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After the glaciers receded, the Ice Age tundra where great herds of buffalo,

reindeer, woolly rhinoceros, and mammoths had grazed was gradually sown with

the seeds of trees. Many of the herds died out; some migrated to Siberia. The last

of the nomadic hunters of large animals followed them. It was, in Eurasia, the

end of the Paleolithic period.

The forest drew under its spell the small hunting tribes that remained

behind. They hunted the shy wild animals that hid in small herds deep in the

forest—deer, stags, and wild boars—and the somber lone wanderers, such as the

bear, the badger, and the moose in the bogs. To hunt like this was laborious; it

took more time than it had before and bagged less. In equal proportions to the

rate at which the hunting bounty diminished, plant-gathering increased in value.

Within the natural division of work of the primitive people, collecting roots,

fruit, bark, and birds’ eggs fell mostly to the female gender; thus the work of

women gained in importance. While the meat was distributed among the

community according to strict regulations, the women gathered the daily plant

rations for their families. It is still like this today among huntergatherers: The

men work at politics, securing friendships and nurturing alliances for when the

time comes for the meat to be divided; the women tend to the daily aspects of

survival.

The tribes would settle for a while in places where gathering was feasible.

Harbors were prized as camps, for there one could find the starchy tonic roots of

the cattail, the marsh woundwort, the club rush, the arrowhead, or the water

chestnut. One could also use the duckweed (Lemna) for soup or eat the juicy

shoots of the reed, and the nutritious seeds of the winnowed or flooded sweet

grass (Glyceria) were greatly valued. In addition, harbors provided various

crustaceans, mollusks, and small amphibians.

Besides making arrows for hunting birds and small animals, constructing

fish traps, knotting nets, and making harpoons and hooks, the men probably

spent the rest of their time—similar to the huntergatherers of today—loafing

about and communicating with the many spirits that animated the forest, the

cliffs, and the water. This era is known as the Mesolithic period.

The Mesolithic people moved with the seasons in broad circles to different

hunting-and-gathering regions. They always returned to the same camps. Many

of their favorite plants grew there. Spilled seeds and the disposed rinds of tubers

found a suitable environment when the competitive vegetation was trampled

down and the ground was fertilized with ashes, excrement, urine, and trash. The

step to domestication was, therefore, but a small one. During this period some

hunters in the Near East intentionally began to turn the soil, make small mounds,

and sow grass seeds they had gathered previously. Young animals were tethered

or fenced in, and eventually tamed. In this way the huntergatherer groups became settled. They built themselves permanent houses with stalls for the

captured animals.

Huntergatherers have few possessions, and most of these are incorporeal:

They are visions, fairy tales, songs, magical incantations, and medicinal

knowledge. These people live from hand to mouth, in the here and now. Who

wants always to be lugging heavy burdens around with them? But for sedentary

tribes it makes good sense to have large jugs and containers made of clay. Grains

and other food can be stored in them, and beer can be brewed. In ancient times

beer—made with consciousness-expanding herbs—was a sacred drink with

which the forces of the fate, the sun, the earth, and the vegetation gods were

celebrated (Rätsch, 1996: 50). This cultural transformation in which the first

permanent settlements developed is called the Neolithic revolution by primeval

historians.

Neolithic village settlements spread out from Asia Minor and up the

Danube River and its tributaries. Toward the end of the fifth century the

pioneers, people of what is known as the Linear Pottery culture, settled the river

valleys of central Europe. There they farmed wheat and barley, fava beans, and

flax, and for their matrilineal families they built square communal houses twenty

to thirty meters long in the middle of areas that had been burned. After a decade

or two, when the soil had been depleted of nutrients and the fields and meadows

had lost their fertility, the first farmers moved on. Once again they cleared the

next piece of the immense primordial forest, logged the huge trees using fire and

hewn-stone axes, seeded the disturbed land, and provided the cattle, goats, and

sheep with a new grazing area.

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