Lost explorers

Stories of lost explorers that tell us about the importance of cultural knowledge to our survival.

In his book “The secret of our success”, evolutionary anthropologist Joseph Henrich highlights the fate of explorers in the 19th century. These are stories in which European or American explorers got trapped in environments that had not been explored by them before, such as in Australia or in the Arctic. Humans have been living in these environments for thousands of years, but these explorers died because of lack of food, water, shelter, or because of disease. Particularly, they lacked access to the cultural knowledge that had been accumulated for thousands of years by regional hunter-gatherers and that allowed them to survive in these environments.

The lesson contains two stories, one of which tells the fate of a team of explorers in the Australian outback, and the other story is about the polar Inuit. Both stories happened around the year 1860.

The stories help students reflect on the role of cultural knowledge and its transmission in the survival and evolutionary success of our species in the past and in the future.

Author: Susan Hanisch

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