(concluded) Chapter 3. Long Evolution: Life as emerged so far
Note: On all numbers that follow, experts differ.
Anatomically modern Homo sapiens, our kind, had evolved into being in Africa by around 200,000 years ago. By 170,000 years ago, as they steadily spread across that continent, so-called “Mitochondrial Eve, the earliest direct genetic ancestor of all living people on the earth today, was alive and well – a real person. By 150,000 years ago these modern humans were probably using complex spoken languages. There is evidence that long-distance trade was underway 140,000 years ago, and the existence of 100,000-year-old shell jewelry suggests complex symbolism had developed.
Out of Africa
By around 130,000 to 115,000 years ago Homo sapiens had commenced the first of several waves of migration out through Africa’s northeast corridor into Eurasia, where they encountered Neanderthal humans. This early out-of-Africa migration is thought to have declined or possibly reversed sometime between 100,000 and 80,000 years ago, but resumed with renewed strength between about 60,000 and 40,000 years ago. As one branch was turning westward into Europe, another turned eastward to eventually populate India, China, southeast Asia, Indonesia and Australia – as well as across the Bering land bridge to the Americas.
Neanderthals and modern humans
Waves of Homo sapiens migrations and steady expansions across central Asia and Europe encroached into existing territories of our older Neanderthal relatives from the Middle East to the Iberian peninsula. Thus in recent times an interesting point has arisen. Our Neanderthal close relatives are thought to have separated from the Homo sapiens line as early as perhaps 600,000 years ago and then evolved alone for a very long time in the Middle east and Europe before the new Homo sapiens began arriving. When the new arrivals began, however, interbreeding occurred, and experts now differ on whether, in the long run, Neanderthals really are a “separate” relative. With strong new genetic evidence continuing to accumulate, an increasing number of scientists now consider Neanderthals a blended-in subspecies of the Homo sapiens line.
Homo sapiens neanderthalensis
Neanderthal DNA is 99.7 percent identical to modern human DNA, and research shows that around twenty percent of Neanderthal DNA survives in modern humans. Approached from our side, modern humans have two to four percent Neanderthal genes incorporated in our DNA; research in 2016 found seven percent in a Siberian woman. The Neanderthal Genome Project has published findings that Neanderthals contributed to the DNA of most humans outside sub-Saharan Africa as early as 100,000 years ago, and on a continuing basis long before the large out-of-Africa migrations of modern non-Africans. Very recent research also reveals multiple significant episodes of human-Neanderthal interbreeding after the last major wave of humans moved from Africa across the Middle East and Europe more than 50,000 years ago.
The argument is well made that Homo Neanderthalis never actually went extinct. As Homo sapiens irresistibly overran Europe the Neanderthal gene pool was simply submerged into and integrated with the Homo sapiens gene pool, so that Neanderthals remain alive and well today for they are in us. This seems especially noticeable in the Balkan areas of southeastern Europe, which was prime Neanderthal territory for hundreds of thousands of years and is today the locus of many DNA samples confirming extensive interbreeding between Neanderthals and our modern-human ancestors. In these geographic areas many modern male inhabitants exhibit pronounced brow ridges and other dark and bulky features well associated with Neanderthals. Demographically, these features are found nowhere else in the abundance unique to human males born in the Balkans. Yet the human species Neanderthalensis has historically been portrayed as subhuman apes, bestial trolls and worse.
The religion-based conceit that male descendants of the mythical Adam were and remain God’s favored has for millennia produced countless devices for imagining an elevating of oneself by imagining a lowering of some other while not noticing that oneself is really no higher than before the imagining began. Especially where egos remain large and thus self evidently unfulfilled, men have imagined themselves to be elevated above women, above men who live over there and not over here, above persons of different skin colors any other color will do, above people who don’t believe as I believe, above persons who “freely choose” to live as slaves and housekeepers and ditch diggers, above persons who don’t make as much money as I do, and most certainly above creatures presumptuously imitating the human body shape such as monkeys, great apes – and Neanderthals.
