Paleolithic Tourists

Tourism and travel is an important part of the world wide economy, with some areas relying heavily on tourists for their local economies.  Tourism thrives because people enjoy it and many enjoy travel as often as they can.

The modern notion of travel takes advantage of a large infrastructure of transportation industries, hospitality services, tour services, local attractions etc.  In particular, travel is inexpensive allowing for frequent and extensive travel during vacations from a usual wage earning.

I recognize that a large part of the world population does not have the wealth or luxury of spare time to take large travel, but it seems at least that when the opportunity comes up most populations will not have any problems finding volunteers.

My impression is that there seems to be something really deep in our behavior that values travel or tourism.  Is it possible that travel is a basic instinct of man along the same priority as food and shelter?   There is no shortage of stories of people who leave assured food and shelter for the sake of travel.  Prior to the modern industrialization of travel, there were plenty of stories of hardships endured for the sake of travel that was enjoyed despite the deprivations.   As humans, we seem to be willing to seek out distant places just for the sake of that experience, without the intention of living remotely and perhaps with the intention all along to return.

Many years ago, I saw some program the described the prehistoric polynesian navigators who traveled to lands far beyond the horizon as a trip where they fully expected to return to the port they left from.   They were expert navigators to be sure, but they also envisioned the trip to be a round trip.

So little is knowable about prehistoric time.  The best we have are artifacts that may have distant origin that can indicate some kind of interaction with widely roaming tribes.  The vision is a brief period of interaction of two tribes whose separate paths happened to intersect by chance.  That interaction may have led to an exchange of ideas or simple items.  Given the long span of time involved such ideas could propagate just by chance.

The difficulty of survival especially in the harsh northern latitudes would be make impossible the idea of recreational travel especially as an individual traveling alone.  And yet, it seems to me that there must have been recreational travelers even in the paleolithic times.  Individuals who sought out distant places or perhaps to tribes his ancestors told him about and where generally they were heading.  He would endure a lot of risk and hardship to travel alone but he would likely succeed.  Again, this being a very long stretch of time, perhaps the chance of success was low but still attempted often enough that there were some successes.

It is curious that humans spread out as far as they did.  A simple explanation is a need to follow game and over population forcing tribes to split and move their separate ways.   But humans spread out quickly and to very dissimilar places than where they were previously.  It at least seems possible that there was even at the earliest time a desire to move away even from areas with abundant food and shelter and take the chance of deprivation in order to reach some new place or to meet some new group.

The images cave painting at Chauvet Cave in France are really intriguing.  The paintings required a lot of skill that must have required a lot of practice (and thus leisure time from finding food or shelter).  More intriguing is that they depict animals that were not from the area or in that area during that period.  The animals may have been imagined, or they may have been from some long passed-down tradition for when the ancestors met the other animals.   But what strikes me is that they could have been from experience of a traveler, someone who happened to visit and to provide the images as a gift in exchange for the hospitality he received.

Given the depth of the cave and evidence of some kind of ritual besides painting, it seems likely that this may have been the act of a shaman, perhaps in the influence of some intoxicant.  Tribes or bands had shamans who served vital roles to the community.  

The knowledge and skills of the shaman may have the courage to take on a long solitary trip to distant lands with the expectation of someday returning.  Perhaps his peers encouraged him with increased status he would have on his return or the envy of the rest who could not have done it themselves: much the same reasons we travel today.

I can imagine paleolithic tourists, perhaps traveling alone or a companion, covering huge territories, just for the fun either of the trip itself or of the eager audience they’d receive when they return.


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