Review of Chris Knight's "Blood Relations: Menstruation and the Origins of Culture"

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Peter Pan
Review of Chris Knight's "Blood Relations: Menstruation and the Origins of Culture"
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The discussion that follows was prompted by the article: Review of Chris Knight's "Blood Relations: Menstruation and the Origins of Culture". The discussion was initiated by Peter Pan.
Below is the discussion so far. Feel free to add your own comments!

Peter Pan
science

it would be nice to have the articles about the theories of Knight and other scientists categorized under "science" as well

it would also be nice if the ICC could assemble the texts on science under a rubric on the "theory and practice" - page.

Peter Pan
brief notes on the discussion

First of all, I welcome the interesting discussion and the exellent articles and comments on it.

I've read Chris Knight's: "Blood Relations" and I recommend it to anyone interested. It is however a thick book and like we all know, time is costly in our active militant lives. Therefore I recommend the shorter, very condensed, but very interesting text by Knight, Power and Watts "The human symbolic revolution: a darwinian account", which can be found on Chris Knight's website. It is also interesting, because a bunch of well respected other scientists comment and critique the theory.

Chris Knight's website: http://www.chrisknight.co.uk/

The human symbolic revolution: a darwinian account: http://www.radicalanthropologygroup.org/pub_knight_power_watts_big.pdf

I very agree with Amos' article. The same things came to my mind, and Amos has typed them down, before I could start writing an article myself. Many of Baboon's criticisms are however correct. Knight certainly is quite imprudent on many points. I think that he likes to provoke (it suffises to look at some of his political interventions) and that he actually formulated lots of hypotheses in his book for the sake of advancement in the sciences, to make the scientific community think. If provocation is the right way to do this or not, is another question. Yes, he should be more considerate on formulating such hypotheses as: the earliest stone tools were a kind of weapons (like Baboon I repulse this idea). But Amos' article correctly points out the main argument, logic and strength of Chris Knight's theory. Knight's theory is the first I've heard that explains in a quite coherent way the link between nature and culture.

I absolutely agree with Amos when he states that Knight neglects defining primitive communism as a mode of production, that he totally underestimates the production forces, that he doesn't explain the fall of female power sufficiently enough etc. I would even add that he doesn't sufficiently define culture and symbolism in Blood Relations (maybe he does that somewhere else). Alain Testart's book (le Communisme Primitif) can probably give us more insights in primitive communism as a mode of production. There is also a recent book, written by some (left?) communist: Le communisme primitif n'est plus ce qu'il était by Christophe Darmangeat (http://www.collectif-smolny.org/article.php3?id_article=1057). I didn't read it yet, but it seems to me that it can be usefull in defining and posing the right questions, when we talk about primitive communism and the rise of classes, which started with the domination of women by men.

Peter Pan
Knight sketches

My feeling is that Knight, together with Power, Watts and maybe other scientists sketch out an important part of the answer towards the understanding of the transition from ape to men, from the natural stage to the cultural state. (This dualism, these apparently different things are tricky, because culture is in the end something natural as well, a part of nature. On this subject Patrick Tort, the french darwinist on which the ICC wrote about in the past, has very interesting things to say.) The rise of symbolism plays a crucial part in it and it is the task of the social and biological anthropologists to find out how this symbolism appeared and evolved. Knight, Power and Watts contribute to that, in their own valuable way. The scientific debate still has to deepen itself, I guess, will force Knight & co. to define more precisely what they mean by terms as symbolism, culture, nature... So that the sketch becomes a detailed drawing.

Considering the text I suggested to read (The human symbolic revolution: a darwinian account). It would be great if someone could make a kind of summary of it, so the basic ideas and debates can be spread through the ICC, sympathising circles and in the end in the working class. These kind of summaries are particularly important, because we all have busy lives, filled up increasingly stressing working hours (this applies to the whole working class), and by lots of fascinating and encouraging, but still sometimes tiring, militant work (this applies for the growing revolutionary minorities).

Alf
Peter Pan

Thanks for starting this thread.

I think we will publish something on Darmangeat. I agree that Testart raises an important point about the mode of production, but as I understand it both he and Darmangeat, who I think was Testart's pupil or associate, totally lack any passion for the achievement that was primitive communism, which was seminal to Marx's enthusiasm about its discovery, and is equally central to Knight's view. , 

Do you want to have a go at summarising the Human Symbolic Revolution?

baboon
hunting

In “Blood Relations” Chris Knight puts forward the position that culture began about 90,000 years ago as the result of a sex-strike by women. This is not a position that I agree with because I believe that it underestimates the development of humanity from the post-Australopithican transition, ie the period after the transition from ape to man around two million plus years ago. As I've said before, I take the “long view”. I've just seen that Knight has published a text called “Engels was right; early human kinship was matrilineal”. I will read this text as soon as possible and comment on it. This looks like a positive move as both Alf and myself have criticised him in the past for neglecting Engel's position on prehistory and primitive communism. I will also return to the question of genetics from the discussion around the RI article. This latter is quite a difficult question which is shown in the recent seemingly very definite statement of genetic proof of inter-breeding between neanderthals and sapiens, which has now been called into doubt from the fact that this genetic “cross-over” could be due to a common ancestor. But, difficult or not, we should return to the subject and I think that the Darwin/Wallace overturning and escape from natural selection and also Patrick Tort's RI analysis forms a good starting point. I will also make a start on reading May's recommendation (on another thread) of Dawkin's “Extended Phenotype”.

 

But here I want to return to “Blood Relations” and the recent research and discovery made by anthropologist Professor Henry Bunn of Wisconsin University which was put forward at the European Society for the study of Human Evolution (ESHE) and outlined in The Observer last Sunday.

 

In “Blood Relations”, Knight, in my opinion, clearly paints an unambiguous view of early man, that is the male of the species, in terms that I would describe as “social Darwinist”. That is the male is presented as little better than an aggressive animal, constantly fighting, at one stage even growing a thicker skull in order to absorb blows on the head from rival males, in a word out and out savages in the social Darwinist sense of “dog eat dog” whose tools were nothing but weapons. That's the way I read his words. In order to back up this argument Chris Knight draws on the archaeologist Lewis Binford, who, again in my opinion, takes an equally dim view of early man as does Knight specifically characterising the roughly 1.8 million-year-old Oldowan hominins as “marginal scavengers”. Binford's opinion, on the basis of ambiguous evidence of cut marks on some animal bones from the period, is repeated in the book to show the “backwardness” of early man.

 

The earliest dates that we have for organised hunting that we can be sure of is sites in Germany and Boxgrove in England around 400,000 years ago. This is probably far too early for Knight and Binford and their arguments. But nevertheless evidence there is of a collective hunting and butchering, securing and taking away the meat. The sex of those involved in not determined but there is nothing physical and, what we know, mental, that is preventing either men or women from taking part. In fact, given the collective effort needed to secure the site against the extant very large and ferocious beasts, we can reasonably assume that both sexes took part.

 

Now Bunn's research takes us back much further, to the 2-million-year-old Oldowan in fact and the small-brained fairly puny human that existed at that time. And Bunn argues that his research shows that systematic hunting begun around this period. We already knew that humans ate meat two-million-years ago. What Bunn's research shows is that at this time humans were not only hunting but were hunting certain species of certain ages, ie, “they were selecting and killing what they wanted”. Bunn took his evidence from a massive butchery site in the Olduvai Gorge in Tanzania were animals were taken and the meat stripped from their bones. By studying the teeth and skulls left Bunn and his team could ascertain that these were not the sort of animals hunted by other carnivores. That is “there was a completely different pattern of meat preference between ancient humans and other meat eaters”.

