The world we live in is a crazy place.
We divide the people of the world into roughly 224 of the entities we call ‘countries.’ Each of these ‘countries’ organizes its wealth and population to compete in a massive global game. The goal of this game appears to be to get prizes that include the rights to territory, resources, more ‘activity’ that is related to the economy, more ‘jobs’ inside the territory of the teams, and other things that get transferred from one side to the other after a winner has been decided.
The ‘teams’ (‘countries’) have no limits to the tactics they can use for this. They have weapons that can destroy the world. These weapons are deployed and ready for use and, if the game demands it, the people who control these weapons assure us that they will use them. They can kill millions or even billions of people if they want. To gain advantages in these contests, the countries encourage and subsidize the rape of the world; during active periods of game play, all matters other than the ongoing conflict are pout on hold: inequity, corruption, poverty, disease, and risks the health of the planet are pushed to the bottom of a long, long list of military related priorities.
There is no ‘organizer’ or ‘rules enforcer’ in this game that had any systems they can use ot regulate these activities. The members of the human race have never been asked if we want the world to work this way. Do we want the countries? Do we want this crazy game to happen? No one knows what the human race wants because there has never been any attempt to find out.
How did this situation come to exist?
What forces in our past made things work this way?
If we don’t understand this, we can only sit and stare at the events in utter confusion. We will never be in a position to do anything about them. If we do know, we have a starting place. We actually have a great many incredible tools, most of them brand new, that can help us understand these things. This chapter deals with a very important part of the puzzle, the ‘descent’ of man. It shows that there is abundant evidence that modern humans are the descendents of animals that lived the same basic way as we live now. We can get a great deal of insight into why we do it by understanding why they did it.
The Final Stage in Evolution
In 1871, Darwin’s book ‘The Descent of Man’ was published. It claimed that humans were descendents of primitive animals, specifically apes. The term ‘ape’ was loosely defined at the time because almost no research had been done on the category of beings. People didn’t even really have a hard definition of the term.
The book was very controversial. People didn’t want to accept this idea, or even allow it to be available for people to consider. In many areas, the authorities banned the book entirely. In some cases, they went even farther than this and passed laws that allowed them to arrest and imprison people who even discussed the ideas of this book in the presence of children who may be tempted to seek out the book if they knew it existed.
When I went to school, the authorities no longer had the right to arrest teachers who told children these ideas existed. But school boards could still place it off limits and most did. When I went to school, there was no talk about evolution. It was not discussed, not even as an alternate theory.
Even as the 21st century began, most people I knew had not been exposed to the idea of evolution, at least not by objective people who understood the science behind it. I had read Darwin’s book and understood his arguments. But other people I tried to talk about it generally ridiculed me for discussing it. ‘Is that they guy who things we are all monkeys?’ they would say. A few would go over numerous religious theories and claim that it was just one of many ideas about how we got here, none of which can be proven.
The United States government started the ‘Human Genome Project’ in 1990 and began putting together information from people who had found ways to determine the individual letter codes of tiny bits of human DNA using complex machines. On April 14, 2003, a ‘complete’ reference genome was published. The term ‘complete’ was not entirely accurate. The reference included only 92% of the genome and many of the links between the letters hadn’t yet been worked out. To call it ‘complete’ would be equivalent to claiming you had a ‘complete’ copy of the Bible if you had 92% of its pages that had been put through a shredder and not yet assembled.
In April of 2020, scientists announced they had finally completed the genome and filled all of the gaps (Here is a link to the article.)
At about the same time this was published, a much larger issue buried all news of the discovery. A virus that had been detected in 2019 caused global panic. The governments of the world, who had never before agreed on anything, appeared unified in one area: we had to find some way to deal with this virus. The only way to determine for sure if the virus was in an area was to do genetic tests on organic samples from people or items that may have the virus on them, and compare the sequences with the genome of the virus that had been published.
A lot of sequencing machines were needed. But, at the time, only a few existed, and they were fantastically expensive and extremely slow. (Standard machines cold do one test at a time, and that took a minimum of 72 hours.) A lighting push by global governments led to the development and mass production of machines that could sequence genetic material quickly and cheaply. Billions of machines were stamped out and sold. At the end of the pandemic, these machines were available everywhere. Now, you don’t need a multi-million dollar grant at a university to do genetic testing. You can buy one of these machines used for less than the price of a car, and sequence either DNA or RNA (the machines can do both) in your own garage if you want to do this.
Now anyone could do genetic research. A lot of people were interested in the field and did it. Some used professional research methods that led to results that could be replicated and shown to be objective. Others came up with their theories (some of which were quite bizarre) and, starting with this theory, tried to use their machines to find data that would back up these theories. All this data was published on the internet. The sheer volume of this research makes it impossible to sort out the conclusions: It isn’t really possible to sort out what is right and what is wrong, what is useful and what is not.
Anytime new technology shakes up long-accepted beliefs, there will be controversy. People were using the machines to go over genomes from the animals that Darwin and claimed where our evolutionary ancestors, related to us genetically. They found a great deal of evidence that Darwin was correct. For example, members of the genus ‘pan,’ the most intelligent of all known apes, had a very close match to human DNA. Both the codes and locations of the ‘genes’ (coding sequences) on the chromosomes were identical between humans and members of the pan genus for 98.7% of the DNA. Another 0.7% has identical code sequences, but had some of these ‘genes’ (coding sequences) placed in different places in the chromosomes. This means that if we consider coding sequences alone (and don’t really worry about where they are placed in the chromosomes), there is a 99.3% match between human DNA and the DNA of the most intelligent apes in the world today.
Today, most of the different members of the ‘ape’ family have been sequenced. It shows a progression from ‘lower apes’ (those with less intelligence) to ‘higher apes.’ The sequence starts out significantly different than the genome of humans. But as you go up through intelligence level, it gets closer and closer. This provides very convincing evidence to back up Darwin’s claim. Almost certainly, we are genetic descendents of apes.
The tool of DNA analysis is brand new. New technology always brings disagreements and disputes about how it should be used and interpreted. There is a lot of controversy about these issues. People are arguing about the order of the intermediate links in the chain that leads from the first living things, through billions of years of evolution, to lower apes, to upper apes, and finally to humans. However, no one who is publishing this research (at least none that I saw) are claiming it does not support Darwin’s claim. People may disagree about the number of links, the names of the beings at each link, or other details. But no on that I have read have claimed that the chain itself does not exist. There is a chain of links. The fact that we don’t know all of the details of this chain is no evidence that Darwin was wrong. The evidence is so strong and compelling that, for practical purposes, the Darwin’s original theory is now accepted as a scientific principle. Those who want to be taken seriously in scientific fields must proceed as if it is true and accept it as the best explanation that we have for the way humans came to exist on this planet.
Studying Ancient Societes
Darwin didn’t have any DNA evidence at all.
His evidence came from other places. (The idea of a ‘genetic code’ was first published in 1954, 70 years after Darwin died.) We have a lot of information we can use to understand the final stage in human evolution and the way humans ‘descended’ (to use Darwin’s term) from apes. The genetic evidence is important because it is extremely compelling and can be used to verify results from other areas. But we don’t need it to understand how we, the beings called ‘modern human beings’ got where we are now.
This chapter puts together a picture of the way humans got here, focusing on the final steps that took place between 6.7 million years, ago and 50,000 years ago, when the first members of the group called ‘modern humans’ appeared on this planet.
Our group of beings, meaning our species and subspecies, is ‘homo sapiens sapiens.’
The genus ‘pan’ includes our closest still-living genetic ancestors. About 99.3% of their genetic coding is the same as ours. Two members of the pan genus still exist on earth in a natural setting where they can be studied. They are ‘pan troglodytes’ and ‘pan panicus,’ commonly called ‘chimps’ and ‘bonobos’ respectively.
If we want to understand the basic forces that shaped human societies, it makes sense to go back as far as we can. It makes sense to start by studying the forces that shaped the societies of our ancestors.
The pans (members of the genus ‘pan’) are our ancestors.
They are the closest evolutionary ancestors that we can study in a real world situation.
Where are we From?
Before we study the societies of our ancestors, I want to set the scene. The pans lived in tropical Africa between 6.7 million years ago and today. The illustration below is a satellite image of Africa. It is essentially a photograph, showing what you would see if you were on a satellite about 7,500 miles over Africa on a clear day.
qqq Africa photo
There are several important details I would like to ask you to take note of:
First, the central part of the image is deep green in color. This tell us several things. First, it tells us that this area gets a lot of rain. The horizontal line at the center of this green area is the equator. This is the half way point between the north pole and south pole. It is the place where the sun beats down on the earth every day with more power than anywhere on earth, because it is shining down from directly above, not at an angle. Most of the surface of the earth around the equator is ocean. The ocean is a very dark color which absorbs nearly all of the energy the sun sends do this part of the world. The energy causes massive evaporation. Giant clouds billow up from the equatorial ocean every day. The clouds want to stay around the equator: the air currents that blow clouds to the north and south in areas far from the equator don’t exist in this place. The clouds contain millions of tons of water in the form of vapor. They circle the globe at the center.
Central Africa has a range of very high mountains called the Rwenzoris. When the moist air hits these mountains, it has to rise. The higher this moist air goes, the colder it gets. At a certain point, it is too cold for the moisture to remain in vapor form, and it turns into rain. It rains in these areas almost constantly. The soil is rich and, even though it rains very frequently, the sun still has enough power to shine through most of the time. With rich soil, abundant rain, and plentiful sun, plants grow better here than they do just about anyplace on earth. As a result, this is one of the most densely vegetated on earth. If you look closely at the picture, you will see hundreds of different shades of green. Each represents an different vegetative zone. The area around the east center of the continent is thick jungle. (Tourists in these areas often go on ‘canopy walks’ using rope bridges built from treetop to treetop; the foliage is so thick they often can’t even see the ground.)
Note that if you go just a short distance from the equator, about 12 degrees to the north and about 18 degrees to the south, you get into areas that are clearly much drier. They are tan colored with no green at all. These are deserts. Both are brutal, hot, dry, and inhospitable. The one to the north, the Sahara, is the driest and hottest place on earth. Almost nothing lives there.
