Origins of Ritual Behavior

Here is something from the Scientific American. It’s an article by Laura Kehoe, Mysterious Chimpanzee Behavior May Be Evidence of “Sacred” Rituals:

“Even more intriguing than this, maybe we found the first evidence of chimpanzees creating a kind of shrine that could indicate sacred trees. Indigenous West African people have stone collections at “sacred” trees and such man-made stone collections are commonly observed across the world and look eerily similar to what we have discovered here.”

Apparently, this has never before been observed and documented. It is an amazing discovery. Along with tool use, it points toward a central building block of primate society.

I immediately thought of the first evidence of settled civilization. Before humans built homes for themselves in settlements, they built homes for their gods. These first temples likely began quite simply, maybe even as simple as a pile of rocks.

Human society, as we know it, developed around ritual sites. This may have begun much earlier with the common ancestor of both humans and chimpanzees.

Slavery and Eugenics

I was reading a book about racism which I just started: Racial Paranoia by John L. Jackson jr. In one passage, the author discussed slavery and the abuse of slaves. This was in the context of violence by slaves in defiance, whether revolts or poisonings, along with the broader context of mistrust and paranoia that continues to pervade our society. But that isn’t the point of this post.

The author’s standard description of slaveholder violence wasn’t unusual, besides the context of the book’s analysis. What got me thinking was an entirely different context, that of human biodiversity (HBD) that originally inspired my reading all these books on race and racism. I was reminded of how much impact such violence would have had.

HBDers speak of social orders acting as intentional or unintentional eugenics/breeding programs. A common example is that of feudal lords deciding who could marry whom. Another example would be Spartans throwing deformed babies off cliffs to their deaths. These weren’t systematic eugenics in the modern sense and for most societies this would have been haphazard.

In the modern era, there are no known eugenics programs that could be declared as successful. The problem is that potentially creating a breed of humans would take centuries to accomplish, without invasive genetic engineering. It takes many generations to create a breed of dog, but it takes less amount of time because dogs have shorter lives and so reach breeding age more quickly; plus, dogs have large litters at a time from which to choose for the next generation of breeding a particular line.

Nonetheless, the closest humans have come to systematically trying to create a new breed of humans was slavery. Slaveholders chose who was allowed to impregnate their slaves and which slaves were allowed to live. Plus, any slave with negative traits such as defiance would have been likely killed, whether intentionally or not. A slave can only defy so often before the whippings, beatings or other abuse takes him or her out of the breeding pool. Even after slavery, through the enforcement of the KKK and Jim Crow, whites continued to eliminate defiant blacks and their genetics. So, combined that is more than three centuries of controlling which black genetics gets passed on the most.

This got me thinking. If HBDers were correct about their theory, a new breed of blacks should have been created. Three centuries is probably more than enough time to create a new breed of humans, assuming such is likely to happen through normal social means as HBDers conjecture.

This breed of blacks would be submissive, obedient and law-abiding for these were the slaves most likely to live long lives and hence have the most children and pass on more of their genetics. It makes no sense that HBDers instead argue that genetics are what cause blacks to be more violent and criminal (i.e., less submissive, obedient and law abiding). If HBDers were correct, blacks would on average be the most loyal patriots, most lawful citizens and most obedient workers who would always do what authorities told them to do. This hypothetical breed of American blacks would be superior to American whites on all these behavioral traits.

What this proves is that either genes aren’t that powerful by themselves in determining behavior or social forces aren’t that effective in creating genetic-determined behavioral traits. Humans, societies and genetics are more complex than HBDers are allowing for in their theorizing.

Hominids To Humans

Neanderthals offer a mirror to our humanity in a way not even chimpanzees or bonobos can do. Also, being so distant in time, they are ripe for projection, thus uncovering our beliefs about what it means to be human and to not be human.

Neanderthals represent an alternative pathway of hominid development. The early evolution of both species demonstrates many similarities, and no one knows why they respectively evolved the way they did, although there is always endless speculation.

This makes for interesting reading as we learn more about neanderthals. New discoveries always elicit media attention and public discussion. People are quick to interpret the new data and pass judgment upon it.

This has become particularly interesting with the analysis of human and neanderthal genetics.  I’m not sure about other populations, but Europeans have something like around 4% neanderthal genetics. So, neanderthals didn’t die out. They simply merged with homo sapiens (like some other hominids in other regions of the world with similar fates interbreeding with homo sapiens).

The only pure breed humans left on the planet live in small isolated populations in certain regions of Africa. People of European descent aren’t exactly or entirely homo sapiens. We are hybrids, although technically still categorized as homo sapiens.

The first thing I read years ago that really caught my attention was the fact that neanderthals were still living in Europe when early agricultural societies had been developing there. This means that, when origins of modern European culture and religion was first forming, neanderthals were living in the same general region as humans. Considering the genetic mixing, the nearness at times was quite close.

Neanderthals were even living in the Levant when homo sapiens were leaving Africa… which is supposedly how neanderthal genetics ended up being spread throughout human populations all over the world. But this goes beyond genetics. For around 60 thousand years, the two species co-existed in the Levant. They lived the same lifestyle and used the same stone technology. Later neanderthals in Europe even adopted some of the new innovations by homo sapiens. Also, both species had the potential capacity for speech (by way of similar brain and physiological structures), although no one knows if either species had yet developed speech as we know it.

The earliest homo sapiens looked and acted like us in many ways, and yet their lifestyle wasn’t all that different from neanderthals. Social and technological development remained mostly unchanging across the species for a long period of time. There was nothing particularly special about homo sapiens during this early period. At some point, however, homo sapiens began to diverge, but no one knows exactly how or why this divergence happened. Homo sapiens kept developing new technologies and lifestyles while neanderthals went extinct as a separate species.

Some claim it was climate changes that made life too difficult for neanderthals. But that doesn’t explain why neanderthals were able to co-exist in the same regions as homo sapiens when these changes occurred. And it doesn’t explain why neanderthals didn’t just migrate northward.

More interestingly, why did the hybrids of the two species have the best survival rates outside of Africa. Apparently, homo sapiens without neanderthal genetics were unable to survive outside of Africa beyond that early period. Is that true? If so, what survival value did neanderthal genetics give homo sapiens and can that explain the sudden social transformation? If not, was it a mere accident that some homo sapiens and some neanderthals had children together and that those children had descendants that spread to every region and continent?

All of this fascinates me because it is a revolutionary way of thinking about humanity. It challenges many deep-seated beliefs. I’ve noticed that even high quality scholarly books on human evolution often ignore the evidence about interbreeding. It will take a while for people to come to terms with this challenging data.