 

Now this “long view” of organised hunting, as opposed to the Knight/Binford view of marginal scavengers, can, and has been used to underline the intrinsically violent nature of early man. Fossil expert Raymond Dart and writer Robert Ardrey, who wrote “African Genesis” spread the idea, similar to Knight, that tools were weapons and this shows the intrinsically extremely violent nature of early man. But I think that Bunn's research into very early and very organised hunting strategies adds more weight to the whole cooperative nature of mankind's early beginnings which didn't need to wait some two million years for a sex-strike to begin a cultural revolution. And I think the fact that fire for protection from other animals didn't exist here add further weight to the organisation and solidarity that must have existed.

Fred
Hi baboon. I take on board

Hi baboon. I take on board your comments on the other site - the class struggle in Spain, and it's eruptive nature - and the references there to volcanoes, and my own bringing up of the Toba eruption. And you point out that the "species wipeout" theory associated with this event is largely discredited; which is convenient for Chris Knight and his Blood Relations theories, which would appear to pre-date Toba as far as I can make out. Is this correct? But the Toba catastrophe did take place around 75,000 years ago, and did cause big falls in temperatures round the globe, and ensuing destruction of vegetation and animal species, if not humanity? How did we escape? Can we just comfortably assume that this massive and significant eruption had no effect on evolving humanity, and wouldn't have impinged much on the emerging social relationships and "cultural revolution" humanity was engaged in at the time? I am intrigued.

baboon
Toba and Blood Relations

There have been links made between Toba and a "cultural revolution" some 60-80,000 years ago (Paul Mellars, 1989, 2005, 2006, 2007) and, 50,000 years ago (R.G. Klein, 2008). I think that there are powerful arguments based on solid archaeological evidence against these and Chris Knight's views - I'll return to these in more detail in a further contribution to the discussion around the article on primitive communism in International Review number 150. For now I will keep the two issues seperate:

Toba: Some calculations (Chris Stringer, 2011) suggest that Toba, 73,000 years ago, was the largest volcanic explosion in the last 2 million years and its effects would have been global. Ash deposits from the eruption have been found in cores from the Arabian to South China seas with ash falls in India several metres thick. There's no doubting the devastation and poisoning of the atmosphere but claims about its effects, the "bottleneck"  for example, of just some thousands of humanity left, are plainly sensational. Studies of faunas close to the eruption suggest that the effects were minor and short-lived (M.D. Petraglia and others: "Middle-Paleolithic assemblages before and after the Toba Super-eruption", 2007).  Other studies (Robock and others, 2009) do point to a severe but short-term impact. It's likely that the effects were devastating and longer-lived in places. What we do know however is that the Neanderthals of Europe and Asia survived, as did our ancestors in Africa, as indeed did the "hobbit" people in Flores, Indonesia.

A couple of points about Blood Relations in the meantime:

One thing that Jens says in the article on primitive communism in IR 150, is that Chris Knight's theory is demonstrated in the scientific basis of his prediction that the "earliest traces of human symbolic culture would reveal the extensive use of red ochre". Well, that depends on when you see the "earliest traces of human symbolic culture" and what you mean by it. For me human symbolic culture predeates Chris Knight's theory by over a million years at least (I will return to these issues in more depth) and the use of ochres and body paints, and more importantly the archaeological evidence for it, predates Chris Knight's "cultural explosion" by hundreds of thousands of years. In relation to ochre, manganese oxides and other prepared and used colourings, the evidence stacks up against Knight's explosion - as it's done for some decades now.

One more immediate point I want to make about the IR piece is the final footnote from Jens (no. 23) which I'll reproduce in full here because of the import it gives to the debate. Jens begins: "The critique of Knight's work is no more extensive in the second edition (of Darmangeat's book, B), with the exception of a reference to a critical review by Joan M Gero, a feminist anthropologist and author of 'Engendering archaeology'. This review seems to us somewhat superficial and politically partisan." Jens then quotes what he says is a typical example from Gero: "What Knight puts forwards as a engendered perspective on the origin of culture is a paranoid and distorting view of 'female solidarity', featuring (all) women as sexually exploiting (all) men. Male-female relations are characterised forever and everywhere as between victims and manipulators; exploitative women are assumed always to have wanted to trap men by one means or another, or indeed their conspiring to do so serves as the basis for our species development. Readers may similarly be offended by the assumption that men have always been promiscuous and that only good sex, coyly meted out by calculation women, can keep them home and interested in their offspring. Not only is this scenario unlikely and undemonstrated, repugnant to feminists and non-feminists alike, but the sociobiological reasoning dismisses all the nuanced versions of social construction of gender relationship, ideologies and activities that become so central and fascinating in gender studies today'"

I don't know if Jens has read this because his response seems to avoid or misrepresent what Gero is saying. He says "we are invited to reject a scientific thesis.."  - that's a point of contention - "not because it is wrong... but because it is "repugnant" to  certain feminists". She may not go into any detail  in the quote Jens provides, but Gero clearly rejects Knight's position because she thinks that it is wrong and that there is no scientific evidence for it. Furthermore, she doesn't say that it's "repugnant to certain feminists" as Jens says,  but what she does say, in the quote provided, is that it's "repugnant to feminists and non-feminists alike". I make no common cause with feminist ideology but I absolutely agree with Gero on this. Knight's "theory" developed in Blood Relations in undemonstrated, unscientific and repugnant. I've used the same ideas as Gero on this boards to criticise Knights ideas (there was no response to this from the supporters of Blood Relations).My comments were along the lines that this wonderful  liberation for mankind, this cultural explosion, was based on divisiveness, duplicity, and womanhood, staying at home, putting their make-up on and plotting and scheming against men. Along with Gero I think that this is a repugnant idea, a tawdry, sordid, divisive basis for a social revolution that only exists in Knight's imagination. I will return to this issue in more depth.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Fred
An impressive point from

An impressive point from baboon.

Quote:
I make no common cause with feminist ideology but I absolutely agree with Gero on this. Knight's "theory" developed in Blood Relations in undemonstrated, unscientific and repugnant. I've used the same ideas as Gero on this boards to criticise Knights ideas (there was no response to this from the supporters of Blood Relations).My comments were along the lines that this wonderful  liberation for mankind, this cultural explosion, was based on divisiveness, duplicity, and womanhood, staying at home, putting their make-up on and plotting and scheming against men. Along with Gero I think that this is a repugnant idea, a tawdry, sordid, divisive basis for a social revolution that only exists in Knight's imagination.
baboon
Another group that survived

Another group that survived Toba was the Denisovans, who were sapiens with more than a dash of neanderthal, of Siberia.

 

mhou
Is Knight's book anything

Is Knight's book anything like, "The Golden Bough"? I found it very interesting; and if I remember correctly it does talk a little about the communal or primitive communist production (and the new community dynamic after the introduction of the priests).

Alf
My comments were along the

My comments were along the lines that this wonderful  liberation for mankind, this cultural explosion, was based on divisiveness, duplicity, and womanhood, staying at home, putting their make-up on and plotting and scheming against men. Along with Gero I think that this is a repugnant idea, a tawdry, sordid, divisive basis for a social revolution that only exists in Knight's imagination.

