Friday, October 17, 2014

Painting and "mommy groups:" findings on early humans

Time again for Science Friday.

Since I recently posted a...shall we say, contentious...theory of human origins, I thought that I would take a look at actual verified advancements in the field.

Like most kids, prehistoric life fascinated me during my formative years. This primarily means dinosaurs but I also enjoyed the Hollywood "lost world" milieu as seen on Skull Island in King Kong and the underground world of At the Earth's Core.  One glaring scientific inaccuracy (among many) that these settings featured was a duple depiction of Earth eras.  There were "cavemen" or loose-knit tribes of primitive humans that lived alongside the dinosaurs in a Flintstone's-like existence. Unless you're a fundy, you know that such cohabitations never happened and that any depictions thereof are for the purposes of pulpy entertainment only (granted the native islanders of King Kong were not "cavemen" but the ethno-insensitivity of the times made them transparent stand-ins, I would argue.) Fortunately, the realities of what early hominids were like are far more interesting and multi-faceted than their cheesy Hollywood reflections.

It is now speculated that mothers among early hominids raised their young collectively. "Momma groups," so to speak. Examining already existing research, a team consisting of academics from Harvard, the University of Utah, and the University of California have found that mothers of those species began to give birth to larger babies. These children were also more dependent. It is therefore thought that they could not have been raised alone and "care networks" of sorts formed between mothers.

Doesn't surprise me. We're constantly told (especially by corporate leaders and conservatives it would seem) that our natural, Darwinian state is one of survival of the fittest and kill or be killed. Yes, there is truth to that both with humans and elsewhere in nature. However we neglect the numerous examples where organisms cooperate in order to survive. Not only survive but to prosper as a matter of fact. This is yet another case of that and the fact that it was women who were the pioneers likewise does not surprise me. It would seem that they would naturally see the strength and advantage in collectivism. I'll just drop it here before someone gets bent out of shape about "It takes a village..."

Elsewhere, what are thought to be the world's oldest examples of human art have been found. The insides of a cave of Indonesia showcases a montage of water buffalo, warthogs, and even handprints rendered in ochre, a reddish natural pigment. At least a few of these are thought to be 40,000 years old. Stylistically, the depictions are similar to those found in Europe, the previous crown-holder for the oldest-known human art. Primal humans were painting what they saw, namely wild animals. As they no doubt were sources of sustenance, they loomed large in human existence. I am also intrigued by the handprints. To me, they suggest a search for identity. "I am aware I exist and I'm trying to figure out why. In the meantime, I mark my place here." Just my thoughts.

In a similar vein, I'm wondering if we are about to find that humanity, in one form or another, has been around much longer they we've ever suspected. Discoveries such as this those in the caves keeps overturning the previous paradigm. How sophisticated were we? Well...I don't think I'm ready to say that there were advanced civilizations lost to us by flood or something (e.g. Atlantis), but you have to wonder.

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  1. On Facebook, Frank said: "I loathe the description of Darwin's theory as "Survival of the fittest" or "kill or be killed' or "Survival of the strongest." The actual theory boils down to "Those that cannot adapt or change, fail." "

  2. You're quite correct, Frank. I've applied the same argument to those resistant to technological progress.