseburger. Oh, food photography, so this contains 490 calories. To get this cheeseburger, you have to feed, raise and slaughter cows then grind their meat, then freeze it and ship it to its destination. You also have to grow some wheat and then process the living crap out of it until it's whiter than Queen Elisabeth I. Then you have to milk some cows and turn their milk into cheese. That's not even to mention the growing and pickling of cucumbers or the sweetening of tomatoes and the grinding of mustard seeds, etc. How in the sweet name of everything holy have we ever come to live in a world where such a thing can even be created. And how is it possible that those 490 calories can be served to me for an amount of money that if I make the minimum wage here in the US, I can earn it in 11 minutes! And most importantly, should I be delighted or alarmed to live in this strange world of relative abundance. Well, to answer that question, we are not going to be able to look strictly at history, because there isn't a written record about a lot of these things. But thanks to archaeology and paleobiology, we can look deep into the past. Let's go to the Thought Bubble. So 15,000 years ago, humans were foragers and hunters. Foraging meant gathering fruits, nuts, also wild grains and grasses. Hunting allowed for a more protein-rich diet, as long you could find something with meat to kill. By far the best hunting gig in the prehistoric world incidentally was fishing. Which is one of the reasons why when you look at the history of people populating the planet, we tended to run for the shore and stay there. Marine life was A, abundant, and B, relatively unlikely to eat you. While we tend to think the lives of the foragers were nasty, brutish and short, fossil evidence suggests that they actually had it pretty god. Their bones and teeth are healthier than those of agriculturalists. And anthropologists who studied the remaining forager peoples have noted that they actually they spend a lot fewer hours working than the rest of us. And they spend more time on art, music and storytelling. Also if you believe the classic of anthropology "Nisa", they also have a lot more time for skoodilypooping. What? I call it skoodilypooping. I am not going to apologize. It's worth noting that the cultivation of crops seems to have risen independently over the course of millenia. And the number of places, from Africa, to China, to the Americas, using crops that naturally grew nearby. Rise in Southeast Asia, maize in Mexico, potatoes in the Andes, wheat in the fertile crescent, yams in West Africa. People around the world began to abandon their foraging for agriculture. And since so many communities made this choice independently, it must have been a good choice. Right? Even though it meant less music and skoodlypooping. Thanks Thought Bubble. All right, to answer that question, let's take a look at the advantages and disadvantages of agriculture. Advantage: controllable food supply. You might have droughts or floods, but if you are growing the crops and breeding them to be heartier, you have a better chance of not starving. Disadvantage: in other to keep feeding people as the population grows, you have to radically change the environment of the planet. Advantage: specially if you grow grain, you can create a food surplus, which makes cities possible and also the specialization of labor. Like, in the days before agriculture, everybody's job was foraging. And it took about a 1000 calories of work to create a 1000 calories of food. And it was impossible to create large population centers. But if you have a surplus, agriculture can support people not directly involved in the production of food. Like for instance, trade's people, who can devote their lives to better farming equipment, which in turn makes it easier to produce more food more efficiently, which in time makes it possible for a corporation to turn profit on this 99 cent double cheeseburger. This is delicious, by the way. It's actually terrible, it's very cold. And I wish, I had not eaten it. I mean, can we just compare what I was promised to what I was delivered? Yeah, thank you. This is not that. Some would say that large and complex agricultural communities that can support cities and eventually inexpensive meat sandwiches are not necessarily beneficial to the planet, or even to its human inhabitants. Although, that it is a little of a bit tough argument to make, coming to you as a I am, in a series of ones and zeros. Advantage: agriculture can be practiced all over the world. Although, in some cases it takes extensive manipulation of the environment, like, you know, irrigation, controlled flooding, that kind of thing. Disadvantage: farming is hard. So hard in fact that one is tempted to claim ownership over other humans and have to till the land on your behalf, which is the kind of non-ideal social order that tends to be associated with agricultural communities. So why did agriculture happen? Wait! I haven't talked about herders. Herders, man! Always getting the short end of the stick. Herding is a really good and interesting alternative to foraging and agriculture. You domesticate some animals, and then you take them on the road with you. The advantages of herding are obvious. First: you get to be a cowboy. Also, animals provide meat and milk, but they also help out with shelter, because they can provide with wool and leather. The