A quote by Jared Diamond in 2003 of my book The Secret of the West, displayed on Yanko Slava's website (shortcut). This Russian website, dated Dec 14, 2006, is dedicated to Diamond's famous book Guns, Germs and Steel. I shortened some of the extracts reproduced on his site, for the sake of compactness.
Yanko Slava provides only his email addresses about himself: and

Safety copy: July 2007. Source
The Secret of the West

Diamond, Jared=Guns, Germs, and Steel=Янко Слава (Библиотека Fort/Da) ||

ghjизошлоСканирование и форматирование: Янко Слава (Библиотека Fort/Da) || || || || Icq# 75088656 || Библиотека: || Номера страниц - вверху. АНОНС КНИГИ

update 14.12.06


More praise for Guns, Germs, and Steel

"No scientist brings more experience from the laboratory and field, none thinks more deeply about social issues or addresses them with greater clarity, than Jared Diamond as illustrated by Guns, Germs, and Steel. In this remarkably readable book he shows how history and biology can enrich one another to produce a deeper understanding of the human condition." —Edward O. Wilson, Pellegrino University Professor, Harvard University

"Serious, groundbreaking biological studies of human history only seem to come along once every generation or so. . . . Now Jared Diamond must be added to their select number. . . . Diamond meshes technological mastery with historical sweep, anecdotal delight with broad conceptual vision, and command of sources with creative leaps. No finer work of its kind has been published this year, or for many past."

—Martin Sieff, Washington Times

"[Diamond's] masterful synthesis is a refreshingly unconventional history informed by anthropology, behavioral ecology, linguistics, epidemiology, archeology, and technological development."

Publishers Weekly (starred review)

"[Jared Diamond] is broadly erudite, writes in a style that pleasantly expresses scientific concepts in vernacular American English, and deals almost exclusively in questions that should interest everyone concerned about how humanity has developed. . . . [He] has done us all a great favor by supplying a rock-solid alternative to the racist answer. ... A wonderfully interesting book." —Alfred W. Crosby, Los Angeles Times

"Fascinating and extremely important. . . . [A] synopsis doesn't do credit to the immense subtlety of this book."

—David Brown, Washington Post Book World

"Deserves the attention of anyone concerned with the history of mankind at its most fundamental level. It is an epochal work. Diamond has written

a summary of human history that can be accounted, for the time being, as Darwinian in its authority." —Thomas M. Disch, New Leader

"A wonderfully engrossing book. . . . Jared Diamond takes us on an e

xhilarating world tour of history that makes us rethink all our ideas about ourselves and other peoples and our places in the overall scheme of things." —Christopher Ehret, Professor of African History, UCLA

"Jared Diamond masterfully draws together recent discoveries in fields of inquiry as diverse as archaeology and epidemiology, as he illuminates how and why the human societies of different continents followed widely divergent pathways of development over the past 13,000 years."

—Bruce D. Smith, Director, Archaeobiology Program,

Smithsonian Institution

"The question, 'Why did human societies have such diverse fates?' has usually received racist answers. Mastering information from many different fields, Jared Diamond convincingly demonstrates that head starts and local conditions can explain much of the course of human history. His impressive account will appeal to a vast readership."

—Luca Cavalli-Sforza, Professor of Genetics, Stanford University

Guns, germs, and STEEL


Jared Diamond

W. W. Norton & Company New York London

To Esa, Kariniga, Omwai, Paran, Sauakari, Wiwor,

and all my other New Guinea friends and teachers—masters of a difficult environment

Copyright © 1999, 1997 by Jared Diamond

All rights reserved

Printed in the United States of America

First published as a Norton paperback 1999

For information about permission to reproduce selections from this book, write to Permissions, W. W. Norton & Company, Inc., 500 Fifth Avenue, New York, NY 10110.

The text of this book is composed in Sabon with the display set in Trajan Bold

Composition and manufacturing by the Maple-Vail Book Manufacturing Group

Book design by Chris Welch

Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data

Diamond, Jared M.

Guns, germs, and steel : the fates of human societies /Jared Diamond.

p. cm.

Includes bibliographical references and index.

ISBN 0-393-31755-2

1. Social evolution. 2. Civilization—History. 3. Ethnology. 4. Human beings—Effect of environment on. 5. Culture diffusion. I. Title.

HM206.D48 1997

303.4—dc21 96-37068 CIP

W. W. Norton & Company, Inc., 500 Fifth Avenue, New York, N.Y. 10110

W. W. Norton & Company Ltd., Castle House, 75/76 Wells Street, London W1T 3QT

62 63 64 65 66 67 68 69 70

Электронное оглавление

Электронное оглавление. 5




Preface to the Paperback Edition 9

prologue Yalis Question

The regionally differing courses of history 13


epilogue The Future of Human

History as a Science 403

2003 Afterword: Guns, Germs, and Steel

Today 26

Acknowledgments 441

Further Readings 442

credits 472

Index 475





Why is World History Like an Onion?

THIS BOOK ATTEMPTS TO PROVIDE A SHORT HISTORY OF everybody for the last 13,000 years. The question motivating the book is: Why did history unfold differently on different continents? In case this question immediately makes you shudder at the thought that you are about to read a racist treatise, you aren't: as you will see, the answers to the question don't involve human racial differences at all. The book's emphasis is on the search for ultimate explanations, and on pushing back the chain of historical causation as far as possible.

Most books that set out to recount world history concentrate on histories of literate Eurasian and North African societies. Native societies of other parts of the world—sub-Saharan Africa, the Americas, Island Southeast Asia, Australia, New Guinea, the Pacific Islands—receive only brief treatment, mainly as concerns what happened to them very late in their history, after they were discovered and subjugated by western Europeans. Even within Eurasia, much more space gets devoted to the history of western Eurasia than of China, India, Japan, tropical Southeast Asia, and other eastern Eurasian societies. History before the emergence of writing around 3,000 b.c. also receives brief treatment, although it constitutes 99.9% of the five-million-year history of the human species.

Such narrowly focused accounts of world history suffer from three disadvantages. First, increasing numbers of people today are, quite understandably, interested in other societies besides those of western Eurasia. After all, those "other" societies encompass most of the world's population and the vast majority of the world's ethnic, cultural, and linguistic


groups. Some of them already are, and others are becoming, among the world's most powerful economies and political forces.

Second, even for people specifically interested in the shaping of the modern world, a history limited to developments since the emergence of writing cannot provide deep understanding. It is not the case that societies on the different continents were comparable to each other until 3,000 B.C., whereupon western Eurasian societies suddenly developed writing and began for the first time to pull ahead in other respects as well. Instead, already by 3,000 B.C., there were Eurasian and North African societies not only with incipient writing but also with centralized state governments, cities, widespread use of metal tools and weapons, use of domesticated animals for transport and traction and mechanical power, and reliance on agriculture and domestic animals for food. Throughout most or all parts of other continents, none of those things existed at that time; some but not all of them emerged later in parts of the Native Americas and sub-Saharan Africa, but only over the course of the next five millennia; and none of them emerged in Aboriginal Australia. That should already warn us that the roots of western Eurasian dominance in the modern world lie in the preliterate past before 3,000 B.C. (By western Eurasian dominance, I mean the dominance of western Eurasian societies themselves and of the societies that they spawned on other continents.)

Third, a history focused on western Eurasian societies completely bypasses the obvious big question. Why were those societies the ones that became disproportionately powerful and innovative? The usual answers to that question invoke proximate forces, such as the rise of capitalism, mercantilism, scientific inquiry, technology, and nasty germs that killed peoples of other continents when they came into contact with western Eurasians. But why did all those ingredients of conquest arise in western Eurasia, and arise elsewhere only to a lesser degree or not at all?

All those ingredients are just proximate factors, not ultimate explanations. Why didn't capitalism flourish in Native Mexico, mercantilism in sub-Saharan Africa, scientific inquiry in China, advanced technology in Native North America, and nasty germs in Aboriginal Australia? If one responds by invoking idiosyncratic cultural factors—e.g., scientific inquiry supposedly stifled in China by Confucianism but stimulated in western Eurasia by Greek or Judaeo-Christian traditions—then one is continuing to ignore the need for ultimate explanations: why didn't traditions like Confucianism and the Judaeo-Christian ethic instead develop in western


Eurasia and China, respectively? In addition, one is ignoring the fact that Confucian China was technologically more advanced than western Eurasia until about A.D. 1400.

It is impossible to understand even just western Eurasian societies themselves, if one focuses on them. The interesting questions concern the distinctions between them and other societies. Answering those questions requires us to understand all those other societies as well, so that western Eurasian societies can be fitted into the broader context.

Some readers may feel that I am going to the opposite extreme from conventional histories, by devoting too little space to western Eurasia at the expense of other parts of the world. I would answer that some other parts of the world are very instructive, because they encompass so many societies and such diverse societies within a small geographical area. Other readers may find themselves agreeing with one reviewer of this book. With mildly critical tongue in cheek, the reviewer wrote that I seem to view world history as an onion, of which the modern world constitutes only the surface, and whose layers are to be peeled back in the search for historical understanding. Yes, world history is indeed such an onion! But that peeling back of the onion's layers is fascinating, challenging—and of overwhelming importance to us today, as we seek to grasp our past's lessons for our future.



PROLOGUE. Yali's Question

WE ALL KNOW THAT HISTORY HAS PROCEEDED VERY DIFFERENTLY for peoples from different parts of the globe. In the 13,000 years since the end of the last Ice Age, some parts of the world developed literate industrial societies with metal tools, other parts developed only nonliterate farming societies, and still others retained societies of hunter-gatherers with stone tools. Those historical inequalities have cast long shadows on the modern world, because the literate societies with metal tools have conquered or exterminated the other societies. While those differences constitute the most basic fact of world history, the reasons for them remain uncertain and controversial. This puzzling question of their origins was posed to me 25 years ago in a simple, personal form.

In July 1972 I was walking along a beach on the tropical island of New Guinea, where as a biologist I study bird evolution. I had already heard about a remarkable local politician named Yali, who was touring the district then. By chance, Yali and I were walking in the same direction on that day, and he overtook me. We walked together for an hour, talking during the whole time.

Yali radiated charisma and energy. His eyes flashed in a mesmerizing way. He talked confidently about himself, but he also asked lots of probing questions and listened intently. Our conversation began with a subject then



of the answer to Yali's question. Recognition of those factors emphasizes the unexplained residue, whose understanding will be a task for the future.

The Epilogue, entitled "The Future of Human History as a Science," lays out some pieces of the residue, including the problem of the differences between different parts of Eurasia, the role of cultural factors unrelated to environment, and the role of individuals. Perhaps the biggest of these unsolved problems is to establish human history as a historical science, on a par with recognized historical sciences such as evolutionary biology, geology, and climatology. The study of human history does pose real difficulties, but those recognized historical sciences encounter some of the same challenges. Hence the methods developed in some of these other fields may also prove useful in the field of human history.

Already, though, I hope to have convinced you, the reader, that history is not "just one damn fact after another," as a cynic put it. There really are broad patterns to history, and the search for their explanation is as productive as it is fascinating.




CHAPTER 1. Up to the Starting Line

A SUITABLE STARTING POINT FROM WHICH TO COMPARE historical developments on the different continents is around 11,000 B.C.* This date corresponds approximately to the beginnings of village life in a few parts of the world, the first undisputed peopling of the Americas, the end of the Pleistocene Era and last Ice Age, and the start of what geologists term the Recent Era. Plant and animal domestication began in at least one part of the world within a few thousand years of that date. As of then, did the people of some continents already have a head start or a clear advantage over peoples of other continents?

If so, perhaps that head start, amplified over the last 13,000 years, pro-

*Throughout this book, dates for about the last 15,000 years will be quoted as so-called calibrated radiocarbon dates, rather than as conventional, uncalibrated radiocarbon dates. The difference between the two types of dates will be explained in Chapter 5. Calibrated dates are the ones believed to correspond more closely to actual calendar dates. Readers accustomed to uncalibrated dates will need to bear this distinction in mind whenever they find me quoting apparently erroneous dates that are older than the ones with which they are familiar. For example, the date of the Clovis archaeological horizon in North America is usually quoted as around 9000 B.C. (11,000 years ago), but I quote it instead as around 11,000 B.C. (13,000 years ago), because the date usually quoted is uncalibrated.



