Reading 3

This passage is taken from a book titled Guns, Germs, and Steel by Jared Diamond (© 1997 Jared Diamond).

  1. Where do innovations actually
  2. come from? For all societies
  3. except the few past ones that
  4. were completely isolated, much or
  5. most new technology is not
  6. invented locally but is instead
  7. borrowed from other societies.
  8. The relative importance of local
  9. invention and of borrowing
  10. depends mainly on two factors:
  11. the ease of invention of the
  12. particular technology, and the
  13. proximity of the particular society
  14. to other societies.
  15. Some inventions arose
  16. straightforwardly from a handling
  17. of natural raw materials. Such
  18. inventions developed on many
  19. independent occasions in world
  20. history, at different places and
  21. times. One example is plant
  22. domestication, with at least nine
  23. independent origins. Another is
  24. pottery, which may have arisen
  25. from observations of the behavior
  26. of clay, a very widespread natural
  27. material, when dried or heated.
  28. Pottery appeared in Japan around
  29. 14,000 years ago, in the Fertile
  30. Crescent and China by around
  31. 10,000 years ago, and in
  32. Amazonia, Africa’s Sahel zone,
  33. the U.S. Southeast, and
  34. Mexico thereafter.
  35. An example of a much more
  36. difficult invention is writing,
  37. which does not suggest itself
  38. by observation of any natural
  39. material. It had only a few
  40. independent origins, and the
  41. alphabet arose apparently only
  42. once in world history. Other
  43. difficult inventions include the
  44. water wheel, magnetic compass,
  45. and windmill, all of which were
  46. invented only once or twice in the
  47. Old World and never in the New
  48. World. Such complex inventions
  49. were usually acquired by
  50. borrowing, because they spread
  51. more rapidly than they could be
  52. independently invented locally.
  53. A clear example is the wheel,
  54. which is first attested around
  55. 3400 B.C near the Black Sea,
  56. and then turns up within the next
  57. few centuries over much of
  58. Europe and Asia. All those early
  59. Old World wheels are of a
  60. peculiar design: a solid wooden
  61. circle constructed of three planks
  62. fastened together, rather than a
  63. rim with spokes. In contrast, the
  64. sole wheels of Native American
  65. societies (depicted on Mexican
  66. ceramic vessels) consisted of a
  67. single piece, suggesting a second
  68. independent invention of the
  69. wheel—as one would expect from
  70. other evidence for the isolation
  71. of New World from Old World
  72. civilizations.
  73. No one thinks that that same
  74. peculiar Old World wheel design
  75. appeared repeatedly by chance at
  76. many separate sites of the
  77. Old World within a few centuries
  78. of each other, after 7 million years
  79. of wheel-less human history.
  80. Instead, the utility of the wheel
  81. surely caused it to diffuse rapidly
  82. east and west over the Old World
  83. from its sole site of invention.
  84. Other examples of complex
  85. technologies that diffused east
  86. and west in the ancient Old
  87. World, from a single West Asian
  88. source, included door locks,
  89. pulleys, rotary querns, windmills
  90. —and the alphabet. A New World
  91. example of technological
  92. diffusion is metallurgy, which
  93. spread from the Andes via
  94. Panama to Mesoamerica.
  95. When a widely useful invention
  96. does crop up in one society, it
  97. then tends to spread in either of
  98. two ways. One way is that other
  99. societies see or learn of the
  100. invention, are receptive to it,
  101. and adopt it. The second is that
  102. societies lacking the invention
  103. find themselves at a disadvantage
  104. vis-à-vis the inventing society,
  105. and they become overwhelmed
  106. and replaced if the disadvantage
  107. is sufficiently great.
  108. A simple example is the spread of
  109. muskets among New Zealand’s
  110. Maori tribes. One tribe, the
  111. Nagapuhi, adopted muskets from
  112. European traders around 1818.
  113. Over the course of the next 15
  114. years, New Zealand was
  115. convulsed by the so-called Musket
  116. Wars, as musketless tribes either
  117. acquired muskets or were
  118. subjugated by tribes already
  119. armed with them. The outcome
  120. was that musket technology had
  121. spread throughout the whole of
  122. New Zealand by 1833: all
  123. surviving Maori tribes now had
  124. muskets.