Although chimpanzees can be trained to do so to a limited extent (Swartz and Jordan 1980) humans probably uniquely have the ability to use a symbol to represent something else. For example most humans can identify that a drawing of a dog represents a dog. This ability has to be learned and is a product of human culture. To most other creatures any drawing is simply a shape or a doodle on a piece of paper, if they even notice the doodle. Writing uses symbols to represent language. Language uses sounds as symbols to represent ideas. As the defence said way back in “Change” [Variation Through Time] language is the major part of our culture. And of course language was necessary before we could have history.
Although I don’t believe there is any evidence to suggest Neanderthals were any less intelligent than Cro-Magnons many people believe Neanderthals may have been incapable of speech. But the development of language is almost certain to have been a gradual process, as is most cultural change, i.e. evolution. Homo erectus may originally only have had the word “uurgh” but, as a friend has pointed out, there are many ways to give different meanings to that. Language may go back a long way. Anyway language would hardly have sprung up fully formed overnight in a single group of people. This means debate over whether Neanderthals and Homo erectus had the power of speech are largely irrelevant.
The Australian Aborigines have language; they even have myths about “The Dreamtime”. On the other hand they didn’t have a true Upper Palaeolithic culture when Europeans first arrived in Australia. Therefore languages (and obviously myths) were not simply spread with the Upper Palaeolithic. The development of the physical and instinct changes necessary for speech obviously involved a whole series of much earlier genetic mutations. The wave theory of evolution suggests these genes would have obeyed the normal rules of selection and evolution as they spread through the human species, probably by the formation of hybrid zones.
And of course languages themselves evolve. Way back in “Indo-Europeans” [Mingling] the defence pointed out that, like genes, languages become extinct. They tend to be replaced regularly. Therefore we can presume the only surviving language families that may have developed and diversified by the beginning of the Upper Paleolithic, about 40,000 years ago, are the ones spoken by the Aborigines in Australia and perhaps some African languages (Indo-Pacific and Pama-Nyungan, see “Into Australia” and Niger-Kordofanian and Khoisan, see “The Human Star” [A Map]). We must remember that even these languages may have replaced still older languages. Other language families have developed and spread much more recently, probably no earlier than the late Upper Palaeolithic. In fact most may be a great deal more recent than that.
We can use the evidence from language distribution to construct a language family tree. The defence has touched on parts of it already. For example the jury saw diagrams of the Indo-European and Austric language families in Part II when we looked at the origin of New Zealanders. The defence will offer evidence supporting the other parts during the remainder of the trial. First up is the human star with the present distribution of language families in place. The numbers represent languages that are probably remnant survivals of languages previously more widely spread. Most of them are difficult to place into any language family. Number 1 can represent both Ainu and Gilyak, 2 is Ket, 3 is Burushaski, 4 is Basque/Euskara and 5 is Georgian or Caucasian. We’ll leave the Mediterranean Islands, “The Last Point”, blank for now.
I admit the relationship of the first few branches (especially the Australian and African languages) to the main line is totally hypothetical. But as we follow the remainder of this story of Human Evolution from the Upper Palaeolithic until history the jury will see the evidence does support the main stream. There would be many areas of minor disagreement though, even between members of the defence.
It is usually suggested a sudden increase in brainpower from about 40,000 years ago made us human and led to the Upper Palaeolithic. But, like everything else, complex human culture probably evolved gradually. Complex culture may have started with mtEve’s family as long as 150,000 years ago. But, as the defence said in “Technology” [Progress], the eventual change to the Upper Palaeolithic is almost certainly associated with a whole series of improvements in technology and culture. These probably came about through the exchange of ideas from several different families allowing more efficient exploitation of resources.
Family groups within chimpanzee and gorilla society rarely have intimate contact with other family groups and we can probably assume humans were much the same early in our evolution. Loss of hybrid vigour can be a problem for chimpanzees and gorillas even in the wild. Their pattern of social organisation limits gene flow because the family groups tend to remain isolated when population numbers fall. This was probably a problem for ancient humans in isolated regions as well. A cultural development around mtEve’s time may have helped offset inbreeding.