Note that the green zone is ‘boxed in.’ To the north and south are deserts. To the east and west are oceans. We will see that this observation is very important and helps us understand a lot about the final stages of human evolution: There is only one way out of this boxed in area that is also green and doesn’t force someone trying to leave through an impassable desert. There is tiny green ribbon (tiny because we are looking at it from 7,500 miles away) that threads from the Rwenzori mountains in the center of the green area all they way up to the Medeterranian sea. This narrow ribbon of green is the Nile River. A group of beings that lived in the green zone and wanted to go to the rest of the world (for any reason at all) would probably have no real chance of getting out unless they could find this ribbon and follow it.
The green zone is where our ancient ancestors evolved. We evolved from them, and the first steps in this evolution took place n this green area. This is our ancestral home.
The Pan Genus
The genus ‘pan’ has two surviving members:
1. Pan troglodyte (chimpanzees or chimps),
2. Pan panicus (bonobos, nicknamed ‘hippie apes’).
When scientists began studying these animals in the 1960s, thought they were looking at two entirely different species. Different species must have different names, so they gave them the different names listed above. (The genus is ‘pan’ in both cases. One has a species name ‘troglodyte’ and the other has a species name ‘panicus.’)
DNA evidence has shown scientists that this classification was wrong. These two kinds of animals had almost identical DNA. They lived differently and were anatomically different. But their DNA was virtually identical. Some suspected they might be members of the same species. To test this, they put chimps and bonobos together in the same zoo enclosure. (These two different animals have entirely different habitats and don’t come into contact in the wild. But once humans capture them, we can put them wherever we want.)
When they were put together, they had sex and babies.
Under standard zoological classification rules, if two animals can reproduce and have viable offspring, they are the same species. So, chimps and bonobos are actually the same species. Scientists haven’t had a chance to give this a single species name yet, but eventually they will have the same species name.
Why where researchers so sure they were different species?
This is actually an important issue for the analysis here, so I want to go over it. The basic reason is that these different groups of animals live entirely differently and have entirely different arrangements of existence or ‘societies.’
These two different groups choose different geographical areas in their living spaces. Chimpanzees (pan troglodytes) only live in rich and highly productive areas that have what Jane Goodall called ‘monopolizable patches’ of land. (Goodall was the first researcher to try to study these animals in the wild. Her findings were highly controversial when she first published them, because they made chimps appear to be far closer to humans than zoologists thought they would be. But her findings have since been verified by many others. She posts most of her results on her website https://janegoodall.org.)
Chimpanzees live stationary lives, staying in a very tiny area from birth to death. (She says they are ‘homebodies.’) The areas where they live are so rich and productive that they never have to leave: there is ripe fruit available for them to simply grab any time of year.
Goodall’s term ‘monopolizable patches’ areas refers to the fact that specific groups of chimpanzees (called ‘troops’) can monopolize these areas using techniques that are practical for them. They monopolize these areas by creating borders around them, building paths along these borders, and patrolling the paths on a regular basis. They use aggression and intimidation to make sure outsiders (members of their species that are not part of their troop) don’t approach too close to the borders. If outsiders do approach the borders, they use violence against them and either drive them away or kill them.
Using these techniques, the chimpanzees monopolize the resources in these patches of land. Chimpanzees are extremely aggressive, possessive, violent, and highly territorial. They form into tightly knit troops that are fanatically loyal. They have almost constant conflict with outsiders. These conflicts often escalate to the point where researchers use the word ‘wars’ to describe them. Death in these wars is one of the leading causes of mortality in chimpanzee societies.
Bonobos (pan panicus) live entirely differently. They don’t seem interested in the highly productive areas where chimps want to live. (Perhaps they have learned from experience that they will have to fight very aggressively, with a high likelihood of death, if they want to live on the land that is most productive. Perhaps some evolutionary force tells them they are more likely to survive if they simply shun these areas and move to areas that the chimps don’t want. They can live there without fighting, killing, and risking death daily. We will look at the details below.)
The bonobos live in land that doesn’t produce enough to be monopolizable. This means they can’t stay in the same place and live in the same ‘homes’ (nests) every night. They have to migrate, at least part of the year. This makes it impossible for them to monopolize any area (pick it out, build borders around it, and then use violence to prevent outsiders from sharing the land).
Chimpanzees are fanatically territorial. If outsiders cross their borders, they will kill them and tear the dead bodies to pieces to leave as messages to those who may try the same thing.
Bonobos are not territorial at all.
They travel from place to place, moving from one food source to another as seasons change.
Chips are fiercely loyal. They form into very tight groups called ‘troops.’ The members of these troops act collectively to protect the interests of their troops. They are clearly willing to kill for the benefit of their troops. They are also clearly willing to die for their troops. They will often give their lives to make sure that outsiders get the message: the land inside their borders belongs to their troop. They have monopoly rights to it. No member of their species that is not a member of their troop can expect to get away with trying to benefit from the existence of this land.
Bonobos don’t even form into groups. I will quote some research below that shows that they intermingle to such an extent it isn’t even really possible to classify them as members of groups at all. They are a bunch of individuals who get along with all members of their species. They travel a lot and socialize with others wherever they go.
Chimps and bonobos are the same species. This species made its appearance 6.7 million years ago. Then it split into two groups that lived two entirely different ways.
What could cause a split like this?
This actually isn’t very hard to explain. Chimps and bonobos live in entirely different environmental conditions. Animals must adapt to their environments. If they don’t, nature destroys them. We will see that the two environmental conditions call for entirely different behavioral patterns. In one area, aggression and violence are necessary: groups that don’t act this way will not be able to live there. The animals that wound up going to these areas and living there adapted in ways that led to the chimp societies described above.
In other areas, aggression and violence are disadvantages: animals that live this way will not be able to survive under these environmental conditions. Only those that adapt to be tolerant, generous, empathetic, and non territorial can live there. The animals that moved to these areas were, at first, identical to chimps. But over time, they adapted to the realities of their environment to form the bonobo societies discussed above. After millions of years of separation and adoption, they began to look a little different. But genetically, they are virtually identical.
Later, when we got to the early stages of human evolution, we will see that early humans lived in different environmental conditions also.
Some early members of the homo sapiens sapiens (modern humans) lived in the vast and nearly empty tundras and steppes of Siberia, Mongolia, Kazakhstan, Nepal, and Tibet. (Many still live there.) They adapted to their environment and came to have societies that operated a very particular way. Others lived in crowded ‘city states’ with massive walls that separated them from the outside world. These people adapted to their environment also. This adaptation led to entirely different societies than the ones that evolved in remote areas.
In today’s world, people raised with different ‘ways of life’ or ‘societies’ don’t see eye to eye on many matters. This leads to conflicts. Many of these conflicts have been quite serious. I shouldn’t really use the past tense here, because they aren’t over: the conflicts are ongoing, and you can read about the latest in today’s news. These conflicts have great potential to escalate into wars that may destroy the world. If we want to understand these things, we need to understand the way the different cultures or societies of the world evolve.
The two members of the pan genus are our closet evolutionary ancestors that still exist. We have some closer ancestors. Homo erectus, for example, homo habilis, homo sapiens neanderthalis and homo sapiens denisovan are all closer to modern humans than pans. But we cant study their cultures or societies because none of these closer relatives are with us in the world today. If we want to study the way the societies and behavioral patterns of modern humans came to be as they are, and want to try to ‘turn back time’ and study the behaviors of our ancestors, the best we can do is look at these two members of the pan genus.
Pan Troglodyte (Chimpanzees)
The quote below is from an article on the website of the Institute of Human Origins, a division of Arizona State University:
When male chimpanzees of the world’s largest known troop patrol the boundaries of their territory in Ngogo, Uganda, they walk silently in single file.
Normally chimps are noisy creatures, but on patrol they’re hard-wired. They sniff the ground and stop to listen for sounds. Their cortisol and testosterone levels are jacked 25 percent higher than normal. Chances of contacting neighboring enemies are high: 30 percent.
Ten percent of patrols result in violent fights where they hold victims down and bite, hit, kick and stomp them to death. The result? A large, safe territory rich with food, longer lives, and new females brought into the group.
Territorial boundary patrolling by chimpanzees is one of the most dramatic forms of collective action in mammals. A new study led by an Arizona State University researcher shows how working together benefits the group, regardless of whether individual chimps patrolled or not.
The team — led by Assistant Professor Kevin Langergraber of ASU’s School of Human Evolution and Social Change and the Institute of Human Origins — examined 20 years of data on who participated in patrols in a 200-member-strong Ngogo community of chimpanzees in Kibale National Park, Uganda. The study was recently published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
Chimpanzees are one of the few mammals in which inter-group warfare is a major source of mortality. Chimps in large groups have been reported to kill most or all of the males in smaller groups over periods of months or years, acquiring territory in the process. Territorial expansion can lead to the acquisition of females who bear multiple infants. It also increases the amount of food available to females in the winning group, increasing their fertility.
Chimpanzees are highly intelligent, but they aren’t capable of what’s called “collective intentionality,” which allows humans to have mutual understanding and agreement on social conventions and norms. “They undoubtedly have expectations about how others will behave and, presumably, about how they should behave in particular circumstances, but these expectations presumably are on an individual basis,” Watts said. “They don’t have collectively established and agreed-on social norms.”
Humans can join together in thousands to send men into space or fight global wars or build skyscrapers. Chimpanzees don’t have anywhere near that level of cooperation.
“But this tendency of humans to cooperate in large groups and with unrelated individuals must have started somewhere,” Watts said. “The Ngogo group is very large (about 200 individuals), and the males in it are only slightly more related to one another than to the males in the groups with which they are competing.’
“Perhaps the mechanisms that allow collective action in such circumstances among chimpanzees served as building blocks for the subsequent evolution of even more sophisticated mechanisms later in human evolution.”
Jane Goodall, the most widely noted analyst of members of the pan species, notes that chimpanzees live in ‘monopolizable patches.’ The picture below is a satellite view of central Africa with the Gombe National Park marked. This area is very close to the equator, which means it has no winter or summer. The days are the same length all year long. The park is right on the shores of Lake Tanganyika, and has a network of clear blue rivers and towering waterfalls that lead from the mountains to the lake and from the lake to the Nile and other drainage rivers. Fruit hangs everywhere and is available for passers by to grab. Each day, enough fruit ripens in each of these ‘monopolizable patches’ (to us Goodall’s term) to support the troop that lives there.
