In praise of walls

There is much rhetoric about walls these days. Usually about walls at the boundaries of nations.

But the concept of walls (along with fire and the wheel and all that they enabled) was one of the critical developments which enabled humans to differentiate themselves from all other species and enabled human civilisation to develop. It would not be an exaggeration to claim that without walls –  first around shelters and then around dwellings, settlements, places of work, and eventually around whole cities and at nation boundaries – civilisation itself would not have been possible. Human civilisation would have been still-born without the ability to create safe, protected enclosures within which to live (and work) defying the elements and any external threats. In fact, walls are integral and necessary to our lives today. We could not live without walls.

Humans control the environment they live and work in. This ability is what allows us to live anywhere in the world irrespective of the prevailing environment. From blistering deserts to the frigid reaches of Antarctica, it is walls which enable roofs and which together allow us to create volumes of controlled environments for ourselves. We not only live within walls, we travel in walled containers which provide enclosed volumes of controlled environments. Our carts, our cars our trains and boats and planes all rely on walls to create our enclosures. The walls in my home are what give me my controlled environment and my security and my sense of security.

It was always thought that cave dwelling probably preceded the building of huts and dwellings. But modern humans appeared first in areas where caves were not so numerous and primitive walls probably appeared to protect small groups spending the night on open ground. There is some suggestion that some kind of walled shelters were used by homo erectus – perhaps 500,000 years ago. (Homo erectus had the controlled use of fire as early as 1.5 million years ago). It is not implausible that the earliest walls were fences built to protect an area around a camp-fire.

BBC: Japanese archaeologists have uncovered the remains of what is believed to be the world’s oldest artificial structure, on a hillside at Chichibu, north of Tokyo. 
The shelter would have been built by an ancient ancestor of humans, Homo erectus, who is known to have used stone tools. The site has been dated to half a million years ago, according to a report in New Scientist. It consists of what appear to be 10 post holes, forming two irregular pentagons which may be the remains of two huts. Thirty stone tools were also found scattered around the site. …… Before the discovery, the oldest remains of a structure were those at Terra Amata in France, from around 200,000 to 400,000 years ago. ……. 

John Rick, an anthropologist at Stanford University, says that if the find is confirmed it will be interesting because it shows that hominids could conceive of using technology to organise things. “They had the idea of actually making a structure, a place where you might sleep. It represents a conceptual division between inside and outside.” 

There is little doubt that while city walls are at most 15-20,000 years old, even hunter gatherers from 100,000 years ago were no strangers to walls. Even those who used caves in temperate zones probably only used caves as winter quarters. In summers they would have used lightweight, temporary walls.

Aerial view of part of the Great Wall

The idea of a safe, protected, enclosure lies deep in the human psyche. Walls are existential. What would we be without our houses, buildings, dams, sea-walls, siege walls, curtain walls, walls around fields, walled enclosures, prisons or walls at nation boundaries? Walls between nations are at least 5,000 years old and probably predate even the definition of nation sates.

The EU has built 1,000km of border walls since fall of Berlin Wall

European Union states have built over 1,000km of border walls since the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989, a new study into Fortress Europe has found.  ……  the EU has gone from just two walls in the 1990s to 15 by 2017. ……. Despite celebrations this year that the Berlin Wall had now been down for longer than it was ever up, Europe has now completed the equivalent length of six Berlin walls during the same period. 

  1. Walls work.
  2. Humans need walls.

 

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