Figure 1.1. The spread of humans around the world.

Europe stems from around half a million years ago, but there are claims of an earlier presence. One would certainly assume that the colonization of Asia also permitted the simultaneous colonization of Europe, since Eurasia is a single landmass not bisected by major barriers.

That illustrates an issue that will recur throughout this book. Whenever some scientist claims to have discovered "the earliest X"—whether X is the earliest human fossil in Europe, the earliest evidence of domesticated corn in Mexico, or the earliest anything anywhere—that announcement challenges other scientists to beat the claim by finding something still earlier. In reality, there must be some truly "earliest X," with all claims of earlier X's being false. However, as we shall see, for virtually any X, every year brings forth new discoveries and claims of a purported still earlier X, along with refutations of some or all of previous years' claims of earlier X. It often takes decades of searching before archaeologists reach a consensus on such questions.

By about half a million years ago, human fossils had diverged from older Homo erectus skeletons in their enlarged, rounder, and less angular skulls. African and European skulls of half a million years ago were sufficiently similar to skulls of us moderns that they are classified in our species, Homo sapiens, instead of in Homo erectus. This distinction is



Figure 2.1. Polynesian islands. (Parentheses denote some non-Polynesian lands.)

tion, the Chathams are relatively small and remote islands, capable of supporting a total population of only about 2,000 hunter-gatherers. With no other accessible islands to colonize, the Moriori had to remain in the Chat-hams, and to learn how to get along with each other. They did so by renouncing war, and they reduced potential conflicts from overpopulation by castrating some male infants. The result was a small, unwarlike population with simple technology and weapons, and without strong leadership or organization.

In contrast, the northern (warmer) part of New Zealand, by far the largest island group in Polynesia, was suitable for Polynesian agriculture. Those Maori who remained in New Zealand increased in numbers until there were more than 100,000 of them. They developed locally dense populations chronically engaged in ferocious wars with neighboring populations. With the crop surpluses that they could grow and store, they fed craft specialists, chiefs, and part-time soldiers. They needed and developed varied tools for growing their crops, fighting, and making art. They erected elaborate ceremonial buildings and prodigious numbers of forts.



CHAPTER 3. Collision at Cajamarca

THE BIGGEST POPULATION SHIFT OF MODERN TIMES HAS been the colonization of the New World by Europeans, and the resulting conquest, numerical reduction, or complete disappearance of most groups of Native Americans (American Indians). As I explained in Chapter 1, the New World was initially colonized around or before 11,000 B.C. by way of Alaska, the Bering Strait, and Siberia. Complex agricultural societies gradually arose in the Americas far to the south of that entry route, developing in complete isolation from the emerging complex societies of the Old World. After that initial colonization from Asia, the sole well-attested further contacts between the New World and Asia involved only hunter-gatherers living on opposite sides of the Bering Strait, plus an inferred transpacific voyage that introduced the sweet potato from South America to Polynesia.

As for contacts of New World peoples with Europe, the sole early ones involved the Norse who occupied Greenland in very small numbers between a.d. 986 and about 1500. But those Norse visits had no discernible impact on Native American societies. Instead, for practical purposes the collision of advanced Old World and New World societies began abruptly in a.d. 1492, with Christopher Columbus's "discovery" of Caribbean islands densely populated by Native Americans.

The most dramatic moment in subsequent European-Native American


relations was the first encounter between the Inca emperor Atahuallpa and the Spanish conquistador Francisco Pizarro at the Peruvian highland town of Cajamarca on November 16, 1532. Atahuallpa was absolute monarch of the largest and most advanced state in the New World, while Pizarro represented the Holy Roman Emperor Charles V (also known as King Charles I of Spain), monarch of the most powerful state in Europe. Pizarro, leading a ragtag group of 168 Spanish soldiers, was in unfamiliar terrain, ignorant of the local inhabitants, completely out of touch with the nearest Spaniards (1,000 miles to the north in Panama) and far beyond the reach of timely reinforcements. Atahuallpa was in the middle of his own empire of millions of subjects and immediately surrounded by his army of 80,000 soldiers, recently victorious in a war with other Indians. Nevertheless, Pizarro captured Atahuallpa within a few minutes after the two leaders first set eyes on each other. Pizarro proceeded to hold his prisoner for eight months, while extracting history's largest ransom in return for a promise to free him. After the ransom—enough gold to fill a room 22 feet long by 17 feet wide to a height of over 8 feet—was delivered, Pizarro reneged on his promise and executed Atahuallpa.

Atahuallpa's capture was decisive for the European conquest of the Inca Empire. Although the Spaniards' superior weapons would have assured an ultimate Spanish victory in any case, the capture made the conquest quicker and infinitely easier. Atahuallpa was revered by the Incas as a sun-god and exercised absolute authority over his subjects, who obeyed even the orders he issued from captivity. The months until his death gave Pizarro time to dispatch exploring parties unmolested to other parts of the Inca Empire, and to send for reinforcements from Panama. When fighting between Spaniards and Incas finally did commence after Atahuallpa's execution, the Spanish forces were more formidable.

Thus, Atahuallpa's capture interests us specifically as marking the decisive moment in the greatest collision of modern history. But it is also of more general interest, because the factors that resulted in Pizarro's seizing Atahuallpa were essentially the same ones that determined the outcome of many similar collisions between colonizers and native peoples elsewhere in the modern world. Hence Atahuallpa's capture offers us a broad window onto world history.


What unfolded that day at Cajamarca is well known, because it was recorded in writing by many of the Spanish participants. To get a



nents. Long before anyone began manufacturing guns and steel, others of those same factors had led to the expansions of some non-European peoples, as we shall see in later chapters.

But we are still left with the fundamental question why all those immediate advantages came to lie more with Europe than with the New World. Why weren't the Incas the ones to invent guns and steel swords, to be mounted on animals as fearsome as horses, to bear diseases to which European lacked resistance, to develop oceangoing ships and advanced political organization, and to be able to draw on the experience of thousands of years of written history? Those are no longer the questions of proximate causation that this chapter has been discussing, but questions of ultimate causation that will take up the next two parts of this book.


CHAPTER 4. Farmer Power

AS A TEENAGER, I SPENT THE SUMMER OF 1956 IN MON. tana, working for an elderly farmer named Fred Hirschy. Born in Switzerland, Fred had come to southwestern Montana as a teenager in the 1890s and proceeded to develop one of the first farms in the area. At the time of his arrival, much of the original Native American population of hunter-gatherers was still living there.

My fellow farmhands were, for the most part, tough whites whose normal speech featured strings of curses, and who spent their weekdays working so that they could devote their weekends to squandering their week's wages in the local saloon. Among the farmhands, though, was a member of the Blackfoot Indian tribe named Levi, who behaved very differently from the coarse miners—being polite, gentle, responsible, sober, and well spoken. He was the first Indian with whom I had spent much time, and I came to admire him.

It was therefore a shocking disappointment to me when, one Sunday morning, Levi too staggered in drunk and cursing after a Saturday-night binge. Among his curses, one has stood out in my memory: "Damn you, Fred Hirschy, and damn the ship that brought you from Switzerland!" It poignantly brought home to me the Indians' perspective on what I, like other white schoolchildren, had been taught to view as the heroic conquest



Factors Underlying the Broadest Pattern of History

helped feed dense societies in which epidemics could maintain themselves, and partly because the diseases evolved from germs of the domestic animals themselves.



Of equal importance in wars of conquest were the germs that evolved in human societies with domestic animals. Infectious diseases like smallpox, measles, and flu arose as specialized germs of humans, derived by mutations of very similar ancestral germs that had infected animals (Chapter 11). The humans who domesticated animals were the first to fall victim to the newly evolved germs, but those humans then evolved substantial resistance to the new diseases. When such partly immune people came into contact with others who had had no previous exposure to the germs, epidemics resulted in which up to 99 percent of the previously unexposed population was killed. Germs thus acquired ultimately from domestic animals played decisive roles in the European conquests of Native Americans, Australians, South Africans, and Pacific islanders.

In short, plant and animal domestication meant much more food and hence much denser human populations. The resulting food surpluses, and (in some areas) the animal-based means of transporting those surpluses, were a prerequisite for the development of settled, politically centralized, socially stratified, economically complex, technologically innovative societies. Hence the availability of domestic plants and animals ultimately explains why empires, literacy, and steel weapons developed earliest in Eurasia and later, or not at all, on other continents. The military uses of horses and camels, and the killing power of animal-derived germs, complete the list of major links between food production and conquest that we shall be exploring.


CHAPTER 5. History's Haves and Have-nots

MUCH OF HUMAN HISTORY HAS CONSISTED OF UNEQUAL conflicts between the haves and the have-nots: between peoples with farmer power and those without it, or between those who acquired it at different times. It should come as no surprise that food production never arose in large areas of the globe, for ecological reasons that still make it difficult or impossible there today. For instance, neither farming nor herding developed in prehistoric times in North America's Arctic, while the sole element of food production to arise in Eurasia's Arctic was reindeer herding. Nor could food production spring up spontaneously in deserts remote from sources of water for irrigation, such as central Australia and parts of the western United States.

Instead, what cries out for explanation is the failure of food production to appear, until modern times, in some ecologically very suitable areas that are among the world's richest centers of agriculture and herding today. Foremost among these puzzling areas, where indigenous peoples were still hunter-gatherers when European colonists arrived, were California and the other Pacific states of the United States, the Argentine pampas, southwestern and southeastern Australia, and much of the Cape region of South Africa. Had we surveyed the world in 4000 B.C., thousands of years after the rise of food production in its oldest sites of origin, we would have been


historvs haves and have-nots 99

Figure 5.1. Centers of origin of food production.

A question mark indicates some uncertainty whether the rise of food production at that center was really uninfluenced by the spread of food production from other centers, or (in the case of New Guinea) what the earliest crops were.

nous wild plants in Ethiopia. As for New Guinea, archaeological studies there have provided evidence of early agriculture well before food production in any adjacent areas, but the crops grown have not been definitely identified.

Table 5.1 summarizes, for these and other areas of local domestication, some of the best-known crops and animals and the earliest known dates of domestication. Among these nine candidate areas for the independent evolution of food production, Southwest Asia has the earliest definite dates for both plant domestication (around 8500 B.C.) and animal domestication (around 8000 B.C.); it also has by far the largest number of accurate radiocarbon dates for early food production. Dates for China are nearly as early, while dates for the eastern United States are clearly about 6,000 years later. For the other six candidate areas, the earliest well-established dates do not rival those for Southwest Asia, but too few early sites have been securely dated in those six other areas for us to be certain that they really lagged behind Southwest Asia and (if so) by how much.

The next group of areas consists of ones that did domesticate at least a


CHAPTER 6. To Farm or Not to Farm

FORMERLY, ALL PEOPLE ON EARTH WERE HUNTER-gatherers. Why did any of them adopt food production at all? Given that they must have had some reason, why did they do so around 8500 B.C. in Mediterranean habitats of the Fertile Crescent, only 3,000 years later in the climatically and structurally similar Mediterranean habitats of southwestern Europe, and never indigenously in the similar Mediterranean habitats of California, southwestern Australia, and the Cape of South Africa? Why did even people of the Fertile Crescent wait until 8500 B.C., instead of becoming food producers already around 18,500 or 28,500 B.C.?

From our modern perspective, all these questions at first seem silly, because the drawbacks of being a hunter-gatherer appear so obvious. Scientists used to quote a phrase of Thomas Hobbes's in order to characterize the lifestyle of hunter-gatherers as "nasty, brutish, and short." They seemed to have to work hard, to be driven by the daily quest for food, often to be close to starvation, to lack such elementary material comforts as soft beds and adequate clothing, and to die young.