Try as I might baboon, I can't read Knight's theory in this hostile manner. Are you quite certain you are not resisting the notion that at some crucial moments in history - one being the 1917 revolution, a more recent one being the mass strike that began in Mahalla (2007?), and possibly in the very long leap that took place between animal and man -  the female of the species was in the vanguard? So what if they used a little sorcery? i thought you agreed that sorcery was a positive discovery for mankind?

Alf
PS

By the way:

Happy new year to all the forumistas!

 

 

mhou: I have never read much of the Golden Bough, though i do have an abridged one volume edition which i keep meaning to come back to. There are some important similarities. Frazer was astonishingly erudite, and so is Knight: and both are motivated by the desire to demonstrate the elements and practices that are universal in human kind. Both adhere to a concept of evolution. 

Frazer has of course been widely criticised among later anthropologists : for being an armchair anthropologist who didn't do field work(probably true), a scissors and paste anthropologist, a wild generaliser, a proponent of outdated evolutionism in history.

 There's a section on Frazer in Evans Pritchard's Theories of Primitive Religion,  a very through and useful work.  However, as I recall, it is written from the view of empiricist, anti-theoretical anthroplogy, a school that has been especially strong in the UK. 

Marxists, however they are opposed to theory being restricted to armchairs or desks, do require a general theory; and while they do reject bourgeois progressivism because it offends the dialectic, they also adhere to a theory of evolution in both natural history and human history. So a marxist critique of Frazer would be very interesting.  

 

 

ernie
I think that Baboon's

I think that Baboon's critique of Knight is to the point. Having heard Knight defend his thesis Baboon is not disorting it in any way. May be Knight got carried away by the event, the Anarchist Bookfair, but is central idea was women using their sexual availabily to organize their sex strike against men. 

Baboon in his criticism of Knight always put forwards scientific evidence and reacher to back up his agruments whilst those defending him make general statements. If we are meant to e discussing the scientific value of his thesis then we need to be able to judge it against the evidence, otherwise we are simply defending a theory because we like it and it appears to support our ideas about prehistory.

Blood Relations is much better than his presentation of his thesis, it offers a serious academic argument. I do  have the necessary scientific knowledge to make a judgement on its value. My main criticism was his lack of acknowledgement of the contribution made by Robert Briffault to the defense of Morgan and the serious effort he made to develop the theory in the light of modern evidence. He does not talk about the sex strike, for him the fundamental role of women in the development of human society came from the development of the maternal instinct within the process of the development of human society. Within his analysis he does make a extremely interesting  examination of the role of female secrete societies in parts of Africa and the fact that the menstral taboo's of many tribes can be seen as an expression of men's fear of reproductive capacity of women. He does not start from the premise that women role in the emergence of human society was one of inferiority where they had to assert themselves rather he sees women and their central role in child rearing as being at the foundations of the ability of human groups to cohere and cooperate. Knight's thesis of conflict and initial domination has to raise the question of how on earth did human groups arise in the first place: what cohered the first human societies and enabled them to go beyond primate groups?

For Knight the first human groups were basically primate groups with dominant males etc until women cooperate against the males. However, primate research does show that female chimps will cooperate with excluded males in order to bring them back into the groups and also to help them challenge the dominate male. Research has also shown that females will gang up on males where too violent towards any of them. This demonstrates a deeper level of cooperative and strategic thinking than simply denying sex or not, even amongst primates. Knight's theory strikes me as too onesided. His theory does not to me explain the reason why one of humanities greatest strengthens, the ability to empathize and thus cooperate for a future goal, emerged. I do not defend a lovey dubby vision of early humanity: there was certainly violence, cruelty etc but some how these aspects of humanity were brought under control and a greater level of association was developed which enabled humanity to emerge. As Dawkin's said in a recent TV interview for him humans are not simply bags for passing on genes but rather conscious animals who collaborate, think of others etc. Knight would appear to apply the selfish gene rather reductively when it comes to the emergence of human society: sex and the new generations are central but so is their up bringing, their cultural development, their consciousicness of others all of which according to Briffault placed women in a fundamentally strong position in emerging human soceity.Thus who was central to that were central to the ability group to survive and takes forwards the genes of the group! Individal gene carries are certainly driven by the need to produce more, but that is most effectively done through the ability of groups of genes to do this.

Briffault also made a very important warning: we cannot look at "primitive"  societies as if they  represented the remains of the early stages of humanity: they too had histories and had been in existence for many thousands of years so their present culture etc is not the same as that of early humans. Thus, Knights use of the example of the way that in some tribes the women gang up on the men is not necessarily an expression of the sex strike: though it certainly shows that women in tribal societies are not simply powerless.

As I say I do not have a deep knowledge of this question, but knight's thesis throws up a lot more questions than it claims to answer.

What is the view of Knigth's theses in anthropological circles? What criticisms are raised and evidence used? Could anyone recommend a critique of his analysis?

 

 

 

 

ernie
Alf   Baboon's "hostility"

Alf

 

Baboon's "hostility" towards Knight's thesis is because it appears to serve up the same old tail of brutal cave men dragging their women about by the hair and that this vision cannot explain the emergence of the dominant human species. It serve up the same old image but with a radical dress on

ernie
As for women in the vanguard,

As for women in the vanguard, Baboon's thesis puts them in the vanguard from the beginning and thus defending Marx and Engels efforts to strip away the layers of bourgeois ideology that were placed over the early history of humanity,especially the idea of primitive communism. 

Alf
However, primate research

However, primate research does show that female chimps will cooperate with excluded males in order to bring them back into the groups and also to help them challenge the dominate male. Research has also shown that females will gang up on males where too violent towards any of them. This demonstrates a deeper level of cooperative and strategic thinking than simply denying sex or not, even amongst primates.

But such findings seem entirely compatible with Knight's approach, as do Briffaut's arguments about the centrality of the maternal instinct and the evolutionary need for a higher level of male-female cooperation in the bringing up of the young (Briffaut is mentioned in Blood Relations and a separate pamphlet of his writings has been published by the Radical Anthroplology Group) . Knight argues that the female coalitions succeeded because they cooperated with the excluded males against the dominant males, so to say that Knight simply puts forward the crude caveman model is a caricature of his thought. 

I am not at all against informed criticism of Knight's theory but I think that the emotional hostility which his ideas sometimes provoke is a barrier against the development of a debate. 

   

ernie
The caveman point was rather

The caveman point was rather cheap I agree. However, it is not emotionalism. The basic point is we do not know what  level  the division between the sexes was and that  women were originally at a disadvantage: which is Knights premise. This is the real difference between Briffault and Knight. Briffault starts by questioning the whole idea that women started at a disadvantage. He then makes a radical critique of the anthropology of his day.

