And when did you say it all began?


Last of the Neanderthals

Eurasia was theirs alone for 200,000 years.

Now we laugh at the biblical timelines of the 19th century – a 6000 year old planet, but it seems to me that a century or two in the future, if we don’t blow ourselves up, our view of human history will be just as laughable.  I think that not because I know the science we use today to date our history, but because the statements of those who do don’t make sense to me.  A common statement in science has always intrigued me; “Saudi officials have found evidence that horse were first domesticated 9000 years ago.”  That was today’s version published on the BBC‘s news website; a week ago, National Geographic has a similar statement on the domestication of dogs 30,000 years ago in Siberia.  At least a couple of times a year another find produces another new date for the domestication of something, the beginning of farming, brewing beer, growing grapes, building cities, canals, playing games (dice is a common early game), the beginning of human language and the ever increasing news of our sexual involvement with pre-humans, stretching us back further and bringing them up closer and the master time chart of human development. Did those ugly guys talk, did we speak the same language or did we copulate without any words at all?  If they talked when did they start to talk?  They are hundreds of thousands of years older than we are, if they talked then language is much older than current science says.

Now, I am not a scientist and have no technical knowledge on any of those subjects, but I struggling with any point of beginning.  I cannot understand how one could pinpoint the time and place and say such and such began here and then.  We cannot even pinpoint the beginning or end, if it has, of the current recession and we were there.  An exact place and time implies a rather bizarre scenario to me: One day, this hairy, ugly guy gets up in the morning and says I think I will speak a language today.  So he says to his main squeeze, “honey, get up lets get out of this Africa place and start for Siberia, life is just too hard here.” She must have caught off guard for a moment, but one might suppose she had a list of things he did not account for before the could possible begin any long trip.  Or when agriculture began somewhere in Turkey, Iraq, India or was it China? Another, maybe not so hairy or ugly guys says to his offspring, “son, I am tired of chasing those damn elephant/mammoth things around and going to bed hungry, lets plant some seeds and just sit here while the wheat grows and then your mother can bake some bread.”  Again you can guess she was caught off guard without the supplies she needed to bake bread.

That is why I am skeptical about all of those dates – if they have evidence of domesticated horse from 9000 years ago, the process must have started long before that, probably when those Siberians were domesticating dogs and copulating with the Denisovans and Neanderthals and providing us with an improved immune system in the process.   It must have taken many thousands and thousands of years to develop an agriculture or husbandry system large and permanent enough to leave evidence that we might find.  And if that took what might seem like a very long time, how much more time would it take to develop a full language?

Still we have had some interesting news in the last week or two; dogs and horse were domesticated much earlier than previously imagined and that humans and other species mated.  The mating suggests the differences between the species are smaller than we have wanted to believe.  And, for me it also implies that even the hard DNA evidence which produces some hard dates for human migration out of Africa will be challenged by equally hard archeological evidence in the future.   Again, I have no technical knowledge, but logically it seems obvious to me that the major events in the development of human society took much, much longer than we think today.  It will be a long time before anyone understands the world very differently from what we understand today – it will come, but no one of us will be there. In the meantime we are left not so much with an absolute knowledge about the developments of human history as a belief – more advanced and based in better science than the bible – but a belief never-the-less.


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August 2011
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