I close this small section on our closest human relative with these observations. Brain volume in our sapiens twig of our Homo branch averages 1,350 cubic centimeters (1,250 to 1450 for men); womens’ brains are smaller on average though some neuroscientists say this is irrelevant. Relative to the other twigs on our branch, we compare favorably to Heidelbergensis at 1,220 cc (10 percent smaller) but unfavorably to Neanderthals at 1,600 cc (18.5 percent larger) – meaning that Neanderthals were nearly one-fifth larger-brained than modern humans. This anomaly being widely regarded as inexplicably bizarre, it is not talked about and that’s probably why you haven’t heard about it before now. Moreover, our modern human brain has been steadily shrinking for the past 25,000 years, from about 1,500 cc down to our present mere 1,350 more or less – a loss about the size of a tennis ball. Make of this what you will.
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Our overall subject here, don’t forget, is mindsets. In chapter 2 we followed the long evolution of the universe from the big bang to formation of the earth. In this chapter we have followed the long evolution of life on earth from its origin in a big molecule that “became” alive and began trying to survive and reproduce. All this is a unity I call Long Evolution. I hope it has conveyed that evolution means never-ending change, and is the central dynamic of all existence in the universe we call home. Yesterday I noticed a book on someone else’s shelf, titled Thank God for Evolution. Yea verily.
I also hope you have come to recognize the “rising” nature of all this evolving – that, beginning with the big bang’s chaos, diverse things organize themselves into increasingly orderly shapes and functions, become ever more complex and rise ever higher than things were before – the highest and most complex thing in the entire universe today being the mind, the consciousness, of ourselves – Homo sapiens – the product of all our ancestors.
Q: And why have I gone to all this bother of trying to emphasize and illustrate the truth of these things? A: Because they are denied by so many human mindsets – closed minds insisting that things must be this way or that way, “either-or,” but never “and” with both things being true. Neither the scientist nor the churchman can open his tight little mind enough to – scientifically, theologically – even consider the possibility that Long Evolution was the bright idea of a God, an Omnipotent Creator of the Big Bang, the great bang that Let There Be Light, and then evolved all the way up to Us – us infinite spirits sojourning a while in these divinely evolved bodies the better to Grow in Spirit.
“Religious faith in non-material spirituality is superstitious hooey,” mutters the oh-so-certain scientist momentarily distracted from his intense interest in the nature of non-material dark energy, quarks, and anti-matter particles. “Scientific belief in Godless evolution is the atheistic work of Satan,” intones the oh-so-certain churchman in willful ignorance of the Neanderthal DNA segments deep within his own body’s genome.
And that is the essence of our present unhappy condition in the (needlessly, wastefully) politically polarized USA. Closed mindsets habitually fail to even notice the constant opportunities to step outside their polarized old arguments, to look for new and different third options that could perhaps reduce the infernal arguing, perhaps unite us in cooperating instead of this constant bickering and competing – instead of actively disliking each other when our real job is to like each other, perhaps even love each other, to help each other become more than we are now. …more aware …than we are now…
But, minds closed as steel traps, we persist in making trouble where there was no trouble, and We Do Not Love Our Neighbor As Ourself.
To illustrate these things we shall now leave long evolution behind. We are going to move to something new that I call Fast Evolution. It’s the rendition of evolution that is occurring in modern times, where things no longer move slow and take long. They move fast and change fast, and change yet again before you’re even caught up. Some have become so fast they now hurtle, headlong, and nobody can catch up. We are forced into discussion of contemporary concerns such as global warming of the earth, of economics, politics, and religion. Proceed then on into Chapter 4 with forewarning of the risk to any closed mindset segments you may harbor, all unnoticed, in the fullness of your mind.
We began this chapter with the Old Testament’s description of the creation of life. We then considered Old Turtle’s version, and took quite a while presenting science’s version. Consider now the Yanomamo version.
