THE VIOLENT LIFE OF EARLY MAN?—EVIDENCE FROM TODAY. John Terborgh had a review in the New York Review of Books (April 5) of Scott Wallace’s THE UNCONQUERED: IN SEARCH OF THE AMAZON’S LAST UNCONTACTED TRIBES. Terborgh has been conducting research in the Amazon in Peru since 1973. It is thought that there are still about 15 uncontacted groups in Peru—groups that have no regular contact with the modern world. They have few manufactured tools, and most speak languages that no outsider knows. An acquaintance told Terborgh about his life before he had contact with the outside world. His group took elaborate precautions—moving frequently, destroying evidence of campsites, erasing their footprints—to leave no trace behind them. The reason was that: “Anyone they might chance to meet who wasn’t one of their little group was assumed to be a mortal enemy.”
This fear of strangers might be taken as supporting Pinker’s thesis about the great violence of early humans—evidence that early humans were violent out of fear.
However, there is an exception that casts doubt on Pinker’s argument that people have become less violent. Terborgh says that these groups live in fear of modern white men, based on atrocities committed about a hundred years ago during the rubber boom.