Sunday, September 28, 2008

Before We Ruled the Earth

I recently watched Discovery Channels program Before We Ruled the Earth. This is a two-part documentary made in 2003. Each part is 49 minutes long and has no extra's. It is sold on two dvd's instead of one, like it should have been. This program tells of humanoid history from around 1,700,000 years ago to around 8000 years ago. It skips a lot of history and personally I didn't think it was that good. The CGI on this was pretty bad considering the year it was made. The way they showed the Homo Ergaster walking was not fluid/realistic in my opinion, much to awkward to be viable, and while the make up was actually pretty good. I feel they didn't add enough distinct features to the humanoids (though I do realize it might have been difficult to do so - Homo Ergaster for example had a smaller jaw).

It mentioned in the first documentary, Hunt or be Hunted, that it is unlikely that the humanoids (Homo Ergaster and Homo Erectus) felt grief and it would be like that for hundreds of thousands of years. I don't agree with that. They may not have buried their dead but I think they would have felt grief for the passing of a family member. The reason I say this is early humanoids were social creatures and social creatures express grief at the lose of a loved one/sibling/parent. This is not limited to humans other social creatures have and express grief. Elephants are social animals that express grief often. When an elephant, particularly a baby, gets lost from the pack or dies the entire herd express's grief and some times rage. Elephants have been shown to stay with a dead or dying member for days grieving and have invaded, destroying villages in search for there baby elephants. Many animals have stronger attachments than people think they do. A study on a herd of cows has shown things like a male cow will eat at mid day next to it's mother even when fully matured.

It is not just people projecting human emotions on to animals. It has been shown that biochemical changes in the blood and brain of animals that appeared to be bonded and that then experienced separation and loss for one reason or another occur. This happens in many social species like some birds and dolphins. The animals may not understand death, deal with it like humans do, or have a concept of afterlife but they do understand loss/separation and display symptoms of grief. Animals often become withdrawn, lack an interest in social contact, occasionally kill themselves (some types of birds have been known to kill themselves), and display other signs of depression. There are books on grief in animals/primates. One that I read part of is The Nature of Grief by John Archer, though that is on grief in general not animal specific but does make mention of grief in animals.

The documentary had been split into various scenarios of various times showing mostly people hunting. Quite a bit of this was speculation. The hunting practice of Homo Erectus shown in the documentary makes sense from fossil evidence, except for one part. The Homo Erectus would use fire to coral animals over a cliff side, the fires went out, animals rushed the humanoids injuring some and getting away. The part about this that doesn't make sense is the humanoids leading the animals were only armed with torches. Not a one of the hunters leading them to the cliff was equipped with a spear. Homo Erectus had spears, this is even mentioned that the hunters at the bottom of the cliff had them, why wouldn't those trapping the animals not be similarly armed?

Parts of the scenarios I didn't like, more boring than they should have been, but not counting that they were on occasion showing uncommon events. Considering how little we know and how much has to be speculation, you'd think they would stick to the common battles not uncommon events.

From the second documentary I don't have much to say really except for where were the dogs? The time period of the second documentary, Mastering the Beasts, is from 15,000 years ago to around 8,000 years ago. Dogs were domesticated around 15,000 years ago. There should have been dogs in this. The documentary makes mention of people first crossing the Bering Straight land bridge. When people did that they were accompanied by dogs. It's even thought that dogs had a valuable part in making the crossing possible.

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