Homo sapiens sapiens, anatomically identical to modern humans, splintered off from homo sapiens in the African hot bed of evolution some 100,000 years ago and gradually migrated north. However, the differences between modern humans and their predecessors is so slight that scientists consider homo sapiens sapiens a sub-species, rather than a unique species in it own right.
We are not going to get specific about the Stone Age technology of this most advanced subspecies of the Genus homo. The technologies advanced relatively suddenly and continuously on all fronts. Upon the emergence of modern humans from Africa, regional differences proliferated.
Lest we become too smug about our modern intelligence, let it be pointed out that these early humans had an incredibly sophisticated knowledge of their raw materials. Additionally they used their existing technology to the limits of its capacity. They were called Stone Age for good reason. Their knowledge of the practical use of stones surpassed any modern human. They were stone experts.
“Tool-making and the building of structures, even among the most primitive human societies, are based on a precise knowledge of raw material and, within the limits of the technology prevailing, of how most effectively to handle them.” World Prehistory, 1969, p.25
This expertise in raw materials combined with the tendency to expand their technology to the limits of the available resources led to many regional discoveries. These were passed down locally and led to an expanding diversity. Hence regional difference grew to be regional cultures with their distinct variations in all aspects of life. The modern human was the first to develop regional culture on a grand scale.
Cannibalism still existed, perhaps suggesting a universal human tendency. One step towards modern culture was the resistance of this tendency.
Some theories suggest that the reason that homo sapiens, the Neanderthaloid, and many other large animal forms became extinct so rapidly was because of the advent of the modern human. Initially scientists thought that these larger life forms were not able to adapt to the end of the last Ice Age. But then they realized that these life forms had survived many Ice Ages. The only difference in Ice Ages was the existence of humans. This fact led many scholars to suggest that man, the ultimate hunter, was the cause of extinction.
While fellow humans could have been a convenient food source, aggressive eco-protection that first began with homo erectus could have been a contributing factor. The human tendency to exterminate those who compete in a similar ecological niche is still a major component behind human behavior. It manifests as territorialism. Possession. Mine.
Hominids, beginning with homo erectus, had a sense of self that led them to consume predators in their same ecological niche, including fellow hominids. This is presumably because they sensed competition. Similarly modern humans identify this same sense of self to their regional cultural variations and attempt to dominate or destroy those from a different culture.
According to one theory, evolutionary mechanisms selected homo sapiens for their caution and homo sapiens sapiens for boredom. Those experiencing the most boredom would attempt to change forms. This process is called the Boredom Principle. Changing forms led to many failures and a few successes. As we have seen, Genus homo tends to hold onto technology. Hence the successes were held onto by the culture and then improved upon by subsequent generations.
There are many events that support this theory. While homo erectus and homo sapiens seemed to hold onto rigid social conventions across wide territories, the modern human showed a rich regional diversification. While most animals exhibit a consistent social structure, modern humans almost immediately developed regional differences. This tendency to experiment with form due to the pain from boredom set modern man distinctly apart from earlier hominids. While earlier hominids were content to use the same unadorned stone tools for millions of years, the modern human needed to decorate, improve upon and experiment with all the various forms of expression. Change for change sake became an operative idea.
These changes also stimulated migration and exploration. Early humans spread to the farthest reaches of the globe. While their predecessor, homo sapiens, stopped in Siberia, modern humans crossed the land bridge to the Americas and spread relatively quickly to the bottom of South America. While homo sapiens never took the southern route, homo sapiens sapiens extended the species into the islands south of Asia and into Australia.
Taste is another example of how the Boredom Principle could have easily provided an evolutionary advantage. Perhaps the urge for flavor diversity led these early humans to experiment with food types and preparation. The selective advantage of taste boredom, or its opposite experimental tasting, is undeniable.
If a species is always trying new things, then they will be constantly discovering new food sources. These new food sources will inevitably extend and balance their nutrition, leading to a bigger, stronger, and healthier populace, which will, of course, further their chances of survival. This taste boredom also motivates the population to explore and manipulate their environment.
