Bonobos: our pansexual cousins

Originally posted 2015-10-06 11:30:05.

I’ve spent a lot of time looking at how societies might have been structured before the development of agriculture.  Clearly, we can’t directly study the human groups that existed outside Africa between 50,000 and 10,000 years ago, because they no longer exist. So I  also looked at relatives of humans, particularly our closest, bonobos, Pan paniscus.

Our ancestors left very little evidence. Although they did use stone and bone, a great deal of their artefacts were made of wood or leather and were perishable. The few that we do have are somewhat mysterious.

To try to shed light on this, we reviewed a wide range of anthropological literature. We especially concentrated on extant traditional societies, of which there are a surprising number, despite the attempts by religious fundamentalists, especially the Christian and Muslim ones, to eradicate them. (As a matter of fact, Islam has been less damaging to many traditional societies than Christianity, as we see from the number of traditional groups still living, and respected, in Indonesia.)

We reviewed the mythology that was recorded soon after the invention of writing, in Sumer in the 5th Millennium BCE. We then compared this to modern mythologies which form part of traditional cultures. We also looked at similar species, and that’s where bonobos came in.


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Who we are 2: Cooking, Chattering and Time

cooking - lechon baboy

Originally posted 2020-04-23 17:59:17.

Cooking is now seen  as the definitive characteristic of modern humans, from which all others followed. It seems to have directly led to the development of tools, especially blade design, but it had many other consequences.

Cooking, particularly of meats and fats but also starches, partially pre-digests the food, making more energy available to us and allowing us to use less to digest it. We put this extra energy into growing brains. Growing big brains burns many calories and just running them consumes a significant part of our daily food intake. We know that the physical structures which allow us to speak were evolving at the same time as our brains were growing larger. Speech allowed more complex and efficient communication and cooperation. This encouraged conceptual thinking and other intellectual skills, again leading to the development of bigger brains.

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Who We Are 1: the beginning of culture

Originally posted 2020-04-20 16:46:22.

Modern humans first appeared in Africa around 150,000 – 180,000 years ago; one of a closely-related group of hominids that had populated the savannah over the preceding three million years. During that time, our ancestors learned how to talk, how to make fire and cook and how to cooperate in groups. We probably lived in a similar way to earlier hominids, but something extraordinary happened: we developed culture.

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