The Internet says the fact I don’t feel comfortable around dogs indicates I have a high percentage of Neanderthal DNA and am thereby a less evolved human being. Or words to that effect.
Actually, this is pretty cool. The dog-loving blogger was riffing humorously off a recent book by anthropologist Pat Shipman called The Invaders that suggests Neanderthals died out partly because they didn’t go to the dogs. Or rather, that modern humans — the invaders — figured out how to domesticate wolf puppies into a “wolf-dog” sub-species. Given that the humans had missile weapons, they and their canine allies were able to track down and kill a lot more big animals than Neanderthals could manage in a harsh climate. The canines also could help protect large stores of mammoth meat from other predators, including Neanderthals. Bottom line: the Neanderthals couldn’t compete successfully for food and quickly died out, maybe 40,000 years ago.
Shipman’s ideas put wolf domestication tens of thousands of years earlier than the standard beliefs, and that’s part of the fun. Of course, this is just a new theory, and the scarcity of evidence may leave it open to question indefinitely, but it’s a joy to read popular science and gain a bit more insight into how pre-history unfolded and the universe may work. The library has thousands of items to feed that joy.
This summer I’m listening to The Origin and Evolution of Earth, a lecture series by mineralogist Robert Hazen. It’s full of interesting (and not-so-interesting) facts about rocks and chemistry and life, but the part that wowed me was hearing that the moon has been going away from Earth for 4 billion years. (Maybe that’s old news to you, but I’m just catching up on the leap in lunar science made possible by the moon landings.) The leading theory says that after it was formed by a planetoid collision with Earth, the moon was less than one-tenth the distance from Earth that it is today. Meanwhile, the Earth was spinning much faster. Imagine the storms! Imagine the moon rises!
Long ago I realized my life will end with huge scientific questions still unresolved, but it’s still exciting to be alive in a time when so much more is being learned than was known before. When I was a child, few scientists believed the continents could move; now it is a given that plate tectonics is one of the fundamental processes of our planet. It’s not quite on a par with living during the Copernican Revolution, but I’m not complaining.
Since you’ve read this far into my rave, give us a visit at the Business, Science & Technology Department and let us turn you on to new science books. Or drop us a line below to tell what amazes you about what is being learned — or at least theorized — today.