When I look at the pictures, I am reminded of the biblical story of the Garden of Eden. They are in paradise. All they have to do to remain there is patrol the borders and kill any who try to cross.
Hippie Apes (pan Panicus or Bonobos)
Not all parts of the world are as productive as this.
Members of their pan genus can still live in other areas: they produce plenty of food. But most areas don’t produce enough to allow them to live in a tiny area and never leave it their entire lives. The pans that live in the unproductive areas simply can’t stay in these areas all year long. They have to leave. When they are gone, they won’t be able to prevent outsiders from moving in and taking the places where they lived.
To see why it is impossible for them to live the same way s the chimps, let’s consider a few numbers from Goodall’s research. One troop she follows has an average of about 200 members, of which about 50 are adults and the other 150 are juveniles. They live on and defend an area that is about 2,000 acres (8 km2) in size. The border (perimeter) of this area is about 7.5 miles long. It takes the chimps about 4-5 hours to compete a circuit, if they don’t encounter any problems that delay them. If necessary (if threats are abundant) they can do a patrol every day and will still have enough time to go home and have a good meal before they bed down for the night.
But the lands where the chimps live is some of the richest natural land on earth. The chimps are basically living like the first humans lived in the Biblical story of the Garden of Eden. Other surrounding land is still very, very rich, compared to most of the earth’s surface. But it produces less, per acre, than the best patches. Let’s consider what might happen if the land was only about 1/4th as productive.
Their 200 members would now need four times the land to provide their food. This means they would need 8,000 acres or 16 km2. The border is now 30 miles long. It would take 16-20 hours to finish a patrol. In the tropics, the days are always within a few minutes of 12 hours long. This means they wouldn’t be able to do even one compete circuit in a day. It would take them at least two days. During the time they are patrolling, they focus only on looking for the enemy and preparing for a fight. They don’t eat or rest or bathe. Even if they patrolled all the time they were awake, they wouldn’t be able to defend a parcel that was large enough to support them: they couldn’t be everywhere; enemies that wanted their land could simply move in and take possession, as soon as the patrol passed. By the time they got back to that area, it wouldn’t be their land anymore.
That doesn’t mean that pans can’t live in these areas. It just means that, if they want to live in other areas, they have to find some other way to organize themselves.
The following quote is also from a research study sponsored by the Institute of Human Origins. It describes these other pans:
Humans display a capacity for tolerance and cooperation among social groups that is rare in the animal kingdom, our long history of war and political strife notwithstanding. But how did we get that way?
Scientists believe bonobos might serve as an evolutionary model. The endangered primates share 99 percent of their DNA with humans and have a reputation for generally being peace-loving and sexually active—researchers jokingly refer to them “hippie apes.” And interactions between their social groups are thought to be much less hostile than among their more violent cousins, the chimpanzees.
Some, however, have challenged this because of a lack of detailed data on how these groups work and how they separate themselves. A new study led by Harvard primatologists Liran Samuni and Martin Surbeck on the social structure of bonobos may begin to fill in some of the blanks.
The research, published in PNAS, shows that four neighboring groups of bonobos they studied at the Kokolopori Bonobo Reserve in the Democratic Republic of Congo maintained exclusive and stable social and spatial borders between them, showing they are indeed part of distinct social groups that interact regularly and peacefully with each other.
“It was a very necessary first step,” said Samuni, a postdoctoral fellow in Harvard’s Pan Lab and the paper’s lead author. “Now that we know that despite the fact that they spend so much time together, [neighboring] bonobo populations still have these distinct groups, we can really examine the bonobo model as something that is potentially the building block or the state upon which us humans evolved our way of more complex, multilevel societies and cooperation that extends beyond borders.”
Bonobos have been far less studied than chimps due to political instability and logistical challenges to setting up research sites in the forests of the Democratic Republic of Congo, the only place where the primates are found. In addition, studying relationships among and between Bonobo groups has been further complicated by the fact that subgroups appear to intermingle with some frequency.
“There aren’t really behavioral indications that allow us to distinguish this is group A, this is group B when they meet,” Samuni said. “They behave the same way they behave with their own group members. People are basically asking us, how do we know these are two different groups? Maybe instead of those being two different groups, these groups are just one very large group made up of individuals that just don’t spend all their time together [as we see with chimpanzee neighborhoods].”
The Principle of Group Augmentation
Evolution is a complicated process.
It doesn’t always select the fittest individuals for survival.
Often, groups compete for territory. They often have highly organized social arrangements where different members of the group play different roles. The group can prosper, as long as the individuals play their roles. Nature will let the groups compete and then select the group that is best at meetings its needs for survival. Other groups that don’t work as well together to meet their needs can then be ‘selected’ for extermination, even if the individuals in the less capable group are smarter or stronger than the group that works together better.
Bees provide a good illustration of this principle. Bees form into hives with different castes, each of which performs a different tasks. Working together, they create a healthy hive. The better they work together, the healthier the hive. Drone bees live only a few days. During this time, they devote their life to gathering food for the hive. When they have finished their useful lives, they submit to death inside the hive, where their bodies become food for others.
Evolution isn’t going to select the smartest drones for survival. Smart drones will realize they can live longer lives if they simply don’t do the things their genes program them to do. Evolution will select the group that works best to meet the needs of the hive, even if this means it is selecting a group with individuals that aren’t really very smart or capable as individuals.
The drones slaves. If a colony evolves either genes or cultural programming (teaching or learning) techniques that turn drones into better slaves, willing and able to work harder and undergo more suffering to support of the colony, that colony will prosper. This is true even if the individual drones are not nearly as smart or strong as drones in a another colony.
Group augmentation in monopolizable patches
The principle of group augmentation works for any group that has a complex social organization that benefits from cooperative action. (We will see that the principle of group augmentation will help us understand many aspects of human societies that would otherwise don’t make any sense). Chimps compete for territory using brutal and savage methods. They kill others and tear them apart. If a group has genes or social programming or any other factor that makes them better at doing this than other groups, the better group will have advantages in wars over land.
Imagine that a group of passive, tolerant, and sharing simians find an area like this which happens to be unclaimed. It is like the garden of eden to them: they can stay in the same place, sleep in nests that they can work hard to make nice, and basically go from tree to tree and pick food that is hanging above them. This area is clearly very desirable.
Now imagine that another group comes along that is still very tolerant, but exhibits slightly more aggressive expressions on their faces and in their posture. This second group is a tiny bit less non-confrontational than the first. (In other words, they won’t back down from a fight quite as easily.) They show their displeasure at the group that is already there.
The members of this other group doesn’t want to leave. But they are not as willing to accept a confrontation, so they move on.
Eventually, a displaced group of chimps, or a particularly aggressive neighboring group that wants their land, will attack. There will be war. The troop that is best at war not always win. But it will always have an advantage. Aggression, violence, brutality, loyalty, all bring advantages. Empathetic, compassion, generosity, kindness, tolerance, and patience all bring disadvantages. Evolution will slowly alter the societies of the pans that live in these areas.
Evolution is patient. An objective observer (say an outsider watching these ancient animals without interfering) would see the societies of these pans evolving in ways that make them more and more violent, aggressive, and territorial over time.
Evolution in Less-Productive Areas
In other areas, the aggressiveness and violence may not be advantages at all, but disadvantages. Imagine a group of members of the pan genus that live in an area that only produces a fourth as much ripe fruit than ‘garden-of-eden’ area described above. The troop would need four times as much land as a troop in the ‘garden of Eden’ area. A troop with 50 adults and 100 juveniles could live in about 2,000 acres in the better land. They would need 8,000 acres to support themselves in this less desirable land. This would make it impractical for them to patrol the border and protect it all the time.
A border around this area (if they made one) would be 30 miles long. It would take 16-20 hours to do a single a patrol. They wouldn’t be able to do even one compete circuit in a day. Even if they patrolled 24 hours a day, they wouldn’t be able to keep out intruders. They couldn’t be everywhere. Outsiders could move into whatever area was away from their border in large numbers. When the border patrol agents for the troop that was trying to hold the and arrived, they could kill them.
The members of the pan species could live in these areas. But the wouldn’t be able to live the same way they lived in the richer areas. There is food. There just isn’t enough available all the time to keep them alive if they stay in the same tiny area all the time. They will have to migrate, at least occasionally, to other areas. They will have to be willing to share the land in some sort of orderly way. They will have to accept that other members of their species that were not members of their groups would come and spend time with them. They would have to find some way to get along with these outsiders. They would have to be tolerant. They would have to be peaceful and willing to share the land.
Evolution would work to reinforce the opposite behaviors realities as it did for the group in the ‘garden-of-eden’ areas. Individuals that were competitive, confrontational, violent, aggressive, and spent all their time fighting wouldn’t have as much energy left for mating and raising their young as others, who refrained from these wasteful behaviors. Like humans, these apes (members of the pan genus) are cooperative social animals. We can’t meet all our own needs ourselves. We work with other members of our species that can do things better than we can. Individuals that are mean, obnoxious, argumentative, contentious, and confrontational would not be as likely to have good relations with others as those that are tolerant and cooperative. We would expect the process of evolution to work more on an individual level in these areas, giving preference to individuals that are good at forming social alliances and working well with others.
Why Does this matter?
We can all see the wars going on all around us. Wars require weapons. Weapons—modern ones at least—require industry. Industry requires fuel and lots and lots of resources. More weapons and a larger industrial complex means more success in war and more raw materials means more weapons and more industry.
It is possible to extract virtually all the resources we would need for every human on earth to live good lives without any destruction. (The book Anatomy of Destruction, a part of this series explains this.) But destructive methods are cheaper and faster. The warring countries are competing against each other. If they don’t extract at least rapidly and cheaply as their competitors, they will have great disadvantages in war.
They could ‘lose.’
