Human Efforts to Shape Their World: Part 1 — Matters of Survival

Humanity has a greater capacity to reshape their environment than any other living species. In fact, many view this control as the mark of civilization. Looking at history however, it seems that populations go through three distinct phases in how they mold their surroundings to fit their needs.

First, groups focus on the changes that will aid in their survival. Second, they see to the aspects that add convenience to life and commerce. Finally, they are able to turn their attentions to matters of aesthetics. As we build our worlds, we writers need to ensure that we layer these phases upon one another in order to create a milieu that feels real and organic. Over the next three weeks, I’ll discuss each phase in detail.

When a group of settlers moves into a region, they are primarily concerned with the necessities of long term survival and security. Their first task is likely to find a place in which to construct shelters strong enough to withstand local weather, wildlife, and hostile neighbors. Their survival hinges on their ability to be near enough to water, food, construction materials, and other key resources to allow for reasonably easy access. In addition, they’d need to find a way to defend those resources against competition. It’s a careful balancing act.

Though water is heavy and difficult to transport, any sizable population will require a plentiful source to support their daily needs. Because of this, towns tend to initially grow on rivers or lakes. Wells can be used for this purpose, but are difficult to drill reliably even in our modern day. In addition, rivers and lakes also serve as sources of nourishment for local flora and fauna, so the land for the settlement will need to be cleared in order to create space and generate materials for construction.

As the community is being established, their members will also begin to cultivate steady and stable sources of food. Though hunting and gathering is sufficient to support a small community in the short term, the land within a certain radius of human habitation is quickly stripped bare. This is why most hunting and gathering societies are at least semi-nomadic.

With size and permanence comes the need for organized agricultural systems. Typically, the community will introduce plants from their homeland as well as relocate and cultivate native species. In addition, settlers will also hunt local prey animals, ward against local predators and attempt to domesticate any creature they see as beasts of burden, sources of food or companions. All these actions together fundamentally impact the ecology of a region.

Once the town is established and everyone has the food, water and shelter they need to survive, the society can turn their attention to making their lives more convenient and varied. I’ll see y’all next week as I continue this multi-part series on the efforts of man to shape their world and bring “civilization” to the wild.


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