We saw in “Polynesian Origins” [Societies] that children inherit their culture from their parents, especially their mother. In “MtEve” the defence suggested that any slight advantage her descendants had might have been cultural in the form of social behaviour or organisation. At one extreme it may have been mtEve’s group that invented language. But her descendants’ success may be due to no more than the invention of a word for, or at least the concept of, a “Father-in-law”. The establishment of wider contact between different family groups through the evolution of complex social connections would be able to offset any tendency towards inbreeding. This would mean they could maintain hybrid vigour and survive even when numbers fell below what would have been dangerously low levels for other species. They could also exchange ideas and resources between groups. There is evidence population numbers became much greater in the Upper Palaeolithic than in the Mousterian or Middle Palaeolithic (Cunliffe 1994). There is also evidence for much more cultural interchange than previously. Amber, shells and stone were transported for hundreds of kilometres. Therefore there must have been wider social connections than just that between local family groups.
The Upper Palaeolithic is actually the first Stone Age that shows rapid changes in stone technology through both time and space. Before then stone technology changed very slowly and the same culture was found over wide areas. The implication of this increased variety is that the tools took on the function of art as well as usefulness (Cunliffe 1994).
A major flowering of culture in the form of symbolism occurred in the Upper Palaeolithic. Art, clothing, body decorations with beads, animal teeth etc., and possibly music and religion all developed. These may all have been developing or present to a lesser extent in the Middle Palaeolithic (Cunliffe 1994) but there was a major change at the beginning of the Upper Palaeolithic. This change is usually presumed to be associated with the expansion of mtEve’s descendants but its suddenness is exaggerated and it was not continuous. In any particular region there are periodic returns to earlier technologies and cultures (Stringer and Gamble 1993).
Human use of symbols had reached an amazing level in Southern France by the Upper Palaeolithic Gravettian although, because dates of 30,000 years are claimed for some cave paintings, those ones may go back to Cro-Magnon or Aurignacian times. Drawings of animals in the caves are absolutely stunning. The drawings were presumably made from memory, as it would have been difficult to get a mammoth to pose in the cave (of course the artists may have been practising on perishable material for generations).
Although the Upper Palaeolithic culture may not have actually begun in Europe it is better studied there than elsewhere. So we’ll turn next to the Upper Palaeolithic expansion into the human star’s Northwest European point.
The first Upper Palaeolithic era in Europe, the Aurignacian, was almost certainly intrusive. In “Neanderthals et al” [Aurignacian and Mousterian] the defence mentioned that a mixture of the modern human Aurignacian and Neanderthal Mousterian gave rise to at least three hybrid cultures in Europe. Janusz K. Kozlowski (quoted in Mellars 1990) suggests the first regional differences in Europe developed from these Châtelperronian, Uluzzian and Szeletian technologies, although he feels this variation may be simply due to ecological differences. But the Aurignacian itself may have already been the product of mixing between Neanderthal technology and culture with that of modern humans. In “Neanderthals et al” [Superiority] the defence suggested that the next European culture, the Gravettian, almost certainly also owed a lot to Neanderthals. There is, in particular, continuity in Eastern Europe from the Neanderthal Mousterian through Szeletian to the modern human Gravettian.
Cavalli-Sforza’s (1995) map of the second principal component of modern gene distribution in Europe shows one genetic extreme in Spain and the other in the far north (map 18). Because it represents just the second principal component it accounts for quite a large proportion of the genetic difference within Europe, 22% in fact.
Interestingly there is a bulge southward along a line in Cavalli-Sforza’s map. It may indicate where northern populations through history have been able to move south between the Carpathian and Sudetan Mountains but I’ve cheated a little. The boundary between the genetic extremes is actually north of the line offered as evidence. Therefore although genes have seeped each way across the boundary by now, the movement has been especially towards the north. The bulge actually occurs where the Szeletian culture survived through the Aurignacian (see map 14). The line also makes an interesting twist in Scandinavia. It looks as though the boundary was formed at a time when there was continuous land in the area, i.e. during an ice age.