The Yanomamo people live relatively isolated village lives in very remote Amazonian jungle areas overlapping northeast Brazil and southern Venezuela. They are one of the few truly primitive Homo sapiens remaining on the earth. This, however, is changing faster every year as oil and gas developers push insatiably deeper into their territory (in just four decades they’ve gone from traditional nudity to wearing shorts that cover the genitals). Here for your consideration are their deeply held beliefs concerning the creation of humans – meaning themselves – on earth. They hold these beliefs profoundly and will argue as vociferously for them as any Baptist missionary determined to plunge into extremely remote areas intent on saving souls for Jesus without being eaten.
Yanomamo reality is equal parts physical and non-physical. The spirits populating their material-immaterial existence are unseen but ever present, a daily reality in, around, above and below. Their universe comprises at least four parallel layers of land stacked one above the other, pancake-like but separated by layers of sky. All four layers are many miles greater in length and width than the Yanomamo would have reason to travel. The topmost layer, duku ka misi, is an empty land where nothing lives though many things originated there. It is called “the old woman” because it is infertile and abandoned like a transient garden that once was vaguely functional. The second layer down, hedu ka misi, is the “sky” layer, the unseeable upper side of which is pretty much like earth but is populated with the souls of deceased Yanomamo.
Living Yanomamo live on hei ka misi, the third layer, created when a chunk of layer two broke off and fell downward. As everyone can plainly see it is covered with Amazon jungle, mountains, rivers and animals, including many slightly different versions [tribes] of themselves, the Yanomamo, the real people. Foreigners – who look different, speak crooked and sometimes come into Yanomamo areas – are degenerate copies of real people. The fourth and bottommost layer, hei ta bebi, is mainly barren and of course cannot be seen because it is below. It is populated by peculiar Yanomamo people called Amahiri-teri who, being cannibalistic, send their spirits upward to capture children and carry them home to eat. Yanomamo children accordingly are terrified of this ever-present danger and the adults have a morbid fear of themselves becoming cannibals. Third-layer Yanomamo shamans stay busy contesting such incursions. The dread Amahiri-teri were alive at the time of the original humans but were part spirit, part human and part animal.
The Yanomamo are culturally averse to being called by name – addressing each other by name is a very strong taboo, notably among the men. They are similarly close-mouthed about how the four-layer universe and the first beings were created. They seem to assume the universe began with people present, though they do have ambiguous creation myths involving a living moon. In one version an ancestor shot Moon in the belly with an arrow. The resulting blood fell to earth whereupon it changed into fierce men. Where the blood was “thickest” the men were so ferocious they nearly exterminated each other. Where the falling blood mixed with water the resulting men were able to control their violence better and fought less. Yanomamos of this belief say that only men were thus produced, and females were derived in an unexplained way from the wabu fruit.
Those created by Moon’s blood were all males, and they had no women with whom to copulate. They went out collecting vines one day, and began pulling them from the trees. The headman of the group noticed that one of the vines had a newly opened wabu fruit attached to it, and the fruit had ‘eyes’ on it. He thought to himself: ‘Ummm. I’ll bet that’s what woman looks like!’ and he tossed it on the ground. It changed immediately into a woman and immediately developed a large vagina. They continued to collect vines, not aware that the fruit had turned into a woman. As they dragged the vine home, the woman kept at a distance and would step on the ends of the vines, jerking the men off guard as she did, hiding behind trees when they turned to look back.
She finally just stood on one of the vines causing the men to screech to a halt. They turned and looked, and saw her. They were startled that she had a vagina – a very long and very hairy one. They stared at it and were overcome with lust. They rushed at her and all took a turn copulating frantically with her. They brought her back to the village and let all the men there have a turn copulating with her. Eventually she had a baby – a daughter, another, and another. As each daughter came out, everyone copulated with her and eventually there was an abundance of females, all descended from the wabu fruit, and that is why there are so many Yanomamo today.
Napoleon Chagnon, Yanomamo, 1968
While reminding us that all life is sexually transmitted, it seems clear that the Yanomamo have never heard the story of how God made Adam from a lump of clay and then made him a help mate, Eve, from one of his ribs. They probably wouldn’t believe it if they did.
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…to be continued in one week…
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