Thursday, September 3, 2009

How We Make our People Human

One of the lady's favorite books is Paul Shepard's eye-opener, "The Others: How Animals Made Us Human." Dr. Shepard was a Professor of Natural Philosophy and Human Ecology and wrote a number of books on the human species' complex relationships with the earth and her other inhabitants.

In "The Others," Dr. Shepard's focus is on the topic of domesticating animals. Originally humans relationship with other species was simple. Either they ate that species, or they were eaten by it. Simplistic as it sounds, that has a profound impact on the human central nervous systems, specifically the limbic system.
As an aside, domestication changed some species into status symbols, and in some cultures it is possible to determine the social status of extended family members by whether they sleep nearer or farther than the livestock.

I'm sure that the lady's protohominid ancestors were eaten by all manner of frightening creatures. Sisfurcat Bugs Bunny tells me that our distant relatives the sabre-toothed tigers Leopard canines fit punctures in hominid skull from Swartkrans used to sneak up on the lady's tiny Australopithecine ancestors, grab them by the head, and drag them home for the kittens to play with. Lower teeth puncture the back of the head, unwieldy canine teeth pierce the eyes. Physical anthropologists have found quite a few Australopithecus skulls with these puncture marks, as shown in the wonderful photo at right. This early hominid skull was found in a cave at Swarkrans in the late 1930s. It wasn't for another 30-some years that someone paused to reflect on the odd indentations in the skulls. We'll leave the question about the other skulls, the ones with scratches resembling the marks of early hominid stone tools, for another time. This pausing to reflect takes a lot of effort!

"The Others" is worth reading if only for the chapter on teddy bears as psychological bridges between the wild and the civilized. (I think we cats serve that purpose adequately.)

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