For me the problem with Knights theory of sex strike being at the foundation of solidarity and culture is that it does not explain how humanity developed to a point where this leap could take place. Mithen, in his book The prehistory of the mind, makes an analysis of the big bang of human culture, but sees it as the culmination of a whole process of development from the early humans to homo sapiens involving a long process of drawing together the various areas of human development; social, natural, techenical, geenral intelligence and langauge. The beginnings of all these things could be seen in early humans, but it was only with homo sapiens that it went beyond various aspects and became a fluid consciousness which found expression through art, religion etc. I do not see how thle idea of the sex strike can explain this development. Mithen does give credit to Knight et al for posing the problem of who women would get the fuel for the long development period of child rearing, but he is not convinced by the idea of association. The association of women to further the needs of child rearing would make sense, but Knight implies -well at least in his presentation- that men were not interesting in cooperating with women to this end because all they wanted was to get laid. But would it not be within the Darwinist framework for them to associate together to this end? Surely the collaboration between the sexes over the upbring of the neck generation makes evolutionary sense. Is the idea of the sex strike not a rather reductionist projecting of a a "modern "feminist" vision of the" battle of the sexes" back onto prehistory? The division of labour between the sexes does not by necessity mean antagonism. I think this is what Baboon is getting at, and it is certainly how I felt after hearing Knight speak.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Thus he asks did women start of at a disadvantage. That is not an emotional or hostile response.

One can also question the sex strike idea as the origins of the culture can really explain the emergence of culture, when the archeological record shows that the emergence of culture was a process of many thousands of years leading to the "human revolution". Steven Mithen, who quotes Knight concerning the sex strike and the needs to gain access to good protein for child rearing, show that there was a process of the emergence the consciosness that marked the human explosion of culture.Whilst not completely agreeing with Knight he does see an important role in the sharing of information about the natural and social world between the sexes

jk1921
There are many points of this

There are many points of this discussion that seem so highly specialized that is difficult to feel like one can make a meaningful contribution. I did want to say though that I share Ernie's concern that we evaluate these theories on their merits rather than in reference to which one seems to support the narrative we want to tell about pre-history. This, of course, raises all kinds of deeper questions about why we are drawn to certain theories over others--is it because they reinforce our own preformed assumptions (confirmation bias) or are we really convinced by the evidence? Are these even separable? I also agreewith Ernie that it is a mistake to try to make prehistory into some kind of Shagri-la of solidarity (not that I think anyone in this discussion is doing that necessarily). There is, after all, a reason why pre-history was transcended. Some other points: I am still concerned about the possibility of reading modern concepts like solidarity back into pre-history and I also think that the selfish gene theory seems to end in a circular tautology that is unable to account for the specificty of human culture.

baboon
I don't agree with the position of Blood Relations

I haven't read Briffault but echo Ernie's warning about seeing contemporary primitive societies as intact remnants of the past. They are not. Ethnographic evidence can be very important, Morgan showed that, but they can only be  a pointer and ethnographic transpositions should be treated with caution.

On Toba and the "bottleneck": I can see how the supporters of Blood Relations would use the idea of the disaster-induced human bottleneck to support their idea of cultural revolution roughly around the same in Africa. But the scientific evidence clearly shows no bottleneck. More than that it clearly shows that four different species of homo, over most of the planet, including areas quite close to the epicentre, survived, and survived well what must have been a great test. This would suggest to me that culture, society and organisation was much wider, deeper and archaic than the ideas in Blood Relations suggest.

I don't deny the importance of menstruation, its myths and social expressions. Chauvet cave, 33 thousand years ago, has a  stunning 3-D "tableau", deep in its bowels, representing menstruation which is flanked by two feminine-looking horses which appear to be emerging from behind the cave wall. This is clearly a spiritual expression. But Jens idea that the existence of red-ochre body adornment scientifically  validates Blood Relations sex-strike thesis is false. It doesn't. It's pre-sex strike antiquity and ubiquity contradicts it.

As Ernie says, my position, is that human culture is as old as the hills and not a recent 80,000 year-old product of a sex-strike. To be radical you have to go to the root of things and, however obscure, the root of humanity is the transition of ape to  man (Jens himself says this but doesn't follow it up).I don't think that you can fix a point of prehistory and say that it all happened, 200, 30, 80 thousand years ago. There's no eureka moment here and I'm cautious about anyone who puts such a thing forward. I don't just think that culture emerged from the ape/man transition but think that it was a part of it and that it had its own symbolism that is eminently evidendential: the stone tool. Two points from this: saying that some form of culture existed will raise hackles with some. "Culture, these are creatures worse than animals - how can culture exist?" But this is not fully-formed culture and we should remember that fully-formed culture does not exist today and can only really begin to developed following a communist revolution. But culture was present at the birth of humanity and I hope to develop on this further. Another point to minimise any presence of culture in the birth of humanity is to mock its symbol, the stone tool. Blood Relations does this by, in a somewhat snidey way, presenting stone tools as crude weapons (this is also something that the supporters of this book do not address) used by aggessive males to smash each other's heads in. So there's no development of humanity here just a long  two-and-a-half million year wait until the sex-strike liberates everyone. I think that the idea of a sudden cultural explosion due to one non-provable event some 80 thousand years ago writes off a huge chunk of the history of our species.

No-one here is talking about a prehistoric ideal society - that's not the question. But was the ape/man transition and its immediate results a dog eat dog, permanent two-million plus year-old conflict between the male and female of the species? I don't think so. I don't see how we could have survived.

As Jens says, we are no scientists so I'll shut up now needing time to develop my position.

slothjabber
Why 'stone tools'?

Archaeologists conventionally date the beginnings of 'human-like behaviour' (and incidently the shift from 'palaeontology' to 'archaeology') to about 2.6 million years ago on the basis of the oldest stone tools from East Africa. But the reasons for doing that are only technical. We don't know about other forms of tools that might have existed, such as wood. There's no reason that stone tools particularly are any more indicators of humanity than any other technology, so the distinction is somewhat arbitrary, based only on preservation not actual behaviour. The horizon is one of evidence survival, not cultural development. The first stone-tool-using hominins may have behaved in exactly the same way as wooden-tool-using hominins (indeed, it seems likely that the day before they used a stone tool, they were wooden-tool-using hominins). So the use of stone tools is not necessarily more of an 'evolutionary' leap than the invention of moveable type or the internal combustion engine - it's more likely a development of existing technology.

 

But we do know that wooden tool use is found among both Asian (orang-utans) and African (chimps, bonobos, humans) apes - potentially then, wooden tool-use predates the seperation of Asian and African species around 7-8 million years ago. Does this mean 'human-like behaviour' (and thus 'human culture') should be considered to be so old? If we accept that wooden tool use is also a mark of human-like behaviour, then not only gorillas, chimps and bonobos must be considered to be 'human-like' but orang-utans as well.

 

Then again, crows and elephants both use wooden tools. Tool use isn't confined to primates, let along humans. So it seems to me that the stone-tool-use argument for 'humanity' though it appears strong at first actually falls apart under examination (and this has nothing to do with believing stone tools were 'used to smash each others' heads in', my assumption has always been that the first stone tools were probably used for smashing bones to get at marrow, and if pushed I'd see this as a co-operative endeavour, to feed the weaker members of the band, though this is necessarily extremely speculative - this really isn't my area of expertise, archaeologically).

