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Guns, Germs, and Steel

by Jared Diamond

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According to Guns, Germs, and Steel, why did the people of Australia not develop metal tools, writing or complex political systems?

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Diamond’s thesis in Guns, Germs and Steel is that geography played a deciding role in the rise of civilization and the spread of technologies like agriculture, written language, and the use of metals. Australia, isolated from the rest of the world, is a case in point. Diamond points out that Australia is “by far the driest, smallest, flattest, most infertile, climatically most unpredictable, and biologically most impoverished continent.” As a result, Australia was never able to support the population densities needed to develop those technologies. Diamond compares Australia to its neighbor, New Guinea. New Guinea, although only one-tenth the size of Australia, is much wetter, has far richer soil, and a wider range of climates. For this reason, people in New Guinea were able to domesticate local crops, develop and use pottery, and invent technologies like the bow and arrow.

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In Chapter 15, Diamond tells us that Australian natives did not develop these things because of their bad geographical luck.  The geography of Australia did not allow for agriculture and a lack of agriculture meant no large societies that could create such things.

Australia had no domesticable animals since all large animals were made extinct when humans arrived.  It had bad soil and is the driest continent.  It also has a very unpredictable climate.  Diamond says it is hard to make modern agriculture work well in Australia and so it would have been essentially impossible to make it work with what the Aboriginal Australians had.

Because they couldn't farm, the Australians couldn't have dense populations, which are needed to give rise to things like tools, writing, and complex political systems.

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