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Globalisation in Deep Time: Postdisciplinary Lessons from the ‘Palaeolithic’

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Historicising globalisation entails crossing chronological thresholds—‘the present’, ‘modernity’, ‘antiquity’, etc.—that often operate as conceptual or epistemological boundaries. The greatest and most enduring has been the threshold of ‘history’ itself, beyond which the notions of society, culture, or civilisation apparently cease to be meaningful analytical frameworks for understanding the condition of humanity as a social and natural species. In this talk I make the case for a deep historical perspective on globalisation and argue that extending the chronology beyond the longue durée to encompass so-called ‘prehistory’ does more than just illuminate other/older configurations of our common global condition. To do so I first show, using a standard definition of globalisation, that humanity experienced its first truly ‘global age’ during the period known as the ‘Palaeolithic’. Focusing on the role of specific epistemic innovations and cultural practices in establishing and maintaining the structures and processes of connectivity, exchange, and integration characteristic of that period, I then propose ‘cultural biogeography’ as the most fruitful analytical framework to explain Palaeolithic globalisation, understood as the distinctive globality of a forager lifeway deployed in the Pleistocene’s uniquely challenging environmental conditions and the historically unique circumstances of planetary colonisation. In conclusion I argue that a deep-time perspective allows us to understand and break down the great wall of ‘history’ as a distinctively agrarian category, to illuminate the process of globalisation as fundamental to the nature of humanity qua cultural species, but also to draw on pre-Holocenic life and lessons for a better understanding and anticipation of the Anthropocenic future.

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