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Health and the Rise of Civilization

Health and the Rise of Civilization

Mark Nathan Cohen
Copyright Date: 1989
Published by: Yale University Press
Pages: 296
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  • Book Info
    Health and the Rise of Civilization
    Book Description:

    Civilized nations popularly assume that "primitive" societies are poor, ill, and malnourished and that progress through civilization automatically implies improved health. In this provocative book, Mark Nathan Cohen challenges this belief. Using findings from epidemiology, anthropology, and archaeology, Cohen provides fascinating evidence about the actual effects of civilization on health, suggesting that some aspects of "progress" create as many health problems as they prevent or cure."[This book] is certain to become a classic-a prominent and respected source on this subject for years into the future…. If you want to read something that will make you think, reflect, and reconsider, Cohen'sHealth and the Rise of Civilizationis for you."-S. Boyd Eaton,Los Angeles Times Book Review"A major accomplishment. Cohen is a broad and original thinker who states his views in direct and accessible prose…. This is a book that should be read by everyone interested in disease, civilization, and the human condition."-David Courtwright,Journal of the History of Medicine"Cohen has done his homework extraordinarily well, and the coverage of the biomedical, nutritional, demographic, and ethnographic literature about foragers and low energy agriculturalists is excellent…. The book deserves a wide readership and a central place in our professional libraries. As a scholarly summary it is without parallel."-Henry Harpending,American Ethnologist"Deserves to be read by anthropologists concerned with health, medical personnel responsible for communities, and any medical anthropologists…. Indeed, it could provide great profit and entertainment to the general reader."-George T. Nurse,Current Anthropology

    eISBN: 978-0-300-15724-6
    Subjects: Health Sciences, History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Preface
    (pp. vii-x)
  4. Chapter 1 Images of the “Primitive” and the “Civilized”
    (pp. 1-6)

    Our perception of human progress relies heavily on stereotypes we have created about the “primitive” and the “civilized.” We build our ideas of history out of images that we have projected on our past.

    In fact, Western civilization teaches two conflicting images of the primitive and the civilized, and each has become something of a cliché. On the one hand, we teach admiration for smaller societies or simpler cultures, as exemplified by romantic portrayals of the American Indian. On the other hand, we teach disdain for the primitive and appreciation for science and civilization. These two themes intertwine in our...

  5. Chapter 2 Behavior and Health
    (pp. 7-15)

    I should begin by making two points about the nature of health and disease. The two points are relatively simple but are not widely understood or appreciated—and they are not always consciously applied, even by people who would surely profess to understand them. The first point is that human activities can create disease or increase the risk of illness just as surely as medical science reduces the risk. Most threats to human health are not universal, and many are not ancient. Most threats to health do not occur randomly, nor are they dictated solely by natural forces: most are...

  6. Chapter 3 The Evolution of Human Society
    (pp. 16-31)

    Before I pursue the theme of changing patterns of health, it seems advisable to sketch a brief (somewhat simplified and idealized) history of how human societies have evolved. This will provide a background for arguments pursued in subsequent chapters.

    In attempts to understand human cultural evolution, anthropologists commonly divide human societies into categories that add a degree of scientific precision to our discussion of the primitive and the civilized and help explain why compromises in health change as society changes. Although a number of systems of classification have been proposed and there is some disagreement about the precise divisions to...

  7. Chapter 4 The History of Infectious Disease
    (pp. 32-54)

    Changes in the size and density of human populations and in the design of human societies are likely to have had fairly profound effects on the distribution of infectious diseases. Studies of the habits of various parasites, analyses of historical patterns of disease, and mathematical simulations of disease processes all suggest that early primitive human groups were probably exposed to a different—and much more limited—set of diseases than modern civilized populations. Almost all studies that attempt to reconstruct the history of infectious diseases indicate that the burden of infection has tended to increase rather than decrease as human...

  8. Chapter 5 Changes in the Human Diet
    (pp. 55-74)

    When human subsistence strategies change (from foraging focused on large game animals and selected vegetable foods to broad spectrum foraging of small game, small seeds, and aquatic resource, then to subsistence farming, and finally to intensified farming and trade by specialists), there are likely to be a number of changes in human diet and nutrition. These changes affect the efficiency of food production in terms of the number of calories produced and eaten per hour of work. They also affect the nutrient quality of the diet, the reliability of food supplies, and the texture of foods consumed.

    There is a...

  9. Chapter 6 Health among Contemporary Hunter-Gatherers
    (pp. 75-104)

    Observations have now been made on a number of contemporary human groups whose lifestyles approximate those of the smallest prehistoric human societies—that is, small, mobile, fluid groups (usually numbering fifty or fewer) foraging for wild foods.¹ None of these groups is a pristine remnant of ancient life. All exist in the modern world, and all are affected by its contact. None of these groups—nor even all of them together—provides a complete or unbiased picture of early human lifestyles. We should, perhaps, consider them twentieth-century experiments in small-group foraging, rather than remnants of the past. But they, along...

  10. Chapter 7 The Evidence of Prehistoric Skeletons
    (pp. 105-129)

    Human skeletal remains from archaeological sites provide additional, direct evidence about health and disease in ancient populations. For our purposes, in fact, using skeletal samples has several advantages over the analysis of contemporary hunting and gathering populations. The skeletons testify directly about the state of health of actual prehistoric groups, rather than about the health of small-scale contemporary societies in which health may be significantly altered by interaction with modern civilizations. In addition, skeletal evidence is available from many parts of the world that hunting and gathering societies no longer inhabit. In particular, archaeological evidence of prehistoric hunter-gatherers is available...

  11. Chapter 8 Conclusions
    (pp. 130-142)

    I began by calling attention to two conflicting images of the primitive and the civilized—conflicting images that appear both in popular beliefs about progress and in professional reconstructions of history. Perhaps the best way to begin a summation of the evidence is to suggest that neither image appears to be accurate, at least if health and physical well-being are used as measures.

    The smallest human societies that we can identify, either among living groups or among the populations of prehistory, do not appear to live up to the more romantic images we sometimes paint of them in popular literature....

  12. Notes
    (pp. 143-224)
  13. Bibliography
    (pp. 225-270)
  14. Index
    (pp. 271-285)