by Richard W. Wise
Author: The Dawning: 31,000 BC
Far from just a burial site, Sunghir was a substantial village. By prehistorical standards, the area was "enormous." Active between 20-29,000 BP—later than Chauvet, earlier than Lascaux—two to three thousand people regularly visited the complex. How did it feed such a large population?
It was located along a mammoth migratory route (Lewis-Williams). A single kill supplied hundreds of pounds of meat sufficient to support a large population. (Don Hitchcock, Don's Maps). (Remains of 1613 specimens were identified at Dolni Vestonice (Wilczyński 2016) There is also evidence of specialized crafts and a division of labor.
Discoveries at Sunghir and Dolni Vestonice challenge the standard portrait of human prehistory as consisting of small wandering, leaderless, egalitarian bands of twenty-five to fifty individuals (Klima 2005). This model has now been shown to be true only a certain times and places. Find a renewable source of food, migratory routes, or fish-filled rivers, and people settled down. Were these groups leaderless? Were they egalitarian? And what about conflict?
The brain's prefrontal cortex houses what are called executive functions, including reasoning, planning and communicating—a precondition for the creation of images. Thus, thanks in part to cave art, we know that the Homo Sapiens who peopled the late Paleolithic were just like us.
Some scholars have attempted to draw an artificial line between history, the period following the advent of writing, and what is termed prehistory. The latter has been portrayed as either a primitive Eden or hell on earth, depending upon whether one follows the writings of the 16th-century English philosopher Thomas Hobbes—remember: nasty, brutal and short—or the speculations on Natural Man by the 18th-century French philosophe Jean Jacques Rousseau.
As I stated in Part I, much of the study of history has been devoted to elitist, authoritarian regimes simply because they had the power to centralize wealth and coerce their citizens into constructing monuments that have survived into modern times. They also controlled what entered the written record.
Stay Tuned: Part III Governing in the Upper Paleolithic.