What was the "Great Leap Forward" described in Guns, Germs, and Steel? 

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pohnpei397's profile pic

pohnpei397 | College Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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You can answer this question by reading in Chapter 1.  There, Diamond tells us that the "Great Leap Forward" was a time, between 100,000 and 50,000 years ago, in which human beings experienced huge advances in their ability to create technological and artistic artifacts.

Before this time, human beings made only crude stone tools.  They did not make any art that survived in the fossil record.  They did not even make fish hooks.  After the Leap, human beings started to make all sorts of tools.  They started to make fish hooks and needles and awls and all sorts of other things.  They started to make art like beads and paintings and statues.

This burst of new creativity is what Diamond calls the "Great Leap Forward."

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jameadows | High School Teacher | (Level 2) Educator

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In Chapter 1 of his book, Diamond refers to the Great Leap Forward that occurred about 50,000 years ago. The signs that this leap occurred are stone tools and the first preserved jewelry, which have both been recovered in East Africa. Diamond sees the tools and jewelry as signs that there was a great improvement in humans' abilities to manipulate their environment at this time. He has argued that this change occurred because of the improvement in the human voice box resulted in better language skills, but others have argued that the Great Leap occurred because of a change in human brain organization that created modern language. The question of whether the Great Leap Forward occurred in one place, most likely East Africa, and spread to other regions, or whether it occurred at the same time in different locations, is still unclear. 

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thanatassa | College Teacher | (Level 3) Educator Emeritus

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Jared Diamond's 1998 book Guns, Germs, and Steel makes the argument that differences in levels of cultural development across varying regions of the world are primarily environmentally determined rather than due to innate differences in mental capability or character among different human populations.

In Chapter 1 of Guns, Germs, and Steel, Diamond argues that we can best understand the preconditions for the development of advanced civilizations by studying the moment before the "Great Leap Forward", the period in which humans developed such advances as tool use, agriculture, division of labor, and other features that form the basis of economic and population growth. He sees such factors as domesticable plants and animals, natural resource availability, trade routes, and genetic diversity as possible factors leading to this leap. He is particularly interested in the way geography, especially ease of movement on east-west as opposed to north-south axes allowed civilizations to develop and grow. 


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