A new anthropological study has suggested democracy may not have originated in ancient Greece but much earlier, when human ancestors started living in communities, soon after the invention of stone tools. The reason the authors give is that the availability of stone tools made possible the foundation of more egalitarian societies than the strict social hierarchies dominant in hominin communities until then, which favoured the most physically strong individuals.
According to Herbert Gintis, Carel van Schaik, and Christopher Boehm, when ancient primates started walking on two legs and hunting large animals, their social structure started to change as they realised the benefits of co-operation, and social interdependence began to emerge. A group of hunters armed with lethal weapons such as spears could bring home a much bigger catch, but they could also exert control over the individuals in power, and this combination of circumstances “added a unique political dimension to human social life,” the authors say in their paper, which has been published in Current Anthropology.
The authors note that this ancient form of democracy would have been very different from what we have come to associate with the term in the more recent periods of human history, but they suggest that this early egalitarian structure gave a substantial advantage to people who were good communicators and more persuasive than the rest of their community. The presence of this advantage led to the emergence of a new idea of leadership that no longer focused on physical abilities alone but also involved cognitive ones, such as linguistic skills and the “ability to form and influence coalitions”. The second driver of socio-political development besides leaders’ ability to persuade their followers was the followers’ to partake in decision-making, making it a consensual process.