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Forbidden Prehistoric Love

Header image: "Le Moustier" by Charles R. Knight -Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons.

New conclusions reached about a 2008 archaeological find support the notion that we humans  mixed genes with our near-relatives, the Neanderthals, many thousands of years ago.

We weren’t that different.  Contrary to popular belief the so-called “cavemen” had brains that were roughly the same size as ours, and our developmental speed was similar.

My favorite line from the Live Science article is this one:

Probably the most debated aspect of Neanderthal life in recent years is whether or not they interbred with humans. The answer remains ambiguous, with scholarly opinions ranging from belief that they definitely interbred to belief that the two groups didn’t exist on earth at the same time.

I’ve known couples just like that – hard to believe they could exist on earth at the same time.

Thoughts about a human-Neanderthal love affair lead to so many questions, not the least of which is how to pitch your woo to a near-but-not human partner.

“Interbreeding” is such an ugly term, I decided it would be a fitting challenge to try to work it into one of the the prettiest love songs I know.

You have such broad and stocky features,
the ridge across your brow seems so strong.

Our lips (I have to stoop to reach yours)
are whispering, perhaps, that our love is wrong.

The way you wield a club. Your ugly scar.
A hot Neanderthal is what you are!

Ice age! It feels so cold and lonely.
But this age can be more tender and kind.
When interbreeding’s on my mind.

Alas, it is tough to keep the romance alive between such mismatched characters when fire and tools are all they have in common.

What  artifact might fuel speculation about your extinct love affairs?

Trap Door

My imagination was captured the other day by this article about recent discoveries at an intriguing place in Wyoming called Natural Trap Cave.

The cave was first explored by paleontologists in the 1970’s, and then sealed up for thirty years.

The 2014 expedition has been making news for the variety of animal remains found in a well-preserved state at the bottom of this naturally formed pit. It’s 85 feet deep with a hidden opening perfectly positioned to receive unwitting prey in full flight from a pursuing animal, or scavengers too hungry to resist getting tragically close to the edge.

Since no one has been in the cave for several decades and the only way to get down to the bottom is to rappel (or fall) in, I immediately took Natural Trap Cave off my vacation spot list even though it would be a true wonder to behold.

But because art can transport us to places we will never go, I did commission Trail Baboon’s Sing-Song Poet Laureate Schuyler Tyler Wyler to craft a rhyming masterpiece from the point of view of some prehistoric horse, pack rat or other careless mammal who tumbled into the abyss.

This is what he gave me:

Sprinting through the underbrush I hurtled at a run.
And by the time I saw the hole my plummet had begun.

A sudden transformation. Total darkness fell at noon.
My legs continued churning like a roadrunner cartoon.

I couldn’t gauge the distance. Eighty feet? Perhaps a mile?
No matter. At the end – I’m just a fossil on the pile.

I’ve been here undisturbed for 20,000 years (about).
To every new arrival, far too late, I say “Watch out!”

While I admire the brevity of this work (you can’t write an epic about falling 85 feet), I did challenge STW on his use of the roadrunner cartoon imagery. A short-faced bear (extinct 11,000 years ago) is just one of the animals found at the bottom of this pit who would have no familiarity with the Merrie Melodies oeuvre. The others include every single creature whose remains are down there.

Thus, I argued, this work violates the rule that says an artist must honor the boundaries of the fantasy world he creates. Obviously, the poem-writing skeleton of an extinct animal would never have had the chance to watch Saturday morning TV. Thus, the roadrunner reference makes no sense and should be removed.

STW responded in verse, as usual.

While I honor all opinions about every work of mine,
You’ve mistakenly put “artist” and “boundaries” in the same line.

You cannot know what I had in mind, exactly, when I wrote,
I control the contours of my world and you don’t get a vote.

When the animals looked upwards from their unexpected leap,
they had visions, as you would, if you were dying in a heap.

And what last hallucination would you see at your life’s close?
Some would opt for God or Yaweh. But for me, it’s Warner Bros.

If the TV was on in your hospital room at the very end, what would you want to watch?  

Ask Dr. Babooner – Is It My Face?

We are ALL Dr. Babooner.

Dear Dr. Babooner,

I’m having a problem related to the shape of my skull and from your picture (lovely!) it seems to me that you are the one advice columnist out there who might be able to understand my predicament and advise me properly.

I have always had a very hairy and prominent brow ridge, so when I meet people they instantly assume I’m some kind of cave man. Many of them appear genuinely surprised when I open my mouth and use language to communicate.

And now comes a new study that claims, after an examination of more than 1,400 ancient and modern skulls, human society advanced socially and technologically when skull shapes morphed away from heavy brows and towards more rounded, softer, feminine features.

“… people started being nicer to each other, which entails having a little less testosterone in action” says a press release.

I suppose humans will always instantly judge other humans based on their appearance and I don’t want to get into an argument with anthropologists, but this kind of research only makes my life more difficult.

People tend to like and respect me after we get to know each other, but only after we go through a process.

First, they make some kind of Flintstones joke or give me a pretend compliment about how my eyes are naturally shielded from the rain and the sun. Once it’s “out there” about my Neanderthal brow, I can speak openly (but not aggressively) about skull shapeism and gradually convince them that I’m nice, and I am not going to pick up a club and throttle them.

Although between you and me, I sometimes do want to pick up a club and throttle them.

Dr. Babooner, I can’t change my face and wouldn’t want to, but I do get tired of how long it takes to win people over. In some cases, soft-faced folk are so timid it takes months for them to say the kind of insensitive thing that makes it possible for me to address the real issue.

Should I continue to wait for their misstep, or should I bring it up myself?

