Posts Tagged ‘The Invaders: How Humans and Their Dogs Drove Neanderthals to Extinction’

Thanks, Max

May 15, 2016

wwThanxMax

 

Why are chase scenes so common in motion pictures? Why do television stations interrupt their regularly scheduled programs to broadcast live police pursuits? Are we rooting for the chasers or the chased? Richard Wilbur suspects it’s the latter. In his poem “Man Running,” Wilbur comments on our tendency to “darkly cheer” the fugitive and “wish him, guiltily, a sporting chance.” Wilbur speculates in the poem’s concluding stanzas that the popularity of chase scenes might be a function of evolution.

Sharing with him our eldest dread
Which, when it gathers a sleeping head,
Is a place mottled, ominous, and dim

Remembered from the day
When we descended from the trees
Into the shadow of our enemies
Not lords of nature yet, but naked prey.

(Collected Poems, Page 9)

Recently in our evolutionary history, human beings made the dramatic transition from prey to predator. But the terror and trauma of millions of years of being feasted upon by other animals has left a strong imprint on our psyche. (Even city kids are terrified of wild animals.)

In her book Blood Rites: Origins and History of the Passions of War, Barbara Ehrenreich posits the provocative thesis that human bellicosity, particularly as it manifests itself in our perpetual contemporary war-making activity, is largely the result of our atavistic need to overcome animal predators.

When our ancestors figured out how to make weapons and how to work in unison by communicating with one another, it was time for some epic payback on our furry enemies.

Homo sapiens arrived in Eurasia roughly 45,000 years ago, and very shortly thereafter, virtually every large species of prey animal and competing predator was gone. The patently obvious deduction is that Homo sapiens intentionally and methodically wiped out all those other species.

Man, the new king of the jungle, obliterated the competition:

Cave bears, saber-toothed tigers, mammoths, rhinos, lions, leopards, dholes–fierce as they were, they all vanished from the forests and steppes of Eurasia.

And even the Neanderthals, our most serious completion for world domination, “first drastically dwindled and then vanished as well.”

So how did our ancestors transmute from “naked prey” into such effective killing machines? Anthropologists tell us that three evolutionary developments were a key factors in making us the baddest species on the planet: big brains, opposable thumbs, and speech. But according to Steve Donoghue’s review of The Invaders: How Humans and Their Dogs Drove Neanderthals to Extinction (a new book by Pat Shipman) dogs also played an essential role in our rise to global dominance:

a pack of canines can detect prey long before humans can, and they can chase that prey farther and longer than humans can, and, crucially, they can keep that prey at bay and stationary until humans can arrive with their superior numbers and projectile weapons. The wolf-dogs would have realized in short order that in exchange for their instinctive distrust of hominins the arrangement would garner them more reliable kills. And the humans would have seen that the wolf-dogs were helping to secure more meat than they’d provide if they themselves were simply slaughtered. And so the 35,000-year-old partnership between humans and dogs began – in multiple genocides.

So I think it’s time for me to publically say, “Thank you, Max, you adorable little Shih-poo early warning intruder protection device. Thank you and all your canine ancestors for enabling us to eliminate the competition.”

 

by Richard W. Bray