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Were isolated communities ever normal?

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Forum Name: Archaeology & Anthropology
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Topic: Were isolated communities ever normal?
Posted By: fantasus
Subject: Were isolated communities ever normal?
Date Posted: 12-May-2009 at 08:47
 The following may be just seen as some ideas and questions about human conditions during our existence on earth.
The question, admittedly rather vague is: Did humans (real humans, sapiens) ever in all places on this planet live in small isolated groups, with isignificant contact with outsiders, or was isolation allways an exception? My point of view is the later - as soon as "humans" became humans - or rather before - there was widespread exchange of items as well as knowledge and often genes, and the "small communities" were in some sense part of much larger groups, sharing ideas, languages, myths, common festivities etcetera.
I admit explorers have found "isolated" groups at relatively late times, but such one may never have been typical, but result of 1: exceptional geographical difficulties, for human mobility 2:Those communities may have chosen to "hide" from enemies (perhaps "european" explorers) 3: Their isolation may have been more apparent than real( At a museum visit I learned that eastern greenlanders first known by non greenlanders in 20.th century alrerady had some trading contacts with other parts of the island).
Perhaps one of the reasons it is hard to estimate early human contacts and mobility is we are not dependant on our to legs any more.  I see no absolute reason there could not allways have been faraway contacts (hundreds and thousands of kilometres - perhaps crossing continents).



Replies:
Posted By: ismology
Date Posted: 12-May-2009 at 20:17
It'd help if you defined normal, and to an extent, isolation. I'll admit that I have little background knowledge of "isolated" communities, but I'm pretty sure they were a significant part of human history, with social groups living less isolated lives being a more recent development.


Posted By: Cryptic
Date Posted: 12-May-2009 at 20:44
Originally posted by fantasus fantasus wrote:

 
The question, admittedly rather vague is: Did humans (real humans, sapiens) ever in all places on this planet live in small isolated groups, with isignificant contact with outsiders, or was isolation allways an exception?
 
Isolation has been the exception, as isolated groups expreience many internal stresses or lose the ability to compete against outside groups.  
 
Tasmanian Abirigones: Isolated for evenother Australian groups. Isolated groups gradually forget cultural advancements including fish hooks, canoe building, advanced fire starting skills etc.  Groups on Australia proper forget the use of bows, never develop agriculture though it was common on New Guinea.
 
Chatham Islanders: Polynesian group developed pacifism while in total isolation, wiped out by a small raiding party of Moaris who gloatingly described the Chatham Islanders as going into a state of shock when facing violence, refusing to defend themselves and thus being "slaughtered like sheep" (Moari group had previous contact with Europeans and their animals).
 
Easter Islanders: Isolated for hundreds of years, unlike the Chatham Islanders, pacifism is not seen as a virtue and culture implodes in communal violence etc. 
 
Adaman Islanders: Islanders forget canoe building skills, group on North Sentinel Island (200 people) is very isolated and very violent, possibly under going some of the stresses that occured on Easter Island. Then factor in inbreeding.
 
Viking Greenlanders: Isolation may have facilitated social collapse, evidence of irrational leadership decisions, isolated vikings retreated deeper into their own culture, never attempted to copy food gathering skills of the Inuit, go extinct.


Posted By: fantasus
Date Posted: 12-May-2009 at 20:54
Originally posted by ismology ismology wrote:

It'd help if you defined normal, and to an extent, isolation. I'll admit that I have little background knowledge of "isolated" communities, but I'm pretty sure they were a significant part of human history, with social groups living less isolated lives being a more recent development.
"Normal" means  vast majority (of communities and individuals at one time). "isolation" may be harder, since it there is the obvious question : how isolated. Perhaps if no individual in a lifetime communicate or exchange anything with outsiders of very small - under 100 individuals communities.
Then You say "You are pretty sure" that people lived very isolated a significant part of human history". May I ask how You can be so sure of that?Should distance be such an immense barrier to mobility and contact? I think no, except in certain specially difficult geographical environments. Our planets size are not that big - people can walk a distance 1 or many times the way all around it in a lifetime. Early humans could easily have a "territory" with a radius many hundreds kilometers, and meet many other groups.  Why should there not have been widespread contact, since humans are social cratures (we use to make friends or enemies).  Late "isolated" communities could be a result of extremely difficult local cirkumstances (like high mountains - but even in the andes and tibetan areas people traveled).


Posted By: fantasus
Date Posted: 13-May-2009 at 23:04
Originally posted by Cryptic Cryptic wrote:

[QUOTE=fantasus] 
Isolation has been the exception, as isolated groups expreience many internal stresses or lose the ability to compete against outside groups.  
 
 
Viking Greenlanders: Isolation may have facilitated social collapse, evidence of irrational leadership decisions, isolated vikings retreated deeper into their own culture, never attempted to copy food gathering skills of the Inuit, go extinct.
  Your overall viewpoint may be close to what I see as the possible "large picture" of humans socialising from the beginning.
I tend to disagree about the greenlanders. They, as well as other norse communities were from start in close contact with outside world. Greenland had churches, clergy and even bishops. If they eventually lately became more isolated it must have been for lack of suitable materials for shipbuilding. From what I have read from archaeologists and historians they in time adapted somewhat to the environment (how they got food and other partas of lifestyle) but of course never became inuits. There should even be little indication of decreasing health or famine or high frequency of violent deaths. Perhaps most of them left in time?



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