Fake this, fake that

A great deal of twaddle is published every day on the subject of human origins. But not here, gentle reader. Today, however, I am making an exception. This is because I am teased to exasperation by one of my correspondents, who knows less than he supposes on this topic, and is not even an amateur flintknapper.

There are a lot of people in this world, today as yesterday, whose opinions are well in advance of their knowledge. Let us take a salutary moment to condemn them.

And let us begin with a modest observation. Things are often as they appear, to our richly endowed senses. The human eye is good at picking out fellow humans in a landscape, both by what they look like, and how they behave. Dogs can also spot fellow dogs, notwithstanding a considerable range of size and shape through breeding. Turning towards the past, it is not difficult to tell what is human, even in a thin archaeological record. Rather, it is dead obvious.

Pop science requires that we do not accept this. We are told that humans evolved in form, and then that they evolved in behaviour. All very gradually. This is rot. There is no evidence whatever that humans have evolved as a species, since we became one. We have a cartoon account of cave men, and another of our jet-set contemporaries, and a series of “just so” stories to connect them. The truth is that “primitive” men — who continue to exist in isolated places scattered over the globe — are capable of the same (very wide) range of behaviour as the rest of us. And cave-dwelling has been a pragmatic option, from the oldest fire-lighters to the latest eco-freaks. Even the knowledge that we must light our fires in ventilated spaces to avoid asphyxiation goes way back (we are the species that cooks) and requires little trial-and-error to learn.

Like dogs, we are a variable race, and there is no reason to suppose, having fleshed out a long-defunct skeleton, that the creature could not pass for another human somewhere in the world today. This includes those barely three feet high, and those with protruding jaws or foreheads. Indeed, I think I’ve seen it all in Parkdale.

Now, dogs are in a relationship with us. And we are in a relationship with God. (Sometimes I think the dogs half know it.)

Pop scientists (in which category I include most palaeoanthropologists) are typically human in their love of stories, though not, necessarily, talented as storytellers. (Ovid did this sort of thing so much better.) The fake story of “human evolution” can be told in many contradictory ways. It requires only that we choose some arbitrary indicator, then arrange the samples in a plausible-looking string. Choose another indicator, and the whole order changes. Look back to the accounts of Lower, Middle, and Upper Palaeolithic from less than a century ago, and we find not insights into some development from archaic to modern, but trends in storytelling.

I am partial to flintknappers: the ones who try to flake and sharpen tools themselves, from the usual readily-available stones. That’s how you get the hang of anything: by trying to do it yourself. They have found better stone points at Omo Kibish in Ethiopia (say, 100,000 years ago) than the best from the Upper Palaeolithic Revolution (say, 40,000), for which this was chosen as the key indicator of progress. (Go read e.g. John J. Shea.)

Yet here we are barking up an imaginary tree. The latter could quite possibly speak; the former were almost certainly dumb animals. The staggering transformation came, possibly between. More than two million years of grunting apish hominids, then a sudden avalanche of miraculous tweaks.

Tool use means nothing; being human means everything.

Since, there has been no further change. We are what we are. With cultural continuity, comes accumulation of knowledge: civilization and all that. By a few accidents, we’re back to bushwhacking again. Humans can be ingenious, or buffoons. But there is no evidence — none, zilch, nada — that we’ve been anything but human since the transformation. Whenever that was.