Guns, Germs, and Steel Chapter 1 Summary
by Jared Diamond

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Chapter 1 Summary

According to Diamond, the ancestors of human beings broke off as a separate lineage from other animals about 7 million years ago in Africa. Human ancestors began walking upright around 4 million years ago, and they moved to Eurasia around 1 or 2 million years ago. Sometime between 100,000 and 50,000 years ago, not long after human fossils began to resemble modern homo sapiens, our race created an explosion of new technological and artistic innovations that far surpassed anything previously created. Archaeologists call this period the Great Leap Forward.

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Shortly after the Great Leap Forward, between 50,000 and 35,000 years ago, the human race expanded its territory. Although human ancestors had remained in Africa and Eurasia for millions of years, people now moved outward to Australia, the South Pacific, and the coldest northern regions of Eurasia. The precise dates of human arrival in the Americas are harder to determine, but the colonization happened at least 12,000 or 13,000 years ago. Diamond thinks it is remarkable that human beings moved into all habitable areas of the globe in a few tens of thousands of years without the benefit of modern technology.

Diamond begins his consideration of the fates of human societies around 11,000 B.C., or 13,000 years ago, because during this period all the habitable continents were populated with hunter-gatherers, and no society had advanced technologically to become farmers or city dwellers. Diamond asks whether a modern archaeologist, transported back 13,000 years, could determine which continent’s people would have the best chances for developing advanced technologies. Considering each continent in turn, he lists the qualities one might consider to be advantages.

In 11,000 B.C.E., Africa had been populated for the longest time, which would have allowed its people to develop the most expansive knowledge of their landscape and environment. Africa’s people were also more genetically diverse than were the people of other continents, which suggests they might have had a greater range of genetic adaptability.

The Americas had been populated the shortest length of time. The Americas, however, had more space and environmental diversity than Africa did. Taken together,...

(The entire section is 516 words.)