Another interesting fact is that there are two little areas isolated within the southern region connected genetically to the northern type. They coincide roughly with where parts of both the Châtelperronian and the Uluzzian cultures survived. Is it possible the line represents a boundary between Gravettian and Aurignacian genes? I can think of no other explanation for the pattern although many people believe northern Europe was uninhabited at the height of the ice age. On the other hand if humans could survive in Alaska and Siberia, as the defence will show next (“North to Alaska” [The Gravettian]), some could presumably survive in northern Europe. The distribution of the so-called “Venus figurines” shows that the Gravettian culture eventually expanded southwest through France as far as Northern Spain and into Northern Italy but perhaps the genes didn’t. Culture and technology can travel beyond genes (“Change” [European Migration]). The tools at the upper left in map 18 are Gravettian, as are those at the bottom right. It is interesting to compare them to the Neanderthal Châtelperronian tools in map 14. Aurignacian tools are at bottom left (Roe 1971).
Nicholas Rolland (Mellars 1990) has suggested improvements in technology during the Upper Palaeolithic were a result of increased population. Increased population allows more cultural and technological interaction between groups, which allows more rapid interchange of ideas, which allows greater population etc. But the increase in population is not obvious until the development of the Gravettian. Marcel Otte (quoted in Mellars 1990) suggests the Gravettian actually absorbed the Neanderthal cultures rather than exterminating them. Once again the increased utilisation of resources that followed the introduction of a new technology may led to times of plenty and have caused the boundaries to become porous for a time. This would also account for the patchy survival of genes from the north in the southern areas.
The cultural diversification that took place during the Upper Paleolithic suggests cultural differences between groups became important and had to be exaggerated: tribalism. There was obviously an evolutionary advantage in the development of ever more complex forms of culture or it wouldn’t have happened. As the defence said way back in “Change” [Galapagos Finches] specialisation and separation are greatest at times of environmental stress. You saw in Part III (“Extinctions”) that, probably because of the increasing number of humans, many animals became extinct in the modern humans’ expanding geographic margins. We can therefore assume survival for the people left behind became more difficult.
Increasing population + Diminishing resources = Strife + Selection.
Increasing population meant fewer resources in many regions. But changes in culture and technology meant it had become an advantage to sustain larger units than simply family groups. Methods had to be developed to provide cohesion within these groups. Personal ornamentation as an artistic expression may have developed in order to identify as part of a particular tribe (Cunliffe 1994). It certainly serves that purpose for many of us today. Tribes’ myths also provide cohesion (“Mythconceptions” [Oral History]).
It may, in fact, be simply the evolution of culture that has led to the shallow time depth of mitochondrial DNA and Y-chromosome lines in the human genes. In other words culture, as well as technology, has played a role in Human Evolution. Groups with more complex cultures may have been more effective at surviving. It has even been suggested that, because of this, humans have evolved an instinctive desire to have a religion (Ridley 2000) and of course humans love ritual.
Religion is part of culture and serves to promote cohesion within large groups or tribes. Dare I suggest it might occasionally have been used cynically by those with most to gain? K. R. Howe (1984) suggests this was certainly the case in some Pacific Islands with the acceptance of Christianity.
Perhaps we could define religion as a belief in a god or gods. It is virtually impossible to agree as to what kind of god or gods we are actually talking about at any time though. We can only conceive of a god in relation to how we are brought up and what we already believe. We like to believe we are special, both as individuals and as a species. But I’m sure that all animals, if they were capable of thinking about it, would regard themselves as being just as special. The Chinese drover’s clever dog’s conception of a god would look a lot like a dog and have doggy qualities. In fact anthropologists have discovered that the characteristics attributed to the god or gods in any culture are related to those that children in that culture attribute to their parents (Swartz and Jordan 1980). Gods reflect the particular culture. Certainly religions change with time and space and display all the characteristics of evolution, including diversification, cross-breeding and hybrid vigour. Religious ideas move around. We could even argue that, like culture, God evolves.
All religions as they exist today are the result of much “interbreeding” of beliefs and “selection” or “survival of the fittest”. In fact religions usually rapidly break up into “subspecies”. Christianity for example has formed such subspecies as Orthodox, Catholic, Episcopalian, Jehovah’s Witness, Anglican, Presbyterian, Baptist, etc. Several subspecies such as the Gnostics, Arians, Albigenses, etc. have even become extinct.