This appears to be totally unacceptable to the people who lead the war machines. They are fanatical. Winning the war is more important than anything else, even the lives of their people. Many of them organize their countries so that all working-age men will wind up fighting; the women can take over their jobs in the factories; if this isn’t enough, they will send the women to war too. History shows that, if the leaders have their way, their country won’t stop the war until every last person that may be able to fight is dead. (Chimps do this too: The Gombe Chimpanzee war was a war to the very last ape.) This means that wars place the human race at risk in several ways. We face a continual risk that someone will eventually use weapons that can destroy the world. Even if this never happens, however, we are not safe because we are divided into hundreds of individual countries that compete against each other to destroy the part of the world they control more rapidly and thoroughly than the other countries. The destruction mounts year after year and, eventually, it will be too much.
Why do we live like this?
Some say it is because of something they call ‘human nature.’
It is in our nature to divide the world into ‘countries’ with borders and rape the land to get materials to make weapons. We are, by nature, dangerous, violent, destructive, and animalistic beings. We can’t change human nature: it was determined by the will of the creator (for those who are religious) or the realities of evolution (for those who are not religious). Whatever determined our ‘nature’ happened in the past. Since we can’t go back in time, we can’t change it. It is fixed. Since our nature is destructive, violent, and territorial, and it is not possible to change it, we are doomed.
If we were the only species that did this, this argument may make sense. People seem to want to believe that humans are a race apart from all other races on earth. Others are ‘animals.’ We have the same organs and blood and body parts as other animals, but we are not them. We are special, created in some sort of blessed act or circumstances. (Even people who aren’t religious seem to want to believe this.) We are not them. We are better than them. Whatever reasons are behind our actions, they are unique to us. There is no crossover between us and animals, except coincidences.
What if we could trace a continuous line between the pans and the homos? What if there is a chain of DNA links that changes, one tiny mutation at a time, to take our bodies, our minds, our mental wiring, and even our societies, along a path that leads from ‘them’ to ‘us?’ What if we don’t think of evolution as one of many different things that we need to work into our beliefs system (the systems that we learned from our human ancestors) somehow, but an absolute truth that can’t be mixed with beliefs?
What if it really what happened?
If that is the case, we aren’t doing this because of human nature at all. The human part of our nature, the logical and intelligent side, is telling us it is a crazy way to live. we are doing it because of our animal nature. We are doing it because we have inherited instincts (which we interpret as emotions) that tell us to do it. We aren’t strong enough, intellectually, to overpower our instincts (emotions) with logic.
We are fighting ourselves.
And we are losing.
Qqq Pogo cartoon here.
But the same evidence that explains how we got into this mess can help us understand how we can get out of it. The basic forces that operate on us, and push us to act as we do, come from adaptation to environmental realities. The environmental realities of the earth have changed dramatically in the last few hundred years. We know that it is possible for the societies of a species to adapt and change. Given current technology, the territorial model that we inherited from chimps isn’t suitable. Perhaps the passive and non-territorial approach of bonobos isn’t perfect either. But we don’t have to choose between one of two societies of animals that lived in the past. We can create truly human societies that are designed, intentionally, to move our race, the human race, toward a better future. If we can accept the basic principles of evolution, including the idea of cultural evolution (changing the way societies work so they adapt to different environmental conditions) we can take charge of the realties of our existence. We can ways to work with other members of our species to design a sane society that meets the needs of the entire human race. Then, we can use our understanding of the factors that cause societies to change (which we can learn by studying evolution) to cause the societies we inherited to change into sane and sound societies.
The information in this chapter is designed to do more than present some information about a part of the history of the human race that few people give any real thought to. It is designed to help build understanding that can help us understand what we can do that will put us onto a path to a better future.
Back to the topic of evolution:
Sciences are moving ahead so rapidly, particularly in fields related to genetics, that new evidence comes in before the evidence of the previous few days has even been digested. People read the latest news. It has been ‘spun’ to make to make it appear to actually be more important than it is. (The media makes money selling advertising. Content creators are paid per view. They want the most views. They exaggerate to make whatever they are discussing appear to be as sensational as possible. Often, they claim that this information they are reporting on is the key to understanding things that, in fact, it doesn’t actually help us understand.) New information shows that the findings of just a few days ago aren’t right.
People who don’t want evolution accepted can pick up on these disputes and claim it is proof that evolution is wrong. Even the leaders in the field can’t agree. They must all be wrong.
Of course, this is a nonsense argument. The people who claim to be experts may not agree on the details of evolution. They may place different links in the evolutionary chain in different places. But this doesn’t mean that they all have to be totally wrong about everything. There may be disagreement about some of the links and the exact place that different finds should be placed in the chain. But the all agree that there is a chain. People who don’t want evolution accepted want to get views too. They seize on and exaggerate every dispute and contradiction. This brings a lot of disputes that are actually not relevant to the forefront. In want to discuss one of these disputes.
A major fossil find has identified bones of an animal that appears to be a link between the pan genus and homo genus. This find is the remains of a single individual who has been nicknamed ‘Lucy.’ Her bones were deposited in a place with unusually dry conditions that preserved them for 3.2 million years.
She is not a member of the pan genus.
She is not a member of the homo genus either.
She appears to be between these two genera.
There is no controversy about her existence. She did exist. Her remains are now on display at the Naturmuseum Senckenberg, a museum in Frankfurt Germany. The picture below shows the exhibit.
The controversy involves her position in evolutionary tree. Some claim that she is on the same branch as we are, between the pan genus and homo genus. Others claim that she is on a branch of her own, that happens to have sprouted between the pans and homos, but she is at the end of this branch and not our ancestor.
Qqq Lucy picture.
Close to the place where Lucy was found, researchers have found stone tools that had signs of having been manufactured (with marks showing they were shaped) and bones with marks that indicated the animals they came from had been cut up with the stone tools. The evidence has been dated to 3.4 million years ago, 200,000 years before Lucy’s time.
The tools are ‘complex tools.’ “Complex tools’ refers to tools that can’t be made without making other tools first. The ability to make these tools seems to require the ability to think through a project in advance, work out the steps in design, engineer the parts, and then do the manufacturing. It seems to require something we call ‘intention’ in humans: Beings that made these tools almost certainly had the ability to think in ways that we generally associate with higher intellect.
Many aspects of evolution are controversial. Was Lucy a link in the chain that led to humans? Is she your great x 128,000 grandmother?
But perhaps not.
I propose that it isn’t necessary or helpful to answer this question. We don’t need to know very detail of the evolutionary process in order to understand how our societies came to work as they do today. Perhaps, at some point in the future, people will find that there is a genus between the pan genus and the homo genus that can be proven to be links and had a key role in the transition between the two genera. If this is shown to be the case (and experts don’t seem willing to commit to this), we can factor it into our analysis. However, at this point, the consensus view is that she is not a link and I want to proceed with the assumption that she is not.
Out of Africa
The pan genus evolved in Africa. There is no evidence they ever left until humans intentionally took them away, mainly to put them into zoos, circuses, or to provide food for diners at exotic restaurants. Central Africa is their native land.
Eventually, they left. I want to explain what the evidence tells us about this transition and show you why it is important. The events that are associated with leaving Africa changed the animals that left so much that they were an entirely different genus—an entirely different kind of animal—than their peers back in Africa.
There were two populations of pans in Africa. They lived in entirely different areas and didn’t even encounter each other in their normal lives. They had entirely different ways of life or societies. There is evidence that only one of these populations was migratory. Only one was comfortable with traveling and able to adapt to new conditions. Almost certainly, the population that was migratory and adaptable to changing conditions left first. The other eventually left. But this didn’t happen for a very long time after the first group left.
I want to focus on this first transition out of Africa first. Almost certainly, the chimps did not leave Africa in the first migration. They are ‘homebodies.’ Most of them don’t leave their (very tiny) home territories their entire lives. They make nice nests/beds. They generally sleep in these same nests every night of their lives. I know humans who grew up the same way, living in the same house where they were born until they died. (My uncle was born in the same house where he died and I lived with him several years.) To them, the outside world is freighting. It is where dangerous things happen. It is where their enemies live. They could leave. But you can see panic in their faces when discussing travel. Chimps, raised the same way, would probably be just as reluctant to leave their home territories. They know what the world is like up to the edge of the path that marks the borders of their territories. They know what they can see from this path. Everything else is the great unknown. It is hard to imagine them traveling at all.
Bonobos are different. They have to migrate. They travel during the year to new areas. They find new foods and new nesting sites. Pans are like humans in that they like to bathe and swim. They find new ponds, streams, and waterfalls. They are, by nature, travelers. They don’t really have ‘homes’ to return to, so there is no real reason for them to head in any particular direction when they migrate. They don’t have groups they are loyal to and want to reunite with later. They can go where they want.
Life is not as easy for bonobos as for chimps. Life is hard for them. They have predators that are trying to locate these relatively weak animals, whose babies are helpless for many years after birth. When traveling, each day brings new challenges. They may have to work very hard to get enough food to survive. Bonobos find themselves in new situations all the time. Those that are able to adapt to changing conditions will have advantages over others. They can make use of the foods that they find. They can make use of resources that chimps would never knew existed.
When times are good and there is food for all, the less adaptable animals will survive along with the more adaptable. Bonobos are known to be very generous with food supplies if food is plentiful; they take care of those who are disabled and not capable of meeting their own needs when they can. But hard times eventually end. There will be times when there just isn’t enough to take care of all of the less capable individuals they find around them. When they get very hungry, they will not seek helpless people to share their food with. They will keep it for themselves. The less capable will die. This happens in human communities when times get hard, even in areas where people are extremely generous and charitable. It almost certainly happens in bonobo societies as well. The less capable perish. The more capable survive. The babies are born of the more capable animals. They inherit their parents genes and their parents train them. They are more intelligent. The average intelligence of their species increases over time.
The rate of increase may be incredibly slow. But evolution is patient.
Bonobos migrate anyway. They travel to different areas. As they travel, they are likely to find new sources of food that weren’t in the old locations. In some cases, they will prefer these new foods and spend a lot of time in areas that are a long distance from the African jungles where they evolved.
The smarter bonobos are going to be better at adapting to these new environments. They will travel farter than the less intelligent bonobos.
Where will they go?
Earlier we looked at a satellite picture of the place where the genus pan evolved. We saw it is a very rich area of deep green that is sandwiched between two enormous deserts. Let’s go to the same picture again and look at a tiny detail that most people probably missed when they looked at this image. There is a very thin (from the perspective of the satellite) tiny green ribbon that starts at the mountains in the deepest part of the Congo (the homeland of the gens pan) and then travels north, through about a thousand miles of jungle, intermingled with savanahs, lakes, swamps, and wetlands, all of which are teeming with game. It then enters the Sahara desert and continues north another 1,400 miles. This is the longest river on earth, the mighty Nile.
