Thursday, June 9, 2011

On Nazinomics - The Younger Dryas

The Younger Dryas – name for the plant that was observed to mark its beginning an ending, and the last of three cold snap periods – is a period that more people are going to know about in the coming decades: it is a dramatic cold snap to near ice age conditions that both began and ended quickly. It was roughly 1300 years, and in Africa, Europe, and Asia, it began with a rapid onset, and ended just as quickly, perhaps in less than 20 years for each. The temperature reduction ranged from 15C in Greenland, to 5 degrees in Europe. Based on present dating, it began 12,800 years ago – 12.8 Ka BP in the language of climate studies for 12.8 Kilo-annum Before Present – and ended 11.5 KaBP. Or in historical language 10,800 BCE to 9,500 BCE.

There is still argument over what caused these cold snaps, with the carbon layer present at the beginning being used as an argument for an impact generated cooling. However, in the last decade, solar forcing has been looked at more closely, since the rapidity of onset has much in common with other, closer to historical, events. Carbon layers would be explained by deforestation and fire, that is, as a consequence, and if the volcanic-magnetism thesis is accepted – that a solar minimum leads to an expansion of the earth's magnetic field, which heats magma closer to the surface, and both releases more icehouse gases, and dust from eruptions – then forest fires are the result of cooling and vulcanism, not the sign of an external impact. By 2003, the question was in the climatalogical community that solar forcing of the Younger Dryas had an impact on human life.

There are two predominant theories about the relationship between the Younger Dryas, one can be termed "the cold made humans evolve technology" and the other being the "agriculture started only after the Younger Dyras ended."

An example of the first is found in the work of Gordon Hillman who has published or co-authored several papers on agriculture and development before the end of the Younger Dryas. It is not a new theory to say that the adversity brought on by the Younger Dryas brought on improvements in pottery, stone tools, and gathering. Hillman has argued that rye and other grain crops show evidence of domestication in what is now called "the fertile crescent" starting as early as 13 KaBP. It is not a new theory: it shows up in texts from the 1920's, and is occasionally regarded as suspect because it is associated with the idea of European exceptionalism. Basically, people from a cold climate arguing that cold makes us better. One crucial paper is on the origins of rye which began Hillman on the arc of arguing that while the known staples came from a single period of the middle east, rye did not come from the neo-lithic domesticatin wave, and therefore was a window to another road into the history of domestication. The puzzling absence of rye from the historical record was addressed much later.

However, let's spin out the narrative, accepting that the people who created it had ideological issues, just as we do now, but that the idea must stand or fall on its own merits. The Younger Dryas produced a rapid onset, with effects noticeable within years. For comparison, the warming produced by human activities since 1950, is one tenth as fast the probable rate of the Younger Dryas. Plant ranges changed quickly, and this is especially true of trees, which do not move quickly in most cases. Forests contracted. We can see this from pollen samples from the period in the Levant: forests disappeared quickly.

The Younger Dryas as prod theory points to the beginnings of sedentation: villages, a religious site, and signs of cultivation of a monoculture of rye. Rye then, because it is a wild grass that is close to being usable as domestication, was domesticated early, but largely abandoned when other, more promising, grains and legumes became available. In the paradigm of dryas as prod, the mesolithic culture, rather than being purely transitional as a response to changing conditions, laid the ground work for agriculture by creating zones of limited movement and long inhabitation.

The Younger Dryas ending as the explosive event is now the more predominant theory. In this paradigm, while many pre-agricultural activities were present in human populations, including language, the transition from unstable, cool, and dry, conditions of the Younger Dryas, to the warmer, wetter, and above all, more stable conditions of the present era led to the domestication of, in some order: cattle, barley, wheat, and legumes. In this view, in one, or perhaps two, events, the major props of stable agriculture were created: cereals, vegetables, and herd animals to produce meat, hides, milk, and muscle power.

A kink in this view of a single, or closely related, domestication period, is the domestication of sheep, which, from the genetic evidence, happened more than once, and from different populations. There were two major disbursals of domesticated sheep, with the first hanging on in the edges of human settlement. However, rye and sheep aside, the Younger Dryas end theory presents a power series of settlements, domestications, and archeological data. What they argue is that almost like a shot, within 1000 years, of the end of the Younger Dryas, a recognizable civilization complex had arisen, with fields, masonry, religion, and a wide range of domestications. It is hard to argue with "the dawn of civilization." The theory then is that climatic stabilization led from the meso-lithic to the neo-lithic, and that by allowing settlement, it kicked off the gradual evolution of city life and the urban-rural duality of human society.

But several sites do argue that, while there was a moment around 9000 BCE, within a few hundred years of the end of the Younger Dryas, that it was not completely de novo. In particular, inhabitation, domestication, and pottery, were all present, as was religion and ritual. The site that has attracted attention in particular, because it straddles the climatic moment, is Tell Qaramel. There are several stratification layers which show that it was occupied across the boundary of the Younger Dryas.

So what is the truth? The truth is that the end of the Younger Dryas clearly spurred civilization, and that rapidly afterwards, regardless of whether there were sendentary activities before the boundary, ignition happened with the change in epoch. However, we should not under-estimate how much of the pre-civilization tool kit was present, nor ignore that human populations had already long since dispersed, so this was not the case of peoples entering an area and taking over open spaces, but, instead, people who were already moving through, and occasionally settling in these spaces, assimilating, or being assimilated into, a series of cultures.

What these cultures do addresses the first question of this essay: was there money, was there sovereignty, and did sovereignty produce money. According to nazinomics: the sovereign produces money in its three aspects, and it should evolve from there. According to these essay's first counter-thesis, money evolves from a host of human activities, and the creation of sovereign control comes later, when simplification of mechanism, and surplus sufficient to support centralization, become possible. In this thesis, the first money's are peer to peer, and the top-down structure is a later innovation.

There are two other points to be made here. One is the "Post-America" thesis: that major civilization changes are driven by climate changes, and the second is to undermine the common paradigm that older civilizations are "primitive precursors." Instead, while humans of the past may not have been as technologically advanced, or even as intelligent as today from lesser nutrition and shorter life span, they were as sophisticated in their pursuit of what they did. We should see them as an evolved version of themselves, rather than an unevolved version of today. What they did is not a proof of market economics, socialism, biblicalism, or anything else, as a best or worst practice. Instead, it was as it was, and the lessons to be drawn from it, as with Vale to Babylon is that human patterns recur, and with them insights, but these are descriptive, and prescription is a different art.