Recently I read a fascinating book entitled Last Ape Standing: The Seven-Million-Year Story of How and Why We Survived, written by Chip Walter. The major take away for this reader, as revealed by carbon dating and DNA analysis, was the original 27 species of what we know today as Homo sapiens is now only one.
The other 26 fell by the wayside for a variety of reasons that can only be surmised. Some of the other species for instance had bigger eyes; others had bigger brains. Some got wiped out by climate change, including invasions of cold and ice. Some migrated far and wide and almost got wiped out but came back stronger in numbers for considerable periods of time. The evidence to date indicates that there were never a lot of them on earth at one time and their lives and fortunes evidently waxed and waned with a lot of volatility.
Along the way they lived exceedingly simple, rough lives by comparison to most of the lives in today's world. Survival was obviously the main accomplishment for most of those creatures. And, most people today largely believe that for almost all of that long period of time, as measured in human life spans, there was little or no language or other forms of modern intellectual activity.
Today's scientists as well as archaeologists reach farther and farther into the human past as well as further and further into the past of space, or future?, perhaps depending on which end of the telescope they are looking through.
For example, an English man named Higgs dreamt up the idea, a generation ago, that there was some other dimension or 'thing' in the universe, now called a Higgs Boson, which now appears to have been proven to exist by a giant physics experiment, costing some $13 billion, in CERN Switzerland. No, Bosons are not related to Buffaloes; they do, however, explain a lot about dark matter in space and may ultimately explain a lot more, than we already know, about mass and energy. All of which ultimately may reveal more about spatial relationships as well as time and distance. Who knows? We may have gotten here from some other place; we may go somewhere else when we die?
Well, that entire introduction sets the stage for an equally amazing revelation that is now on display at the British Museum in London.
That is an exhibit of Ice Age art, placed in time again by carbon dating, from about 40,000 years ago, when our ancestors were presumably largely simple hunter gatherers who could do little but grunt at each other -- or so we thought. Think again. And, if you can get to London, see the exhibit or at least buy the book about the exhibit from the Museum store, or online from Amazon.
Those artists displayed their work on cave walls, human and animal bones and other hard materials, which accounts for how they lasted. They were found not only in caves but in grave sites along with the remains of their presumed owners. Their work was as sensitively artistic as humans produce today. And, if one makes allowance for when they were done and the conditions which must have existed then, they are even more impressive.
They drew pictures and sculpted figures every bit as creatively as you can see today and even managed to convey motion in some of their pictures of fast moving animals like lions. Their displays of the female figure at all ages, some pregnant, are elegant, sexy and lithe. Some figures were decorated with beaded jewelry. And, they even appeared to capture individual likenesses as distinct from generic faces. Much of their work is vastly more sophisticated than, say, Egyptian art 10s of thousands of years later.
What you see will really knock your socks off and should make you reexamine all your assumptions about where we came from and how we got here compared with everything we were ever previously taught.
Today we debate global warming and freezing and many people still dismiss those realities, as if they have no bearing on our lives. Those phenomena may not have much effect on two or even three lifetimes. But, they do have a lot to do with the longer evolution of our species.
We must remember that those people who ignore or do not know history are doomed to repeat it.
There really is nothing new under the sun.
And, for the curious among us, the future will surely show us more and more of the old and new as we reach further back in time and deeper into the slowly shrinking mysteries of space!