In reality, only for today's affluent First World citizens, who don't actually do the work of raising food themselves, does food production (by remote agribusinesses) mean less physical work, more comfort, freedom from starvation, and a longer expected lifetime. Most peasant farmers and




standing examples are the persistence of Native American hunter-gatherers in California, separated by deserts from the Native American farmers of Arizona; that of Khoisan hunter-gatherers at the Cape of South Africa, in a Mediterranean climate zone unsuitable for the equatorial crops of nearby Bantu farmers; and that of hunter-gatherers throughout the Australian continent, separated by narrow seas from the food producers of Indonesia and New Guinea. Those few peoples who remained hunter-gatherers into the 20th century escaped replacement by food producers because they were confined to areas not fit for food production, especially deserts and Arctic regions. Within the present decade, even they will have been seduced by the attractions of civilization, settled down under pressure from bureaucrats or missionaries, or succumbed to germs.

CHAPTER 7. How to Make an Almond

If you're a hiker whose appetite is jaded by farm-grown foods, it's fun to try eating wild foods. You know that some wild plants, such as wild strawberries and blueberries, are both tasty and safe to eat. They're sufficiently similar to familiar crops that you can easily recognize the wild berries, even though they're much smaller than those we grow. Adventurous hikers cautiously eat mushrooms, aware that many species can kill us. But not even ardent nut lovers eat wild almonds, of which a few dozen contain enough cyanide (the poison used in Nazi gas chambers) to kill us. The forest is full of many other plants deemed inedible.

Yet all crops arose from wild plant species. How did certain wild plants get turned into crops? That question is especially puzzling in regard to the many crops (like almonds) whose wild progenitors are lethal or bad-tasting, and to other crops (like corn) that look drastically different from their wild ancestors. What cavewoman or caveman ever got the idea of "domesticating" a plant, and how was it accomplished?

Plant domestication may be defined as growing a plant and thereby, consciously or unconsciously, causing it to change genetically from its wild ancestor in ways making it more useful to human consumers. Crop devel-


opment is today a conscious, highly specialized effort carried out by professional scientists. They already know about the hundreds of existing crops and set out to develop yet another one. To achieve that goal, they plant many different seeds or roots, select the best progeny and plant their seeds, apply knowledge of genetics to develop good varieties that breed true, and perhaps even use the latest techniques of genetic engineering to transfer specific useful genes. At the Davis campus of the University of California, an entire department (the Department of Pomology) is devoted to apples and another (the Department of Viticulture and Enology) to grapes and wine.

But plant domestication goes back over 10,000 years. Early farmers surely didn't use molecular genetic techniques to arrive at their results. The first farmers didn't even have any existing crop as a model to inspire them to develop new ones. Hence they couldn't have known that, whatever they were doing, they would enjoy a tasty treat as a result.

How, then, did early farmers domesticate plants unwittingly? For example, how did they turn poisonous almonds into safe ones without knowing what they were doing? What changes did they actually make in wild plants, besides rendering some of them bigger or less poisonous? Even for valuable crops, the times of domestication vary greatly: for instance, peas were domesticated by 8000 B.C., olives around 4000 B.C., strawberries not until the Middle Ages, and pecans not until 1846. Many valuable wild plants yielding food prized by millions of people, such as oaks sought for their edible acorns in many parts of the world, remain untamed even today. What made some plants so much easier or more inviting to domesticate than others? Why did olive trees yield to Stone Age farmers, whereas oak trees continue to defeat our brightest agronomists?


Let's begin by looking at domestication from the plant's point of view. As far as plants are concerned, we're just one of thousands of animal species that unconsciously "domesticate" plants.

Like all animal species (including humans), plants must spread their offspring to areas where they can thrive and pass on their parents' genes. Young animals disperse by walking or flying, but plants don't have that option, so they must somehow hitchhike. While some plant species have seeds adapted for being carried by the wind or for floating on water, many



Table 7.1. Examples of Early Major Crop Types around the Ancient World


Crop Type


Cereals, Other Grasses


Fertile Crescent

emmer wheat, einkorn wheat, barley

pea, lentil, chickpea


foxtail millet, broom-corn millet, rice

soybean, adzuki bean, mung bean



common bean, tepary bean, scarlet runner bean

Andes, Amazonia

quinoa, [corn]

lima bean, common bean, peanut

West Africa and Sahel

sorghum, pearl millet, African rice

cowpea, groundnut


[wheat, barley, rice, sorghum, millets]

hyacinth bean, black gram, green gram


teff, finger millet, [wheat, barley]

[pea, lentil]

Eastern United States

maygrass, little barley, knotweed, goosefoot


New Guinea

sugar cane

Mesoamerica, India, Ethiopia, sub-Saharan Africa, and South America, supplemented in several of those areas by wool from domestic animals. Of the centers of early food production, only the eastern United States and New Guinea remained without a fiber crop.

Alongside these parallels, there were also some major differences in food production systems around the world. One is that agriculture in much of the Old World came to involve broadcast seeding and monoculture fields, and eventually plowing. That is, seeds were sown by being



protective nets and greenhouses were we finally able to defeat the thrushes, and to redesign strawberries and raspberries according to our own standards.


We've thus seen that the difference between gigantic supermarket strawberries and tiny wild ones is just one example of the various features distinguishing cultivated plants from their wild ancestors. Those differences arose initially from natural variation among the wild plants themselves. Some of it, such as the variation in berry size or in nut bitterness, would have been readily noticed by ancient farmers. Other variation, such as that in seed dispersal mechanisms or seed dormancy, would have gone unrecognized by humans before the rise of modern botany. But whether or not the selection of wild edible plants by ancient hikers relied on conscious or unconscious criteria, the resulting evolution of wild plants into crops was at first an unconscious process. It followed inevitably from our selecting among wild plant individuals, and from competition among plant individuals in gardens favoring individuals different from those favored in the wild.

That's why Darwin, in his great book On the Origin of Species, didn't start with an account of natural selection. His first chapter is instead a lengthy account of how our domesticated plants and animals arose through artificial selection by humans. Rather than discussing the Galapagos Island birds that we usually associate with him, Darwin began by discussing—how farmers develop varieties of gooseberries! He wrote, "I have seen great surprise expressed in horticultural works at the wonderful skill of gardeners, in having produced such splendid results from such poor materials; but the art has been simple, and as far as the final result is concerned, has been followed almost unconsciously. It has consisted in always cultivating the best-known variety, sowing its seeds, and, when a slightly better variety chanced to appear, selecting it, and so onwards." Those principles of crop development by artificial selection still serve as our most understandable model of the origin of species by natural selection.

CHAPTER 8. Apples or Indians

WE HAVE JUST SEEN HOW PEOPLES OF SOME REGIONS began to cultivate wild plant species, a step with momentous unforeseen consequences for their lifestyle and their descendants' place in history. Let us now return to our questions: Why did agriculture never arise independently in some fertile and highly suitable areas, such as California, Europe, temperate Australia, and subequatorial Africa? Why, among the areas where agriculture did arise independently, did it develop much earlier in some than in others?

Two contrasting explanations suggest themselves: problems with the local people, or problems with the locally available wild plants. On the one hand, perhaps almost any well-watered temperate or tropical area of the globe offers enough species of wild plants suitable for domestication. In that case, the explanation for agriculture's failure to develop in some of those areas would lie with cultural characteristics of their peoples. On the other hand, perhaps at least some humans in any large area of the globe would have been receptive to the experimentation that led to domestication. Only the lack of suitable wild plants might then explain why food production did not evolve in some areas.

As we shall see in the next chapter, the corresponding problem for domestication of big wild mammals proves easier to solve, because there



most difficult fruit trees to cultivate and among the last major ones to be domesticated in Eurasia, because their propagation requires the difficult technique of grafting. There is no evidence for large-scale cultivation of apples even in the Fertile Crescent and in Europe until classical Greek times, 8,000 years after the rise of Eurasian food production began. If Native Americans had proceeded at the same rate in inventing or acquiring grafting techniques, they too would eventually have domesticated apples— around the year a.d. 5500, some 8,000 years after the rise of domestication in North America around 2500 b.c.

Thus, the reason for the failure of Native Americans to domesticate North American apples by the time Europeans arrived lay neither with the people nor with the apples. As far as biological prerequisites for apple domestication were concerned, North American Indian farmers were like Eurasian farmers, and North American wild apples were like Eurasian wild apples. Indeed, some of the supermarket apple varieties now being munched by readers of this chapter have been developed recently by crossing Eurasian apples with wild North American apples. Instead, the reason Native Americans did not domesticate apples lay with the entire suite of wild plant and animal species available to Native Americans. That suite's modest potential for domestication was responsible for the late start of food production in North America.

CHAPTER 9. Zebras, Unhappy Marriages, and the Anna Karenina Principle

DOMESTICABLE ANIMALS ARE ALL ALIKE; EVERY UNDOmesticable animal is undomesticable in its own way.

If you think you've already read something like that before, you're right. Just make a few changes, and you have the famous first sentence of Tolstoy's great novel Anna Karenina: "Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way." By that sentence, Tolstoy meant that, in order to be happy, a marriage must succeed in many different respects: sexual attraction, agreement about money, child discipline, religion, in-laws, and other vital issues. Failure in any one of those essential respects can doom a marriage even if it has all the other ingredients needed for happiness.

This principle can be extended to understanding much else about life besides marriage. We tend to seek easy, single-factor explanations of success. For most important things, though, success actually requires avoiding many separate possible causes of failure. The Anna Karenina principle explains a feature of animal domestication that had heavy consequences for human history—namely, that so many seemingly suitable big wild mammal species, such as zebras and peccaries, have never been domesticated and that the successful domesticates were almost exclusively Eurasian. Having in the preceding two chapters discussed why so many wild



Table 9.1 The Ancient Fourteen Species of Big Herbivorous Domestic Mammals

The Major Five

1. Sheep. Wild ancestor: the Asiatic mouflon sheep of West and Central Asia. Now worldwide.

2. Goat. Wild ancestor: the bezoar goat of West Asia. Now worldwide.

3. Cow, alias ox or cattle. Wild ancestor: the now extinct aurochs, formerly distributed over Eurasia and North Africa. Now worldwide.

4. Pig. Wild ancestor: the wild boar, distributed over Eurasia and North Africa. Now worldwide. Actually an omnivore (regularly eats both animal and plant food), whereas the other 13 of the Ancient Fourteen are more strictly herbivores.

5. Horse. Wild ancestor: now extinct wild horses of southern Russia; a different subspecies of the same species survived in the wild to modern times as Przewalski's horse of Mongolia. Now worldwide.

The Minor Nine

6. Arabian (one-humped) camel. Wild ancestor: now extinct, formerly lived in Arabia and adjacent areas. Still largely restricted to Arabia and northern Africa, though feral in Australia.

7. Bactrian (two-humped) camel: Wild ancestor: now extinct, lived in Central Asia. Still largely confined to Central Asia.

8. Llama and alpaca. These appear to be well-differentiated breeds of the same species, rather than different species. Wild ancestor: the guanaco of the Andes. Still largely confined to the Andes, although some are bred as pack animals in North America.

9. Donkey. Wild ancestor: the African wild ass of North Africa and formerly perhaps the adjacent area of Southwest Asia. Originally confined as a domestic animal to North Africa and western Eurasia, more recently also used elsewhere.

10. Reindeer. Wild ancestor: the reindeer of northern Eurasia. Still largely confined as a domestic animal to that area, though now some are also used in Alaska.

11. Water buffalo. Wild ancestor lives in Southeast Asia. Still used as a domestic animal mainly in that area, though many are also used in Brazil and others have escaped to the wild in Australia and other places.



Table 9.3 Approximate Dates of First Attested Evidence for Domestication of Large Mammal Species


Date (b.c.)




Southwest Asia, China, North America



Southwest Asia



Southwest Asia



China, Southwest Asia



Southwest Asia, India, (?)North Africa







Water buffalo



Llama / alpaca



Bactrian camel


Central Asia

Arabian camel



For the other four domesticated large mammal species—reindeer, yak, gaur, and banteng—there is as yet little evidence concerning the date of domestication. Dates and places shown are merely the earliest ones attested to date; domestication may actually have begun earlier and at a different location.

of ancient humans. Europeans today are heirs to one of the longest traditions of animal domestication on Earth—that which began in Southwest Asia around 10,000 years ago. Since the fifteenth century, Europeans have spread around the globe and encountered wild mammal species not found in Europe. European settlers, such as those that I encounter in New Guinea with pet kangaroos and possums, have tamed or made pets of many local mammals, just as have indigenous peoples. European herders and farmers emigrating to other continents have also made serious efforts to domesticate some local species.

