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Earth’s volume is about one trillion cubic kilometers, its core is believed to be about 90% iron, and the rest is largely nickel. The is thought to be mostly oxygen and silicon, and the remainder is largely composed of the lighter alkali and alkaline earth metals, such as sodium, potassium, and calcium. Those mantle metals are primarily bound in oxides. The mantle makes up more than 80% of Earth’s volume. The crust also is almost solely comprised of oxides. Silicon dioxide (sand and glass are made from it) is the most prevalent compound and the crust is, by mass, nearly 75% oxygen and silicon (), and nearly all of the remainder is aluminum, iron, and those lighter and earth metals. All other elements combined amount to less than 2% of Earth’s crust. An accompanying presents the current estimates of the relative concentrations of Earth’s mass and atoms that are relevant to this essay.
So far, this essay has dealt lightly with regional differences and largely confined the discussion to polar, temperate, and tropical conditions in the seas, and rainforest versus dryer conditions on land. While existed, barriers to species diffusion on land were relatively modest, hence dominance. But at the Triassic’s end, and continental differences in plants and animals often became significant in later times. Although the formation of Pangaea had profound impacts, because land life was relatively young, the differences and resultant changes due to the removal of oceanic barriers were less spectacular than would happen in the distant future, such as when .
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Only when economic surpluses (primarily food) were redistributed, first by chiefs and then by early states, did men rise to dominance in those agricultural civilizations. Because the rise of civilization in the Fertile Crescent is the best studied and had the greatest influence on humanity, this chapter will tend to focus on it, although it will also survey similarities and differences with other regions where agriculture and civilization first appeared. Whenever agriculture appeared, cities nearly always eventually appeared, usually a few thousand years later. Agriculture’s chief virtue was that it extracted vast amounts of human-digestible energy from the land, and population densities hundreds of times greater than that of hunter-gatherers became feasible. The , but today it is widely thought that population pressures led to agriculture's appearance. The attractions of agricultural life over the hunter-gatherer lifestyle were not immediately evident, at least after the first easy phase, when intact forests and soils were there for the plundering. On the advancing front of agricultural expansion, life was easy, but as forests and soils were depleted, population pressures led to disease, "pests" learned to consume that human-raised food, and agricultural life became a life of drudgery compared to the hunter-gatherer or horticultural lifestyle. Sanitation issues, disease, and environmental decline plagued early settlements, and not long after they transitioned from hunter-gatherers to farmers, but the land could also support many times the people. Another aspect of biology that applies to human civilization is the idea of . Over history, the society with the higher carrying capacity prevailed, and the loser either adopted the winner’s practices or became enslaved, taxed, marginalized, or extinct. On the eve of the Domestication Revolution, Earth’s carrying capacity with the hunter-gatherer lifestyle was around 10 million people, and the actual population was somewhat less, maybe . On the eve of the Industrial Revolution in 1800, Earth’s population was , and again was considered to be about half of Earth's carrying capacity under that energy regime. No matter how talented a hunter-gatherer warrior was, he was no match for two hundred peasants armed with hoes.
The genetic testing that has been performed on humanity in the past generation has shown that the founder group’s pattern of migration was to continually spread out, and once the original settlement covered the continents, people did not move much at all, at least until Europe began conquering the world (and there were some ). There is little sign of warfare in those early days of migration, and the leading hypothesis is that people moved to the next valley rather than be close enough to fight each other. Any conflict would have been easily resolved by moving farther out, where more easily killed animals lived. Also, in those virgin continents, people need not have roamed far to obtain food. Today, an !Kung woman will carry her child more than 7,000 kilometers before the child can walk for himself/herself. If an !Kung woman bears twins, it is her duty to pick which child to murder, because she cannot afford to carry two. That demonstrates the limitations of today’s hunter-gatherer lifestyle, but in those halcyonic days of invading virgin continents (which had to be the Golden Age of the Hunter-Gatherer), those kinds of practices probably waned and bands grew fast. When they they split, and the new group moved to new lands where the animals, again, never saw people before. Unlike the case with humans, there would not have been a grapevine so that animals told their neighbors about the new super-predator. The first time that those megafauna saw humans was probably their last time. It is very likely, just as with all predators for all time, and as can be seen with historical hunting events such or , that those bands soon took to killing animals, harvesting the best parts, and moving on. To them it would not have been a “blitzkrieg,” but more like kids in candy stores. After a few thousand years of grabbing meat whenever the fancy took them, or perhaps less, those halcyonic days were over as the far coasts of Australia were reached and the easy meat was gone. When that land bridge formed to Tasmania about 43 kya, people crossed and were able to , until all the megafauna was gone on Tasmania. They also may have worked their way through the food chain, in which the first kills were the true mother lode. Nobody even deigned to raise a spear at anything less than a until they were gone. Then they started killing smaller prey, which eventually did wise up and were harder to kill, so humans had to work at it again and the brief golden age was over. The as they shaped the new continent to their liking, maybe recreating the savanna conditions that they left in Africa, may have also been used to flush out animals if they began to avoid humans.
