Study Questions for Jarred Diamond, Guns, Germs and Steel, Chapter 2, A Natural Experiment of History
1) Briefly describe the nature of the 1835 conflict between the
Moriori and the Maori.
500 militaristic, well-armed Maori warriors (from an agricultural society on NZ's North Island) travelled 500 miles by boat and brutally conquered a much larger population of peaceful, hunter-gatherer Morioris. Morioris and Maori's were related groups. Moriori's had moved from NZ and reverted to hunting and gathering existence.
2) In what way was the conflict a "small-scale natural experiment
that tests how environments affect human societies"? pg. 54
New Zealand and Chatham Islands offered very different physical environments for societal evolution of two groups descended from a single group of people (Polynesians who colonized Pacific islands from Bismarck Archipelago between 1200BC and 500AD).
~What thesis is Diamond attempting to prove?
Different physical environments caused significant variation in the adaptation of human societies.
3) If the Maori-Moriori conflict is a small scale test, Diamond spends
the rest of the chapter conducting a medium-scale test. Describe the
nature (or method) of the test. Your response should include the fact
1. Establish common heritage of Polynesians.
This removes a biological and/or cultural explanation for different
2. Establish a common general time of colonization of Polynesia. This removes the variable of time.
3. Identify environmental varibles on the isalnds colonized by common people at same general time.
4. Trace differing paths of societal evolution.
4) What were the key 6 environmental variables of the
Temperature: tropical, sub-tropical, temperate
Precipitation: tropical rainforest, dry
2. Geology: for soils and material for tools
coral, limestone, volcanic, continental
3. Geology related to rainfall, streams, weathering and creation of soils
4. Coastal geology:
shallow coast = abundant fish resources
deep coast = sparse food resources
5. Area and topography
steep-walled valleys, rolling terrain, small islands
small, remote islands = little contact
Archipelagoes with regular contact: Tongan, Fijian, Samoan, Wallis.
5) How did different environments affect the islanders' various methods of subsisting?
Tropical and sub-tropical island populations subsisted on varieties of slash and burn or intensive agricultural production of taro, yams, and sweet potatoes (all introduced crops). Also included introduced domesticated animals (pig, chicken, dog)
Temperate Chatham and NZ's southern South Island = reverted back to hunting and gathering because tropical crops couldn't produce enough food in those environments.
6) How did the islanders' various methods of subsisting affect
Large variation in population densities.
Intensive agriculture = high densities: 210-250/sq. mile
hunter gatherers = low densities: 5/sq. mile
7) Describe the social, political, technological and economic developments of those islands with very high population densities.
~social and religious complexity
Hierarchically ranked lineages ruled over, and organized labor of mass of commoners. High ranking lineages directed religious life.
Hierarchically ranked lineages ruled over, and organized labor of mass of commoners. Lineages unified into island chiefdoms, and, in some cases, led to island conquests and creation of island empires.
High density islands developed specialized and complex technology: tools. In Hawaii, they even purchased European ships and guns to expand empire.
High density islands developed economic specialization, whereby only a portion of population actaully produced food for themselves and the
classes of bureaucrats, chiefs, priests and warriors.
8) The outcome of the "test" can be found on the lower
section of page 65. Paraphrase the outcome in your own words.
Polynesian societies are descended from the the same stock, who colonized the widely varying physical environments of the Pacific Islands at the same general time. The differing environments represented different resource packages on which societal evolution depended. Polynesian societies followed widely diverging evolutionary paths, primarily because of these environmental differences.
9) Now, so what? Is he conducting this test in order to learn
about the Pacific? Or is his objective more wide-ranging?
Diamond believes the Polynesian case study is a model for understanding the differing paths of human development around the world.