In the 19th and 20th centuries at least six large mammals—the eland, elk, moose, musk ox, zebra, and American bison—have been the subjects of especially well-organized projects aimed at domestication, carried out by modern scientific animal breeders and geneticists. For example, eland, the largest African antelope, have been undergoing selection for meat quality and milk quantity in the Askaniya-Nova Zoological Park in the


Ukraine, as well as in England, Kenya, Zimbabwe, and South Africa; an experimental farm for elk (red deer, in British terminology) has been operated by the Rowett Research Institute at Aberdeen, Scotland; and an experimental farm for moose has operated in the Pechero-Ilych National Park in Russia. Yet these modern efforts have achieved only very limited successes. While bison meat occasionally appears in some U.S. supermarkets, and while moose have been ridden, milked, and used to pull sleds in Sweden and Russia, none of these efforts has yielded a result of sufficient economic value to attract many ranchers. It is especially striking that recent attempts to domesticate eland within Africa itself, where its disease resistance and climate tolerance would give it a big advantage over introduced Eurasian wild stock susceptible to African diseases, have not caught on.

Thus, neither indigenous herders with access to candidate species over thousands of years, nor modern geneticists, have succeeded in making useful domesticates of large mammals beyond the Ancient Fourteen, which were domesticated by at least 4,500 years ago. Yet scientists today could undoubtedly, if they wished, fulfill for many species that part of the definition of domestication that specifies the control of breeding and food supply. For example, the San Diego and Los Angeles zoos are now subjecting the last surviving California condors to a more draconian control of breeding than that imposed upon any domesticated species. All individual condors have been genetically identified, and a computer program determines which male shall mate with which female in order to achieve human goals (in this case, to maximize genetic diversity and thereby preserve this endangered bird). Zoos are conducting similar breeding programs for many other threatened species, including gorillas and rhinos. But the zoos' rigorous selection of California condors shows no prospects of yielding an economically useful product. Nor do zoos' efforts with rhinos, although rhinos offer up to over three tons of meat on the hoof. As we shall now see, rhinos (and most other big mammals) present insuperable obstacles to domestication.


In all, of the world's 148 big wild terrestrial herbivorous mammals— the candidates for domestication—only 14 passed the test. Why did the other 134 species fail? To which conditions was Francis Galton referring, when he spoke of those other species as "destined to perpetual wildness"?



diversity, started out with the most candidates. Second, Australia and the Americas, but not Eurasia or Africa, lost most of their candidates in a massive wave of late-Pleistocene extinctions—possibly because the mammals of the former continents had the misfortune to be first exposed to humans suddenly and late in our evolutionary history, when our hunting skills were already highly developed. Finally, a higher percentage of the surviving candidates proved suitable for domestication on Eurasia than on the other continents. An examination of the candidates that were never domesticated, such as Africa's big herd-forming mammals, reveals particular reasons that disqualified each of them. Thus, Tolstoy would have approved of the insight offered in another context by an earlier author, Saint Matthew: "Many are called, but few are chosen."


CHAPTER 10. Spacious Skies and Tilted Axes

ON THE MAP OF THE WORLD ON PAGE 177 (FIGURE 10.1), compare the shapes and orientations of the continents. You'll be struck by an obvious difference. The Americas span a much greater distance north-south (9,000 miles) than east-west: only 3,000 miles at the widest, narrowing to a mere 40 miles at the Isthmus of Panama. That is, the major axis of the Americas is north-south. The same is also true, though to a less extreme degree, for Africa. In contrast, the major axis of Eurasia is east-west. What effect, if any, did those differences in the orientation of the continents' axes have on human history?

This chapter will be about what I see as their enormous, sometimes tragic, consequences. Axis orientations affected the rate of spread of crops and livestock, and possibly also of writing, wheels, and other inventions. That basic feature of geography thereby contributed heavily to the very different experiences of Native Americans, Africans, and Eurasians in the last 500 years.


Food production's spread proves as crucial to understanding geographic differences in the rise of guns, germs, and steel as did its origins, which we considered in the preceding chapters. That's because, as we


Figure 10.1. Major axes of the continents.

saw in Chapter 5, there were no more than nine areas of the globe, perhaps as few as five, where food production arose independently. Yet, already in prehistoric times, food production became established in many other regions besides those few areas of origins. All those other areas became food producing as a result of the spread of crops, livestock, and knowledge of how to grow them and, in some cases, as a result of migrations of farmers and herders themselves.

The main such spreads of food production were from Southwest Asia to Europe, Egypt and North Africa, Ethiopia, Central Asia, and the Indus Valley; from the Sahel and West Africa to East and South Africa; from China to tropical Southeast Asia, the Philippines, Indonesia, Korea, and Japan; and from Mesoamerica to North America. Moreover, food production even in its areas of origin became enriched by the addition of crops, livestock, and techniques from other areas of origin.

Just as some regions proved much more suitable than others for the origins of food production, the ease of its spread also varied greatly around the world. Some areas that are ecologically very suitable for food production never acquired it in prehistoric times at all, even though areas of prehistoric food production existed nearby. The most conspicuous such examples are the failure of both farming and herding to reach Native



or from Egypt to South Africa, while amber waves of wheat and barley came to stretch from the Atlantic to the Pacific across the spacious skies of Eurasia. That faster spread of Eurasian agriculture, compared with that of Native American and sub-Saharan African agriculture, played a role (as the next part of this book will show) in the more rapid diffusion of Eurasian writing, metallurgy, technology, and empires.

To bring up all those differences isn't to claim that widely distributed crops are admirable, or that they testify to the superior ingenuity of early Eurasian farmers. They reflect, instead, the orientation of Eurasia's axis compared with that of the Americas or Africa. Around those axes turned the fortunes of history.


CHAPTER 11. Lethal Gift of Livestock

WE HAVE NOW TRACED HOW FOOD PRODUCTION AROSE in a few centers, and how it spread at unequal rates from there to other areas. Those geographic differences constitute important ultimate answers to Yali's question about why different peoples ended up with disparate degrees of power and affluence. However, food production itself is not a proximate cause. In a one-on-one fight, a naked farmer would have no advantage over a naked hunter-gatherer.

Instead, one part of the explanation for farmer power lies in the much denser populations that food production could support: ten naked farmers certainly would have an advantage over one naked hunter-gatherer in a fight. The other part is that neither farmers nor hunter-gatherers are naked, at least not figuratively. Farmers tend to breathe out nastier germs, to own better weapons and armor, to own more-powerful technology in general, and to live under centralized governments with literate elites better able to wage wars of conquest. Hence the next four chapters will explore how the ultimate cause of food production led to the proximate causes of germs, literacy, technology, and centralized government.

The links connecting livestock and crops to germs were unforgettably illustrated for me by a hospital case about which I learned through a physician friend. When my friend was an inexperienced young doctor, he was


called into a hospital room to deal with a married couple stressed-out by a mysterious illness. It did not help that the couple was also having difficulty communicating with each other, and with my friend. The husband was a small, timid man, sick with pneumonia caused by an unidentified microbe, and with only limited command of the English language. Acting as translator was his beautiful wife, worried about her husband's condition and frightened by the unfamiliar hospital environment. My friend was also stressed-out from a long week of hospital work, and from trying to figure out what unusual risk factors might have brought on the strange illness. The stress caused my friend to forget everything he had been taught about patient confidentiality: he committed the awful blunder of requesting the woman to ask her husband whether he'd had any sexual experiences that could have caused the infection.

As the doctor watched, the husband turned red, pulled himself together so that he seemed even smaller, tried to disappear under his bedsheets, and stammered out words in a barely audible voice. His wife suddenly screamed in rage and drew herself up to tower over him. Before the doctor could stop her, she grabbed a heavy metal bottle, slammed it with full force onto her husband's head, and stormed out of the room. It took a while for the doctor to revive her husband and even longer to elicit, through the man's broken English, what he'd said that so enraged his wife. The answer slowly emerged: he had confessed to repeated intercourse with sheep on a recent visit to the family farm; perhaps that was how he had contracted the mysterious microbe.

This incident sounds bizarrely one-of-a-kind and of no possible broader significance. In fact, it illustrates an enormous subject of great importance: human diseases of animal origins. Very few of us love sheep in the carnal sense that this patient did. But most of us platonically love our pet animals, such as our dogs and cats. As a society, we certainly appear to have an inordinate fondness for sheep and other livestock, to judge from the vast numbers of them that we keep. For example, at the time of a recent census, Australia's 17,085,400 people thought so highly of sheep that they kept 161,600,000 of them.

Some of us adults, and even more of our children, pick up infectious diseases from our pets. Usually they remain no more than a nuisance, but a few have evolved into something far more serious. The major killers of humanity throughout our recent history—smallpox, flu, tuberculosis, malaria, plague, measles, and cholera—are infectious diseases that evolved



killed by epidemics beginning with the first European visit, in 1791). Syphilis, gonorrhea, tuberculosis, and influenza arriving with Captain Cook in 1779, followed by a big typhoid epidemic in 1804 and numerous "minor" epidemics, reduced Hawaii's population from around half a million in 1779 to 84,000 in 1853, the year when smallpox finally reached Hawaii and killed around 10,000 of the survivors. These examples could be multiplied almost indefinitely.

However, germs did not act solely to Europeans' advantage. While the New World and Australia did not harbor native epidemic diseases awaiting Europeans, tropical Asia, Africa, Indonesia, and New Guinea certainly did. Malaria throughout the tropical Old World, cholera in tropical Southeast Asia, and yellow fever in tropical Africa were (and still are) the most notorious of the tropical killers. They posed the most serious obstacle to European colonization of the tropics, and they explain why the European colonial partitioning of New Guinea and most of Africa was not accomplished until nearly 400 years after European partitioning of the New World began. Furthermore, once malaria and yellow fever did become transmitted to the Americas by European ship traffic, they emerged as the major impediment to colonization of the New World tropics as well. A familiar example is the role of those two diseases in aborting the French effort, and nearly aborting the ultimately successful American effort, to construct the Panama Canal.

Bearing all these facts in mind, let's try to regain our sense of perspective about the role of germs in answering Yali's question. There is no doubt that Europeans developed a big advantage in weaponry, technology, and political organization over most of the non-European peoples that they conquered. But that advantage alone doesn't fully explain how initially so few European immigrants came to supplant so much of the native population of the Americas and some other parts of the world. That might not have happened without Europe's sinister gift to other continents—the germs evolving from Eurasians' long intimacy with domestic animals.

CHAPTER 12. Blueprints and Borrowed Letters

NINETEENTH-CENTURY AUTHORS TENDED TO INTERPRET history as a progression from savagery to civilization. Key hallmarks of this transition included the development of agriculture, metallurgy, complex technology, centralized government, and writing. Of these, writing was traditionally the one most restricted geographically: until the expansions of Islam and of colonial Europeans, it was absent from Australia, Pacific islands, subequatorial Africa, and the whole New World except for a small part of Mesoamerica. As a result of that confined distribution, peoples who pride themselves on being civilized have always viewed writing as the sharpest distinction raising them above "barbarians" or "savages."

Knowledge brings power. Hence writing brings power to modern societies, by making it possible to transmit knowledge with far greater accuracy and in far greater quantity and detail, from more distant lands and more remote times. Of course, some peoples (notably the Incas) managed to administer empires without writing, and "civilized" peoples don't always defeat "barbarians," as Roman armies facing the Huns learned. But the European conquests of the Americas, Siberia, and Australia illustrate the typical recent outcome.

Writing marched together with weapons, microbes, and centralized


political organization as a modern agent of conquest. The commands of the monarchs and merchants who organized colonizing fleets were conveyed in writing. The fleets set their courses by maps and written sailing directions prepared by previous expeditions. Written accounts of earlier expeditions motivated later ones, by describing the wealth and fertile lands awaiting the conquerors. The accounts taught subsequent explorers what conditions to expect, and helped them prepare themselves. The resulting empires were administered with the aid of writing. While all those types of information were also transmitted by other means in preliterate societies, writing made the transmission easier, more detailed, more accurate, and more persuasive.