Evolution of a Religion
Many members of the prosecution use arguments from the Christian religion as part of their case against the defendant. Through an accident of history I happen to know more about Christianity than about other religions. Besides, it has had such a huge influence on our collective Chinese drover’s clever dog syndrome that it is worthwhile taking a look at it. Its evolution is also useful evidence in support of the wave theory of genetic, cultural and technological evolution.
Christianity’s history extends way back beyond its founder’s life. Many people claim it evolved from the ancient Hebrews’ beliefs. In fact in the first few years of its existence Christianity was usually simply regarded as one of the many Jewish sects around at the time (Golb 1995 and Coogan 1998). This has led to a long history of strife between Christian and Jew. But recently both seem to have found a common enemy in yet another closely related religion, Islam. As the defence said in Part II (“Indo-Europeans” [Slavic]) the bitterest arguments are those between family members.
Evidence shows that the collection of writings that make up the Old Testament of the Bible were spliced together from various orally transmitted stories. These were collected and edited over a period of time to make a single coherent story with a particular political perspective (Coogan 1998). Of course the written word is often used to justify various political perspectives.
The early Hebrew religion as revealed in the Old Testament books preserved many elements of both Mesopotamian and Egyptian religion. The religion developed as a hybrid. Samaria and the northern part of what is the modern state of Israel, especially the Yizre’el (Jezreel) Valley, were on a main trade route between the two major valley civilisations.
This idea of a hybrid religion may disturb some members of the prosecution. But the defence claims that the legends associated with the two heroes, Abraham and Moses, basically reveal the separate history of the two main strands, Abraham the Mesopotamian side and Moses the Egyptian. Of course a great deal of crossbreeding between the stories occurred. We don’t know when their biographies were first written down but various evidence indicates it was almost certainly no earlier than about 1000 BC if not more recently (Campbell 1976). The defence would remind the jury that oral tradition is unreliable for periods longer than 200 to 250 years (“Mythconceptions” [Ancient Myths]).
We’ll come back to the Egyptian strand, Moses, migration, history and the development of writing in “The Last Point” [Gene Flow]. But there is no way the stories in Genesis refer literally to a single Abraham from around 2000 BC. Abraham is recorded as meeting Aramaeans, Hittites and Philistines and it is stated very specifically that he came from Ur of the Chaldees. This indicates either he is a much more recent figure than he is usually portrayed as being or, like the heroes mentioned in “Eastern Polynesia” [Polynesian Languages], he is a combination of several people. These Abrahams could have lived at any time between when the first three groups had all developed (at least more recently than about 1600 BC) to when Ur became Chaldaean (around 700 BC). The end of this period was about the time refugees from Samaria swelled Jerusalem’s population (Coogan 1998) and King Hezekiah made the city temple the religious centre of Judah. A huge amount of evidence shows most of the editing and even rewriting of books of the Bible was done during and after the rule of Hezekiah’s great-grandson Josiah with another major touchup about 400 to 600 BC during and after the Babylonian exile (Sturgis 2001).
In fact by then Egypt had provided the greatest influence on the hybrid religion. The influence of Mesopotamia seems to be mainly confined to individual creation and origin stories in the very early books of the Bible rather than many actual religious beliefs. For example the Mesopotamian King Sargon was hidden in the rushes in a waterproof basket when he was a baby in much the same way as Moses is said to have been (Campbell 1976). On the other hand elements of Egyptian religion are carried right through, or are reintroduced, to the Christian religion. They include the prominence given to a trio of Gods in the form of father, son and mother, the dying and reborn God, a belief in the eventual return of a soul to the body and a judgement of the dead. But the idea that “good” (light and the truth) and “evil” (dark and the lie) are separate gods and that there will be a final battle between them probably comes from ancient Persian Zoroastrian beliefs (Campbell 1976). The Indo-European Hittite religion introduced along with the chariot had also influenced the Hebrews. In further support of the wave theory it seems from Egyptian records that one Old Testament name for God, “Yaweh”, may have been introduced from the Midianites of northern Arabia (Coogan 1998). The name El, and the plural Elohim, also used in the Old Testament, are simply the Canaanite names for God and gods.
