Indigenous Knowledge

Over the last ten thousand years, virtually every aspect of human culture has changed. The food we eat, the homes and shelters we live in, the clothes we wear, our language, music, stories, science, technology, social organization have all changed in fundamental ways that make modern cultures unrecognizably different from hunter-gatherer cultures. One aspect of human culture has remained unchanged over the last ten thousand years – all humans have retained a basic ability to recognize and interpret footprints on a beach.

When you look at footprints on a beach, what you see and the way you interpret them is essentially exactly what a hunter-gatherer would have seen and interpreted a hundred thousand years ago. We still use the same reasoning to understand what we are looking at. The hunter-gatherer may have been a more sophisticated tracker, but looking at human footprints on a beach may be one of the few aspects, perhaps the only aspect, of human culture that links us with hunter-gatherer cultures more than a hundred thousand years ago.

The art of tracking is the one aspect of hunter-gatherer culture that can be applied in a modern context. It is also the one aspect of hunter-gatherer culture that all modern humans can identify with. Not only can traditional trackers benefit by working as trackers in a modern economy. By sharing their tracking expertise, people from other modern cultures can benefit by learning more about the roots of science.

The implications for community participation in science are far-reaching. Imagine communities throughout the world gathering data... from remote villages in the Kalahari, the Congo, Australia and Mongolia,... to school children in New York's Central Park, to London, Paris, Tokyo, New Delhi and Beijing... citizens gathering data on birds, animals, plants... millions of people all over the world sharing their data on the Internet (the Cloud), creating a worldwide network to monitor the global ecosystem in real time.

The Origin of Science looks at practical applications of the art of tracking in a modern context. These examples demonstrate continuity between "indigenous knowledge" and modern Western science. It demonstrates the ease with which traditional trackers, who cannot read or write, can adopt and take ownership of modern computer technology. These examples break down barriers between conventional notions of "science" and "indigenous knowledge" and between literate and pre-literate cultures. Breaking down these barriers challenges us to redefine the boundaries of science.