Some days, the most random conversation topics come up. For example, yesterday, my brother-in-law introduced to my sister and me his theory of how ancient people figured out how to cook bread. As we discussed possible scenarios, my Economics Anthropology course during my junior year of college came to mind. After watching a film about slash-and-burn horticulture one some island far away, a friend taking the class with me whispered that she couldn’t understand how primitive people would’ve ever figured out that ashes could fertilize the ground, increasing productivity.
However, it didn’t seem unrealistic to me at all. People back then were just as smart and creative as people now. They would’ve been observant, looking for cause-and-effect relationships everywhere and experimenting as much as their hand-to-mouth lifestyle allowed. Maybe it took them lifetimes to make discoveries, as did many of the scientific advancements of the 19th and 20th centuries.
There’s also a matter of priorities. Most of us don’t think about food 24-7, while their subsistence culture demanded that they concentrate primarily on making it easier to feed their families. We might focus our creative energies on producing YouTube videos and developing Facebook applications, but they were looking for more efficient ways to grow crops and hunt down game. Seen from that perspective, their accomplishments are a lot less surprising.