downside is that you have to move around a lot, because your herd always needs new grass, which makes it harder to build cities. Unless you are the Mongols. By the way, for the next 14 weeks, you will frequently hear generalization followed by "Unless you are the Mongols" But anyway, one of the main reasons herding only caught on certain parts of the world is that there aren't that many animals that lend themselves to domestication. Like, you have sheep, goats, caddle, pigs, horses, camels, donkeys, reindeer, water buffalo, yaks, all of which have something in common: they aren't native to the Americas. The only half-way useful herding animal native to the Americas is the llama. No, not that llama. Two Ls. Yes, that llama. Most animals just don't work for domestication. Like, hippos are large, which means they provide lots of meat. But unfortunately they like to eat people. Zebras are too ornery; grizzlies have wild hearts that can't be broken. Elephants are awesome, but they take way too long to breed. Which reminds me, it's time for the open letter. Elegant. But first let's see what the secret compartment has for me today. Oh, it's another double cheeseburger. Thanks secret compartment. Just kidding, I don't thank you for this. An open letter to elephants. Hey, elephants. You are so cute, and smart, and awesome. Why you gotta be pregnant for 22 months? That's crazy. And then you only have one kid. If you were more like cows, you might have taken us over by now. Little did you know, but the greatest evolutionary advantage: being useful to humans. Like, here is a graph of cow population. And here is a graph of elephant population. Elephants, if you had just inserted yourselves in the human life like cows did you could have used your power and intelligence to form secret elephant societies conspiring against the humans. And then you could have risen up and destroyed us, and made an awesome elephant world, and elephant cars, and elephant planes. It would've been so great, but no...you gotta be pregnant for 22 months and just have one kid. So annoying! Best wishes, John Green. But back to the agricultural revolution and why it occurred. Historians don't know for sure, of course, because there are no written records. But they love to make guesses. Maybe population pressure necessitated agriculture even though it was more work, or abundance gave people more leisure to experiment with domestication or planting originated as a fertility rite - or as some historians have argued - people needed to domesticate grains in order to produce more alcohol. Charles Darwin, like most 19th century scientists, believed agriculture was an accident, saying: "A wild and unusually good variety of native plant might attract the attention of some wise, old savage" Off-topic: but in will know in the coming weeks, that the definitions of "savage" tends to be "not me". Maybe the best theory is that there wasn't really an agricultural revolution at all, but that agriculture came out of an evolutionary desire to eat more. Like, early hunter/gatherers knew that seeds germinate when planted. And when you find something that makes food, you want to do more of it. Unless it is this food. Then you want to do less of it. I kind of wanna to spit it out. That's much better. So, early farmers who would find the most successful forms of wheat and plant them, and experiment with them, not because they were trying to start an agricultural revolution, because they were like, "You know what would be awesome? More food!" Like, on this topic we have evidence that more than 13,000 years ago humans in Southern Greece were domesticating snails In the Franchthi Cave there is a huge pile of snail shells, most of them are larger than current snail, suggesting that people who ate them were selectively breeding them to be bigger and more nutritious. Snails make excellent domesticated food, by the way, because A, surprisingly nutritious, and B, they are easy to carry since they came in their own suitcases. And C, to imprison them, you just have to scratch a ditch around their living quarters. That's not really a revolution. That's just people trying to increase available calories. But one revolution leads to another. And pretty soon you have this, as far as the eye can see. Many historian also argue that without agriculture we wouldn't have the bad things that come with complex civilization, like patriarchy, inequality, war, and, unfortunately, famine. And as far as the planet is concerned, agriculture has been a big loser. Without it, humans would never have changed the environment so much, building dams, and clearing forests, and more recently drilling for oil that we can turn into fertilizer. Many people made the choice for agriculture independently, but does that mean that that was the right choice? Maybe so, and maybe not. But regardless, we can't unmake that choice. And that's one of the reasons why I think it is so important to study history. History reminds us that revolutions are not event, so much as they are processes. That for tens of thousands of years, people have been making decisions that irrevocably shaped the world that we live in today. Just as today we are making subtle, irrevocable decisions that people in the future will remember as revolutions. Next week, we are gonna journey to the Indus River...very fragile our globe. We're going to travel to the Indus River Valley, I will see you then.