Feeling good/bad about our species

imagesLast month we were in southern France and remarkably went to not a single wine tasting. However, we saw and climbed up to assorted castle/fortresses of the 12th C Cathar heretics, who so peeved the pope and king and adventure-loving knights that they were ruthlessly hounded down, tortured and burned, exciting a taste for these activities which morphed into the Inquisition.

I’ve got an armchair interest in anthropology and how humans came to be, so after the heretics, Maurizio and I went to the prehistory museum in Tautavel and wandered about exhibits of a subset of  Homo Erectus called the Tautavel Man which proved weirdly interesting. These people (let’s say) lived about 450.0o0 years ago in a cave they shared in off seasons with large animals (bears, mostly). They were pretty much the dumb-dumbs of pre-history.

While Homo Erectus in Africa and other hominids of the time had discovered fire, Tautavel didn’t. They chipped up rocks in the same way for 200,000 years and hunted/scavenged various animals, which they hacked to pieces and ate raw. They did pretty much the same with each other. Or rather, hacked up Tautavel bones were found in heaps along with mammoth, horse, wholly rhino and other bones. “Was Tautavel Man a cannibal?” the audio guide coyly asks. “We don’t know for sure.” Hum. Sure looks like it. The only issue is whether T Man waited until his friends and family were dead before eating or hastened the process with a sharp rock.

In 200,000 years Tautavel folks did not make one iota of technological progress. Chipped rocks from the beginning and the end of their cave dwelling are identical. No symbolic art or proto-art. No evidence of ritual. No: “Wow, all these bones lying around. Could we do something with them, d’ya think? Arrows? Needles? Knives?” Nope. While the exhibits discreetly show Tautavel folks clothed in skins, it’s unclear how they “sewed” or fastened them with stone tools.

So now, Maurizio and I have a ready-made epithet for substandard things. “Sure looks Tautavel to me.”

On the other hand, they were on this earth far longer than Homo Sapiens with no global warming, no weapons of mass or minor destruction, no acid rain, no soil or water pollution. They ate each other, but never thought of an Inquisition. We considered this over wine in wonderful restaurants. It was a good time in France.

 

Pamela Schoenewaldt, historical novels of immigration and the search for self in new worlds: WHEN WE WERE STRANGERS, SWIMMING IN THE MOON, and UNDER THE SAME BLUE SKY (all HarperCollins).

Posted in Just life

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