I haven’t posted in a while because I’ve been trying to pull together all my recent thoughts on the origin of the cycle of visions in a way that holds together and makes sense. But meanwhile, here’s something of interest that Alexei brought to my attention yesterday.
The blogger, Phil Paine, begins by considering the fact that the earliest hominins appear to have lived along riverbanks and lakesides. He notes that these are extremely dangerous environments because they’re where predators come to attack game animals — but also that this offers unique advantages for a clever opportunist.
The opportunity I had in mind was theft. What if you could take advantage of the fact that game animals will come to the riverside or lakeside, and that predators would follow them and kill them? What would be needed would be some way of driving the predators away after they made their kills, then stealing the fresh kills. There had been, even back then, some speculation about early hominins being scavengers rather than hunters, but I think those who were advancing this idea were thinking more of the kind of scavenging that is done by minor carnivores that “clean up” the kills of major predators, who usually leave significant amounts of leftovers after they have gorged themselves on the best bits. This is not what I had in mind. I was thinking, rather, of hominins dividing their attention between gathering the numerous tidbits that can be found on riverbanks — birds’ eggs, crayfish, nuts, tubers, small burrowing animals, fruit, berries, frogs, fish — and the theft of fresh kills from predators. How do you steal from a big cat? You let it make its kill, then you drive it away. But, how do you drive it away?
You throw rocks.
The more I looked at the physiological changes that distinguished early hominins from their simian relatives, the more they seemed to me to line up with throwing rocks. Chimpanzees regularly throw things (usually excrement, which they fling as a sign of hostility), but they are not very good at it. Their wrists are not well-shaped for it, their fingers are too long, and their arms and shoulders don’t have the right configuration for pitching things accurately. But it is precisely these features that are dramatically modified in early hominins, and the changes are as dramatic as those in the lower body and spine that favour bipedalism. Human beings, the inheritors of these changes, may not be able to run like a cheetah, or outperform other animals in many tasks, but they are spectacularly good at throwing things. One has only to look at children playing baseball or cricket to see that humans have evolved phenomenal throwing skills. Early hominins had all these features — they have remained remarkably stable ever since. They probably were as good at throwing rocks and hitting the mark as we are.
That was intriguing, but it seemed to refer to a much earlier stage of human evolution than the one I’ve been examining, so I simply filed it away. But just now I was sorting through some old notes and came on a few points I’d jotted down from a book by William H. Calvin titled The Ascent of Mind that was published in 1990.
According to my notes, Calvin hypothesized that throwing things was central to human evolution because it led to the development of sequential skills that required the harmonization of masses of neurons. He further suggested that this was the basis of narrative awareness.
In other words, language, story, and the visions themselves may all have grown out of the throwing ability that we developed long before we started making tools. Now, that’s fascinating — and completely relevant to the scenario I’ve been trying to develop.
Calvin’s book is available online at the above link. The main link for his website is http://williamcalvin.com, and I plan to explore it for clues. He looks like a pretty cool dude.