Many of the taste experiments will be unsuccessful, as those of us who’ve tried new restaurants have discovered. But the successful experiments will perpetuate themselves. “That’s a great recipe.” “It’s a family recipe that we’ve passed down. Would you like it?” “Have you tried grain? It’s really great if you grind it down and soak it.” “How about the juice from rotten grapes? I feel so good.”
Things haven’t really changed that much since late Paleolithic times, when the modern human began to proliferate.
With homo sapiens sapiens also comes art. Art is another expression of playing with form as a means of escaping boredom.
One of the first distinctive art forms of these early humans was the so-called ‘Venus’ figurine. These were representations of female fertility figures, i.e. with accentuated breasts and hips and minimal head and extremities. These early sculptures were a few inches long and carved out of ivory or stone or baked out of clay. These date from the Paleolithic Near East.
The Paleolithic, by definition, is pre-agri-culture. Hence these initial fertility figurines are unassociated with the fertility of the soil for farming. Instead we must imagine that the fertility figures had to do with the fertility of wild Nature and women. Basically the small Paleolithic populations were interested in survival, which was dependent upon a fertile woman to produce more tribe members and fertile wildlife to produce more game for the hunt, as well as an abundant flora to provide vegetal sustenance.
Hence one of the primary associations of the fertility figurines was probably connected with increasing the population of the tribe. This was necessary for the survival of these small tribes. In these early times, their biggest enemy was their environment. Sheer survival was of utmost importance.
These ‘Venus’ figurines are one of the artistic manifestations of the importance of the fertility of motherhood. It seems that woman in her role as mother was worshipped or venerated. These figurines would make most modern feminists cringe if found in a modern context. There is no head, while the arms and legs are minimized. It is not the intellect or ability to make things that is venerated. It is the procreative power of woman that has the esteem.
While this fertility can be extended to crops, creativity or even regeneration, the actual artistic manifestation speaks volumes. Tribal life was tenuous at best, hence the emphasis upon female fertility. We can imagine that much of the tribal woman’s life consisted of bearing children and caring for them. This is not exactly the image of the liberated woman.
This Paleolithic value system still rules as we approach the beginning of the 21st century, 9000 years since the first ending of the Paleolithic in the Near East. Jews, Catholics, Mormons, Mexicans, Africans, Indians and Chinese are still desperately producing children to increase their respective clans, religions, races, or cultures. The diverse cultures act almost as if there is still the Paleolithic threat of extinction. It is still political suicide to speak of actual measures to address population control, partly because of ingrained Paleolithic notion of fertility’s importance.
Many of the symbols of Easter are based upon the Paleolithic concept of fertility. The found eggs, the Easter bunny bringing eggs everywhere, are Hunter Gatherer symbols. Farmers didn’t look for their eggs. Bunnies are not part of their livestock. Rabbits are symbolic of prolific reproduction. We can imagine the awe-inspiring fertility of nature in the springtime, represented by these food sources emerging in abundance with the thaw of winter. These are not food sources related to the backbreaking work of farming, but instead a bounteous Nature yielding its fruit.
During the Paleolithic, much of northern Eurasia was covered in forests. With the advent of homo sapiens sapiens in the Advanced Paleolithic, there is evidence of Tree worship. The endless forests represented by the evergreen were another symbol of fertility and continuity. The forests provided both shelter and food for their Paleolithic inhabitants. Nature continually provides her bounty for the sustenance of these early Stone Age peoples. Thus the evergreen can be taken as a symbol for bounteous Nature, not cultivated to provide food, but wild and untamed.
We still retain this Paleolithic value in our symbol of the Christmas tree. The Christmas Tree is not an agricultural symbol. Instead, it is a symbol of the endless forests of the Paleolithic. Ironically, we cut down these trees to give us this sense of forest. The trees symbolize wild nature as opposed to domesticated nature. The smell of the tree harks back to the pine forests of the Hunter Gatherer cultures, rather than the tilled soil of the agri-cultures. The inside smell of the pine tree reminds us of when we slept in the forests, not of sleeping inside as farmers.
