Thursday 8 November 2018

The Good Ole Boys of the Stonehenge Landscape

The fascinating paper "A Meeting in the Forest: Hunters and Farmers at the Coneybury ‘Anomaly’, Wiltshire" about a possible ritualised feast meet between the incoming farmers or pastoral herders and the original population of hunter gathers near Stonehenge before the monument was ever thought of reminded me that there is a stack of literature on the cultural, and even genetic, differences between the two groups.

Behave: The Biology of Humans at Our Best and Worst – by Robert M Sapolsky, a highly recommended book, provides an excellent overview and highlights the correlates between the ecology and modes of production, and culture. It is worth obtaining the book for the insight into our world but if you are interested in how cultures may have changed as different modes of production took over in prehistoric times it is essential.

.. a large percentage of cross-cultural psychology studies compare collectivist with individualist cultures. This almost always means comparisons between subjects from collectivist East Asian cultures and Americans, coming from that mother of all individualist cultures. As defined, collectivist cultures are about harmony, interdependence, conformity, and having the needs of the group guiding behavior, whereas individualist cultures are about autonomy, personal achievement, uniqueness, and the needs and rights of the individual. Just to be a wee bit caustic, individualist culture can be summarized by that classic American concept of "looking out for number one"; collectivist culture can be summarized by the archetypical experience of American Peace Corps teachers in such countries—pose your students a math question, and no one will volunteer the correct answer because they don't want to stand out and shame their classmates...."

"..Another important link among ecology, mode of production, and culture is seen in dry, hardscrabble, wide-open environments too tough for agriculture. This is the world of nomadic pastoralism—people wandering the desert, steppes, or tundra with their herds..."

"Anthropologists have long noted similarities in pastoralist cultures born of their tough environments and the typically minimal impact of centralized government and the rule of law. In that isolated toughness stands a central fact of pastoralism: thieves can't steal the crops on someone's farm or the hundreds of edible plants eaten by hunter-gatherers, but they can steal someone's herd. This is the vulnerability of pastoralism, a world of rustlers and raiders."

As a taste here is an extract from a study he references.

Insult, Aggression, and the Southern Culture of Honor: An "Experimental Ethnography".

"For centuries, the American South has been regarded as more violent than the North (Fischer, 1989). Over the years, historians, social scientists, and other observers have developed a number of explanations for this, drawing on such facts about the South as its higher temperature, its poverty, and its history of slavery. There is evidence to support all these explanations, and they have been dealt with more fully elsewhere (Cohen, 1996; Cohen & Nisbett, 1994; Nisbett, 1993; Nisbett & Cohen, 1996; Reaves & Nisbett, 1994). We think the best single explanation has to do with the South being home to a version of the culture of honor, in which affronts are met with violent retribution....

Honor in this society meant a pride of manhood in masculine courage, physical strength, and warrior virtue. Male children were trained to defend their honor without a moment's hesitation—lashing out against their challengers with savage violence. (p. 690) Originally, there were good historic and economic reasons for such norms to take hold in the South. For one, the economy of the South was initially based to a large extent on herding (McWhiney, 1988), and cultural anthropologists have observed that herding cultures the world over tend to be more approving of certain forms of violence (J. K. Campbell, 1965; Edgerton, 1971; Peristiany, 1965). Herdsmen must be willing to use force to protect themselves and their property when law enforcement is inadequate and when one's wealth can be rustled away. The settlers of the South came primarily from herding economies on the fringes of Britain, where lawlessness, instability, political upheaval, and clan rule had been present for centuries (Fischer, 1989; McWhiney, 1988). The people from the border country of Britain were forced to be self-reliant in their pursuit of justice, and they brought with them this tradition as they settled the lawless frontier South....


Cohen, Dov & Nisbett, Richard & F. Bowdle, Brian & Schwarz, Norbert. (1996). Insult, Aggression, and the Southern Culture of Honor: An "Experimental Ethnography". Journal of personality and social psychology. 70. 945-59. 10.1037/0022-3514.70.5.945.

A Meeting in the Forest: Hunters and Farmers at the Coneybury ‘Anomaly’, Wiltshire
Kurt J. Gron (a1), Peter Rowley-Conwy (a1), Eva Fernandez-Dominguez (a1), Darren R. Gröcke (a2), Janet Montgomery (a1), Geoff M. Nowell (a2)and William P. Patterson (a3)
1Department of Archaeology, Durham University, South Road, Durham, UK, E-mail:
2Department of Earth Sciences, Durham University, South Road, Durham, UK
3Department of Geological Sciences, University of Saskatchewan, Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, Canada  Published online: 05 November 2018

Behave: The Biology of Humans at Our Best and Worst Hardcover – 2 May 2017
by Robert M Sapolsky

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