In spite of Old Testament stories archaeology, along with genetic and other evidence (especially linguistic), shows that the Hebrews were actually Canaanites (Sturgis 2001). Canaanite and Hebrew were the same language until about 1000 BC. In fact genetically Palestinians, Lebanese, Jews and Syrians are all the same people (Hammer et al 2000). As in the Balkans (“Indo-Europeans” [Slavic]) strife in the region has always been tribal. Way back in “Mythconceptions” [Modern Myths] the defence suggested any idea that any group can be regarded as a genetically “pure” race is completely ridiculous. Apart from the arrival of people from the Mediterranean Islands (“The Last Point” [Phoenician Friends]), there is actually no evidence the Hebrews descended from a migration of people who had entered the region from anywhere outside it, let alone specifically from Egypt (Clark 1969 and Sturgis 2001). Members of the prosecution often rely on the theory of negativity to account for this fact and use the expression “absence of evidence is not evidence of absence”. The defence has declined the prosecution’s generous offer to let us selectively use this expression ourselves.
The near simultaneous arrival of writing along with the Late Bronze / Early Iron Age “Sea People” from around Greece (some of whom became the Philistines, see “The Last Point”) has left us with the particular synthesis of various strands of belief that make up the Old Testament we have today.
More recent influences on Christianity included Mithraism and even Buddhism by the time of Christ. The ancient Greeks had probably already influenced both these religions. And Greek thought has always had a huge influence on Jewish and Christian beliefs (Golb 1995). Interestingly both Buddha and the Greek Pythagoras lived around 530 BC. By this time the Zoroastrian Persian King Cyrus had conquered Babylon and released the Jews from exile. Buddha and Pythagoras, basically from opposite ends of the Persian Empire, had similar religious ideas to each other. Both believed in reincarnation of the soul for example. Pythagoras even believed new mathematical or scientific discoveries would occur because of him even after his death. In a sense, of course, he was correct.
The final selection of the writings that form the basis of both the Jewish and various Christian beliefs was not completed until a little more than 1600 years ago (Golb 1995).
Modern Christianity has more recently absorbed influences from the Muslim world (Gohau 1991) and Northwestern Europe, both of which had been already influenced by Christianity. More recently still Christianity has taken in many elements of the African religions that had been retained by African slaves taken to America. But the cultural idea that individuals are “possessed” by gods or spirits is actually widespread throughout the world (Swartz and Jordan 1980). Influences bounce around.
All our culture, our knowledge, our beliefs and our skills are the result of a similar mixing, or “interbreeding”, followed by selection or culling. The development of beliefs about geology over the last two hundred years demonstrates this phenomenon perfectly (Gohau 1991 and see “Long Ago” [Geology]).
Religion and science can even interbreed. Newton’s third law of motion states every action has an equal and opposite reaction. Is this a religious statement? It was used by many religions before he included the law in his book “Philosophiae Naturalis Principia Mathematica” in 1687. “Karma”, “hubris”, “utu”, “yin and yang”, “as you sow so shall you reap”, “What is hateful to you, do not do to others”, “consciousness and energy creates reality”, “what goes round comes round”. Rules basic to existence, really.
People of a religious persuasion often claim ethics can only be based on their religion. This is ridiculous because even people in so-called primitive cultures are brought up to behave ethically. Our ethical beliefs are the product of our childhood socialisation into tribes. True, inadequately socialised children may consider they belong to a tribe of one and grow up to become psychopaths.
We are all products of the culture we are brought up in and the mythconceptions we inherit. As the defence said at the beginning of the case in “Conception” [The Chinese Drover’s Clever Dog] we usually assume the culture we grow up with is superior to others. It is the one we know best. But most of us have very little idea of the origin of our culture. Because of this we usually assume our own one has invented everything useful to us.
Many cultures, ancient and modern, from many different parts of the world will continue to contribute to modern society. Some individuals may be better at fishing, farming or hunting, may be better at making things, nuclear physics, fighting or playing the violin but no one individual is best at all these and certainly no one group, race or religion is.
