Creation myth update #3: Maybe we are not in Mr Rogers’ neighborhood anymore Toto, part II.
When observing a lion and a giraffe, it is pretty easy to tell that they are separate species, they look different and they behave different. Even when they look somewhat alike for example a lion, cheetah or a leopard one quickly notices enough behavioral differences to conclude that they were different species. Sometimes, however, it takes a long time and a lot of observation before differences between animal species are recognized, especially if they look alike. So it is with the two species of Chimpanzee (Genus: Pan), the Common Chimpanzee (Species: troglodytes) and the Bonobo (Species: paniscus). The Chimps were “discovered” by people living outside of Africa about the beginning of the Eighteenth Century, yet it was not until the middle of the Twentieth Century that those who study this sort of thing realized that troglodytes was not paniscus. It took decades of constant observation thereafter to recognize how different their behaviors really were.
One reason for this difficulty in recognizing the chimp – bonobo difference, is that, among the “Great Apes” (e.g, Gorillas, Chimpanzees, Orangutans, Homo Sapiens Sapiens, us, and the now extinct early Hominids that we met on our travels out of Africa) although we may not look alike, we do spend most of their days pretty much alike. We all sleep, eat, pick our noses and examine what’s hanging from our finger-tip, sit and stare off in the distance, belch and fart, defecate and throw our feces at each other, have sex, scratch, poke sticks into termite nests, examine what comes out attached to the stick for a while then lick it off (like licking an ice cream cone), scratch, sit and stare some more, go about our business getting something to eat, and so on: you know, same old same old.
Working something out
Although, to a significant extent, we can tell the difference between many of the Great Ape species easily by how they look and things like that; arboreal or terrestrial, big or small, hairy or less so and so on, not so with chimps and bonobos. Not only do they look a lot alike but at first it was assumed they behaved the same. Then one day some scientists, who had probably spent a good part of their lives in the bush, noticed that now and then groups of male chimps would go out a kill one or two other chimps for fun or would patrol boundaries of their territory and kill any chimp from another tribe that wandered in. The scientists then tried to determine if this was an aberration or a regular behavior pattern. Finding it to be something that chimps often do, they then decided to see if bonobo’s did the same thing. Armed with the results of their studies on this and other behavioral oddities of the chimps, scientists spent decades with Bonobo’s looking for similar behavior.
They were surprised. Instead of killing those of their own kind they did not like, the bonobos engaged in every conceivable sexual perversion imaginable with just about anyone who came along as a means, the researchers reasoned, to avoid conflict (that it may have been smarter and a lot more fun, never seemed to enter the researchers minds.) Included among the milder examples of the bonobo’s lascivious behavior was the practice of rubbing each others genitals just to say hello. I imagine approaching someone and rubbing his or her genitals, in human society would not be considered a friendly act nor would it reduce aggression. More the worse for us.
So there you have it. Two species of Ape looking a lot alike and most of the time behaving a lot alike but when it came to dealing with others, responding quite differently. One aggressive and territorial and the other not so. One believing in “make love not war,” and the other in “Fuck you, its mine.” One more like us and the other more like we would like to be. Perhaps it is this conflict in self-image that has prompted the dichotomy within humans that has caused them so much pain over the ages.
The forgotten Ape
I suspect that when our ancestors moved into Eurasia, although they more or less physically resembled the Hominids already there, they behaved differently in a lot of ways. Our ancestors may have behaved more chimp-like and those already living there more like bonobos.
This does not mean that the existing hominids were passive and did not engage in violence even savage violence but only that it was, in general, manifested differently. If one were to try to take the food from the mouth a bonobo, I suspect he would fight you just as savagely as a chimp would. Also, it does not mean that chimps and Homo Sap Saps spend their days killing or dreaming about killing members of their own species. It only means that they had predilections in many things, reactions to stimuli one can say, by which they conducted their lives that affected how they behaved toward each other and those they considered not members of their tribe. For example I suspect for the earlier hominids violence was limited primarily to the hunt and at direct threats while Sap Sap, like the chimps, saw territorial issues and group membership as perhaps more significant.
In addition there appeared to be another archeological clue that may demonstrate a fundamental social and behavioral difference between the earlier species and the newer migrating hominids. Archeological, anthropological and genetic evidence, such as found in the Denisova cave seem to show that the pre HSS hominid’s of different species would at times live together and, as indicated above, fewer remains showed intra or inter-species violence among other hominids than they showed inter-species violence among HSS. Also the inhabited caves seems to be a lack of evidence of HSS occupation at the same time as the other Hominids, before or after perhaps but rarely, as far as can be determined, at the same time.
Family life before HSS showed up
Also related to this seeming aversion or clannishness among the new arrivals, it appears that the earlier hominids easily trekked back and forth through each others territory without too much of a problem. There is even evidence that some of them were able to return to Africa now and then. On the other hand, HSS almost never backtracked. It was almost 20,000 years of migration before they began to intrude into territory they had previously passed through. I suspect, one of the reasons for this reticence was that, as they knew they themselves would, their long-lost cousins would, chimp like, view them as enemies and try to drive them away or kill them.
Although analogy is a poor form of proof, it sometime is helpful in making things clearer although alas at other times unfortunately muddling everything up. With that caveat, consider the lion with her kill. Just as she sits down to snack on the gazelle she killed she looks up and sees a pack of jackals or hyena’s inching in. She smacks at one and they scatter. Unlike, her experience with other lions who once she establishes dominance would move off to find something else to eat that did not require a fight, these scavengers stay and stare, saliva dripping from their teeth ready to rush in and grab something if she is distracted for a moment. Often, the lion, instead of enjoying its meal, is so disturbed it abandons its kill and moves off. Scavengers and pack predators behave like that. Even if the lion remembers the event and moves off to hunt somewhere other than where she met the hyenas, she would soon find that implacably they followed her.
Hyenas and lions
At the risk of gross over simplification, I believe our ancestors most likely behaved more like a mix of pack predator and committed scavenger, perhaps resembling a wolf pack of a biker gang as much as anything else. The other hominids, however, although they also most likely scavenged for a significant portion of their diet, more resembled predators like the lions, in their behavior and attitudes.
I imagine, those hominids to be somewhat like the gentle giants we all are familiar with. The football player who while he it doing his job during the game does it with shocking savagery but after the game is gentle as can be, avoids confrontation at all costs but if challenged or cornered reacts at though he were back playing the game. Sort of like Lenny in Of Mice and Men or Frankenstein’s Monster capable of great violence but generally avoiding it unless necessary for his job. And if a mistake occurs and someone is unintentionally killed well it is regrettable. He feels sad perhaps also feels sad for the others who have lost someone, but it has happened and cannot be undone so he is prepared, maybe even with heavy heart, to get on with his life. Imagine his uncomprehending surprise, when he is faced with a mob of weak and puny creatures with pitchforks and torches out to murder him for something that could not be changed.
Next: Creation myth update #3: Maybe we are not in Mr Rogers’ neighborhood anymore Toto, part III: Meet the new Neighbors.
- Bonobos Share Food to Make New Friends (newsy.com)
- Chimps in Uganda: Rising Conflict (blogs.scientificamerican.com)
- Bonobos buy friends with bananas (mnn.com)
- Bonobos Offer Banana Bribes for Friendship (blogs.smithsonianmag.com)
- Focus On: Chimps and Compassion (patcoyle53.wordpress.com)