Why, then, did only some peoples and not others develop writing, given its overwhelming value? For example, why did no traditional hunters-gatherers evolve or adopt writing? Among island empires, why did writing arise in Minoan Crete but not in Polynesian Tonga? How many separate times did writing evolve in human history, under what circumstances, and for what uses? Of those peoples who did develop it, why did some do so much earlier than others? For instance, today almost all Japanese and Scandinavians are literate but most Iraqis are not: why did writing nevertheless arise nearly four thousand years earlier in Iraq?

The diffusion of writing from its sites of origin also raises important questions. Why, for instance, did it spread to Ethiopia and Arabia from the Fertile Crescent, but not to the Andes from Mexico? Did writing systems spread by being copied, or did existing systems merely inspire neighboring peoples to invent their own systems? Given a writing system that works well for one language, how do you devise a system for a different language? Similar questions arise whenever one tries to understand the origins and spread of many other aspects of human culture—such as technology, religion, and food production. The historian interested in such questions about writing has the advantage that they can often be answered in unique detail by means of the written record itself. We shall therefore trace writing's development not only because of its inherent importance, but also for the general insights into cultural history that it provides.


The three basic strategies underlying writing systems differ in the size of the speech unit denoted by one written sign: either a single basic sound, a whole syllable, or a whole word. Of these, the one employed



Eurasia plus North Africa. Africa's north-south axis posed a further obstacle to the diffusion of technology, both between Eurasia and sub-Saharan Africa and within the sub-Saharan region itself. As an illustration of the latter obstacle, pottery and iron metallurgy arose in or reached sub-Saharan Africa's Sahel zone (north of the equator) at least as early as they reached western Europe. However, pottery did not reach the southern tip of Africa until around a.d. 1, and metallurgy had not yet diffused overland to the southern tip by the time that it arrived there from Europe on ships.

Finally, Australia is the smallest continent. The very low rainfall and productivity of most of Australia makes it effectively even smaller as regards its capacity to support human populations. It is also the most isolated continent. In addition, food production never arose indigenously in Australia. Those factors combined to leave Australia the sole continent still without metal artifacts in modern times.

Table 13.1 translates these factors into numbers, by comparing the continents with respect to their areas and their modern human populations. The continents' populations 10,000 years ago, just before the rise of food production, are not known but surely stood in the same sequence, since many of the areas producing the most food today would also have been productive areas for hunter-gatherers 10,000 years ago. The differences in population are glaring: Eurasia's (including North Africa's) is nearly 6 times that of the Americas, nearly 8 times that of Africa's, and 230 times that of Australia's. Larger populations mean more inventors and more competing societies. Table 13.1 by itself goes a long way toward explaining the origins of gun,s and steel in Eurasia.

All these effects that continental differences in area, population, ease of

Table 13.1 Human Populations of the Continents






(square miles)

Eurasia and North Africa






(North Africa)



North America and South America



Sub-Saharan Africa







diffusion, and onset of food production exerted on the rise of technology became exaggerated, because technology catalyzes itself. Eurasia's considerable initial advantage thereby was translated into a huge lead as of A.D. 1492—for reasons of Eurasia's distinctive geography rather than of distinctive human intellect. The New Guineans whom I know include potential Edisons. But they directed their ingenuity toward technological problems appropriate to their situations: the problems of surviving without any imported items in the New Guinea jungle, rather than the problem of inventing phonographs.

CHAPTER 14. From Egalitarianism to Kleptocracy

IN 1979, WHILE I WAS FLYING WITH MISSIONARY FRIENDS over a remote swamp-filled basin of New Guinea, I noticed a few huts many miles apart. The pilot explained to me that, somewhere in that muddy expanse below us, a group of Indonesian crocodile hunters had recently come across a group of New Guinea nomads. Both groups had panicked, and the encounter had ended with the Indonesians shooting several of the nomads.

My missionary friends guessed that the nomads belonged to an uncontacted group called the Fayu, known to the outside world only through accounts by their terrified neighbors, a missionized group of erstwhile nomads called the Kirikiri. First contacts between outsiders and New Guinea groups are always potentially dangerous, but this beginning was especially inauspicious. Nevertheless, my friend Doug flew in by helicopter to try to establish friendly relations with the Fayu. He returned, alive but shaken, to tell a remarkable story.

It turned out that the Fayu normally lived as single families, scattered through the swamp and coming together once or twice each year to negotiate exchanges of brides. Doug's visit coincided with such a gathering, of a few dozen Fayu. To us, a few dozen people constitute a small, ordinary gathering, but to the Fayu it was a rare, frightening event. Murderers sud-



Where population densities are high, as in regions occupied by states or chiefdoms, the defeated still have nowhere to flee, but the victors now have two options for exploiting them while leaving them alive. Because chiefdoms and state societies have economic specialization, the defeated can be used as slaves, as commonly happened in biblical times. Alternatively, because many such societies have intensive food production systems capable of yielding large surpluses, the victors can leave the defeated in place but deprive them of political autonomy, make them pay regular tribute in food or goods, and amalgamate their society into the victorious state or chiefdom. This has been the usual outcome of battles associated with the founding of states or empires throughout recorded history. For example, the Spanish conquistadores wished to exact tribute from Mexico's defeated native populations, so they were very interested in the Aztec Empire's tribute lists. It turned out that the tribute received by the Aztecs each year from subject peoples had included 7,000 tons of corn, 4,000 tons of beans, 4,000 tons of grain amaranth, 2,000,000 cotton cloaks, and huge quantities of cacao beans, war costumes, shields, feather headdresses, and amber.

Thus, food production, and competition and diffusion between societies, led as ultimate causes, via chains of causation that differed in detail but that all involved large dense populations and sedentary living, to the proximate agents of conquest: germs, writing, technology, and centralized political organization. Because those ultimate causes developed differently on different continents, so did those agents of conquest. Hence those agents tended to arise in association with each other, but the association was not strict: for example, an empire arose without writing among the Incas, and writing with few epidemic diseases among the Aztecs. Dingiswayo's Zulus illustrate that each of those agents contributed somewhat independently to history's pattern. Among the dozens of Zulu chiefdoms, the Mtetwa chiefdom enjoyed no advantage whatsoever of technology, writing, or germs over the other chiefdoms, which it nevertheless succeeded in defeating. Its advantage lay solely in the spheres of government and ideology. The resulting Zulu state was thereby enabled to conquer a fraction of a continent for nearly a century.


CHAPTER 15. Yali's People

WHEN MY WIFE, MARIE, AND I WERE VACATIONING IN Australia one summer, we decided to visit a site with well-preserved Aboriginal rock paintings in the desert near the town of Menindee. While I knew of the Australian desert's reputation for dryness and summer heat, I had already spent long periods working under hot, dry conditions in the Californian desert and New Guinea savanna, so I considered myself experienced enough to deal with the minor challenges we would face as tourists in Australia. Carrying plenty of drinking water, Marie and I set off at noon on a hike of a few miles to the paintings.

The trail from the ranger station led uphill, under a cloudless sky, through open terrain offering no shade whatsoever. The hot, dry air that we were breathing reminded me of how it had felt to breathe while sitting in a Finnish sauna. By the time we reached the cliff site with the paintings, we had finished our water. We had also lost our interest in art, so we pushed on uphill, breathing slowly and regularly. Presently I noticed a bird that was unmistakably a species of babbler, but it seemed enormous compared with any known babbler species. At that point, I realized that I was experiencing heat hallucinations for the first time in my life. Marie and I decided that we had better head straight back.


Both of us stopped talking. As we walked, we concentrated on listening to our breathing, calculating the distance to the next landmark, and estimating the remaining time. My mouth and tongue were now dry, and Marie's face was red. When we at last reached the air-conditioned ranger station, we sagged into chairs next to the water cooler, drank down the cooler's last half-gallon of water, and asked the ranger for another bottle. Sitting there exhausted, both physically and emotionally, I reflected that the Aborigines who had made those paintings had somehow spent their entire lives in that desert without air-conditioned retreats, managing to find food as well as water.

To white Australians, Menindee is famous as the base camp for two whites who had suffered worse from the desert's dry heat over a century earlier: the Irish policeman Robert Burke and the English astronomer William Wills, ill-fated leaders of the first European expedition to cross Australia from south to north. Setting out with six camels packing food enough for three months, Burke and Wills ran out of provisions while in the desert north of Menindee. Three successive times, they encountered and were rescued by well-fed Aborigines whose home was that desert, and who plied the explorers with fish, fern cakes, and roasted fat rats. But then Burke foolishly shot his pistol at one of the Aborigines, whereupon the whole group fled. Despite their big advantage over the Aborigines in possessing guns with which to hunt, Burke and Wills starved, collapsed, and died within a month after the Aborigines' departure.

My wife's and my experience at Menindee, and the fate of Burke and Wills, made vivid for me the difficulties of building a human society in Australia. Australia stands out from all the other continents: the differences between Eurasia, Africa, North America, and South America fade into insignificance compared with the differences between Australia and any of those other landmasses. Australia is by far the driest, smallest, flattest, most infertile, climatically most unpredictable, and biologically most impoverished continent. It was the last continent to be occupied by Europeans. Until then, it had supported the most distinctive human societies, and the least numerous human population, of any continent.

Australia thus provides a crucial test of theories about intercontinental differences in societies. It had the most distinctive environment, and also the most distinctive societies. Did the former cause the latter? If so, how? Australia is the logical continent with which to begin our around-the-



constitute a perfectly controlled experiment in the evolution of human societies, forcing us to a simple racist conclusion?

The resolution of this problem is simple. White English colonists did not create a literate, food-producing, industrial democracy in Australia. Instead, they imported all of the elements from outside Australia: the livestock, all of the crops (except macadamia nuts), the metallurgical knowledge, the steam engines, the guns, the alphabet, the political institutions, even the germs. All these were the end products of 10,000 years of development in Eurasian environments. By an accident of geography, the colonists who landed at Sydney in 1788 inherited those elements. Europeans have never learned to survive in Australia or New Guinea without their inherited Eurasian technology. Robert Burke and William Wills were smart enough to write, but not smart enough to survive in Australian desert regions where Aborigines were living.

The people who did create a society in Australia were Aboriginal Australians. Of course, the society that they created was not a literate, food-producing, industrial democracy. The reasons follow straightforwardly from features of the Australian environment.

CHAPTER 16. How China Became Chinese

IMMIGRATION, AFFIRMATIVE ACTION, MULTILINGUALISM, ethnic diversity—my state of California was among the pioneers of these controversial policies and is now pioneering a backlash against them. A glance into the classrooms of the Los Angeles public school system, where my sons are being educated, fleshes out the abstract debates with the faces of children. Those children represent over 80 languages spoken in the home, with English-speaking whites in the minority. Every single one of my sons' playmates has at least one parent or grandparent who was born outside the United States; that's true of three of my own sons' four grandparents. But immigration is merely restoring the diversity that America held for thousands of years. Before European settlement, the mainland United States was home to hundreds of Native American tribes and languages and came under control of a single government only within the last hundred years.

In these respects the United States is a thoroughly "normal" country. All but one of the world's six most populous nations are melting pots that achieved political unification recently, and that still support hundreds of languages and ethnic groups. For example, Russia, once a small Slavic state centered on Moscow, did not even begin its expansion beyond the Ural Mountains until a.d. 1582. From then until the 19th century, Russia


CHAPTER 17. Speedboat to Polynesia

PACIFIC ISLAND HISTORY IS ENCAPSULATED FOR ME IN AN incident that happened when three Indonesian friends and I walked into a store in Jayapura, the capital of Indonesian New Guinea. My friends' names were Achmad, Wiwor, and Sauakari, and the store was run by a merchant named Ping Wah. Achmad, an Indonesian government officer, was acting as the boss, because he and I were organizing an ecological survey for the government and had hired Wiwor and Sauakari as local assistants. But Achmad had never before been in a New Guinea mountain forest and had no idea what supplies to buy. The results were comical.