Wave Theory of Knowledge
It looks to me as though our greatest advances in culture, technology, knowledge and probably genetic ones as well, have usually come from mixing and sharing. Hybrid vigour.
There are many examples. The Indo-European culture that developed in Southern Russia [Indo-European Languages] was probably a combination of three separate strands of northward cultural movement into the region: from west of the Black Sea, east of the Caspian Sea and direct north through the Caucasus Mountains (Mallory 1989). The later innovation of the chariot probably resulted from a combination of these separate branches of Indo-European people with the Mesopotamian culture when they all met up again south of the Caucasus Mountains. Closer to home, it was certainly a blend of people, technologies and cultures that sent the Polynesians on their way into the Pacific (“Pacific Population” [Mixing]).
The defence will show next (“North to Alaska” [The Ice Age]) that the incredible explosion of technology during the Upper Palaeolithic that enabled humans to expand around the Northern Hemisphere probably developed from the blending of three cultures in Eastern Europe; Mousterian, Aurignacian and Gravettian. Three heads are better than two. If the interpretation of the original movement onto the Central Asian steppes offered in “Out of Africa” [Genes Again] is correct it was the blending of several cultures that had given rise to the Gravettian in the first place.
A moistened Sahara Desert has several times led to the mixing of three cultures. In times of aridity populations are split into three: Sub-Saharan Africa, Morocco and possibly the Nile Valley or at least the Middle East. During times of moister climates the three cultures meet somewhere, perhaps usually in Africa. The development of the Middle Palaeolithic Levallois can almost certainly be interpreted in this way (“Species or Not” [East Asian Point]). It’s possible that the earlier development of the Acheulean hand-axe also happened the same way (“The First Point” [Caucasus population]). Perhaps even the beginning of modern human culture (“MtEve” [Interpretation]).
On the other hand culture can divide groups. The defence suggests to the jury that perhaps we should regard religious groups as being simply tribes. Specialisation, tribalism and separation are greatest at times of environmental stress (“Change” [Galapagos Finches]) and so, in the future as population increases and resources diminish, we can expect expanding religious extremism and growing strife. The easiest way to achieve cultural cohesion is by accentuating exclusiveness and division, using a “them and us” philosophy with “them” being inferior in every way (“Change” [Variation Through Time]). Of course this system is not confined just to humans. Jane Goodall (1990) has written, “Chimpanzees also show differential behaviour towards group and non-group members”. Packs of wolves and rats also show “them and us” behaviour.
The system is certainly not confined just to “primitive” human societies either. Many politicians in modern states use the method very cynically to get votes or support within their country, and unfortunately many of us fall for it. John Ralston Saul (2006) calls this “false populism” or “the technique of fear”. The defence suggests opposition to the general acceptance of the evidence in support of the defendant, Human Evolution, comes from those who have a political, emotional or financial advantage in promoting a “them and us” system. In “Conception” we called them the prosecution.
Forms of cultural cohesion that don’t use this system would obviously be much better for practical purposes today. Unfortunately I can’t think of any examples. Although we can now control our environment to a large extent perhaps we should just be content with the survival of the fittest, the rich get richer and the poor get poorer. But maybe we should do our best to ensure that the mass culture that is evolving will be a free and fair one combining the best elements of all. For this to happen it will pay us to remember that in spite of any propaganda money doesn’t trickle down from the wealthy. The evidence shows it defies gravity and gushes up, as though into a black hole.
Perhaps we could follow Giordano Bruno. During his lifetime his followers called themselves “Giordanistas”. Unfortunately for him he was tortured for many years and finally executed for his beliefs in 1600 AD. Bruno had published some books in England in the 1580s where he suggested the earth is just one of many planets circling the sun, an extremely radical idea at the time. He went on to suggest the universe consists of many suns and many planets although his idea of this was probably different to the modern one. Also that the universe is of infinite size, that the whole universe is interconnected and has one soul and that space and time can only be conceived of in relation to defined points, the theory of relativity (Fyrth and Goldsmith 1965).
With this in mind we are now ready to catch up with the final two sub-points of the human star. We’ll start with America.
See next :: North To Alaska
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