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In today’s hunter-gatherer societies, the EROI for killing large animals dwarfs all other food sources. The EROI, of calories produced divided by those burned during the hours of labor invested, for large game (a deer, for example), is more than 100, and on average four times that of small game, fifteen times that of birds, about eight times that of roots and tubers, and 10-15 times that of seeds and nuts. The hunter-gatherer EROI for seeds, nuts, and birds is around ten-to-one. An average-sized adult African elephant carcass provides about 13 million calories, which would sustain a band of 12 people for a year if they could eat it all before it rotted and did not die of protein poisoning. The EROI for those easily killed proboscideans when humans invaded the Western Hemisphere could have been in the hundreds and even more than one thousand. Large animals have always been the mother lode of hunter-gatherer peoples, and the consensus among anthropologists is that no instincts urge a hunter to kill only what is needed, but a hunter will kill whatever he can. That finding partly derives from studying modern hunter-gatherers. There is no doubt that when early humans intruded into environments that never before encountered humans, where animals would have had no intrinsic fear of humans, people would have had an exceptionally easy time killing all large animals encountered. Animals without experience around humans, such as Antarctic penguins, are easily approached and killed. As happened innumerable times in the historical era, intruding humans killed all the naïve animals that they could. The only animals that survived developed a healthy fear of humans and avoided them, but how many could develop that fear before they were all killed? From the very beginning of the , . More than 500 million years later, a new kind of animal appeared that turned that advantage into a fatal disadvantage, as it found a way to mine that energy stored in large animals, and it quickly plundered it to exhaustion whenever it could.
The human ability to think abstractly was exploited by social managers from civilization’s earliest days. Fixating people on irrational symbols, and then manipulating those symbols for elite benefit, is arguably a universal trait of civilized peoples. Even today, a great deal of politics is the ; as with the earliest religion, the neocortex is bypassed in favor of , and people are easy prey to the cynical manipulation of emotionally charged symbols. The effects of can last for the victim’s lifetime. When people mistake symbols for reality, they are easily manipulated. Large-scale ideological indoctrination probably began in Sumer, as the priesthood concocted and promoted various beliefs. Symbology replaced reality, including the acceptance of the secular elite as deific, getting slaves to accept their status, and getting commoners to give food to the priesthood to fulfill some divinely ordained obligation. Religion passed from experience to belief with the rise of civilization. I am not suggesting that pre-civilized religions were necessarily enlightened. They had shamanic intermediaries too, but with the rise of civilization, the priest class had to work hard to justify the obviously unfair social organization that accompanied stratified populations. Direct religious experience was disparaged and suppressed while the priesthood’s religious indoctrination was promoted.
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Did the control of fire to , ? Or did merely use it to begin dominating the world? Was cooking the seminal event in the appearance of humans? Those questions may not be definitively answered in my lifetime, and led to the somewhat uncertain title of this chapter. Highly transformative developments coincided with the appearance and dispersal of , which was a radical break from all that came before – biologically, technically, and culturally – and strongly implies great cognitive enhancements. I believe that the control of fire and cooking would leave deep cultural and biological impacts on the human journey, and because barely changed during its nearly two-million year tenure on Earth, both in biology and in Acheulean artifacts, I favor Wrangham’s hypothesis, at least until the Next Big Finding. Just as Einstein said that and that his theories would one day become obsolete, but that their best parts would survive in the new theories, I suspect that significant aspects of Wrangham’s hypothesis will live on in successor hypotheses, and other scientists have been following Wrangham’s lead.
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I am taking some liberties in calling Turkana Boy a ; he is technically a member of , which is often considered ancestral to , which is the Asian variant’s name. There is great debate regarding how the human family tree branches between and . Some call the various -type species all subspecies of , while others argue for several distinct species. I will not stray far from the orthodox narrative here, for good reason. The reconstructed early human tale is based on very limited evidence, but that evidence will only grow over time, and the tools and techniques for using them will become more sophisticated. Although there may be some upcoming radical changes in the view of the early human journey, efforts of countless scientist and fossil hunter lifetimes support the narrative that this essay sketches, and I respect their findings and opinions, even though I acknowledge many limitations. The human ego, it seems, becomes more involved as the story of life on Earth moves closer to its human chapters.
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