At the moment that my friends entered the store, Ping Wah was reading a Chinese newspaper. When he saw Wiwor and Sauakari, he kept reading it but then shoved it out of sight under the counter as soon as he noticed Achmad. Achmad picked up an ax head, causing Wiwor and Sauakari to laugh, because he was holding it upside down. Wiwor and Sauakari showed him how to hold it correctly and to test it. Achmad and Sauakari then looked at Wiwor's bare feet, with toes splayed wide from a lifetime of not wearing shoes. Sauakari picked out the widest available shoes and held them against Wiwor's feet, but the shoes were still too narrow, sending Achmad and Sauakari and Ping Wah into peals of laughter. Achmad picked up a plastic comb with which to comb out his straight, coarse black


hair. Glancing at Wiwor's tough, tightly coiled hair, he handed the comb to Wiwor. It immediately stuck in Wiwor's hair, then broke as soon as Wiwor pulled on the comb. Everyone laughed, including Wiwor. Wiwor responded by reminding Achmad that he should buy lots of rice, because there would be no food to buy in New Guinea mountain villages except sweet potatoes, which would upset Achmad's stomach—more hilarity.

Despite all the laughter, I could sense the underlying tensions. Achmad was Javan, Ping Wah Chinese, Wiwor a New Guinea highlander, and Sauakari a New Guinea lowlander from the north coast. Javans dominate the Indonesian government, which annexed western New Guinea in the 1960s and used bombs and machine guns to crush New Guinean opposition. Achmad later decided to stay in town and to let me do the forest survey alone with Wiwor and Sauakari. He explained his decision to me by pointing to his straight, coarse hair, so unlike that of New Guineans, and saying that New Guineans would kill anyone with hair like his if they found him far from army backup.

Ping Wah had put away his newspaper because importation of Chinese writing is nominally illegal in Indonesian New Guinea. In much of Indonesia the merchants are Chinese immigrants. Latent mutual fear between the economically dominant Chinese and politically dominant Javans erupted in 1966 in a bloody revolution, when Javans slaughtered hundreds of thousands of Chinese. As New Guineans, Wiwor and Sauakari shared most New Guineans' resentment of Javan dictatorship, but they also scorned each other's groups. Highlanders dismiss lowlanders as effete sago eaters, while lowlanders dismiss highlanders as primitive big-heads, referring both to their massive coiled hair and to their reputation for arrogance. Within a few days of my setting up an isolated forest camp with Wiwor and Sauakari, they came close to fighting each other with axes.

Tensions among the groups that Achmad, Wiwor, Sauakari, and Ping Wah represent dominate the politics of Indonesia, the world's fourth-most-populous nation. These modern tensions have roots going back thousands of years. When we think of major overseas population movements, we tend to focus on those since Columbus's discovery of the Americas, and on the resulting replacements of non-Europeans by Europeans within historic times. But there were also big overseas movements long before Columbus, and prehistoric replacements of non-European peoples by other non-European peoples. Wiwor, Achmad, and Sauakari represent three prehistorical waves of people that moved overseas from the Asian mainland into the


borrowed into English include "taboo" and "tattoo" (from a Polynesian language), "boondocks" (from the Tagalog language of the Philippines), and "amok," "batik," and "orangutan" (from Malay).

That genetic and linguistic uniformity of Indonesia and the Philippines is initially as surprising as is the predominant linguistic uniformity of China. The famous Java Homo erectus fossils prove that humans have occupied at least western Indonesia for a million years. That should have given ample time for humans to evolve genetic and linguistic diversity and tropical adaptations, such as dark skins like those of many other tropical peoples—but instead Indonesians and Filipinos have light skins.

It is also surprising that Indonesians and Filipinos are so similar to trop-



mies underwent great diversification in different environments. Within a millennium, East Polynesian colonists had reverted to hunting-gathering on the Chathams while building a protostate with intensive food production on Hawaii.

When Europeans at last arrived, their technological and other advantages enabled them to establish temporary colonial domination over most of tropical Southeast Asia and the Pacific islands. However, indigenous germs and food producers prevented Europeans from settling most of this region in significant numbers. Within this area, only New Zealand, New Caledonia, and Hawaii—the largest and most remote islands, lying farthest from the equator and hence in the most nearly temperate (Europelike) climates—now support large European populations. Thus, unlike Australia and the Americas, East Asia and most Pacific islands remain occupied by East Asian and Pacific peoples.

CHAPTER 18. Hemispheres Colliding

THE LARGEST POPULATION REPLACEMENT OF THE LAST 13,000 years has been the one resulting from the recent collision between Old World and New World societies. Its most dramatic and decisive moment, as we saw in Chapter 3, occurred when Pizarro's tiny army of Spaniards captured the Inca emperor Atahuallpa, absolute ruler of the largest, richest, most populous, and administratively and technologically most advanced Native American state. Atahuallpa's capture symbolizes the European conquest of the Americas, because the same mix of proximate factors that caused it was also responsible for European conquests of other Native American societies. Let us now return to that collision of hemispheres, applying what we have learned since Chapter 3. The basic question to be answered is: why did Europeans reach and conquer the lands of Native Americans, instead of vice versa? Our starting point will be a comparison of Eurasian and Native American societies as of a.d. 1492, the year of Columbus's "discovery" of the Americas.

Our comparison begins with food production, a major determinant of local population size and societal complexity—hence an ultimate factor behind the conquest. The most glaring difference between American


and Eurasian food production involved big domestic mammal species. In Chapter 9 we encountered Eurasia's 13 species, which became its chief source of animal protein (meat and milk), wool, and hides, its main mode of land transport of people and goods, its indispensable vehicles of warfare, and (by drawing plows and providing manure) a big enhancer of crop production. Until waterwheels and windmills began to replace Eurasia's mammals in medieval times, they were also the major source of its "industrial" power beyond human muscle power—for example, for turning grindstones and operating water lifts. In contrast, the Americas had only one species of big domestic mammal, the llama / alpaca, confined to a small area of the Andes and the adjacent Peruvian coast. While it was used for meat, wool, hides, and goods transport, it never yielded milk for human consumption, never bore a rider, never pulled a cart or a plow, and never served as a power source or vehicle of warfare.

That's an enormous set of differences between Eurasian and Native American societies—due largely to the Late Pleistocene extinction (extermination?) of most of North and South America's former big wild mammal species. If it had not been for those extinctions, modern history might have taken a different course. When Cortes and his bedraggled adventurers landed on the Mexican coast in 1519, they might have been driven into the sea by thousands of Aztec cavalry mounted on domesticated native American horses. Instead of the Aztecs' dying of smallpox, the Spaniards might have been wiped out by American germs transmitted by disease-resistant Aztecs. American civilizations resting on animal power might have been sending their own conquistadores to ravage Europe. But those hypothetical outcomes were foreclosed by mammal extinctions thousands of years earlier.

Those extinctions left Eurasia with many more wild candidates for domestication than the Americas offered. Most candidates disqualify themselves as potential domesticates for any of half a dozen reasons. Hence Eurasia ended up with its 13 species of big domestic mammals and the Americas with just its one very local species. Both hemispheres also had domesticated species of birds and small mammals—the turkey, guinea pig, and Muscovy duck very locally and the dog more widely in the Americas; chickens, geese, ducks, cats, dogs, rabbits, honeybees, silkworms, and some others in Eurasia. But the significance of all those species of small domestic animals was trivial compared with that of the big ones.

Eurasia and the Americas also differed with respect to plant food pro-



black Africans, along with Asian Indians and Javanese in Suriname).

In parts of Central America and the Andes, the Native Americans were originally so numerous that, even after epidemics and wars, much of the population today remains Native American or mixed. That is especially true at high altitudes in the Andes, where genetically European women have physiological difficulties even in reproducing, and where native Andean crops still offer the most suitable basis for food production. However, even where Native Americans do survive, there has been extensive replacement of their culture and languages with those of the Old World. Of the hundreds of Native American languages originally spoken in North America, all except 187 are no longer spoken at all, and 149 of these last 187 are moribund in the sense that they are being spoken only by old people and no longer learned by children. Of the approximately 40 New World nations, all now have an Indo-European language or creole as the official language. Even in the countries with the largest surviving Native American populations, such as Peru, Bolivia, Mexico, and Guatemala, a glance at photographs of political and business leaders shows that they are disproportionately Europeans, while several Caribbean nations have black African leaders and Guyana has had Asian Indian leaders.

The original Native American population has been reduced by a debated large percentage: estimates for North America range up to 95 percent. But the total human population of the Americas is now approximately ten times what it was in 1492, because of arrivals of Old World peoples (Europeans, Africans, and Asians). The Americas' population now consists of a mixture of peoples originating from all continents except Australia. That demographic shift of the last 500 years—the most massive shift on any continent except Australia—has its ultimate roots in developments between about 11,000 B.c. and a.d. 1,

CHAPTER 19. How Africa Became Black

NO MATTER HOW MUCH ONE HAS READ ABOUT AFRICA beforehand, one's first impressions from actually being there are overwhelming. On the streets of Windhoek, capital of newly independent Namibia, I saw black Herero people, black Ovambos, whites, and Namas, different again from both blacks and whites. They were no longer mere pictures in a textbook, but living humans in front of me. Outside Windhoek, the last of the formerly widespread Kalahari Bushmen were struggling for survival. But what most surprised me in Namibia was a street sign: one of downtown Windhoek's main roads was called Goering Street! Surely, I thought, no country could be so dominated by unrepentant Nazis as to name a street after the notorious Nazi Reichskommissar and founder of the Luftwaffe, Hermann Goering! No, it turned out that the street instead commemorated Hermann's father, Heinrich Goering, founding Reich skommissar of the former German colony of South-West Africa, which became Namibia. But Heinrich was also a problematic figure, for his legacy included one of the most vicious attacks by European colonists on Africans, Germany's 1904 war of extermination against the Hereros. Today, while events in neighboring South Africa command more of the world's attention, Namibia as well is struggling to deal with its colonial



Figure 19.4. Approximate paths of the expansion that carried people speaking Bantu languages

Figure 19.4. Approximate paths of the expansion that carried people speaking Bantu languages, originating from a homeland (designated H) in the northwest corner of the current Bantu area, over eastern and southern Africa between 3000 b.c. and a.d. 500.


compete against numerous Nilo-Saharan and Afroasiatic Iron Age farmers. But to the south lay 2,000 miles of country thinly occupied by Khoisan hunter-gatherers, lacking iron and crops. Within a few centuries, in one of the swiftest colonizing advances of recent prehistory, Bantu farmers had swept all the way to Natal, on the east coast of what is now South Africa.

It's easy to oversimplify what was undoubtedly a rapid and dramatic expansion, and to picture all Khoisan in the way being trampled by onrushing Bantu hordes. In reality, things were more complicated. Khoisan peoples of southern Africa had already acquired sheep and cattle a few centuries ahead of the Bantu advance. The first Bantu pioneers probably were few in number, selected wet-forest areas suitable for their yam agriculture, and leapfrogged over drier areas, which they left to Khoisan herders and hunter-gatherers. Trading and marriage relationships were undoubtedly established between those Khoisan and the Bantu farmers, each occupying different adjacent habitats, just as Pygmy hunter-gatherers and Bantu farmers still do today in equatorial Africa. Only gradually, as the Bantu multiplied and incorporated cattle and dry-climate cereals into their economy, did they fill in the leapfrogged areas. But the eventual result was still the same: Bantu farmers occupying most of the former Khoisan realm; the legacy of those former Khoisan inhabitants reduced to clicks in scattered non-Khoisan languages, as well as buried skulls and stone tools waiting for archaeologists to discover; and the Khoisan-like appearance of some southern African Bantu peoples.

What actually happened to all those vanished Khoisan populations? We don't know. All we can say for sure is that, in places where Khoisan peoples had lived for perhaps tens of thousands of years, there are now Bantu. We can only venture a guess, by analogy with witnessed events in modern times when steel-toting white farmers collided with stone tool-using hunter-gatherers of Aboriginal Australia and Indian California. There, we know that hunter-gatherers were rapidly eliminated in a combination of ways: they were driven out, men were killed or enslaved, women were appropriated as wives, and both sexes became infected with epidemics of the farmers' diseases. An example of such a disease in Africa is malaria, which is borne by mosquitoes that breed around farmers' villages, and to which the invading Bantu had already developed genetic resistance but Khoisan hunter-gatherers probably had not.

