The Ancestor’s Tale takes us to look at 40 points heading back along the historical path of evolution. I am still with the humans. Dawkins is dealing with the very interesting question of how far back in time we have to go to find the earliest shared ancestor of all modern people — Adam or Eve, if you will. In the course of this, he brings up many intriguing points, because that is how he rolls (I took this phrase from my sons; if it means something obnoxious, I apologize and assure you that I didn’t know it.) But the one that has stayed with me for contemplation is the fact that, about 40,000 years ago, art and music appeared.
Prior to that time, people, or the folks whose descendants would be people, made tools and useful items, but they didn’t decorate things. They didn’t have musical instruments. They didn’t make beautiful spear points and dishes. Then, very much in an all-of-a-sudden way, art appeared. Bone flutes, cave paintings, sculpture, utilitarian objects with aesthetic features — all at once, there begin to be evidences of art. Dawkins suggests that this is evidence of change in the brain. He points to Russian experiments in the domestication of foxes — within 20 years, the experimenters were able to breed tame foxes, who liked people. The amazing thing is that they looked like dogs. They had cute floppy ears and happy faces and soft fur. Dawkins does not suggest that the researchers unwittingly selected breeding animals for cuteness, but it seems possible to me. After all, choosing for tameness must have been rather subjective, and looking cute might have made the foxes seem more tame. Dawkins, however, suggests that there are side-effects of natural selection.
Just as some humans have been domesticated into lactose tolerance by extended contact with milk-producing animals, he suggests, art might have been a side-effect of the development of language or agriculture or something. Part, that is, of our becoming cute. Um, okay, I am paraphrasing. Still, it is an interesting idea. He points out that the big difference between us and dogs, when it comes to domestication, is that we have a different word for wolves, the wild creatures, and for dogs, the cute tame ones. For ourselves, we do not have a word distinguishing the wild hunter-gatherers from the domesticated artistic ones.
At another point, he says that “Anglo-Saxon Y chromosomes moved west across England from Europe, stopping rather abruptly at the Welsh border. It is not hard to imagine reasons why.” He then goes on to discuss how Viking Y chromosomes are well-traveled. All I can say is that it is hard for me to imagine reasons why. And I can imagine quite a lot. As a member of Team Wales, I feel that I should try to unearth the meaning of this. Suggestions invited.
Here is Erin, with the blue part completed and the return to its other colors underway. (Erin, from Alice Starmore’s Celtic Collection, in Highland Wool). The cat is assisting me in determining the fate of the blue band. Granted that it is bright, I still think I will keep it. It adds a spring-like air to the whole thing, and we are having a nice false spring here. Confused plants are leafing and budding and generally behaving as though it were spring, and maybe they are right. Perhaps we will just have a nice long spring. It is still cold, but we who have shivered at Easter sunrise services know that spring is often cold around here.
Shortly before reaching this point in the sweater, I had an odd e-mail message. It was a fellow I dated in college (I think), saying “I have never forgotten you and never will forget you.” He went on to tell me about his wife and children, and he lives far away, so I am not alarmed by this, but I am also not quite sure that I remember him. I rather think he was an anthropology student who had been a fruitarian till his thesis committee told him he had to eat or be cast out of the program. If I am thinking of the right person, he may well be harboring a grudge and intending to hunt me down. I was not the best-behaved person at my college, I am afraid. I have since then become more domesticated and tame, though, if significantly less cute.