Qqq image of africa
If you look at the image, you will see that there really isn’t any way to get out of central Africa, from the jungles where the members of the pan genus live, without traveling along this corridor. If you tried to go any other way, you would have to go through deserts that are so vast, hot, and so dry that only animals specially equipped for the trip could have any hope of making it, and even the best equipped would have a hard time making it. Even birds don’t try to cross the vast Sahara outside of this corridor.
However, in the corridor, everything is available. Immense flocks of migrating birds travel from their feeding grounds in northern climates to the jungles of Africa where they winter. If not for the Nile, they would have to travel over 2,400 miles of desert sand, with nothing to eat or drink and no shelter from the 120 degree sun. Along this corridor, they have everything they need. They stop to drink whenever they want. They eat rice and other grains, feed on fish or insects along the shore; they graze on the plants and algae of that grows along the river. They find shade and plentiful supplies for nests. Some stop to lay their eggs in these rich lands. Predators and prey both flourish here.
The birds have eaten seeds from the remote areas where they live in the summer, including all of Europe, Scandinavia, Russia, and the rugged steppes of central Asia. Nature has found a very effective way to spread plants: the seeds have a casing that the birds can’t digest. If they don’t break the casing when feeding, the seeds go through their bodies intact. The seeds are then deposited along with fertilizer (guano from the birds, the richest natural fertilizer known.) This spreads plants both directions. Trees are everywhere and the variety is hard to describe. More than 3,500 species of grasses live along these banks; this includes all major grain producing grasses.
If you want to do a kind of virual tour of the corridor, you might start at the Nyungwe Forest National Park, nestled in the high tropical Rwenzori Mountains of central Africa, between 6,000 feet and 9,000 feet in elevation. There is no official start of the river because it originates with hundreds of different streams and rivers that flow together into lakes before collecting into the river itself, but the park gives a good representation of the way the area where the river starts looks. If you look at the imagines from the link above, you will see some incredibly beautiful landscape. Many people who travel to this park go there to watch wildlife, including chimpanzees. (These chimps have been ‘habituated’ to human presence and are cared for, so they don’t act like the wild chimps discussed above. But they are there and this is close to the places where wild chimps still live.) The river travels through a series of lakes, getting larger at each step as the flow from previous lakes is added to the flow from other rivers that drain into the lakes. The last of these massive lakes is Lake Albert, which ends in a waterfall that is the centerpiece of the Murchison Falls National Park, in the current country of Uganda. You then enter land now under the control of the country called South Sudan. If you want to see what the land is like, you can find hundreds of photos of the Bandingilo National Park, about 350 miles up from the falls, and the Ez Zeraf Game Reserve, another 400 miles down the river. When the river leaves the preserve, it flows through Lake No, which is just inside the province called ‘Unity,’ South Sudan.
This is very dangerous country, because it has been the site of an on again off again war for the last 50 years. The land is congested between the government of Sudan and the government of the country that calls itself South Sudan, which is not recognized as existing by the country of Sudan itself.
They are not fighting over the land or the river.
They couldn’t care less about the land and the river.
They certainly aren’t fighting to have the right to govern and provide services for the people of the area: the area is littered with massive refugee camps that are administered by the United Nations. Neither the government of South Sudan nor the government of Sudan itself wants anything to do with the people there. The area has oil. Lots of oil. That is what they are fighting over. They want to become ‘recognized’ as the ‘legitimate government’ of the land where the oil is located, so that they can get the share of the money from the extraction of the oil that the companies pumping it (A consortium of global corporations led by Petro China) pays to the government for the privilege of pumping oil in that ‘country.’
The first members of the pan genus that migrated to these lands would have gone through this area. They would have found something that, almost certainly, they had never seen before.
The next step up the evolutionary ladder from the members of the pan genus is the species homo erectus (sometimes called ‘homo egaster’). Homo erectus is known to have used fire.
We don’t know the exact details of the transition from ‘the highest primates that did not use fire’ to ‘the primates that first gained the use of the fire.’ We do know it happened. We just don’t know the details.
I think it is easier to understand a complex process if you have at least some idea how it may have happened. It is hard to imagine primates getting fire if we think they figured out how to make fire somehow, without any of the tools we now use to make fire, and then figured out how to use the fire. However, it is fairly easy to understand the transition if we accept that they may have had a source of natural fire that was available when they needed it. They could then use this natural fire and learn to spread it into small campfires. They would quickly find uses for it. If natural fire was available for long periods of time, the primates living around the fire would adapt to ways of life that couldn’t work without fire. (I will show how this may happen below.) Then, they may travel to areas without natural fire. They will want fire and will probably have grown to need it: there are a lot of things that we can have with fire that we can’t have without fire. They will be highly motivated to figure out ways to create it. If there is a source of natural fire, they can watch it and study it. They will eventually find that making fire is quite easy with the right raw materials. They can collect these materials and carry them to places where they travel, allowing them to make fires there.
When the migratory members of the pan genus reached Lake No (now in the country called ‘South Sudan’), they would be at the edge of one of the largest oil fields in Africa, the Unity Oil Field. This field holds an estimated 3.8 billion barrels of oil. The oil lies underground under great pressure. It has been there for millions of years.
In recent years, holes have been drilled from the surface to the oil and pipes were put into these holes. Oil flows through these pipes under very high natural pressure to the surface, where it is collected and sent via the Greater Nile Pipeline to the Red Sea, where tankers transport it to China. Before these holes were drilled to release the pressure, oil seeped up through the ground and into pools. We have records (discussed in the next chapter) that show that Egyptian merchants were collecting this oil some 6,500 years ago and sending it down river. (At that time, many massive construction projects, including the Great Pyramids, were underway. They builders needed resources of all kinds, including oil.) But the oil didn’t just start seeping to the surface 6,500 years ago. This was happening long before there was such a thing as ‘Egypt.’ The pools of oil were there long before the human race evolved.
About 1.6 million years ago, some migratory bands of the pan genus made it to this area, traveling down the Nile Corridor. The oil fields are located at the place where two dramatically different climate systems meet. To the north is the immense Sahara desert, the driest and hottest place on earth. To the south, wetlands with abundant rainfall that go all the way to the Rwenzori Mountains. You could think of these climate systems as fighting each other, with the front of the war running through the oil fields. Most of the time, the tropical moisture wins and it rains. During this time, plants grow everywhere. But in the months of June and July, the high pressure system that creates the Sahara is too powerful. It pushes the moisture to the south and the area gets hot and dry. For two months, it is close to zero percent humidity and gets up to over 100 degrees every day. Everything dries out. The conflict between the two climate systems creates massive electrical storms. They bring lighting, but no rain to the area. The lighting sets the brush on fire and, for two months, fires burn.
Then the rains come back and put out most of the fires.
But the rains don’t put out all the fires. In areas around the oil pools, the fires stay lit. In some cases, these pools burn all year long. The photo below is from a video of one such natural fire in Taiwan. (This ‘mud volcano’ as they call it is in the Jinshihu Scenic Area of Kaohsiung, Tiawan.) Oil seeps from deposits below a muddy area and bubbles to the surface, where it floats on the water. In the video, it is on fire. (Here is a link to the video.)
Qqq photo of burning tar pit
Oil and bitumen (tar) deposits are found in many places along the final 1,400 miles of the Nile river. The bitumen was used for many purposes in construction of ancient buildings along the river, indicating that the builders knew about these deposits. I think the Unity field is the most likely place for the early travelers to have found these constantly-burning natural fires, because of the climate interaction described above (lots of brush and lighting to get things going). But they may have found them in other areas.
Fire is mesmerizing. I can stare at it for hours. Humans aren’t the only one that seem to feel this way. I have seen dogs and cats staring at fire with the same apparent fascination. The first primates to see a natural burning fire like this would almost certainly have stopped and spent a lot of time watching these fires. The members of the pan genus were very intelligent apes. They were smart enough to seek out natural things that they could make into tools. They had a lot of things they wanted to do that tools could help them get. Might they be able to make some use of this new tool?
At some point, one would take a stick and put it into the burning oil. The oil would coat the fibers of the wood. The oil would soak into the wood. It would then catch fire. She would have made a torch. In time, others would do the same. Perhaps, at first, they just did this for curiosity. But they would eventually find that the torch had other uses. They could use it to carry fire from place. They may have seen wood burning before in forest fires. Touch the wood to some dry brush and they get a small fire. Put some wood into the small fire and it can burn all night. The torch and the ‘camp fire’ are both tools.
What might they use these tools for?
Primates have a lot of predators. We are far easier prey than most of the animals that lions and tigers might stalk. We can’t run very fast. (We certainly can’t outrun a lion.) We aren’t strong. Our bones are thin. They break easily. We don’t have sharp enough teeth or fingernails to protect ourselves. Our babies are totally helpless for many years. Perhaps our greatest vulnerability is our need for sleep. Our bodies and minds get tired quickly and need to take a period of inactivity to recuperate. During this time, we are very vulnerable. Predators know the vulnerabilities of their prey. They can go to a hill overlooking a place where primates are sleeping and watch for hours. When activity dies down, they can come in and grab any that are small enough to carry away, which means they will likely take babies. Primates have very poor night vision. We can’t see them coming. Even if we could catch them in the act, there isn’t anything we could do about it in the dark.
All animals are highly motivated to protect their young. Almost certainly, the first intentional use of fire by primates involved providing light for protection. They could light a fire in the center of their camp. They could post guards who watch for predators. The fire light wouldn’t be very bright. But it would be a lot better than nothing. They could have torches ready. When the lookouts see danger, the people can put the torches into the fire and use the burning torches to drive away the predators. Cats eyes are adapted for darkness. The fire blinds them and they panic and run away. Next time, will look for easier prey. The primates with fire are far safer than those without fire.