Conflictedly,
Fred (yes, that’s my real name)

I told Fred he is exceptionally kind hearted and optimistic to wait for others to mention the proverbial “cave man in the room”, but there are probably subtle ways he can use humor to move the process along so the necessary reckoning can happen sooner. For instance, uttering an occasional “yabba dabba doo” might help, though he should be careful to say it softly and sweetly.

But that’s just one opinion. What do you think, Dr. Babooner?

I’ve Just Seen A Face

There’s a fresh kerfuffle over an imagined proposal to use Neanderthal DNA to produce a clone of our prehistoric cousins.

The professor who supposedly made the suggestion claims his comments were poorly translated and misunderstood. Ethicists say it’s a bad idea in any case.

No one is enthusiastic about the concept of bringing back to life some distant relatives who might have been boyfriend/girlfriend material for early humans in the unregulated, romantic days of yore.

Far flung, anything-goes Yore.

Yes, everybody’s against cloning the Neanderthals, though I’m guessing the songwriters would see some intriguing possibilities in the adventurous sexual dynamic that could develop. Imagine, if human / neanderthal dating had been a possibility when The Beatles wrote this:

It might have come out more like this:

I’ve just seen a face,
that was extinct. With hairy grace
I think she winked. She’s a Neanderthal
but I don’t think my folks will care at all.
Na na na na na na

Had I loved some missing link
I might have worried what they’d think
Neanderthals are just like us
Except they’re stronger and they never cuss
Na na na na na na

CHORUS:
Cloning. Let’s do some cloning.
Start Twilight Zoning them back again.

I love every ridge
of her thick skull. Her name is Midge.
She’s never dull. A prehistoric Miss
My human heart, each time we kiss, is full.
Na na na na na na.

CHORUS

Yes I’d like a chance
To take a fossil to the dance
It’s not impossible to clone a date
No love affair has come as late as this.
Na na na na na na.

Who was your least (or most) compatible date?

Everything Old Is New Again

If you’re entranced by the latest cultural throwback, a completely silent black and white film called “The Artist,” then perhaps you are charmed enough to try out another very old thing that was recently discovered – the world’s most ancient mattress.

Mom-With-Too-Much-Time-On-Her-Hands Concept of a Prehistoric Bed

National Geographic says the find in South Africa is a squishy pad made out of compacted grasses and leafy plants, and is 77 thousand years old. That’s about how long it has been since I turned the mattress at home. In prehistoric times and today, bed maintenance isn’t one of those ‘top of mind’ tasks.

So how good a night’s sleep could you get on a bed of Jurassic Leaves? Personally, I wouldn’t expect much. For me, it’s all in the pillow, and National Geographic doesn’t mention that kind of accessory in this bedroom set. This is the bed you set on fire every so often just to get rid of the garbage and discourage pests. So not only did they not have ‘sleep numbers,’ they just plain didn’t have numbers. And it shows in their behavior. If you can’t count, there’s no such concept as ‘too much.’ And these ancient beds are large enough to accommodate the whole family – which is the sleeping preference of people for whom the concept of one or two to a bed “is unknown.”

I take news of a prehistoric, smelly, insect-ridden family bed as just one more piece of evidence that proves we modern people are hopelessly spoiled. Our obsession with creature comforts has made us weak and whiney, and if magically transported back 77 thousand years, we would probably die in less than 10 minutes. And why not? Anything would be better than eating a still-throbbing heart from the bloody remains of some recent kill and then trying to sleep in a leafy, buggy bed. Survival of the fittest, indeed! If THEY were so fit, why are we so Unfit? And how awful will our current beds seem to people 77 thousand years from now?

What do you need to have in order to fall asleep?

Now We’re Cooking!

It’s prehistoric remains week here at Trail Baboon. Yesterday we considered the ramifications of some ancient teeth uncovered near Tel Aviv that may upend our understanding of who was where, when.

Today comes news that our ancient, now extinct near cousins, the Neanderthals, were not the brutish, meat-only diners that many had assumed, but in fact, ate plants, and some of those plants were cooked. This is yet another step in countering the popular cultural image of the Neanderthals as dopey cavemen who were too backward and unimaginative to survive. The new vision of Neanderthals sometimes eating vegetables rather than always ripping apart some unfortunate ungulate (Elk again, mom? Really?) and devouring it raw gives us a more nuanced understanding of who they were.

Sophisticated eaters and engaging dinner companions whose laughing eyes were unfortunately shaded by their prominent foreheads. I’m sure in the years to come we’ll learn more about Neanderthal dining habits, including some of their favorite recipes:

Alley Oop Salad
Cave Dweller Cole Slaw
Bedrock Vegetarian Chili
Clubbed Squash

And my new favorite – Neander Valley Tabouli

2 cups seed of rough grass from mouth of cave
2 cups very hot water from fire keepers
1 bundle green stuff from underside of log, chopped
2 small crunchy ground melons, chopped
1 bunch ferns, (8) sliced
1/2 cup fresh chopped rotten bark flower (NOT the red one)
2 cups fresh chopped children of vine that grows up side of rock
1 clove smelly root, minced (optional)

Dressing: 1/2 cup juice of tiny yellow sun,
3/4 cup slippery juice from tree berries,
1 tablespoon tickle nose powder (black),
2 teaspoons seawater (with water removed).

Soak the grass seed from mouth of cave in hot water until mixture cools. Squeeze like helpless enemy caught in battle.
Use sharp edged rock to attack ground melons, ferns, rotten bark flower, vine children, smelly root and green stuff. Leave no survivors. Gather remains into bowl with grass seed.
Mix sun juice, slippery juice, nose powder and no water seawater. Pour over mixture.

Defend with unchecked ferocity from all interlopers and predators.

What’s the oldest recipe in your day-to-day repetoire?