Hurrah for Hominids!

Their minds, we can be sure, are almost inconceivably unlike our own as instruments for the registration of the outside world. Yet when we look at the range of attributes of Homo erectus it is his human, not pre-human, characteristics which are most striking. Physically, he has a brain of an order of magnitude comparable to our own. He makes tools (and does so within more than one technical tradition), build shelters, takes over natural refuges by exploiting fire, and sallies out of them to hunt and gather his food. He does this in groups with a discipline which can sustain complicated operations; he therefore has some ability to exchange ideas by speech. The basic biological units of his hunting groups probably prefigure the nuclear human family, being founded on the institutions of the home base and a sexual differentiation of activity. There may even be some complexity of social organization in so far as fire-bearers and gatherers or old creatures whose memories made them the databanks of their ‘societies’ could be supported by the labour of others. There has to be some social organization to permit the sharing of cooperatively obtained food, too.… When a sub-species of Homo erectus, perhaps possessing slightly larger and more complex brains than others, evolved into Homo sapiens it did so with an enormous achievement and heritage already secure in its grasp.

—J.M. Roberts, The New History of the World

I never thought I’d get sentimental about hominids until I read this chapter on pre-human evolution. It’s like hearing a toddler make its first attempts at speech. It’s not much but you get a thrill from knowing that greater wonders are not far off. Who wouldn’t be proud to be descended from such amazing creatures?

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