Eventually, someone (probably an adventurous youngster just coming into adulthood) would put some food onto a rock beside a fire. They would smell it. The sugars in bananas and other plants caramelize in the heat, sending a wonderful candy smell into the surrounding air. Fried bananas or plantains are wonderful. After they find something that tastes better cooked, they will try cooking other things. Fried avocados are wonderful. Crack an egg onto a flat rock beside a fire, and you have a fried egg. Millions of people today, all around the world, eat fried eggs nearly every day.
Cooking food doesn’t just make it taste better, it also makes it safer. If we can eat it, mold and bacteria can eat it. It spoils. Cooking kills the microorganisms and this prevents spoilage. Cook the right way, and you can keep food for weeks. (Many people I know have meat smokers. After about 12 hours in smoke, the meat becomes ‘jerky’ which can last weeks.)
Fire has a lot of uses. A group of higher primates that that knew about and were capable of using fire would live much differently than groups without fire. They would have more, better, and safer food. They would be able to take advantage of light to work, hunt, and gather food at night. They could protect themselves against predators and other dangers that would kill their peers without fire. They would able to produce more food for their members than groups without fire.
The fire-using primates living in the valleys of what is now the country of South Sudan (which have many oil fields) would live much differently than their ancestors back in the jungles of the Congo, who didn’t use fire. The use of fire would change their lives. They would adapt to these new ways of life. Eventually, fire would be a primary driver of their intellectual growth: those who were good at using this new tool would have great advantages over those who were not good. It takes a lot of intelligence to use fire effectively. (We all know some people who are good cooks, and a lot of others who simply can’t get the knack of making meals that taste good.)
After a few thousand years, these primates would be living so differently than their genetic equals who still lived in the tropical jungles, and did not use fire, would appear to be entirely different kinds of beings. If there were objective observers (say scientists studying ancient earth from another world), they would probably think of them as an entirely different kind of animal. The researchers may think it isn’t really accurate to classify these ‘fire using primates’ in the same genus as the primates that didn’t use fire. ones they left behind in the jungle. Perhaps this new animal would be so different that the researcher would create an entirely new genus to refer to them.
They wouldn’t be ‘pan panicus’ anymore. They would be some other genus and species.
Homo erectus is generally considered to be the first primate to have used fire. Without fire, much of the world would have been unlivable to te higher African primates. Higher primates in general, including humans, are not well adapted to cold. We get hypothermia and die in conditions that wouldn’t even bother most mammals. Even Europe, which has a very mild climate by global standards, would be too cold most of the time for humans to live with out fire. It is unthinkable for a higher primate (including a human) to go through the high passes needed to get from the Medeterranian sea to central Asia without both very heavy clothing and fire.
With fire, we can travel almost anywhere. If there is fuel of any kind, we can be warm.
After living around oil and fire for long times, they would see a connection. The clear, light oil that floats to the top in a natural oil pool is called ‘kerosene.’ It is also called ‘lighter fluid.’ If you pour a little kerosene on just about any fiber, it will light immediately with even a small spark. Making the spark won’t always be easy. But eventually they will find that certain kinds of rocks, hit together, create a spark. (The best for this involve one rock made of flint and another with a high iron content. Cigarette lighters used to be made of a metal case with a wick. You put lighter fluid—kerosene—on the wick. A tiny flint is placed on a spring so it rubs against a metal wheel. Spin the wheel and the wick lights. These lighters work even in hurricanes.) If they don’t have anything to make the spark, they can still create a fire with friction. It takes a little longer (I have seen people make fire with friction in less than a minute, but it takes most people much longer).
Homo erectus descended from migratory animals.
They were comfortable with a migratory lifestyle. They adapted to it. They learned how to deal with issues they encountered. They traveled very long distances.
Homo erectus were the first higher primates to travel outside of Africa. They were also the first higher primates to use fire. I don’t think this is a coincidence, representing two entirely independent accomplishments. Fire made travel outside of Africa possible. With fire, they could go anywhere they wanted. They could protect themselves from predators. They could stay warm in the coldest nights. They could smoke meat and preserve foods to eat while traveling. They could melt ice to have water in the coldest weather.
We don’t have any way to tell exactly where the first primate use of fire took place. But we know it happened. Although the description above may not be accurate in the details, I think that it is highly likely to be correct in general terms.
The first primates to use fire almost certainly found some natural source of fire long before they learned how to make fire. They found uses for it. It is very useful. They then figured out how to make it. This brought great advantages to them and changed them both mentally and physically. They became a new species and genus, an entirely different kind of being than their pan ancestors This new species and genus then spread, over the course of the next 1.6 million years, to all of Afro Eurasia.
Homo erectus were much closer to members of the pan genus, anatomically, than modern humans. They were only barely removed from the bonobos, that spent most of their lives in the canopy of the forest. There is no real advantage to being tall if you live in the canopy and swing from tree to tree: in fact, it would seem to be a disadvantage. Their arms were adapted for climbing, not carrying things.
As time passed, evolution continued to operate. Some of the homo erectus were taller than others. This brought advantages to animals that spend their time walking: those that were taller could see farther and identify both food and dangers from a greater distance. Those that were hunched over wouldn’t be able to carry nearly as much weight as those that stood up straighter and could transfer weight from their upper body to their feet more effectively. The long, lanky arms they inherited from bonobos wouldn’t have been nearly as useful as shorter, stronger arms. Homo erectus that were better adapted to their environment would have a greater likelihood of survival than the less adapted. They would be able to take better care of their young, who would be more likely to survive also. Over time, there would be a transition in the anatomy of these beings. They would start to look less like apes and more like modern humans.
One of the physical changes deserves special mention:
In his book ‘The Naked Ape,’ Desmond Morris explores the way that humans developed the one characteristic that he claims sets us apart from all other apes: our nudity.
Our skin is thin and tender; it burns extremely easily with ordinary sunlight and freezes in temperatures that are not much below the freezing temperature of water. We can’t walk through ordinary swamps without protection; our thin skin begins to rot. (In basic training, all recruits have to go through classes on foot care. The problem of ‘trench foot’ can destroy armies.) We can be torn to pieces by the claws of animals that are a tiny fraction of our own size. Mosquitoes and parasites love us: few animals have skin as easy to penetrate as ours.
How did this come to pass?
How did we become the category of beings that Morris called ‘The Naked Ape?’
Morris argues that our nudity indicates that we have to have had clothing and fire for hundreds of thousands of years. (He wrote during times when people believed nothing, including humans, was more than 6,000 years old.) He points out that evolution doesn’t like to waste resources. The body has to devote resources to protection of skin. Extra layers of fat that can protect s from cold come at a cost: people need to eat more to maintain them, and they limit the ability of the body to cool itself under exertion. Hair is a breeding ground for parasites. Thick skin limits our ability to sense danger through the skin. If two groups have clothing and fire, and one of them develops genes that transfer the use of resources away from building thick skin, fat, and hair toward creating more nerve endings, a better-connected nervous system, and a larger and more capable brain, the one that uses resources in ways that give it advantages will be more likely to survive.
This process takes a very long time. But eventually, we would expect to see homo erectus descendants that didn’t look anything like the homo erectus that left Africa. They would look more like the species ‘homo sapiens denisova’ or ‘denisovan man.’
Homo erectus appeared to have left Africa about 1.6 million years ago. (There is a lot of dispute over the exact figure, but we don’t need exactness for our purposes here. Suffice it to say it happened a very long time ago.) Over the next 1.2 million years, the earth went through several massive glaciations called ‘ice ages.’ These events covered much of Asia, Europe, and the southern parts of Africa in thick ice that wiped out most live in these areas. When the ice retreated, the land was repopulated by the survivors, who were the most capable individuals. When the ice age that ended about 400,000 years ago ended, the ape-like homo erectus didn’t appear to be able to compete and disappear from the fossil record.
They were replaced by the subspecies now called ‘homo sapiens denisova.’
Originally, the beings that replaced the homo erectus were called ‘homo denisovan,’ because scientists thought they were a different species of ancient humans. They thought they were so different from us (a subspecies now called ‘homo sapiens sapiens’) that they wouldn’t have been able to interbreed with us. Recent DNA evidence has shown that they did interbreed with members of our subspecies, so they were not a different species. They are a different variety of the homo sapiens species, classified as homo sapiens denisova.
We will come back to them later in the chapter. The homo sapiens denisova appear to be one of our two primary evolutionary ancestors. Interaction between and conflict between members of our subspecies that have a high percentage of homo sapiens denisova DNA and a culture dominated by homo sapiens denisova characteristics, and those with a high percentage of homo sapiens neanderthal DNA and primarily homo sapiens neanderthal cultures, continues to this day.
Let’s take a trip back to Africa to see how this other group of proto-humans, the homo sapiens neanderthals, came to exist.
Group Territoriality Societies Expand
Homo erectus were clearly very comfortable with travel. If they had been homebodies in any way, we would have found evidence of sites where they remained for long periods of time, built residences, had their young, raised them, and buried them in the same burial grounds as their parents, grandparents, and great grandparents. They don’t see to have cared about having a ‘home’ to return to. This doesn’t mean they didn’t stay in the same place for long periods of time, it just means that they didn’t seem to have a fanatical attraction to the idea of a ‘home’ that their close genetic relatives, the pan troglodytes (chimpanzees) seemed to have. They seemed to like to travel. Some modern humans are the same way. They don’t care much about having a home. They want to see new places. They don’t ‘go on vacation’ and then ‘return home.’ They go where they want to go.
You can find a lot of people like this in the most remote and inhospitable places on the planet. In Mongolia, for example, a very large percentage of the population is technically homeless. They are migratory herders. The bulk of the country is common property, not owned by anyone and available to any who want to use it. It is very inhospitable land, but herders and hunters can make a living there. They go where they want to go. They don’t seem to be drawn to the idea of having a permanent home and making excisions from it. They herd their animals to places with grass. They have tents called ‘yurts’ that are very comfortable. They set up their yurts and are at home, wherever they are. The rains fall different places each year, so the grass grows different places. They move their animals to the places where there is grass.
The same is true in most of Siberia and many parts of the ‘seven stans’ of central Asia (Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, Tajikistan, Afghanistan, and Pakistan). Nomadic people still live in northern Alaska and Canada. (In 1996, the Canadian nomadic people got their own provence: Nunavit. With an area of more than 700,000 square miles, Nunavit is larger than all but 6 of the world’s countries.)
Homo erectus got around.
