I seldom write these columns intending to please or displease
I seldom write these columns intending to please or displease but don’t mind accomplishing the former more often than the latter.
Lately, politics has dominated the news since we Americans seem to be perpetually in election mode. But this week I read something interesting that displaced the Donald and Hillary show but will likely bore you readers to tears.
I don’t consider likes and dislikes when I sprinkle my weekly measure of 500 words onto these pages. I write these missives for my personal pleasure and welcome those who read them, taking no offense to those who immediately relegate them to the bottom of a birdcage.
What caught my eye this week was the discovery of a very distant relative that apparently buried its dead, a trait previously thought to be uniquely human. These creatures predate we “modern” folks by two million years!
My interest in this subject isn’t intellectual. My knowledge of paleontology could be written on the back of a business card. I simply have a layman’s fascination with behaviors and personally believe we are much more puppet-like than we think.
Notwithstanding, we live in a sea of technological marvels, at our core we’re cave people albeit with better caves and more powerful clubs. So when I read about what was apparently purposeful burials of tribal members 2 1/2 million years ago, I draw a straight line from there to the funeral home across town.
Such actions meant those creatures possessed similar emotional thoughts about their dead that we have about ours. Of course how those thoughts actually formed and how they were translated to action isn’t knowable but suffice it to say the outcomes were virtually identical.
Their dead were given a final place and that at the very least required some degree of empathy, which likely arose from the ability to think in abstracts. It’s said that altruism doesn’t exist in nature but if it does. It’s due to abstract thought.
In these columns, I often refer to “reptilian” traits that generally live in the more ancient part of our brains. Our connections to the natural world often get blotted out by the light show we call modern life, but sometimes things boil down to “predator and prey” moments and we’re manipulated by primal wires.
I enjoy looking at the sky from my patio knowing it looks more or less exactly as it did when the first hominids looked at it from atop a rock. My neck sometimes gets stiff and I rub it to relax the knot. I’m sure some very hairy relatives did exactly the same thing millions of years ago.
We homo sapiens are relative newcomers to the world. Our functional DNA diverged from that of Neanderthals about 500,000 years ago.
However, if you’ve ever been in a busy Walmart you might suspect the divergence wasn’t 100 percent complete. That’s not an insult. My knuckles have been known to drag the floor.
Otis Gardner can be reached at email@example.com.