Friday, September 22, 2006

Thoughts on Fossils From One Who May Someday Be a Fossil

"But Max, you can't kill the actors - they're human beings!"
"They are? Have you ever eaten with one??!" - The Producers

Caz links to a story about scientists finding the 3 million year fossil of a 1-year-old baby, or a 1-year old fossil that's been dead for 3 million years - it's kind of confusing working out which is which.


I'm a little ambivalent about this story - it's nice that the kid is getting some recognition, but it would have been nice for the kid to grow up and enjoy the finest fruits of neolithic pre-civilisation, whatever they were.

Being a man, of course, I have something of a natural sympathy for the state of pre-civilisation; but it's pretty hard to know for sure what life was really like back then if you just watch the BBC documentaries about the time. All they seem to do is have a couple of actors in hairy suits, walking about a grassy plain*. There's probably a shot or two of them confronting a sabre-tooth tiger, then of them gathering nuts and berries, then there'll be a camera shot of a timeless sunset, then the show will end. (Timeless sunsets are excellent for filling in the extra couple of minutes at the end of the show) ...

The thing is, between one timeless sunset and the next, there must have been plenty of moments when these pre-civilised ape-men ended up not doing very much. They probably had more than enough time to evolve and discover those little irritating, niggling sensations and complexes that all humans hold in common - anger, obsession, and above all, an overwhelming sense of boredom. It's possible that it was boredom, more than anything else, that drove them from pre-civilisation to civilisation. (Though you can't really show this in a BBC documentary - it's just not possible.) After all, there's nothing better for staving off a sense of boredom than a nice civilised activity - like war, for instance. Or surfing the internet. Or analysing three million year old fossils. Or surfing the internet reading stories about scientists analysing three million year old fossils. Or ...

So it's a bit of a chicken-and-egg paradox really. If you're a neolithic human race, and you want to enjoy the fruits of cultivation, then first you're going to have to start cultivating fruit - or something.

Anyway, here's to my neolithic answers who got me where I am today. It's only a couple of thousands of kilometres away from where they started off in Africa, but still ...

*You always see actors apeing apes, but you hardly ever see apes acting like actors - which probably proves that apes have more sense.


Caz said...

See, here's the thing Timmy: back then your days would have been full from sunrise to sunset finding enough food to eat, water to drink, killing a few extra animals, not just for meat, but for their skin, sewing a new pair of hightops (which get worn out real fast with having to run and walk around 50 or 100 miles a day for all of the afore mentioned daily activities). Not to mention keeping a fire going, building and mending shelter, fighting off other tribes (wanting your women or territory) and protecting your tribe from animals wanting to eat you, finding materials to make tools that work, giving some primative artwork on the local cave your best shot, and so on and so forth.

After all of that hard work, you were dead by around 27 or 33, that's if you got to a really old age. If you were lucky, you may have found time to have sex a few times before your demise.

Boredom? Who the hell had time to be bored?!

TimT said...

No, I don't buy it. If they really had their work all cut for them that way, civilisation would never have developed - after all, civilisation takes time for people to sit down, work things out, discover things like levers and wheels and hammers - play around with concepts and ideas.

I think finding and preparing food, making war, etc, does take up a lot of time - but the entire 27-33 years? I doubt it.

Put a person down for ten minutes and they get bored. Even if our pre-civilised folks got only ten minutes out of every day, what between their fighting and eating and dutiful copulation to spread the human seed, well, that would make over a lifetime several weeks of un-time - free for them to develop all those wonderful Freudian guilt complexes and obsessions and emotions and ideas and what-not that make up the world today!

Bit of an artificial scenario, I know - in reality, I reckon sometimes everything would seem to be happening at once, and they wouldn't have any time to themselves. Other times, nothing would have happened for days on end - plenty of fertile un-time for our uberdaddies and ubermummies!

Caz said...

Freudian guilt complexes and obsessions are a modern phenomena. They were invented by us, because we have nothing better to do. Ditto romance, self esteem, self development, and so on and so forth. People never used to have to worry about any of that crap. They still don't, but they do, because they're bored.

TimT said...

Self esteem and self development are certainly rubbish concepts developed by folks with too much time on their hands, as must be many of the other notions thought up by Freud and Jung. But it's surprising how far back the weirdness of modern folks can go. There's a whole collection of incest stories in Ovid's Metamorphosis, which he got from all over the place. Actually, I think similar stories occur again and again in different mythologies, eg, Siegfried and Sieglinde - Elektra and her Dad - Oedipus and his Mum - Lot's daughters ... and I'm sure there's a whole pantheon of rather ... kinky stories from other mythologies out there.

You don't get a sense from some of the sources so much about the emotions and motivations of many of the characters; (the Bible makes an interesting, but not entirely coherent collection of myths about the sexual peccadillos of various olde worlde figures), but there are other great writers (Ovid and Homer) who really do seem to understand the deepest human drives - desire, guilt, etc.

But I'm rambling.

Caz said...

So the question is: did cavemen experience guilt? If so, what about.

Desire? Yep, they would have coveted all kinds of things, like a big juicy rhino, or a bigger cave, or someone else's woman.

But we can't really know, as it was all before recorded time.

Mythology and the bible covered pretty much everything, we come up with stupid ideas, because all of the good and base human stuff has already been done.

TimT said...

I suppose we wouldn't want to repeat too many of the massacres and slaughters and wars and rapes and what-not that are chronicled in such intimate detail in the Bible, apparently for purposes of 'worship'... but it's a little disappointing to think that those ancient texts covered all areas of human aspiration. Someone tell Shakespeare - no, bud, none of that Macbeth stuff; it's all been done before!

And I agree, mostly.

In the ancient world, they had Siegfried and Sieglind, who founded a race of vikings. In the modern world, we get Siegfried and Roy. They founded an empire based on putting wild animals in kitschy circus acts. It's progress, sort of.

ras said...

mmmm rhino *licks lips*

sorry all of your philosophy and literary history, bible chatter and sexual peccadillos made me hungry

TimT said...

Plateful of woolly mammoth, mayhap?

I'll do another post soon. This one was a tad boring, but I'm just *yawn* relaxing a bit at the moment ...

Caz said...

The tigers did eventually get their own back on Siegfried and Roy (well, one of them, which must have upset the other dreadfully). Revenge must have been pretty sweet.

TimT said...

Sweet? A bit like chicken, apparently ...

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