 

The question of 'the origins of human culture' is a difficult one. But I've been persuaded that Neanderthals - though being 'a-cultural' as far as we can tell in many respects, archaeologically-speaking at least - exhibited planning and forsight: there's an abstract of a paper by one of my old lecturers here: http://cat.inist.fr/?aModele=afficheN&cpsidt=18877693 - I don't really know if the paper is readily available elsewhere, through JSTOR or whatever - that argues that the strategies the Neanderthals used to colonise different environments demonstrate 'modern' cognitive abilities. But even so, the differences in the archeological record between Neanderthal and homo sapiens populations, in terms of 'culture' (material culture and what this tells us about 'lived' culture) are quite marked. Though I'm happy to push back 'human-like behaviour' very far into the past, 'culture' as we understand it is a developmental process, and in the period from say 8 million years ago to maybe 300,000 years ago, things changed very slowly. Stone tools were introduced, and at some point, it seems probable that the bag or carrying sling was invented (stone tools are found many kilometres from their geological sources implying long-distance portage, and not just carrying one stone in one hand and another stone in the other). Both of these are important technical developments. And the Neanderthal adaption strategies I've mentioned may give a clue as to their mental conceptualisation of their world. But given the developments that are visible from 60,000 or so years ago, where there is a real plethora (comparatively speaking at least!) of evidence for art, craft, decoration, ritual activity etc, I'm hard pushed to extend 'culture' as a concept back beyond the emergence of homo sapiens.

jk1921
Full disclosure: I still

Full disclosure: I still haevn't read Knight's book, but I have read a number of reviews of it. Here is one that seems to agree with my concern about reading modern concepts back into history:

http://www.timothyjpmason.com/WebPages/Publications/Knight.htm

I see a number of problems with Knight's main line of argument. He sees his work as attempting to explain the transition from nature to culture by means of a revolutionary rupture rather than a slow evolutionary process--the so-called "sex strike." However, it is unclear to me how a sex strike would work in a situation where there was not already some kind of cultural edifice? Wouldn't this simply lead to mass rape? Or is this exactly what Knight sees happening with the "male counter-revolution"? At any rate, it seems unlikely to me that an act of collective solidarity could be the first act of "symbolic culture." There must already have been some kind of pre-existing cultural life in order for this to have been organized--or at the very least there must have been some level of symbolic or cultural evolution already taking place leading up to the revolutionary rupture Knight proclaims.

On another level, I think there are some issues here regarding the nature of sex that seem not be addressed. First, is there even a human "need" for sex? One can live one's entire life without sexual intercourse and still be "healthy;" it is simply not a "need" in the same sense as food, water and shelter. There may be some kind of innate hard-wired drive for sexual gratification of some kind, but this is a far way off from concluding that there is some kind of need for heterosexual intercourse leading to pregneancy and birth. In this sense, Knight's thesis seems to suggest hetero-normativity. Its not even clear what the competitive advantage is for having children? Who needs another mouth to feed? It certainly may be the case that it is rational to have children in an agricultural society where there is a need for additional labor, or even in the period before the "welfare state" when it could be expected that your children would take care of you in old age. But does this apply to hunter-gatherers? Of course today, many younger proletarians are discovering the fact that it makes absolutely no rational sense to have children (but that is another discussion).

I suppose the point is that once culture has been established to the point where the innate drive for sexual gratification could be split off from heterosexual intercourse--its not clear why Knight's sex strike would have such power as to become the organizing principle of early societies.There are other ways to get one's rocks off. This I suppose raises the issues of the origins of masturbation, homosexuality, etc. which may be too far off topic here...

 

 

 

 

Fred
jk wrote: I suppose the

jk wrote:
I suppose the point is that once culture has been established to the point where the innate drive for sexual gratification could be split off from heterosexual intercourse--its not clear why Knight's sex strike would have such power as to become the organizing principle of early societies.There are other ways to get one's rocks off. This I suppose raises the issues of the origins of masturbation, homosexuality, etc. which may be too far off topic here...

Thanks for saying this jk, its something like what I have been wanting to say but didn't know how. Knight may be very learned, but seems to have a very naive view of human sexual behavior. As if straight sex is all there's ever been, and in limited quantities at that. And if tbere was a "sex strike" how long did it last? A month; a year; a thousand years? And if it had to happen everywhere, then how could this be organized? And then, just as they got everyone compulsorily on abstinence - the men walking round with giant erections as in the play Lysistrata - Toba blew up. What an orgasm that was! The best thing for me about Blood Relations is that it is a vast and comprehensive literature review of the whole field, by someone who knows his stuff

 

ernie
Havings gone back and re-read

Havings gone back and re-read some of the conclusions of Knights book I am clearer on his main concern, which is how did humanity move from primate like societies or those which could survive in environments where there is plenty to one which allowed human groups to adapt to such a wider verity of society. For that to happen, his thesis is that society had to move from being one dominated by the needs of the dominant males to one with a much higher level of solidarity. For him this solidarity was procuded by women bring under control the social dynamics around sex, which in dominant male primate like societies blocked the develop of higher level of cohesion. The central focus of the group moved from around competition over sex female to cooperation, more or less, over the provsion of food care etc for children etc. This is what is called the human revolution. Is this a correct reading?

Knight's effort to wrestle with this vital question can only be welcomed. But one question arises to me: is sex the  dominant relationship between the sexes? Briffault makes a very interesting distinction between the role of sexual intercourse and the economic relations. He says and seeks to show that in non-state societies the most binding aspect of relationship between sexes is that of the economic importance of women to men i.e, their role in cooking, home making, education, food collection preparation is more important that simple copulation. He gives evidence of societies where older women are greatly valued because of their economic abilities and will be taken as partners, also where even if there is poligamy and there are younger wives the older wives are greatly respect due to their knowledge and abilities. Thus, womens economic "strength" and solidarity may did  simply involve sex but their fundamental importance to mens ability to simply survive.

This is related to the question of the importance of cooking to human development. The cooking of meat and other plants marked a huge step forwards for human development: it provided a massive boost in nutrition at the same time as freeing up time for wider activities. Before cooking the gathering and simple act of trying to eat raw food took up a large amount of time. With cooking a huge increase in nutrition came about. Rchard Wranghan's Catching fire: how cooking made us human, goes into this in a lot more detail. But he shows that the needs of fire making and cooking have an very important impact of social development. 

In relation to the transition from ape to the human revolution fire must have been crucial because it freed up time and  allowed societies to be able to do more than simply forage and then eat. It also must have introduced new relationships between the sexes. The cooking of food gave women a new role and thus influence in the working of societies, if they did the cooking, it meant they were the ones who provided the final link in the process of food provision. In primate society, any meat is distribute by sheer force, the strongest gets the best, with cooking the groups simply tearing apart a body is no longer productive, there is a need for cooperation. there is also need for greater cooperation over the making of fire, maintaining it etc.

Wrangham shows food and its preparation is surround by tigher restrictions than sex in some egualitarian societies. He quotes the fact that in one soceity the sharing of food with other men is strictly forbidden but sexual relations with other men are common and not forbidden. In another society the very act of giving a man cooked food is seen as an act of becoming married.

These points raise points in relation to the process of the development of the necessary group development which allowed the human revolution to take place,if that is a good name for it. Sex is not necessarily the only means of control that women may have had. The very existence of cooked food had already changed the dynamics and the levelsof participation in the society and the need for higher levels of cooperation in society: otherwise the group and the individual would lose the evolutionary advantage of cooked food

The use of fire is far older than the emergence of homo sapiens and thus would imply that even before the human revolution the level of cooperation within a group must have gone passed that of primate society long before the revolution. No society could have used fire without sophisticated levels of cooperation and cohesion. Thus may be the transition from primate behaviour dominated society to the human revolution could have been a much longer process involving existiing levels of cooperation. A cooperation that allowed both evolutionary development and cultural development.

I can only assume that Chris deals with this question somewhere, but a greater level of cooperation would appear to have existed longer than the idea of the  need for the sex  strike would allow for. 

