What is our place in the universe? To know this, it is important to know who we are and where we came from. Anthropologists believe that modern humans have existed on earth for roughly 300,000 years. If I used my calculator correctly that translates to 0.008% of the time all life has existed on this planet. Indeed, we are not even a blip on the radar of time!
What were our ancestors like? As I mentioned, modern humans evolved 300,000 years ago from an earlier species. We know from bones that at least 150,000 years ago, humans had the same anatomy- the same brain size and capacity for thought that we have today. Did they have history and art and culture like we do? Did they express love and hope and sorrow? We do not know because their lives are lost to us. All of modern human is confined to the last 10,000 years. Written history is even shorter, around half that time. Our collective memory is short.
We know that modern humans came out of Africa 50,000 years ago. Then, there were two catastrophic bottleneck events that nearly wiped us out, and reduced modern human populations to a few thousand people (from whom we are all descendants). That was the closest that our ancestors came to extinction and because they survived we can watch IPL cricket matches today on flat-screen TVs.
But though all of our history is 10,000 years old, a few of our Paleolithic ancestors left us some of our finest art. Let me end on an upbeat note before I go to the grocery store to pick up cashews for pulao that is being cooked today.
This cave painting at Chauvet-Pont d’Arc from 36,000 is one of the OLDEST works of art that humans created that we have found. Isn’t it gorgeous?
(The paintings of these lions at Chauvet-Pont d’Arc are twice as old as the bison paintings at Altamira mentioned in “Agantuk,” which are ~16,000 years old)