It is hard to imagine these migratory beings having descended from the fanatically territorial pan troglodyte (chimpanzees). The chimps lived in tiny areas that they protected. Most of them never left these tiny areas their entire lives. They had a certain way of life that they were comfortable with. Inside their borders, they knew where everything was. They knew the good places to sleep and the best places to get water. They had a very tight troop whose members were very loyal to each other and would band together to protect each other in the event of danger. They knew that the ‘outside’ was dangerous: any members of their species that were found outside were presumed to be dangerous. Those who went on patrols would have memories of seeing these brutal outsiders killing their friends and loved ones and then tearing the bodies to pieces. They would be afraid of the outside. It was dangerous. They would only leave for something that was critical (like chasing enemies that had violated their territory to kill them). Then, when the job was over, they would run back home immediately.
As noted earlier, evoltuion would be slower in chimps for two reasons:
The first is a lack of genetic diversity. The chimps rarely had any contact with outsiders that wasn’t violent. They mated and bred almost excusively with their close relatives, other members of their troops. Evolution works much faster if there is genetic diversity. If the gene pool is large, there will be more diversity in intellect, talent, skills, and physical abilities. Nature has more superior individuals to select for survival. The group that doesn’t have diversity will not only not have this advantage, it will also have serious problems with birth defects and diseases from inbreeding. A child born of a father and his own daughter, or a son and his own mother, will have an extremely high chance of birth defects or genetic disease.
The second is war. The soldiers that head for war would not encourage disabled, insane, or mentally retarded individuals to join the military units. Loyalty is absolutely necessary for effective warfare. They would have to protect their own. If they brought inferior individuals, they would have to spend their time babysitting them and not be able to fight effectively. Retarded, handicapped, and insane individuals would be a great liability. When the war starts, the solders would not want them along. They would be able to show their displeasure at unsuitable candidates that tried to enlist. They want them to remain at home, with the females and children. As the more capable were killed in action, the less capable would be left to reproduce. These factors would cause evolution to be much slower in the pan troglodytes than in the pan panicus.
The chimps would most likely evolve significantly more slowly than the bonobos, for the above reasons. Most evolution would be the result of group augmentation. Chimps are highly territorial. They practice ‘group territoriality,’ forming into troops, each of which monopolize one specific area, defined by borders. Troops of chimps would compete to conquer territory held by other troops, using war. Those better at war would take territory. They would wipe out or displace most members of the losing troops.
From time to time, there will be some sort of genetic or cultural difference in a specific group that makes that group better able to invent new tools to make into weapons, better able to inspire group loyalty (called ‘patriotism’ in humans), or otherwise make them more capable at war. Its members will take more territory and have more offspring. Whatever genetic or cultural difference made that troop better at war will spread and, on average, the chimp population will have more and more war-related capabilities as time passes.
As in current human societies, advances that can help in war often have non-military uses. These animals would be better able to meet their needs as time passes. They would evolve.
From time to time, some chimp groups would be forced from their territory. They would be forced to travel. Most likely, this would happen when a troop is attacked and defeated in a war, and the winners were unable to kill all of the members of the losing troop. Some would escape.
They would have to travel. But both their genetic and cultural backgrounds would push them to travel with a definite goal. They wouldn’t be traveling aimlessly wherever nature took them, like the migratory homo erectus. They would be looking for a new place to ‘colonize.’ They would want to find another ‘monopolizable patch’ of land that they could make their home. They would want to extend their way of life into other areas.
When forced from their homes, they would immediately start looking for someplace that was suitable for them to live as they had lived before. They wouldn’t just head out into the unknown and explore. They would go until they found a place that was suitable for colonization. Then they would form a colony there. They would turn it into a model of the system they left behind. Their former system was based on monopolization of a patch of land. They could only monopolize land if they built borders around the land, then defend the borders. The places they would go already had members of their species living there. Pan panicus were migratory travelers. They would have explored all the areas around them. Of course, they would have wanted to be able to use the best land. But genetically and culturally, they were passive and non-confrontational. They didn’t think of any land as ‘theirs.’ It didn’t belong to them. If the chimps made it clear they would be killed if they tried to benefit from the existence of that part of the world in any way, they would simply move somewhere where they weren’t threatened. There was a lot of land that wasn’t suitable for the kinds of societies the chimps had. Only the very best land could produce enough to support a group that defended it year around. Most couldn’t produce enough for this. (This will change, as their descendents gain technology that allows them to make land produce enough to store for the winter. But we are still in the age of chimps that have no technology.)
Most of the world was still open for the pan panicus. They wouldn’t be threatened if they moved far enough away. They could go somewhere else.
The chimps wouldn’t be very likely to pass up any land that was colonizable. This means their culture would spread very slowly. If you want to imagine how this might work, you might consider the way their far distant descendents, the Europeans, spread into the Americas. They would start by building a fort. They were on their side. The other, which they called ‘Indians’ (ancient descendents of denisovans, as we will see), lived everywhere outside the forts. They thought the Europeans were crazy. The Europeans were terrified of the outside. They would go there, but only for short treks, followed by a hasty retreat to their forts. The first Europeans to come to America arrived before 1500. But even 300 years later, they had no idea of the extent of this new world. You can read the journals of Lewis and Clark, the famous explorers who trecked to the west coast in 1803-1805. They talk of the people they met, who were everywhere. They talk of their generosity and kindness. (They lived with ‘Indians’ just about every night.) These people had lived in the area for 25,000 years. Yet, somehow, the societies that dominate the world now seem to accept that Lewis and Clark were the first to ‘explore it.’ The fact that, even after 300 years, the European settlers had only really colonized tiny areas tells us that the type of society they have doesn’t spread very fast.
Eventually, the colonists would get to the oil fields. If you have oil, and something you can use to make a spark, you can have fire whenever you want. They got fire.
Fire is very useful for groups that are constantly at war. Armies with fire can fight all night. They can burn any defensive barriers their enemies build. They can burn the structures used to provide shelter. Some of the chimps would not really adapt themselves to the new lifestyle that involved using fire. Troops with these inadaptable members would have great disadvantages in war. Troops that were good at fire use could conquer areas held by less capable apes quite easily. In time (and probably not much time), we would start to see a clear difference between those that had adapted to the use of fire and the original chimp populations.
Objective observers, say scientists from other worlds studying them, or perhaps scientists from the distant future studying them by their artifacts, would think the beings that had mastered the use of fire and had come to dominate the area close to the oil deposits shouldn’t really be put in the same zoological classification as the simple chips that swung from tree to tree back in the jungles. They would think that these beings should have their own zoological castigation.
The term ‘neanderthal’ was used to refer to the remains of hominids that were discovered in 1856 in the Neander Valley of Germany. Anatomically, the neanderthals had some features that were similar to those of chimps. But they also had features that were very similar to those of modern humans. They weren’t close enough to either of these classified beings to fit exactly into that category. They were in a category of their own. The researchers coined the term ‘neanderthal’ to refer to these beings, naming them after the valley where their remains were first found.
Over the course of the next century and a half, neanderthals have been found all over Europe. No significant finds have been made outside of Europe. You will find many articles on the internet that claim that neanderthals may have lived as far back as 400,000 years ago. But these figures are only stated as estimates and don’t reflect positive dates (at least as far as I could find). Large scale evidence that can be positively dated place the beginning of the neanderthal period at 130,000 years ago.
Either way, they are very recent arrivals, relative to the denisovans, who had been around for hundreds of thousands of years already before the first evidence of neanderthals appears anywhere.
Scientists have enough neanderthal remains to sequence their DNA. Neanderthal markers have been found in all humans populations tested so far. (You will find many articles on the internet that claim there are no neanderthal markers in African blacks. Recent evidence has shown that this is not true: he people who made this claim did so before testing was done; it was speculation that turned out to be incorrect, not based on any evidence.)
Neanderthals lived in Europe in very large numbers, starting back 130,000 years ago. The map below shows the general location where evidence has been found of neanderthal habitation. Note that the only places these remains are found are in western Europe and the shores of the Medeterranian in Africa and the ‘middle east.’
I think it helps to understand what we see if we have at least some idea how it might have happened. Denisovan remains are found all over Afro-Eurasia. Why did neanderthals confine themselves to this one area? I think the reason for this involves the nature of their culture and, if we understand it, we have one more piece of the puzzle to help us understand the forces that shaped the past and put us on the path we are now on. The discussion that follows is an attempt to explain the evidence we have. The details may not be exactly right and I am not claiming they are. I am must claiming that, if we want to understand where we are now and how we got here, we have to have some sort of narrative that makes sense that explains the things we see. Although the details may not be exactly right, I think that this explanation is the only reasonable one (consistent with the evidence) that can explain what we see, and that, if it is correct, we will have a pretty good idea why many otherwise inexplicable events in our more recent history (the last 50,000 years) happened as they did.
Like the homo erectus, the neanderthals descended from members of the pan genus. They started in central Africa. They spread from there.
They were colonial animals. They didn’t just wander around like the homo erectus and make camp where they were. They wanted to live a certain way. They had both genetic and cultural forces acting on them to form into groups, mark off a certain territory, and keep it for just the members of that group. They wanted territory the could monopolize.
When an inhabited area got crowded, they would look for an area they could colonize. They would then begin the work of building their defenses. They were a lot smarter than the chimps. They realized that walls, of some sort, would provide better protection than simple paths that were patrolled. Once they had a defended area in place, they were at home. They could feel safe. They could stay there until population pressure again pushed them to find some other place to colonize. They would spread out very, very slowly, one step at a time.
Starting from central Africa, only one path seems to meet the requirements for this kind of advance. They would travel downstream of the Nile, toward the north and the Medeterranian sea. They wouldn’t be able to leave this corridor: both sides are brutal desert, unable to support them. Once they got to the end, they had only one real option. If they go west, they quickly run into deserts, even on the coast. They have to go east, toward modern Israel. Those that went east would eventually reach the Golan Heights, which are the first mountains high enough to trap enough moisture to support the farming methods they would have used (sedentary farming, relying on pre-existing moisture). They then would have to follow the coast up through what is now Lebanon, Syria, and into what is now Turkey. They would have to keep to the coast: nothing inland would be productive enough to support colonies. Still following the coast, they would eventually reach modern Greece. Only after they reached this area would they be able to find land rich enough to support colonies inland. From there, they can expand into the rich valleys of what is now Germany, including the Neander.
