February 17, 2010

Joel Berglund
Greenland National Museum and Archives
Hans Egedevej 8
3900 Nuuk

Dear Joel Berglund:

I enjoyed going through your chapter on Greenland in the book Questioning Collapse.  It is marvelous that, within such a short article, you do such a good job of presenting your own orientation toward archeological findings.  To say we differ would be understatement, but perhaps you will find the patience to look at one graph with me.

Southern Mesopotamia Information taken from R. H. Carling THE WORLD HISTORY CHART International Timeline Inc. Vienna, VA 1985.  The experience of Southern Mesopotamia.  The vertical axis is The chance of an empire of any age continuing to rule locally for another 50 years.  The horizontal axis is the ages of the empires.  I broke the Ottoman Empire into two, because their Janissary elite came from two different sources during the early and late empire.
This is a poor man’s actuarial table.  It shows the likelihood that any culture, regime, however you choose to name it, at any one fifty year mark will survive the next fifty year interval.

I understand you distrust the reduction of events to numbers.  I understand that you really distrust oversimplification, but this particular oversimplification begs for explanation.  I appreciate the way you outlined the course of ideas about “How Cultures Cycle and Collapse.”  But who would have thought that the clock of that cycle beat with such morbid predictability?  But it does.  The same time scale can be found in a number of locations  I am enclosing a ten minute DVD that shows much of the data and a bit more besides.  (Numbers again.  Sorry.  It is my nature.) 

So the achievement of the Norse in Greenland is more than remarkable.  If they reached nearly a five hundred year span, they far outlasted any recognized culture in the Southern Mesopotamia.  And the real miracle is that they did it with such a big population.


Did you get that?

Their population was big.  Too big.  The five thousand you suggest is probably too many to survive very long.  It is, as you nicely point out, not too many to feed in Greenland with a little herding and hunting.  To cut to the chase, the problem is genetic.  Yes, I know the geneticists tell us that the bigger and more diverse the population, the more healthy it is genetically.  Well that simply is not true.  Big populations crash; I refer you again to the DVD.  Small populations are virtually immortal.  Little English villages recorded in the Domesday Book, are pretty much all still around while no great power that existed then is still a great power. 

I think the Greenland Norse probably managed to survive by being scattered over a large area.  Instead of one big gene pool they were highly subdivided for a long time.  Some day I trust somebody will run this down in the field.  Jarred Diamond published an article, “Life with the Artificial Anasazi,” in NATURE not that long ago tracing the population of Indians in Long House Valley over a few centuries by counting houses and figuring out which years they had been occupied.  Hunt and Lipo did the same thing for Easter Island in Questioning Collapse.  The curves are very similar except that the time scale is twice as long on Easter Island.  Evidently the population was able to subdivide even more effectively than the Greenland population. 

So I am looking forward to seeing the same information graphed from Greenland. 

Let me know what you think.  The view from my keyhole onto reality is that cultures collapse because they get to be too big too long to remain fertile.  The notion that they make mistakes will not hold.  In that case, the curve above should go up as the less prudent cultures are removed.  Nor are they being overwhelmed by outside forces like climate change or the arrival of Europeans.  That would give a line that went straight across.  Having ruled out both intrinsic and extrinsic causes, the fall of cultures must simply be due to the fact of a large population. 

There is more information at NoBabies.net (along with letters like this).  In a week or so I shall present my best summary at the genetics convention in Albuquerque, and I shall post it on the web site at about the same time. I am including a black and white copy.  (Remind me if I fail to do so.)

I do hope you take an interest.  Yes, I think this time archaeology is important to us now.  We may be unique in our ability to destroy the environment, but our genetic ability to destroy ourselves has not changed one little bit, nor will it until people begin to think about this.  Let me know if I can clarify or help in any way.


M. Linton Hebert MD

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