mega-fauna seem to be important for your argument, but I am not sure of the connection to inequality in the cases. The NWcoasters dealt with one particularly large beast -- the whale which was indeed being wiped out by industrial-scale whale harpooning. Gobegli Tepe -- the only really substantial beast here is the auroch, but most of the bones are of gazelle. Anyone who has looked at cave paintings knows that large beasts made a great impression on palaeolithic people and totemically-symbolically this must have been part of how they understood 'the order of things' (hierarchy). On the other hand seasonality still affects how people organise their relationships -- n.b. Christmas the largest seasonal ritual in the world. And Bakhtin's ideas about the carnivalesque were written with regard to medieval calendrical celebrations.
In thinking about hierarchy we have been looking back to prehistory. What do we see if we look forward toward a digital future? This talk by Frank Pasquale, the author of The Black Box Society is long (nearly an hour excluding the intro and Q&A) but well worth the effort. I note the pervasive presence of the issues toward which Lee has pointed in American Dream Time, Self/Other, Life/Technology, Nature/Culture, etc. New concepts include the "algorithmic self," the "modulated self," algorithms vs professions.
You’ve posed an intriguing and difficult question: What is the relation between the end-Pleistocene mass extinction of megafauna and emergent forms of social organization (egalitarian?, hierarchical?, something of both?, back and forth? no relation at all?)? I’ve puzzled over the question since this Forum began, but don’t see much light at the end of the tunnel. So let me make a general and, I think, important point. The last thing we should do here is approach your question solely in terms of identifying the human-animal relation as “resource exploitation” or “mode of production.” The several Homo lineages and species of large animals have co-evolved over millions of years, so that what we presently call “humanity” is a biocultural construct in which those species are an indissociable element. I am the walrus; well, maybe the lion, antelope, mastodon, cave bear. The evidence from Upper Paleolithic caves as well as contemporary indigenous myth attests to the fact that human and animal identities are interchangeable, and that both are rooted in essentially spiritual concepts of creation-destruction, of what I’ve called the phenomenon of generativity. So, when the big critters started to disappear at an alarming rate – whether from overkill or climate change or, probably, both – that process shook an emergent human society to its roots. The shock waves from that calamitous event, I would argue, still reverberate through our lives; if most of us do not interact with a variety of animals (confining our attention mostly to Siamese and Shih-Tzu), we continue to consume an endless stream of animal images through movies, TV, children’s storybooks, etc.
So, in short, what you’ve asked here requires us to contemplate a cultural-social apocalypse at the dawn of civilization.
Lee, what you have written here is a fascinating, genuinely mind-boggling idea. Where would you go next if asked to develop it? To answer, for example, the question, "What is the medium through which the reverberations are transmitted?" Or "How do we get from mammoths, cave bears or jaguars to Siamese, Shih-Tzu and Hello Kitty when thinking about our animal contemporaries?"
Animals are good to think with... Northwest coast animal-human transformation masks from the 19th Century.
i.e. did heterarchical hunters bring about extinction of mega-fauna (a note for everyone, this includes vast numbers of deer not just crazy large amimals) and then entrenched hierarchy ensue. Or did entrenched hierarchy bring about mass depeletion of fauna and then move morw toward agriculture.
There would seem to be a lot of unknowables. Take Gobekli Tepe. The main meat eaten seems to have been gazelle which doesnt make it as megafauna. Aurochs and gazelle were not wiped out, but perhaps they were depleted. Despite the complicated architecture with its reliefs of various animals (mostly dangerous or predatory it would seem) we cannot say in what sense the temple describes a 'hierarchy' let alone a 'heterarchy'; though we can take for granted some kind of seasonal variation, the rest is speculation.
The significance of the extinction or disappearance of large animals for human thinking--humans having lived with these beasts over many generations--is another question. For example, the hypothesis that the cyclops story is a result of people encountering ancient elephant skulls.
Quite interesting then that 'megafauna' seems to be defined at around or usually larger than the weight of a human being. The existence (and disappearance) of an animal larger than a human being is clearly noteworthy when it comes to measuring the significance of human beings in the environment. Is the key issue, then, this relative size of the animal to an adult human body? This must certainly have been a disturbing change -- from a situation where there were many such large animals, bigger than humans in the environment, to a new one where the great number of animals were smaller. Intriguing.
More fuel for the fires of thought. Where to morals come from?
I think you’re right to assert that the egalitarian-hierarchical opposition is too simple to describe the complex reality of social forms emerging in the wake of the end-Pleistocene extinctions. On close inspection, both come in very different flavors.
Consider the Plains Indian groups of the western U. S., whom WG discuss as an important example of the role of seasonal variation in shaping / determining (?) egalitarian vs. hierarchical social organization. Briefly, following Lowie, they note that Crow, Sioux, Cheyenne had authoritarian leaders during the annual buffalo hunt and Sun Dance, when large numbers of people gathered. In the winter, those large gatherings split into small, dispersed groups led by a senior kinsman. The hunt and ritual were critical to the tribe’s functioning, and individuals’ activities were constrained to serve those ends.
I think there are two problems with this tidy account.
First, Lowie and other early ethnographers first encountered the Plains groups after two centuries or so of rapid social change. Long before whites were present in any numbers, Indians acquired horses (mostly from feral herds) and, later guns. The horse and gun transformed Plains societies. While their residence pattern based on seasonal variation persisted, social and ceremonial relations became more hierarchical. Without horse and gun, it was a difficult, very scary job for a couple dozen Indians to descend on a buffalo herd and kill a number of animals. Not much material surplus there. But with horse and gun buffalo kills became much easier and lots more numerous. Buffalo hides became a medium of exchange, used to advance individuals in their quest for political and ceremonial status. To obtain an important medicine bundle, for example, and thus become the host or sponsor of a major ceremony required beaucoup hides. [Those guys would have been right at home in an American presidential campaign.] My point here is that hierarchical arrangements were transformed while the pattern of seasonal variation remained pretty constant. Hierarchy comes in different flavors. What would WG say about this?
Second, I find it odd that WG give pride of place to ritual in their “Childhood of Man” article, naming it before seasonality and the origin of inequality. Yet what they have to say about ritual is mostly off-the-shelf Durkheim: the fact that people congregate and perform rituals is a celebration or affirmation of their identity as a group. WG’s main objection to that view is that seasonal variation is behind the group’s assembling. But why do they assemble? Well, for that all-important buffalo hunt and – wasn’t there another reason? – Oh yes, the Sun Dance. What was that all about? All that grotesque self-mutilation? The urgent quest to find one’s guardian spirit, which usually assumed an animal form. Hmm. The incredible intensity and trauma of the Sun Dance was about forging a life-long association with an animal or animal-like being that inhabited the spirit world. What in the world does seasonality have to do with that? Take a close look at Georg Catlin’s text and drawings of O-kee-pa and tell me if seasonality is behind the ritual. The Sioux, and we contemporary folks, nourish deep, deep ties with that Pleistocene past of thinking about, hunting, depending on animals.
P. S. You asked about my use of “generativity,” and whether that had the usual anthropological meaning. Apart from generative phonology I don’t know what that usual meaning is. My development of the idea of “cultural generativity” may be found in American Dreamtime, Chapter 3, “A Theory of Culture as Semiospace” at www.peripheralstudies.org . Hint: it has a lot to do with the human-animal relation.