This would mean that the importance of social solidarity and thus the social import of women in hauman evolution exetends back much further than even Knight's radical critique of existing theories would account for.

One last point, great to see the Radical Anthropology Group has republished some of Briffault's The Mothers, with every interesting introductions, which would imply that much of the evidence he uses has not been proved wrong, and that  his defense of the primacy of matrilineal decent has not been proved wrong. Some of his  more general statements clearly have been undermined but the central core appears to have been maintained. The article in the RI says the author criticised has shown that Briffault was mistaken or proved wrong, so may be there is more of a discussion there that the article would imply. If anyone havs any more information of criticism or defense of Briffault's defense of Morgan etc please throw it into the discussion. As with those who wrote the introductions I found reading the Mothers a thrilling and eye opening experience. His sheer determination to combate all the existing academic and social prejudices about the role of women in early society etc and his refusal to accept the 'male' view of the question based on evidence (and mountains of it) makes the book worth reading, and well worth bring back to peoples attention.

 

baboon
transition of ape to man

Lured back by Slothjabber's post and to add a few things to it.

Agree with Sloth about the probable use of wooden tools by man and ape - including bark, horn, possibly antlers - that go back a long time. Unfortunately lost in time so it's difficult to comment on. The idea of the stick-using, termite-hunting chimp has had an effect of saying what's so different about man's use of tools? (I'm not saying that Sloth is suggesting this). I think that the stone tool used by man is the symbol of the leap from the animal to the human kingdom. Blood Relations also tends to underestimate the use of early stone tools seeing them as individual weapons of men - I will return with solid archaeological evidence that shows that this was far from the case in early man.

We've directly inherited much from the animal kingdom of which we are a part: empathy, the herd instinct, the maternal instinct and other conscious and unconcious instincts - it's no wonder that our fascination with animals persists to this day. Animals use tools; apes, chimps, birds some of which was passed on by imititation. An animal documentary a while ago showed fish using natural substances to get at prey which could be classified as use of tools.

Animals also have an aesthetic sense, birds and monkeys for example (but not fish apparently) in relation to pattern, order and symmetry which have been shown by experiments (N.K. Sanders, 1985, p.37). Provided with the right materials chimps will paint as a play activity and produce recognisable  abstract art. I saw an experiment that introduced elephants to painting and while I thought it somewhat cruel, it seemed that they were enjoying themselves and aware that they were producing something with certain patterns.

What use is tools put to? For man they were at the outset percussion and cutting tools probably used in the food production process: access to meat, fat, marrow, brains, etc. As such they were part of the development of society and the further, slow but sure (maybe with setbacks) development of tools, production and society. For the apes, etc., the use of tools is contingent and a dead-end. Animals can fashion and use tools occasionally but none have developed them into means of production like man. Even the oldest, simplist tools used by early man require more conscious action and strategies than the most sophisticated ape/monkey tools that have been studied in detail today. Functional experiments have show that Oldowan flaked tools were excellent knives for animal butchery (Scarre, 2005) and they could well have been used for other purposes in relation to food production: to fashion wooden tools, digging sticks and processing plant food. Contemporay encephalisation and tooth reduction would tend to underline this. Africa was clearly "the cradle of mankind" in this respect and there is a sequence to this process that really explodes some 1.8 million years ago with the Acheulean stone "industry".

Some anthropologists ((Wynn and McGrew, 1989) suggest that there is little difference between the cognitive complexity of chimpanzees and Oldowan hominins. In detailed and long-term studies of bonobos it has been shown that they can flake stone to produce sharper flakes and use them for cutting activities such as cutting through a rope to open a box to get at food or slitting open a drumhead to get to desired food. These apes, in experimental circumstances, showed that they could fracture stone by percussion in order to get further refined flakes. But after a decade of these studies and experiments interesting and profound differences remain between apes and Oldowan toolmakers. Bonobos can - on occasion - produce cores and flakes that are reminiscent of Oldowan hominins; unifacial, bifacial choppers and, occasionally, flakes.  But detailed analyses of early Oldowan toolmaking in Gona, Ethiopia are more similar to modern humans than those produced by bonobos (Toth et al, 1993, Schick et al, 1999).  Oldowan archeology shows highly skilled abilities to reduce lava cobbles efficiently to produce sharp flakes and fragments showing that these creatures had better cognitive and biochemical skills that modern apes and possibly pushes back conscious toolmaking  close to three million years ago.

 

slothjabber
so what is the difference?

baboon wrote:

...

Agree with Sloth about the probable use of wooden tools by man and ape - including bark, horn, possibly antlers - that go back a long time. Unfortunately lost in time so it's difficult to comment on. The idea of the stick-using, termite-hunting chimp has had an effect of saying what's so different about man's use of tools? (I'm not saying that Sloth is suggesting this)...

 

I think this is exactly what I am asking, because I don't have an answer. I agree with much of what you say later - there are differences between human and other primate tool-use - but I don't have a hard 'this is this, that is that' way of dividing human from non-human tool use.

 

baboon wrote:
...I think that the stone tool used by man is the symbol of the leap from the animal to the human kingdom...

 

I agree, but my worry is that the fixation with the symbol obscures the content. Stone tools are a particular technological development. Their horizon is visible, archaeologically. But they cannot, logically, be used as a determinant of the 'leap from the animal to the human'. they're a symptom perhaps, but I can't see how we can say that they define human behaviour, without recognising that the definition of what 'human behaviour' means in this case is arbitrary. 'The day before' stone tools were used, the hominins who were using wooden (or as you rightly say, bone or horn or other similar products) tools were the same as 'the day after'. It is only our perception of them that has changed, because they become archaeologically visible. They are the same hominins, and I'm sure they remained fundamentally the same homins for generations, perhaps more access to protein and subsequent brain-size increases notwithstanding.

 

I'm not disagreeing with your fundamental thrust, I certainly don't see stone tools as 'the individual weapons of men', but I do find it difficult to believe that there's a fundamental developmental revolution that takes place when stone tools, as opposed to other sorts of tools, are introduced.

 

But you have reminded me to re-read Toth, so thanks for that!

jk1921
Does anyone else have any

Does anyone else have any thoughts on Knights potential problems dealing with sexuality, desire, etc. Is this a straw man critique? Is there anything there at all?

Fred
Posters seem generally more

Posters seem generally more in favor of discussing tool use than sex, jk; even though the question of the sex-strike is pivotal to Knight's theory is it not? (Maybe it does come down to "tool use" after all! That of course is a vulgar joke and I hope I'll be forgiven for making it, but couldn't resist.) For the sake of argument, I find Knight's attitude to human sexuality to be very bourgeois. We can get a bit mealy-mouthed when we have to bring it up; especially with all those quotes from Marx stuck at the heading of every chapter. The bourgeoisie can't actually discuss sex in an open and honest fashion, preferring to just buy it on the market - much less trouble that way, no messy relationships involved - or to get on with it secretly and dishonorably, in dark, emotionally unhygienic and psychologically compromised situations. But things can't have been like this in primitive communism, can they? As for chimpanzees, they are to be found in zoos all over S.E. Asia merrily masturbating. This probably isn't permitted in more advanced zoos in fully developed capitalist countries, but who wants to spend life in a zoo anyway?

slothjabber
homo faber and archaeological paradigms

When a mammy hand-axe and a daddy hand-axe love each other very much...

