Between the Universal People and the Real People

What were the people of the ancestral human population really like? Archaeologists describe them as "behaviorally modern humans," in contrast with the anatomically modern humans who first evolved nearly 200,000 years ago. But the term "behaviorally modern" refers to people whose traces in the archaeological record are not appreciably different from those left by contemporary hunter-gatherers. Foraging people of very different natures could leave much the same archaeological record.

It seems unlikely that the ancestral people closely resembled contemporary populations in behavior. The human skull and frame were then much heavier than those of people alive today, suggesting that the ancestral human population was physically aggressive, more accustomed to violence and warfare. Its members did not settle or build, perhaps because the social adaptations required for settled life were not yet part of their behavioral equipment. If fully modern language had evolved only recently, it is unlikely that all the other elements of contemporary social behavior emerged simultaneously with it. More probably they fell into place one by one as part of the continuing evolution of human behavior. Yet the ancestral population, even if generally more inclined to aggression, presumably possessed all the major elements of human behavior that occur in its descendant populations around the world, since otherwise all of these behaviors would have had to evolve or be invented independently in each of thousands of societies. There are two ways of developing a portrait of the ancestral human population; one is through the Universal People, the other through the Real People.

The Universal People is a concept of the anthropologist Donald Brown, who devised it as a counterpart to Chomsky's Universal Grammar. Though most anthropologists emphasize the particularity of the societies they study, Brown is interested in the many aspects of human behavior that are found in societies around the world. These universal human behaviors range from cooking, dance and divination to fear of snakes. Many, such as the facial expressions used to express emotion, seem likely to have a strong genetic basis. Others, like language, may result from the interaction of genetically shaped behaviors with universal features of the environment. Whatever the genesis of these universal behaviors, the fact that they are found in societies throughout the world suggests strongly that they would have been possessed by the ancestral human population before its dispersal. These ubiquitously shared behaviors define the nature of what Brown calls the Universal People. Among the Universal People, families are the basic unit of social groups, and groups are defined by the territory they claim. Men dominate political life, with women and children expected to be submissive. Some groups are ordered on the basis of kinship, sex and age.

The core of a family is a mother and her children. Marriage, in the sense of a man's publicly recognized right of sexual access to a woman deemed eligible for childbearing, is institutionalized. Society is organized along kinship lines, with one's own kin being distinguished from more distant relatives and generally favored over those who are not kin. Sexual regulations constrain or eliminate mating between genetically close kin.

Reciprocity is important in the daily life of the Universal People, in the form of direct exchange of goods or labor. There are sanctions, ranging from ostracism to execution, for offenses such as rape, violence and murder.

The Universal People have supernatural beliefs and practice magic, designed for such purposes as sustaining life and winning the attention of the opposite sex. "They have theories of fortune and misfortune. They have ideas about how to explain disease and death. They see a connection between sickness and death. They try to heal the sick and have medicines for this purpose. The UP practice divination. And they try to control the weather," Brown writes.^ The Universal People have a sense of dress and fashion. They adorn their bodies, however little clothing they may wear, and maintain distinctive hair-styles. They have standards of sexual attractiveness. They dance and sing.

They always have a shelter of some kind. They are quintessential tool-makers, creating cutters, pounders, string to tie things together or make nets, and weapons.

The ancestral human population presumably possessed many, if not all, of the behaviors of the Universal People. It may also have had much in common with the San, who as members of the L1 branch of the mitochondrial tree may be the closest living approximation to the ancestral human population. Just how close is a matter of disagreement among social anthropologists. Some believe that little resemblance should be assumed between contemporary hunter-gatherers and those who lived thousands of years ago—people are always adapting genetically to their environment and there has been plenty of time for change. But foragers have presumably had much the same environment for the last 50,000 years. Chimpanzees seem to have changed very little in the last million years, so periods of evolutionary stability are not out of the question for human societies too. The lives of contemporary foragers are certainly not identical to those of early humans, but probably they overlap in many ways. It was explicitly to help explore early human evolution that a group of Harvard anthropologists and others began, in the 1960s, a thorough study of the San, who still followed a foraging way of life. The choice of the San would have seemed even better had their ancient genealogy been known at the time. Unlike early hunter-gatherers, the San may have been confined to the less desirable regions of their former range, but even so they have little difficulty gathering enough food for their needs. They practice a foraging way of life that may have been typical of human existence ever since the days of the ancestral population. Although the San's mitochondrial L1 lineage makes them only cousins to the people who left Africa for Asia (a sub-branch of mitochondrial L3), they bear some striking physical resemblances to Asian populations, suggesting that both lineages may have inherited these features from the ancestral human population. Many Khoisan speakers have yellowish skin, the epicanthic folds above the eyes that give some Asian eyes their characteristic shape, shovel-shaped incisors (front teeth hollowed out on the tongue side of the mouth, found commonly in Asians and Native Americans), and mongoloid spots—a bluish mark on the lower back of young infants. The !Kung San themselves apparently recognize this similarity since they assign Asians to the category of Real People like themselves, as distinct from !ohm, the

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