PREDATION: DARWIN, AFRICA, AND THE DEFENSELESSNESS OF MAN

PREDATION:

DARWIN, AFRICA, AND THE DEFENSELESSNESS OF MAN

Based on Africa being the home of the gorilla and the chimpanzee, man’s closest animal relatives, Darwin predicted that man evolved in Africa. This was accepted by almost nobody. The popular belief was that man had evolved in Asia. Henry Fairfield Osborn was among the leaders in this idea. As head of the American Museum of Natural History in New York City he was able to fund several expeditions to Central Asia to look for evidence supporting his ideas. A number of these were led by Roy Chapman Andrews, thought by some to be the model for Indiana Jones. These expeditions found no evidence of fossil man, however they did discover dinosaur fossils, including the first identified dinosaur eggs.

A large part of the reason why Africa was not believed to be the place where man evolved was because it had so many dangerous beast. Man was believed to be a weak and defenseless being, incapable of surviving in the wild without culture and tools, primarily weapons. His ancestors would have been even more defenseless.

Baboons survive on the savanna because of their large canines. (I have seen baboons and a male baboon’s canines are large, larger than a lion’s fangs.) They can defend themselves against predators. Chimpanzees and gorillas also have large canines and live in the shelter of the forests. The smaller monkeys are arboreal and not at risk of being hunted, or so they claimed. Leopards hunt both arboreal monkeys and baboons. Man could not have evolved on the African savanna, the theory claimed, because it was too dangerous. Man must have evolved on the steppes of central Asia where there were few dangerous predators. The Duke of Argyll1 argued that man is physically weak and, except for his brains, has no really specialized survival mechanisms. So how could man “have been modified in the direction of greater weakness without inevitable destruction, until first by the gift of reason and of mental capacities of contrivance, there had been established an adequate preparation for the change.” Only when man had weapons to arm himself could he survive on the African savanna. It was during Chapman’s last expeditions (all of which had failed to find hominine fossils) that Raymond Dart unveiled the Taung hominine fossil.

It has been said that Taung was found in the wrong place at the wrong time. The wrong place was South Africa and the time was wrong because Piltdown was still believed to be real. It is true that there was resistance to accepting Taung as an ancestor because it was from Africa. But many more fossils from Africa have forced a change of opinion. As part of this change of opinion, the backlash, was the Killer Ape Hypothesis. If man did evolve in Africa, did survive and evolve on the African savanna, man must have been a born killer.

Alongside this view, and far older, is the view that man is a meek, mild, inoffensive vegetarian. This is also part of the view that man evolved in Asia. This view still continues today, included in this is the idea that man is separate from, and not a part of, nature. Darwin thought that a strong gorilloid creature with size, strength and ferocity would never become social, that being comparatively weak could tend to socialization. Man may have evolved on a large, safe island or continent (like Australia).

I have heard that man “stinks,” tastes bad, or that animals fear him; therefore man is not normally preyed upon. Only extreme hunger, old age, or crippling injuries that leave a predator unable to kill its “normal” prey causes a predator to attack man. And only being attacked by man or in self-defense is why otherwise benign vegetarians attack man. This line of thought is based on the belief that man is not at risk from “nature,” he is not normally a target of predation and if he was not acting as a predator himself (“hunter”) he would be left alone and perfectly safe. The “rules” are different for man, he is separate from nature. Maybe city-dwellers surrounded by concrete and steel and all the trappings of man’s culture and technology, with nothing of the natural world nearby, can believe this, I cannot. Man is part of the world and he is both predator and prey. He has been for millions of years.

I dated a woman off and on for several years and about once a week or so we would rent several movies and spend the evening at her place watching them (she had both a TV and a VCR). We always rented two movies, one of her choice and one of mine, both choices had to be acceptable to both of us. She liked to watch horror films and I had no interest at all in. When she picked one I always said no. One day, in the video store she asked me why I never wanted to watch them. I told her I did not enjoy being scared and I saw no reason to deliberately try to terrify myself, even if it was artificial and not real. If she wanted to feel a shiver of fear, a real fear, all she needed to do was go camping in bear country. She had no need to go very far to do it. Around here some of those bears are grizzly bears. I have done a fair share of camping in bear country, most of it alone and not always in a tent. Honestly, I don’t sleep well. I would always wake up in the middle of the night (it seemed to always be 3:00am, no joke, I think I could have set my watch by it, it seemed to be so consistent) and lie awake for about an hour listening to the silence before going back to sleep, tossing and turning until dawn when I would sleep better for an hour or two before getting up. There were nights though when it wasn’t silent and it was a noise that had woken me up. One night, probably far closer to midnight than 3:00am, I woke up because of a cracking sound. At first I thought it was a deer or an elk stepping on a stick. As I lay there and waited for the elk to trip over my tnet and knee me in the chest, I heard the noise again and it sounded more like someone ripping a 2×4 apart, ripping it apart lengthwise rather than snapping it in half. There is only one creature that can do that, well actually two, but they are both bears: grizzly and black bears. I was camped about 10 feet away from the bank of the creek (Kintla Creek in the northwest corner of Glacier National Park). The bear sounded to be on the opposite side of the creek, perhaps 40-50 feet away. My truck was a maybe ten feet away, in the opposite direction, so I spent the rest of the night in the truck cab. When I got in the truck I debated locking the door before deciding it would make no difference, if the bear wanted in, it wasn’t going to use the door handle. In the morning I noticed that there was a stump directly across the creek from where I had setup my tent, with a large areas of newly exposed wood. There had been a bear.

There are things that go bump in the night and man has learned over many millions of years to be afraid of them. The ones in the daylight also. There is some evidence that Taung may have been killed by an eagle and at Swartkrans, the skull SK54 has two holes exactly the size and distance apart of the extinct leopard whose fossil remains have also been found at the site.

1 Primeval Man 1884:22

 

One thought on “PREDATION: DARWIN, AFRICA, AND THE DEFENSELESSNESS OF MAN

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