My followers will probably have gleaned that I have a very great love of our own and world history. But, of all the ‘ologies’ – and I also love cosmology and archaeology – the one that fascinates me the most is anthropology.
Our departure from our ape ancestors is thought to have occurred somewhere between seven to eight million years ago, and possibly as long as thirteen. We know that Africa was our original homeland and that large numbers of different hominoids wandered the length and breath of that great landmass.
After millions of years in that continent, a few of the surviving groups, perhaps the more enterprising, ventured out of Africa and began the process of colonising the earth. As recently as forty thousand years ago, four distinct groups – ourselves, Neanderthals, Denisovans and Hobbits (a metre tall) inhabited the world contemporaneously. But three of our cousins vanished to join the myriad other hominoids who failed to make it. We plough our lonely furrow across the broad expanses of the planet.
Eurasians inherited 1 to 2% of their genetic make-up from mating with Neanderthals. Fortuitously, because perhaps of the less benign climate than Africa, Neanderthals needed to acquire a range of immunities not needed in Africa and this was their legacy to those inheriting their genes.
Having made the adaptation to the harsher environments of the far north and south of the planet, as well as everything in between, these four groups stood alone – although there is the possibility that more are yet to be found. The great, unanswered question is why only we have made it through to the present age.
Various hypotheses have been put forward, such as one group turning on another. With warfare till part of the hominoid lexicon, this may seem plausible. Certainly, it is hard to believe that our own ancestors would not have regarded them as a lower order of life and thought nothing of ridding ourselves of them, especially if they occupied areas that we coveted. We have done exactly that to our own kind in North America, Australia and elsewhere. However, at the time, the groups were numbered only in the tens of thousands with the resources of the whole world at their disposal, so there could have been little competition for them. Perhaps at a later date, when numbers expanded, we might have chosen to turn them into helots, which again we have done even to our own kind. What all groups did have in common was a greater level of intelligence than all other mammals. This allowed them to adapt more effectively to the challenges of climate change, of which there were a great many – some more severe than others.
Of the four groups, we appear to have been the quickest in developing technology such as bows and arrows and sophisticated stone tools, being more intellectually advanced than the others. Perhaps our language skills were also more advanced, allowing us to communicate more effectively and so plan more intelligently. Taller and more athletically built, we would also have been able to run faster. All of these abilities, and there were perhaps others, would have put us in a better position to survive the more severe of the climate changes.
There are so many unanswered questions concerning anthropology, and it may be that we may never know the truth of some of them. Complex as are the mysteries of the universe, we seem to have been answers to these questions than we do of those surrounding our own origins in this most fascinating of the ‘ologies’.