 

It's easier to talk about tool use than sex because tools - at least stone ones - are a visible feature in the archaeological record. While sex must obviously have existed - else where do all the little tool-users come from? - archaeologigists are happier talking about artifacts than behaviour, and tend to use one as a stand-in for the other. Evidence for stone tools = evidence for 'human-like behaviour'.

 

Tools are a representation, to archaeologists, of our humanity; and to Marxists as well, surely? Marx writes about how puropseful creative activity is an essential part of what it is to be human, and surely the making and of using of tools is a part of this?

 

However, the evidence for tool use is what I find problematic in attempt to say "this is 'human', that is 'not-human'" - while I think baboon is perfectly right to try to place the origins of human culture long before 60,000BC (or any other arbitrarily-defined date in the recent past) it seems to me that the adoption of the hand-axe c.2.6million years ago is another essentially arbitrary point. Technologically relevant perhaps - because suddenly a new form of evidence is visible - but 'behaviourally' perhaps not so much. There doesn't seem to be any essential difference between pre-hand-axe and hand-axe-using hominins. Apart from new evidence of tools, there doesn't seem to be any 'new' sign of anything we'd regard as being 'human'.

 

To look at a different example of behaviour, to perhaps make my concern clearer, claiming the hand-axe is a sign of 'human' tool-use is a bit, I think, like using the first recoded writing, around 3,000BC, as a means of dating the invention of language. It seems perfectly obvious to me that 'language' as we understand it developed over millions of years, and I can't believe that homo sapiens ever didn't have language. But we only have evidence for it from a particular time because of the survival of a particular form of evidence. So, it seems to me, it is with tool-use. A particular form of tool has survived. We must be careful, I think, about using this essentially arbitrary survival to 'map' the development of human culture in any meaningful way.

baboon
Don't apologise for the joke Fred

I thought the sexual aspects of "tool use" were implicitly funny. Of course early man didn't just use stone, but bone (!) and horn (right, that's enough). There's that old Lower Paleolithic joke that's been around for two million years: "Is that an Acheulean hand-axe under that skin or are you just pleased to see me?"

I have held replicas of these early tools (I'm being serious now) and there is a sensuous feel to them and work  with them must have been a sensuous activity (which developed and developed with different tools). Anton Pannekoek makes this point very well in his 1953 work "Anthropogenesis". Though Pannekoek later developed a somewhat schematic, technological persepective for the proletarian revolution, I think that this work, like much of his stuff, is very relevant and a materialist explanation of the deep early history of humanity. AP underlines the importance of touch in the development of the senses of man and how this sensuous activity in relation to tools can develop the brain and back again. For him, tool use is an acquired skill that can only take place in a community. To some extent animal spontaneity is restrained by the use of  tools as future activity is taken into account and developed for longer-term results. For example, food is not stuffed directly into the mouth but a "detour" is taken which, over time, develops organisation and consciousness.

The idea suggested in Blood Relations, that tools are the individual weapons of males of the species, is not in my opinion a materialist position and, at best, is a gross over-simplification.

baboon
Toba

The BBC reports today further evidence that the idea of the near-extinction of humans from the Toba explosion is refuted. The results of the investigation is published in the Proceedings of the National Academy for Science.

I can see how the idea of a "bottleneck" could be used to advance a theory of a relatively recent "cultural revolution", say 60 or 100 thousand years ago. I wouldn't agree with it but here's more scientific evidence of no bottleneck.

d-man
Bettelheim?

One thing which should be included in the discussion is circumcision.

Lafargue wrote an article on it (apparently the Dutch left communist Abraham Soep wrote a study on it), mentioning the male blood-letting found among an Australian tribe.

Knight briefly dismisses Bettelheim's Symbolic Wounds. Bettelheim's book isn't online, so it would be interesting if someone has read and could comment on it.

jk1921 wrote:

Does anyone else have any thoughts on Knights potential problems dealing with sexuality, desire, etc. Is this a straw man critique? Is there anything there at all?

Perhaps yes, I'm thinking about writing something.

baboon
From the "Weekly Worker":

From the "Weekly Worker":
"(Chris) Knight published his first book, Blood Relations: Menstruation and the origins of culture in 1991. Since then, he has been a major figure in debates on the origins of human symbolic culture and especially the origin of language. He is best-known for the theory that human language, religion and culture emerged in our species not simply by gradual Darwinian evolution, but in a process culminating in revolutionary social change – what is often termed “the first human revolution”.

This short passage seems to me, whether you agree with him or not, a fairly accurate summing up of Knight's position as expressed in his book "Blood Relations", making it a good starting-point for a discussion.

"Gradual Darwinian Evolution"
Chris Knight rejects "gradual Darwinian evolution" in order to demonstrate his 60,000 year-old revolution based on a sex-strike. Probably apart from Marx, no scientist, no materialist, no visionary has had his analyses of humanity more traduced and more misrepresented than Charles Darwin. Marx was hated by a bourgeoisie that nevertheless had, in places, a certain respect for him as an individual. Not so Darwin; this was one of their own who betrayed them and their system and it was therefore necessary to completely mystify and obscure his real positions. Thus we have Evolutionary-Darwinism, Social-Darwinism, Feminist-Darwinism, Racist-Darwinism, "survival of the fittest" and so on, all serving to undermine the revolutionary nature of Darwin's (and, essentially, Alfred Russel Wallace's) "The Descent of Man and Selection in Relation to Sex". This seminal work is a direct contradiction of Knight's idea of a 60 or a 100,000 year-old "first human revolution".

Darwin, as far as I can gather, only used the term "evolution" once or twice. He didn't like its deterministic connotations which the bourgeoisie had implied to "The Origin of Species" (descent with modification) in order to justify and proclaim its class domination as the natural order of things, as the result of an evolutionary progression to the pinnacle of capitalism whose permanence and whose class rested upon this natural, evolutionary progression. The bourgeoisie also used it as a weapon in order to present its conclusions as reinforcing its revolutionary nature over the church and feudalism. Darwin knew in his heart and head that from the animal world ("Origins...") he would have to - under no little impulsion from Wallace - confront the issue of where mankind came from ("Descent..."). Instead of natural evolutionary progression, and, given the circumstances, capitalism was a historical progression, Darwin saw conflict, change and revolution from the very beginning of humanity - in fact it was its beginning.

The "first human revolution" wasn't discovered by Chris Knight but by Darwin, Wallace, Marx and Engels and this, a much more profound event, was the break with the animal kingdom, a complex and somewhat mysterious unfolding that took place amongst a relatively small group of hominines (hominids) like the species australopithicus or possibly Kenyanthropus which developed from an unknown ancestor. We don't know much about them but they were small compared to us, definitely upright and fully bi-pedal and they were very small in numbers. A part, or parts of this group of hominines, whose existence was likely tenuous, was, very quickly, able to sustain itself and grow its particular strain of species amongst a great many of similar beings and groups that likely reached a dead-end or perished through  unsuitability for one reason or another.

