The economy of early hominids and that of twenty-first century society have enormous differences, but they do share one important feature: in both of these economies, humans accumulate information in objects. Our world is different from that of early hominids only in the way in which atoms are arranged.
It has actually been suggested that warfare may have been the principle evolutionary pressure that created the huge gap between the human brain and that of our closest living relatives, the anthropoid apes. Whole groups of hominids with inferior brains could not win wars and were therefore exterminated.
More poignant for us, at Laetoli in Tanzania are the companionable footprints of three real hominids, probably Australopithecus afarensis, walking together 3.6 million years ago in what was then fresh volcanic ash. Who does not wonder what these individuals were to each other, whether they held hands or even talked, and what forgotten errand they shared in a Pliocene dawn?
If you were to go to the National Museum in Addis Ababa, you would walk into a huge room filled with literally tens of tons of fossils, and most of them would be elephants and rhinos and hippopotamus and monkeys and giraffes and antelopes and so on. Hominids are very rare in the landscape, and it's very rare to find them.
Ultimately all hominids came from Africa, and therefore everyone in America should simply check the box next to 'African-American.' My maternal grandmother was German and my maternal grandfather was Greek. The next time I fill out one of those forms I am going to check 'Other' and write in the truth about my racial and cultural heritage: 'African-Greek-German-American.' And proud of it.
These Cro-Magnon people were identical to us: they had the same physique, the same brain, the same looks. And, unlike all previous hominids who roamed the earth, they could choke on food. That may seem a trifling point, but the slight evolutionary change that pushed man's larynx deeper into his throat, and thus made choking a possibility, also brought with it the possibility of sophisticated, well articulated speech. Other mammals have no contact between their air passages and oesophagi. They can breathe and swallow at the same time, and there is no possibility of food going down the wrong way. But with Homo sapiens food and drink must pass over the larynx on the way to the gullet and thus there is a constant risk that some will be inadvertently inhaled. In modern humans, the lowered larynx isn't in position from birth. It descends sometime between the ages of three and five months - curiously, the precise period when babies are likely to suffer from Sudden Infant Death Syndrome. At all events, the descended larynx explains why you can speak and your dog cannot.
Ending up with that gigantic outsized brain must have taken some sort of runaway evolutionary process, something that would push and push without limits. And today's scientists had a pretty good guess at what that runaway evolutionary process had been. Harry had once read a famous book called Chimpanzee Politics. The book had described how an adult chimpanzee named Luit had confronted the aging alpha, Yeroen, with the help of a young, recently matured chimpanzee named Nikkie. Nikkie had not intervened directly in the fights between Luit and Yeroen, but had prevented Yeroen's other supporters in the tribe from coming to his aid, distracting them whenever a confrontation developed between Luit and Yeroen. And in time Luit had won, and become the new alpha, with Nikkie as the second most powerful... though it hadn't taken very long after that for Nikkie to form an alliance with the defeated Yeroen, overthrow Luit, and become the new new alpha. It really made you appreciate what millions of years of hominids trying to outwit each other - an evolutionary arms race without limit - had led to in the way of increased mental capacity. 'Cause, y'know, a human would have totally seen that one coming.
Checking a box on a form for race-"Caucasian, " "Hispanic, " "African-American, " "Native American, " or "Asian-American"-is untenable and ridiculous. For one thing, "American" is not a race, so labels such as "Asian-American" and "African-American" are still exhibits of our confusion of culture and race. For another thing, how far back does one go in history? Native Americans are really Asians, if you go back more than twenty or thirty thousand years to before they crossed the Bering land bridge between Asia and America. And Asians, several hundred thousand years ago probably came out of Africa, so we should really replace "Native American" with "African-Asian-Native American." Finally, if the Out of Africa (single racial origin) theory holds true, then all modern humans are from Africa. (Cavalli-Sforza now thinks this may have been as recently as seventy thousand years ago.) Even if that theory gives way to the Candelabra (multiple racial origins) theory, ultimately all hominids came from Africa, and therefore everyone in America should simply check the box next to "African-American.
The Lutz heck that emerges from his writings and actions drifted like a weather vane: charming when need be, cold-blooded when need be, tigerish or endearing, depending on his goal. Still, it is surprising that Heck the zoologist chose to ignore the accepted theory of hybrid vigor: that interbreeding strengthens a bloodline. He must have known that mongrels enjoy better immune systems and have more tricks up their genetic sleeves, while in a closely knit species, however "perfect," any illness that kills one animal threatens to wipe out all the others, which is why zoos keep careful studbooks of endangered animals such as cheetahs and forest bison and try to mate them advantageously. In any case, in the distant past, long before anyone was recognizably Aryan, our ancestors shared the world with other flavors of hominids, and interbreeding among neighbors often took place, producing hardier, nastier offspring who thrived. All present-day humans descend from that robust, talkative mix, specifically from a genetic bottleneck of only about one hundred individuals. A 2006 study of mitochondrial DNA tracks Ashkenazi Jews (about 92 percent of the world's Jews in 1931) back to four women, who migrated from the Near East to Italy in the second and third centuries. All of humanity can be traced back to the gene pool of one person, some say to a man, some a woman. It's hard to imagine our fate being as iffy as that, be we are natural wonders.