A Radical Reading Of Early Human Societies

Michael Robbins at Bookforum:

One way to read this unwieldy book, with its sixty-two-page bibliography, is as a grand tour of societies from prehistory to the eighteenth century once classed by anthropologists as “primitive” according to the evolutionary model that Dawn blows to smithereens. The Kwakiutl peoples of the Northwest Coast practiced chattel slavery; their neighbors to the south in what is now California, the Yurok, did not. At Göbekli Tepe in modern Turkey, foragers erected intricately carved megaliths six thousand years before Stonehenge. The Natchez Great Sun wielded absolute power over his subjects but rarely left the Great Village, so most Natchez just stayed out of his reach. The Kwakiutl were aristocratic during winter but splintered into clan formations for the summer fishing season. Cheyenne and Lakota appointed an authoritarian police force to keep order during the buffalo hunt then dispersed into small, “anarchic” bands. The ancient Mesoamerican Olmec of present-day Mexico appear to have organized their society in part around ball games, erecting colossal stone heads depicting helmeted champions. And Chavín de Huántar in northern Peru in the first millennium BCE, with its sophisticated cut-stone architecture and monumental sculpture—well, if the authors are to be believed, it was a gigantic memory palace, a storehouse for imagistic records of shamanic journeys and hallucinogenic visions.

more here.