We must remember that the pine tree is cut down at Xmas. While the memories evokes by the tree are Paleolithic, the motivation is purely Neolithic. A plant is cut down and brought inside a permanent residence. While representing our yearning for our forests, it simultaneously reminds us of the compromise we’ve made. A sad nostalgic longing is evoked.
“Those were the days.
And yet they were so unstable,
So hard in old age.”
And we instinctively sigh, realizing that we can’t go back.
Could the Christmas Tree symbolize a settled farming culture looking longingly at their untamed hunter-gatherer forest roots? Could it serve as a reminder of our Paleolithic origins, i.e. tree worship and our wild nature?
In the beginning, we mentioned that we were going to explore the propensities of Genus Homo. What have we learned about the innate tendencies of prehistoric humans?
First and foremost, inherent feature of humanity certainly includes transmitting technology. Homos have always been technological animals, in the sense that they pass on useful information from generation to generation. Not only did they transmit information between their own species, but also to other species in their same genus. For instance, they continued to pass on the same lithic technologies for tens of thousands, even hundreds of thousands, of years as they evolved from one species to another.
The lack of variation in their stone tools is stunning in its stability. Instead of abandoning or modifying their stone making techniques, they continued to produce the same forms over and over again. Technology is but one feature of culture. It seems probable that these Stone Age hominids obsessively held onto cultural forms just as they did their technology.
Could this persistence of technology and culture across a large geographical expanse, many Ice Ages, and even multiple species indicate that Genus Homo has a deep-seated tendency to identify self and/or even species with culture? Could self or species preservation then morph into cultural preservation? The evidence certainly seems to point in this direction.
If so, a feature of of humans is the innate tendency to identify with their culture. Just as they would fight to preserve themselves and/or their species, they would go to war to preserve their culture.
Another inherent characteristic of humans also appears to include destroying those in the same ecological niche. Not only did they exterminate other large predators, they also ate other humans. Is it possible that the tendency to identify self and culture combined with the urge to eradicate ecological competition may have impelled humans to regularly practice genocide on competing races, cultures and religions?
The behavior of other species is genetically hardwired for the most part. In contrast, humans seem to have the potential for modifying their behavior. This possibility even applies to deep-seated urges that arose millions of years ago. Because these impulses are buried so deeply in our psyches, it takes a ‘battle’ to isolate this type of conditioning.
More specifically, it is hard to resist our innate urge to merge our motivations with those of our culture. On one hand, this blend of self and culture enables us to be productive members of society. On the other hand, these genetic propensities entice us to risk our lives or compromise our ideals and even morals in support of the agenda of the ruling class. This could include entering destructive wars or implicitly supporting genocide in order to destroy foreign cultures.
Unless we actively ‘battle’ the almost hardwired urge to engage in war and practice genocide, we are doomed to live in a state of perpetual conflict and strife. If we can resist the urge to mindlessly identify with culture, we can better fulfill our personal potentials.
If these primal urges are so deeply imbedded in our psyche, how is it possible to break the habit patterns associated with genetic inclinations? The ‘natural’ way is to follow cultural conditioning to our doom. Instead of succumbing to these innate urges, it is necessary to ‘battle’ the tendency to behave mindlessly and automatically.
Meditation, slowing down and relaxation are some techniques that enable us to transcend inappropriate genetic programming. Seeking quietude stills our racing mind in order to gain some control of the decision-making process. Slowing down enables us to move more carefully. This care maximizes the possibility of exerting mind intent and minimizes our tendency to respond automatically to internal and external stimuli. Relaxing releases the tension that frequently and inadvertently drives destructive behavior.
The purpose of these techniques is to raise intentionality so that we can consciously choose to either follow or ignore archaic programming. The ultimate aim is to fulfill our human potentials by manifesting our original nature uncorrupted by cultural and even genetic conditioning. The ongoing purification process never ends.