What was the basis for the rather unlikely success of this first human revolution, a revolution that pre-dates Knight's by over three million years? Engels and Pannekoek explain the dialectical relationship between consciousness and tools, theory and practice in the early development and impulsion of the species. For Darwin and Wallace (and Marx and Engels with their analyses of primitive communism), equally dialectically, natural selection was overturned, not abandoned or eliminated but absorbed in a revolutionary development ("Man has not only escaped 'natural selection' himself but he actually is able to take away some of that power from nature which before his appearance was universally exercised", A. R. Wallace). The revolution was based on and fuelled by cooperation, empathy and the care of the weak - all elements of the animal kingdom but reappearing here at a much higher level and overturning natural selection in the process. For Darwin and Wallace, sexual selection by the female also plays a major role in fashioning this society and this was a "society"; and where you have a "society" you have culture. One of the major features of this development was the cooperation of the two sexes and the greater role of the male of the species within and sticking closely to the group, particularly the young males who grew up and stayed within the group helping, amongst other things, to look after the grandmothers.  How appropriate here is the title of Camilla Power's response to David Graeber who maintains that culture began around 50,000 years ago, "Gender egalitarianism made us human...." Power is one of a growing number of anthropologists that sees culture going back a long way in African time.

Society, cooperation, consciousness, solidarity is the only possible way that this puny species could have survived. If it had abandoned the weak, fragmented, fled, "looked after number one", how long could it have lasted given the ambient conditions? No time at all. The revolution must have been rapid because these sorts of numbers couldn't have taken a pounding for even just a few generations. Instead there was a stand; instead of fragmentation and extinction, there was a revolution in consciousness and practical activity that while being linked was qualitatively different to anything in the animal kingdom and this self-awareness of species-being held, strengthened and developed this group. This group would have been strong and open enough to attract and absorb similar types (possibly different species) into its successful operation and it would have been strong enough, from its solidarity and moral basis, to fight off the marauders, cowards and individualists. This was the first human revolution and its period of transition led to the appearance of homo over a million years later.

"Religion"
On religion and culture whose origins have supposedly been discovered by Knight: "religion" is not a good term here closely linked as it is to the established religions and belief systems might be a better term. Certainly there's a great deal of evidence of belief systems around 50,000 years ago but absence of evidence of such systems prior to that is not evidence of absence. Without imposing our own prejudices backwards we can speculate about the "other-worldly" experiences of these early hominins; they were capable of dreaming and what dreams they must have had. Did they share these experiences in some way? They were very close knit and stuck tightly together - that was their strength. Further on this there are engravings on various items that go back over half-a-million years in Africa and Java. And around the same time as Knight's very narrow and restrictive "revolution" was taking place, Neanderthals were not only painting on cave walls but they were painting themes that are very closely associated with belief systems. This fact alone undermines Chris Knight's speculative revolution while pointing to a much greater complexity of human behaviour of which rituals around menstruation and the moon would have played a part. And contrary to the 60,000 year-old watermark of "Blood Relations", Neanderthals had been processing and using ochre paints up to at least 300,000 years ago again pointing to the complexities of the development of humanity.

Talking about dreaming above is speculative but, contrary to the ideas expressed in "Blood Relations" of early humans as savages and scavengers, there's good evidence that these early hominines had very sophisticated hunting strategies and were able to select the best animals for the kill. Now given the copious evidence we have, historical and ethnological, of the relationship of the prehistoric group to the animal(s), then we can assume that this was at least as strong or much closer in the hominine hunter-gatherers, raising again, through informed speculation, the question of belief systems in the context of the animal/human relationship.  
 
Culture
There's no space here to go into any detail about the question of culture but I think, however it's expressed, it is an element of a society. To say that culture and "religion" only existed after one event sixty-thousand years ago seems to me somewhat dismissive of most of humanity's history and some of its most important developments as well as the non-linear complexity of the whole development.

Just a dozen or so years ago the general representation of pre-homo hominines, even in serious scientific journals, was, literally, of knuckle-dragging, hair-covered, indeterminate beings. In short, they are treated in much the same way by the bourgeoisie as "Stone-age Man" and Neanderthals, as simple beasts, savages and scavengers incapable of conscious thought but their hunting strategies, indeed their very survival point to something totally different. If there's a society there is culture and I contend that this hominine revolution is the first form of human society, one that everything that followed, however complex, was based upon.

That these creatures could use fashion and use tools was laughable according to many scientists, but a few years ago, from a hominine site in Dikaka, Ethiopia, cut marks made by tools on butchered animals were dated to 3.4 million years ago. And then, getting really lucky after a wrong turn, a scientific team found a whole range of tools by Lake Turkana, Kenya dated to 3.3 million years ago through the residues of volcanic ash, 700, 000 years earlier that the previous finds of such means of production https://www.researchgate.net/publication/277004244_33-million-year-old_s.... Stone tools were always seen as a development of homo so this marks a completely new beginning. And these are not just lumps of rock to break open nuts, etc., but a whole range of finely fashioned tools for different uses - more of a toolbox - accompanied by two large anvils one weighing 18 kilograms with all the implications for sedentism that has. Some of the tools are exquisitely, even aesthetically knapped, bearing a great resemblance to the later ubiquitous Acheulean tools of homo erectus.

Symbolism is an expression of culture and these hominine tools (and others like them) are symbolism of the highest order; they are symbolic of a revolution already accomplished and set on its long and complex way. They are symbolic of the first human revolution.

 

baboon
More speculation

 

My contention above is that culture, along with society, cooperation, consciousness, morality, mother-right, associated production, solidarity and symbolism exploded at one distinct time and place and in some sort of human "Big Bang" that contained all the essential component parts to be developed. All these elements and behaviours (amongst others) existed in the animal kingdom, apart from the last one. There's a study that claims that capuchin monkeys can react to symbolism but it seems to me a study in tokens and food. At any rate what is clear is that, along with stone tools, animals themselves became symbolic, maybe for this but certainly for later species. All these above elements from the animal kingdom were taken to a qualitatively higher level through a revolution expressed by a species of hominin that was our ancestor over three million years ago as natural selection was overturned.

Within this more speculation about fire:

There's plenty of evidence of the use of controlled fire going back hundreds of thousands of years. Hearths have been clearly identified from a variety of sources: carbon, charcoal, burnt bone, food residues, etc., all good sources for reliable dating. Some argue that the evidence of controlled fire goes back a million or one-and-a-half million years ago but, even with developing techniques, it's very difficult to demonstrate a human determination at such vast distances.

In general, anthropology has ruled out any earlier use of controlled fire in these early species in much the same way as it ruled out the ability of 3.3 million year old hominins to make a sophisticated range of stone tools or to do anything very much until homo arrived on the scene. The period and place when these hominins first appeared coincided with the spread of open habitats, grasslands, savannahs, etc., where fires were more frequent. I don't know the exact climatic conditions but one would think that in and around equatorial Africa electrical storms would have been frequent and as well as grass fires would have left burning trees, etc. Volcanic eruptions were not unusual in this period and place and, apart from producing lava, they would have launched red-hot projectiles some distance. There are even reports around this period of small, white-hot meteorite showers.  Given (if you accept it) the level of organisation and awareness of this group, i.e., its consciousness and practical activity, it seems inconceivable that, even with their limited geographical range and numbers, they wouldn't be curious and investigate the sources of these phenomena. I think that after burning their fingers they would have realised what a great gift this was and how to use it.

If that happened, then what an enormous boost that would have been for this collective and its potential. Straightaway protection like never before and the greater cohesion and development of the group (and there's a great deal to be said about "fire" and the development of language). With fire they could, relatively, relax, take it easy a bit - rest on their well-deserved laurels. The grandmothers could get older and the young men look after them longer.