However, Figure 19.1, of recent African human distributions, reminds us that the Bantu did not overrun all the Khoisan, who did survive in



ences between European and African peoples themselves, as white racists assume. Rather, it was due to accidents of geography and biogeography -- in particular, to the continents' different areas, axes, and suites of wild plant and animal species. That is, the different historical trajectories of Africa and Europe stem ultimately from differences in real estate.




YALI'S QUESTION WENT TO THE HEART OF THE CURRENT human condition, and of post-Pleistocene human history. Now that we have completed this brief tour over the continents, how shall we answer Yali?

I would say to Yali: the striking differences between the long-term histories of peoples of the different continents have been due not to innate differences in the peoples themselves but to differences in their environments. I expect that if the populations of Aboriginal Australia and Eurasia could have been interchanged during the Late Pleistocene, the original Aboriginal Australians would now be the ones occupying most of the Americas and Australia, as well as Eurasia, while the original Aboriginal Eurasians would be the ones now reduced to downtrodden population fragments in Australia. One might at first be inclined to dismiss this assertion as meaningless, because the experiment is imaginary and my claim about its outcome cannot be verified. But historians are nevertheless able to evaluate related hypotheses by retrospective tests. For instance, one can examine what did happen when European farmers were transplanted to Greenland or the U.S. Great Plains, and when farmers stemming ultimately from China emigrated to the Chatham Islands, the rain forests of Borneo, or the volcanic soils of Java or Hawaii. These tests confirm that the same


ancestral peoples either ended up extinct, or returned to living as hunter-gatherers, or went on to build complex states, depending on their environments. Similarly, Aboriginal Australian hunter-gatherers, variously transplanted to Flinders Island, Tasmania, or southeastern Australia, ended up extinct, or as hunter-gatherers with the modern world's simplest technology, or as canal builders intensively managing a productive fishery, depending on their environments.

Of course, the continents differ in innumerable environmental features affecting trajectories of human societies. But a mere laundry list of every possible difference does not constitute an answer to Yali's question. Just four sets of differences appear to me to be the most important ones.

The first set consists of continental differences in the wild plant and animal species available as starting materials for domestication. That's because food production was critical for the accumulation of food surpluses that could feed non-food-producing specialists, and for the buildup of large populations enjoying a military advantage through mere numbers even before they had developed any technological or political advantage. For both of those reasons, all developments of economically complex, socially stratified, politically centralized societies beyond the level of small nascent chiefdoms were based on food production.

But most wild animal and plant species have proved unsuitable for domestication: food production has been based on relatively few species of livestock and crops. It turns out that the number of wild candidate species for domestication varied greatly among the continents, because of differences in continental areas and also (in the case of big mammals) in Late Pleistocene extinctions. These extinctions were much more severe in Australia and the Americas than in Eurasia or Africa. As a result, Africa ended up biologically somewhat less well endowed than the much larger Eurasia, the Americas still less so, and Australia even less so, as did Yali's New Guinea (with one-seventieth of Eurasia's area and with all of its original big mammals extinct in the Late Pleistocene).

On each continent, animal and plant domestication was concentrated in a few especially favorable homelands accounting for only a small fraction of the continent's total area. In the case of technological innovations and political institutions as well, most societies acquire much more from other societies than they invent themselves. Thus, diffusion and migration within a continent contribute importantly to the development of its societies, which tend in the long run to share each other's developments (insofar



2003 Afterword: Guns, Germs, and Steel Today

GUNS, GERMS, AND STEEL (GGS) IS ABOUT WHY THE RISE OF complex human societies unfolded differently on different continents over the last 13,000 years. I finished revising the manuscript in 1996, and it was published in 1997. Since then, I have been involved mostly in work on other projects, especially on my next book about collapses of societies. Hence seven years' distance in time and focus now separates me from GGS's writing. How does the book look in retrospect, and what has happened to change or extend its conclusions since its publication? To my admittedly biased eye, the book's central message has survived well, and the most interesting developments since its publication have involved four extensions of the story to the modern world and to recent history.

My main conclusion was that societies developed differently on different continents because of differences in continental environments, not in human biology. Advanced technology, centralized political organization, and other features of complex societies could emerge only in dense sedentary populations capable of accumulating food surpluses—populations that depended for their food on the rise of agriculture that began around 8,500 B.C. But the domesticable wild plant and animal species essential for that rise of agriculture were distributed very unevenly over the continents.


The most valuable domesticable wild species were concentrated in only nine small areas of the globe, which thus became the earliest homelands of agriculture. The original inhabitants of those homelands thereby gained a head start toward developing guns, germs, and steel. The languages and genes of those homeland inhabitants, as well as their livestock, crops, technologies, and writing systems, became dominant in the ancient and modern world.

Discoveries in the last half-dozen years, by archaeologists, geneticists, linguists, and other specialists, have enriched our understanding of this story, without changing its main outlines. Let me mention three examples. One of the biggest gaps in GGS's geographic coverage involved Japan, about whose prehistory I had little to say in 1996. Recent genetic evidence now suggests that the modern Japanese people are the product of an agricultural expansion similar to others discussed in GGS: an expansion of Korean farmers, beginning around 400 B.C., into southwestern Japan and then advancing northeast up the Japanese archipelago. The immigrants brought intensive rice agriculture and metal tools, and they mixed with the original Japanese population (related to the modern Ainu) to produce the modern Japanese, much as expanding Fertile Crescent farmers mixed with Europe's original hunter/gatherer population to produce modern Europeans.

As another example, archaeologists originally assumed that Mexican corn, beans, and squashes reached the southeastern United States by the most direct route via northeastern Mexico and eastern Texas. But it is now becoming clear that this route was too dry for farming; those crops instead took a longer route, spreading from Mexico into the southwestern United States to trigger the rise of Anasazi societies there, and then spreading east from New Mexico and Colorado through river valleys of the Great Plains into the southeastern United States.

As a final example, in Chapter 10 I contrasted the frequency of repeated independent domestications and slow spreads of the same or related plants along the Americas' north/south axis with the predominantly single domestications and rapid east/west spreads of Eurasian crops. Even more examples of those two contrasting patterns have continued to turn up, but it now appears that most or all of Eurasia's Big Five domestic mammals also underwent repeated independent domestications in different parts of Eurasia—unlike Eurasia's plants, but like the Americas' plants.




IT IS A PLEASURE FOR ME TO ACKNOWLEDGE THE CONTRIBUtions of many people to this book. My teachers at Roxbury Latin School introduced me to the fascination of history. My great debt to my many New Guinea friends will be obvious from the frequency with which I cite their experiences. I owe an equally great debt (and absolution from responsibility for my errors) to my many scientist friends and professional colleagues, who patiently explained the subtleties of their subjects and read my drafts. In particular, Peter Bellwood, Kent Flannery, Patrick Kirch, and my wife, Marie Cohen, read the whole manuscript, and Charles Heiser, Jr., David Keightley, Bruce Smith, Richard Yarnell, and Daniel Zohary each read several chapters. Earlier versions of several of the chapters appeared as articles in Discover magazine and in Natural History magazine. The National Geographic Society, World Wildlife Fund, and University of California at Los Angeles supported my fieldwork on Pacific islands. I have been fortunate to have John Brockman and Katinka Matson as my agents, Lori Iversen and Lori Rosen as my research assistants and secretaries, Ellen Modecki as my illustrator, and as my editors Donald Lamm at W. W Norton, Neil Belton and Will Sulkin at Jonathan Cape, Willi Köhler at Fischer, Marc Zabludoff and Mark Wheeler and Polly Shulman at Discover, and Ellen Goldensohn and Alan Ternes at Natural History.

Further Readings

THESE SUGGESTIONS ARE FOR THOSE INTERESTED IN reading further. Hence, in addition to key books and papers, I have favored references that provide comprehensive listings of the earlier literature. A journal title (in italics) is followed by the volume number, followed after a colon by the first and last page numbers, and then the year of publication in parentheses.


Among references relevant to most chapters of this book is an enormous compendium of human gene frequencies entitled The History and Geography of Human Genes, by L. Luca Cavalli-Sforza, Paolo Menozzi, and Alberto Piazza (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1994). This remarkable book approximates a history of everything about everybody, because the authors begin their accounts of each continent with a convenient summary of the continent's geography, ecology, and environment, followed by the prehistory, history, languages, physical anthropology, and culture of its peoples. L. Luca Cavalli-Sforza and Francisco Cavalli-Sforza, The Great Human Diasporas (Reading, Mass.: Addison-Wesley, 1995), covers similar


material but is written for the general reader rather than for specialists.

Another convenient source is a series of five volumes entitled The Illustrated History of Humankind, ed. Goran Burenhult (San Francisco: HarperCollins, 1993-94). The five individual volumes in this series are entitled, respectively, The First Humans, People of the Stone Age, Old World Civilizations, New World and Pacific Civilizations, and Traditional Peoples Today.

Several series of volumes published by Cambridge University Press (Cambridge, England, various dates) provide histories of particular regions or eras. One series consists of books entitled The Cambridge History of [X], where X is variously Africa, Early Inner Asia, China, India, Iran, Islam, Japan, Latin America, Poland, and Southeast Asia. Another series is The Cambridge Encyclopedia of [X], where X is variously Africa, China, Japan, Latin America and the Caribbean, Russia and the former Soviet Union, Australia, the Middle East and North Africa, and India, Pakistan, and adjacent countries. Still other series include The Cambridge Ancient History, The Cambridge Medieval History, The Cambridge Modern History, The Cambridge Economic History of Europe, and The Cambridge Economic History of India.

Three encyclopedic accounts of the world's languages are Barbara Grimes, Ethnologue: Languages of the World, 13th ed. (Dallas: Summer Institute of Linguistics, 1996), Merritt Ruhlen, A Guide to the World's Languages, (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1987), and C. F. Voegelin and F. M. Voegelin, Classification and Index of the World's Languages (New York: Elsevier, 1977),

Among large-scale comparative histories, Arnold Toynbee, A Study of History, 12 vols. (London: Oxford University Press, 1934-54), stands out. An excellent history of Eurasian civilization, especially western Eurasian civilization, is William McNeill, The Rise of the West (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1991). The same author's A World History (New York: Oxford University Press, 1979), despite its title, also maintains a focus on western Eurasian civilization, as does V. Gordon Childe, What Happened in History, rev. ed. (Baltimore: Penguin Books, 1954). Another comparative history with a focus on western Eurasia, C. D. Darlington, The Evolution of Man and Society (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1969), is by a biologist who recognizes some of the same links between continental history and domestication that I discuss. Two books by Alfred Crosby are


distinguished studies of the European overseas expansion with emphasis on its accompanying plants, animals, and germs: The Columbian Exchange: Biological Consequences of 1492 (Westport, Conn.: Greenwood, 1972) and Ecological Imperialism: The Biological Expansion of Europe, 900-1900 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1986). Marvin Harris, Cannibals and Kings: The Origins of Cultures (New York: Vintage Books, 1978), and Marshall Sahlins and Elman Service, eds., Evolution and Culture (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1960), are comparative histories from the perspective of cultural anthropologists. Ellen Semple, Influences of Geographic Environment (New York: Holt, 1911), is an example of earlier efforts to study geographic influences on human societies. Other important historical studies are listed under further readings for the Epilogue. My book The Third Chimpanzee (New York: HarperCollins, 1992), especially its chapter 14, on the comparative histories of Eurasia and the Americas, provided the starting point for my thinking about the present book.

The best-known or most notorious recent entrant into the debate about group differences in intelligence is Richard Herrnstein and Charles Murray, The Bell Curve: Intelligence and Class Structure in American Life (New York: Free Press, 1994).