Western Europe is an unusual place, in terms of its climate. It is warmed by very powerful currents that bring up massive amounts of moisture from the tropics, including the Gulf Stream. The air over this very warm water is very moist. When it hits the arctic air streams, the moisture condenses out and it rains. This creates perfect conditions for growing. It is warm and moist in the summer and has mild and moist winters. The neanderthals found may areas suitable for colonization.
Their range did not extend into eastern Europe, however. This area appears to be just as green as western Europe on the satellite images, at least those taken during the summer. If you look at images taken during the winter, however, you will see a big difference. Eastern European doesn’t get the warming effect of the Gulf Stream. It gets very cold in winter. During the time the neanderthal were living in this area, the world was in an ‘ice age.’ The ice sheets covered these lands. They wouldn’t have been able to colonize these areas.
This leaves the exact areas where remains have been found as the only areas that would have been suitable for the colonization, given the realities of their lives and their lack of technology (relative to the technology of modern humans).
Homo sapiens sapiens (us)
Originally, anthropologists thought that neanderthal, denisovans, and modern humans were two entirely different species. Neanderthals and denisovans were ancient animals that had features that were similar to those of humans. But they weren’t in the same category as humans. Humans are not animals. We are different than they are. They both walked upright, as we do, so they put them into the family of ‘upright walking beings’ or hominids, with the genus name ‘homo.’ But they were in a different species. Since they lived in different areas, and clearly had different ways of life, they were thought to be entirely different species and were given different species names:
1. neanderthals were called: Homo neanderthalis,
2. denisovans were called: Homo denisovans
DNA analysis only became practical in the 21st century. Scientists knew that beings that the neanderthals and denisovan had different anatomical features than modern humans. They found remains of beings that are anatomically identical to modern humans (these are called ‘AMH’s or ‘anatomically modern humans’) and tested the DNA to try to determine the exact genetic differences. To their surprise, they found that, although the remains were different anatomically, they were almost identical genetically. In fact, they found evidence that, during the time when these two groups of beings coexisted, they bred with each other and had babies. They then tested denisovans and got the same results. They tested people they knew were modern humans, because they were part of modern human populations (many of them tested their own DNA) and found that there was no real difference between the DNA of modern members of the human race and the DNA of the AMH’s (anatomically modern humans) of the past.
In other words, they found that we are all the same species. A lot of people don’t want to accept this. The neanderthals and denisovan are, anatomically, between humans and apes. They are ‘ape’ men, presumably without a soul or connection to the creator. There has to be a line between ‘them’ and ‘us.’ But the research indicates that there is no line. There appears to be a smooth transition. The evidence tells us this:
When the neanderthals began arriving in Europe in large numbers, about 130,000 years ago, there were already people there. But these people had inherited the non-territorial societies of the bonobos and homo erectus. The people didn’t beieve the land belonged to them. When people came who claimed it was theirs, and then proceeded to kill any who violated their claimed rights, the denisovans moved on, in the same way that the American Indians (with strong denisovan markers in their DNA) moved on. Or most of them moved on. Denisovans descend from the sexually liberated bonobos. (We have a great deal of evidence that shows that groups in areas with denisovan-dominated cultures had far more liberal sexual attitudes than the people in neanderthal dominated cultures.) The young women didn’t think of sex as something men have to earn by being successful or good at war. Sex was something they just liked to do. They had sex with the neanderthals. Their DNA got into the mix. The neanderthals and denisovan interbred.
The children had characteristics of both parents. Both bring something to the genetic table. The mixture was not really neanderthal and not really denisovan. It was something else. The result appeared to be the beings that anthropologists call ‘AMH’s,’ for ‘anatomically modern humans. They appeared to become us.
The Implications of the Above Findings
Many people don’t like to accept the above line of reasoning. What they want to accept is that modern humans are an entirely different category of beings that evolved, somehow, from some source that has yet to be disclosed. Somehow, these modern human beings appeared. They had such great advantages over the neanderthal and denisovans that these two species (what they thought wee species) suddenly ‘went extinct.’
When I look at the internet, I see that just about every site describes both of these species as ‘extinct.’ Most give dates for extinction between 40,000 and 60,000 years ago. Before we look at the evidence (which tells an entirely different story) I want to ask you to consider the claim itself: even it were true, how could anyone know it was true? If you look at forensic reconstructions of neanderthals and denisovans, you will see that they really look a lot like the people you might meet in various parts of the world if you traveled there.
If you wanted to make a scientific claim that neanderthals and denisovan are ‘extinct races,’ how would you support this? How do you know that none of the people you see living in the world around you are not descendents of neanderthals or denisovans? Everyone who has been tested has some genetic markers from one or both of these species (or at least I couldn’t find any studies that show otherwise). In some cases, the portion of the that is not identifiable inherited from members of the pan genus (the so called ‘uniquely human DNA’) is more than 90% neanderthal. If someone was 100%, wouldn’t we have to say that person is a neanderthal? How do we know no one is in this category without testing? The only way to tell if these species have ‘gone extinct’ is to test. This test has not been done so it is not possible to know.
This brings up an important issue related to traditional historical methods: claims are made by early researchers that conform to their beliefs and prejudices. People then repeat the claims as if they are facts. Later researchers look at the research, which either repeat these claims are proceed on the assumption these claims are true. In some cases, we know that these claims have not been tested for the simple reason that they are untestable. The claim that ‘neanderthals went extinct’ is not really testable, given our current technology. Are they an ‘extinct species?’ Maybe. But since this is untestable, it should not e stated as a fact. Until it has been tested, it is either a theory (if there are sound scientific reasons to accept it) or speculation. I don’t think it this particular claim can be called a theory, because it doesn’t make scientific sense. How can it be scientifically sound to say a species is extinct if its DNA is still around?
If we want to be scientific, we need to come up with the best explanation we can for the things we see. The best explanation for observed genetic profiles is that neanderthals and denisovans had babies. Both neanderthals and denisovan had far greater intellect than their evolutionary ancestors, the members of the pan genus. Their societies were different and the environmental conditions of their lives were different. They had adapted their mental abilities to these realities. They were both very intelligent, but their intelligence was different. Different mental talents help migratory hunters than help businessmen who live in densely populated closed-in areas. Different mental talents help people in war-driven societies than help people in societies built on tolerance and acceptance. When these proto-humans started raising families, the children had mixtures of talents of their adults.
In some cases, babies didn’t inherit any really helpful skills from either parent. In others, they favored the father or mother. In some cases, they had the advantages of the mental abilities of both parents. As time passed, the ones with the greatest skills and talents had advantages over those who were not gifted. During good times, they could all prosper. They would have babies and the population would grow. But there would be times when the population was so high there wasn’t enough food for all. During these times, the less capable aren’t able to survive. The more capable are the only ones left. Then, when good times come back, they are the only ones around to have babies.
It is possible that other proto-humans made contributions to the gene pool. Homo erectus, for example, appeared to still be around. We have evidence of other beings that may have been extremely intelligent, like the Australopithecus described above, that may have contributed to the mix. But the largest contributions appear to come from the neanderthals and denisovans.
Where Did We Come From?
The way I see it, there are three cultural components of our ‘nature.’
Part of it comes from the fiercely territorial ancestors who defined borders and fought over them, using any tools at their disposal. Some people today seem inclined to accept that this is the only way humans can live. They don’t believe that anyone from outside their territorial group (their ‘country’) should share in anything that the land inside its borders produces or contains. As far as they are concerned, those outside the borders don’t deserve even the right to live: they look for excuses to bomb them into the stone age. This seems to reflect the influence of the more fanatical territorial ancestors (the chimps and neanderthals). These people seem eager to accept any cultural programming or propaganda that would make them more militant and violent, or rationalize the most hate-filled and murderous activities they can imagine.
Others are tolerant, amiable, obliging, and open minded. They don’t think that people really can own parts of the world and they think fighting wars (which may destroy the world) to determine which group of people will be called the owners is a mark of insanity. They believe in equal rights for all humans. Some of the extremists even think that females should have rights. They seem inclined to accept cultural messages that promote equality, peace, tolerance, and fairness. This seems to reflect the genetic influence of the ancestors who evolved in the less productive areas like the pan paniscus (bonobos) and the denisovans.
Most of us—or at least most of the people I have met—are not fanatics one way or the other. Most of us are a kind of mixture between the two extremes. We get feelings that tell us to go both directions. Part of us wants to be territorial, to bond with others born around us (into a state or country) and to fight for territory for the benefit of the people with whom we have bonded. This part of us gets drawn in when we hear the hate speeches: We seem to want seem to want to hate and join in the cheering at the theater when the bad guys in the movies get torn to pieces or otherwise suffer horrible deaths.
Another part of our ‘nature’ makes us feel a little ashamed of these feelings. The other part of our nature makes us want to spend our time making love not war. The other part makes us feel there is only one human race and one human nation and we are all brothers and sisters. The other part wants to protect the world and keep it healthy rather than exploit it to have more materials we can use to protect our country from its (real or imagined) enemies.
The first two of the three components of our human nature often push us to do contradictory things. They tell us to go to war and tell us to stop the war. They tell us to hate outsiders and then tell us to hate those who hate. I have cried over what I thought were ‘bad feelings’ I had (because they pushed me to do things that conflicted with things I was raised to believe are right).
I think you have too.
We also have a third part of our ‘nature.’
It is a new part that is unique to us and not related to our past. We can take control of our thoughts through our intention. We can decide that we want to ‘think about our options’ before we act. The pressures from our mental wiring or cultural programming push us to act immediately without thinking. This third part of our nature tells us to think before we act. If our thoughts tell us that the things our instincts and emotions tell us to do are wrong, we can simply use our intention to overrule our emotions, and not do the things our emotions push us to do.
I think that we all have these three components of our ‘nature.’ I think that if you accept this, and understand that all three are active, you will find it much easier to understand the rest of this book, which takes us from the first humans to the current era.
Illustrations to add
Qqq map neanderthal range
Qqq Lucy picture.
qqq Africa photo
Qqq Pogo cartoon here.
Qqq image of africa
Qqq photo of burning tar pit