Chapter 1


Chapter 2


Chapter 19

Books on the archaeology, prehistory, and history of the African continent include Roland Oliver and Brian Fagan, Africa in the Iron Age (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1975), Roland Oliver and J. D. Fage, A Short History of Africa, 5th ed. (Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1975), J. D. Fage, A History of Africa (London: Hutchinson, 1978), Roland Oliver, The African Experience (London: Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 1991), Thurstan Shaw et al., eds., The Archaeology of Africa: Food, Metals, and Towns (New York: Routledge, 1993), and David Phillipson, African Archaeology, 2nd ed. (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1993). Correlations between linguistic and archaeological evidence of Africa's past are summarized by Christopher Ehret and Merrick Posnansky, eds., The Archaeological and Linguistic Reconstruction of African History (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1982). The role of disease is discussed by Gerald Hartwig and K. David Patterson, eds., Disease in African History (Durham: Duke University Press, 1978).

As for food production, many of the listed further readings for Chapters 4-10 discuss Africa. Also of note are Christopher Ehret, "On the antiquity of agriculture in Ethiopia," Journal of African History 20:161-77 (1979); J. Desmond Clark and Steven Brandt, eds., From Hunters to Farmers: The Causes and Consequences of Food Production in Africa (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1984); Art Hansen and Delia McMillan, eds.,


Food in Sub-Saharan Africa (Boulder, Colo.: Rienner, 1986); Fred Wendorf et al., "Saharan exploitation of plants 8,000 years B.p.," Nature 359:721-24 (1992); Andrew Smith, Pastoralism in Africa (London: Hurst, 1992); and Andrew Smith, "Origin and spread of pastoralism in Africa," Annual Reviews of Anthropology 21:125-41 (1992).

For information about Madagascar, two starting points are Robert Dewar and Henry Wright, "The culture history of Madagascar," Journal of World Prehistory 7:417-66 (1993), and Pierre Verin, The History of Civilization in North Madagascar (Rotterdam: Balkema, 1986). A detailed study of the linguistic evidence about the source for the colonization of Madagascar is Otto Dahl, Migration from Kalimantan to Madagascar (Oslo: Norwegian University Press, 1991). Possible musical evidence for Indonesian contact with East Africa is described by A. M. Jones, Africa and Indonesia: The Evidence of the Xylophone and Other Musical and Cultural Factors (Leiden: Brill, 1971). Important evidence about the early settlement of Madagascar comes from dated bones of now extinct animals as summarized by Robert Dewar, "Extinctions in Madagascar: The loss of the subfossil fauna," pp. 574-93 in Paul Martin and Richard Klein, eds., Quaternary Extinctions (Tucson: University of Arizona Press, 1984). A tantalizing subsequent fossil discovery is reported by R. D. E. MacPhee and David Burney, "Dating of modified femora of extinct dwarf Hippopotamus from Southern Madagascar," Journal of Archaeological Science 18:695-706 (1991). The onset of human colonization is assessed from paleobotanical evidence by David Burney, "Late Holocene vegetational change in Central Madagascar," Quaternary Research 28:130-43 (1987).


Links between environmental degradation and the decline of civilization in Greece are explored by Tjeerd van Andel et al., "Five thousand years of land use and abuse in the southern Argolid," Hesperia 55:103-28 (1986), Tjeerd van Andel and Curtis Runnels, Beyond the Acropolis: A Rural Greek Past (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1987), and Curtis Runnels, "Environmental degradation in ancient Greece," Scientific American 272(3):72-75 (1995). Patricia Fall et al., "Fossil hyrax middens from the Middle East: A record of paleovegetation and human disturbance," pp. 408-27 in Julio Betancourt et al., eds., Packrat Middens (Tucson: Uni-


versity of Arizona Press, 1990), does the same for the decline of Petra, as does Robert Adams, Heartland of Cities (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1981), for Mesopotamia.

A stimulating interpretation of the differences between the histories of China, India, Islam, and Europe is provided by E. L. Jones, The European Miracle, 2nd ed. (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1987). Louise Levathes, When China Ruled the Seas (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1994), describes the power struggle that led to the suspension of China's treasure fleets. The further readings for Chapters 16 and 17 provide other references for early Chinese history.

The impact of Central Asian nomadic pastoralists on Eurasia's complex civilizations of settled farmers is discussed by Bennett Bronson, "The role of barbarians in the fall of states," pp. 196-218 in Norman Yoffee and George Cowgill, eds., The Collapse of Ancient States and Civilizations (Tucson: University of Arizona Press, 1988).

The possible relevance of chaos theory to history is discussed by Michael Shermer in the paper "Exorcising Laplace's demon: Chaos and antichaos, history and metahistory," History and Theory 34:59-83 (1995). Shermer's paper also provides a bibliography for the triumph of the QWERTY keyboard, as does Everett Rogers, Diffusion of Innovations, 3rd ed. (New York: Free Press, 1983).

An eyewitness account of the traffic accident that nearly killed Hitler in 1930 will be found in the memoirs of Otto Wagener, a passenger in Hitler's car. Those memoirs have been edited by Henry Turner, Jr., as a book, Hitler: Memoirs of a Confidant (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1978). Turner goes on to speculate on what might have happened if Hitler had died in 1930, in his chapter "Hitler's impact on history," in David Wetzel, ed., German History: Ideas, Institutions, and Individuals (New York: Praeger, 1996).

The many distinguished books by historians interested in problems of long-term history include Sidney Hook, The Hero in History (Boston: Beacon Press, 1943), Patrick Gardiner, ed., Theories of History (New York: Free Press, 1959), Fernand Braudel, Civilization and Capitalism (New York: Harper and Row, 1979), Fernand Braudel, On History (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1980), Peter Novick, That Noble Dream (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1988), and Henry Hobhouse, Forces of Change (London: Sedgewick and Jackson, 1989).

Several writings by the biologist Ernst Mayr discuss the differences


between historical and nonhistorical sciences, with particular reference to the contrast between biology and physics, but much of what Mayr says is also applicable to human history. His views will be found in his Evolution and the Diversity of Life (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1976), chap. 25, and in Towards a New Philosophy of Biology (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1988), chaps. 1-2.

The methods by which epidemiologists reach cause-and-effect conclusions about human diseases, without resorting to laboratory experiments on people, are discussed in standard epidemiology texts, such as A. M. Lilienfeld and D. E. Lilienfeld, Foundations of Epidemiology, 3rd ed. (New York: Oxford University Press, 1994). Uses of natural experiments are considered from the viewpoint of an ecologist in my chapter "Overview: Laboratory experiments, field experiments, and natural experiments," pp. 3-22 in Jared Diamond and Ted Case, eds., Community Ecology (New York: Harper and Row; 1986). Paul Harvey and Mark Pagel, The Comparative Method in Evolutionary Biology (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1991), analyzes how to extract conclusions by comparing species.

2003 Afterword

Two articles and one book summarize discoveries of the last half-dozen years about domestication of plants and animals, spreads of language families, and the relation of the spreads of language families to food production: Jared Diamond, "Evolution, consequences and the future of plant and animal domestication," Nature 418:34-41 (2002); Jared Diamond and Peter Bellwood, "The first agricultural expansions: archaeology, languages, and people," Science, in press; and Peter Bellwood and Colin Renfrew, Examining the Language/Farming Dispersal Hypothesis (Cambridge: McDonald Institute for Archaeological Research, 2002). Those two articles and that book give references to the detailed recent literature. A recent book-length account of the role of agricultural expansion in the origins of the modern Japanese people is Mark Hudson's Ruins of Identity: Ethnogenesis in the Japanese Islands (Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press, 1999).

For a detailed account of New Zealand's Musket Wars, see the book by R.D. Crosby, The Musket Wars: a History of Inter-Iwi Conflict 1806-45 (Auckland: Reed, 1999). Those wars are summarized much more briefly


but placed in a larger context in two books by James Belich: The New Zealand Wars and the Victorian Interpretation of Racial Conflict (Auckland: Penguin, 1986) and Making Peoples: A History of the New Zealanders (Auckland: Penguin, 1996).

Two recent efforts by social scientists to identify proximate causes behind Europe's and China's divergence include an article by Jack Goldstone, "Efflorescences and economic growth in world history: rethinking the 'rise of the West' and the Industrial Revolution," Journal of World History 13:323-89 (2002), and a book by Kenneth Pomeranz, The Great Divergence: China, Europe, and the Making of the Modern World Economy (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2000). The opposite approach, the search for ultimate causes, is exemplified by a recent article by Graeme Lang, "State systems and the origins of modern science: a comparison of Europe and China," East-West Dialog 2:16-30 (1997), and by a book by David Cosandey, Le Secret de l'Occident (Paris: Arléa, 1997). Those articles by Goldstone and by Lang are the sources of my quotations above.

The two papers analyzing the connection between economic indicators of modern wealth or growth rate, on the one hand, and long history of state societies or agriculture, on the other hand, are: Ola Olsson and Douglas Hibbs, "Biogeography and long-term economic development," in press in European Economic Review; and Valerie Bockstette, Areendam Chanda, and Louis Putterman, "States and markets: the advantage of an early start," Journal of Economic Growth 7:351-73 (2002).








Jared Diamond



1. What are the other commonly espoused answers to "Yali's question," and how does Jared Diamond address and refute each of them?

2. Why does Diamond hypothesize that New Guineans might be, on the average, "smarter" than Westerners?

3. Why is it important to differentiate between proximate and ultimate causes?

4. Do you find some of Diamond's methodologies more compelling than others? Which, and why?

5. What is the importance of the order of the chapters? Why, for example, is "Collision at Cajamarca"—which describes events that occur thousands of years after those described in the subsequent chapters—placed where it is?

6. How are Polynesian Islands "an experiment of history"? What conclusions does Diamond draw from their history?

7. How does Diamond challenge our assumptions about the transition from hunter-gathering to farming?

8. How is farming an "auto-catalytic" process? How does this account for the great disparities in societies, as well as for the possibilities of parallel evolution?

9. Why did almonds prove domesticable while acorns were not? What significance does this have?

10. How does Diamond explain the fact that domesticable American apples and grapes were not domesticated until the arrival of Europeans?

11. What were the advantages enjoyed by the Fertile Crescent that allowed it to be the earliest site of development for most of the building blocks of civilization? How does Diamond explain the fact that it was nevertheless Europe and not Southwest Asia that ended up spreading its culture to the rest of the world?

12. How does Diamond refute the argument that the failure to domesticate certain animals arose from cultural differences? What does the modern failure to domesticate, for example, the eland suggest about the reasons why some peoples independently developed domestic animals and others did not?

13. What is the importance of the "Anna Karenina principle"?

14. How does comparing mutations help one trace the spread of agriculture?

15. How does civilization lead to epidemics?

16. How does Diamond's theory that invention is, in fact, the mother of necessity bear upon the traditional "heroic" model of invention?

17. According to Diamond, how does religion evolve along with increasingly complex societies?

18. How is linguistic evidence used to draw conclusions about the spread of peoples in China, Southeast Asia, the Pacific, and Africa?

19. What is the significance of the differing outcomes of Austronesian expansion in Indonesia and New Guinea?

20. How does Diamond explain China's striking unity and Europe's persistent disunity? What consequences do these conditions have for world history?

21. How does Diamond refute the charge that Australia is proof that differences in the fates of human societies are a matter of people and not environment? In what other areas of the world could Diamond's argument be used?

22. What aspects of Diamond's evidence do lay readers have to take on faith? Which aspects are explained?

23. Diamond offers two tribes, the Chimbu and the Daribi, as examples of differing receptivities to innovation. Do you think he would accept larger, continent-wide differences in receptivity? Why or why not? How problematic might cultural factors prove for Diamond's arguments?

24. How, throughout the book, does Diamond address the issues he discusses in the last few pages of his final chapter, when he proposes a science of human history?


Jared Diamond, professor of physiology at the UCLA School of Medicine, began his scientific career in physiology and expanded into evolutionary biology and biogeography. He has been elected to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, the National Academy of Sciences, and the American Philosophical Society, and has received a MacArthur Foundation fellowship, a Phi Beta Kappa Award, the Burr Award of the National Geographic Society, and the National Medal of Science. He has published over 200 articles in Discover, Natural History, Nature, and Geo magazines.

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