Ancient Footprints Push Back Date of Human Arrival in the Americas
Human footprints found in New Mexico are about 23,000 years old, a study reported, suggesting that people may have arrived long before the Ice Age’s glaciers melted.
By Carl ZimmerSept. 23, 2021Updated 2:22 p.m. ETSign up for Science Times Get stories that capture the wonders of nature, the cosmos and the human body. Get it sent to your inbox.
Ancient human footprints preserved in the ground across the White Sands National Park in New Mexico are astonishingly old, scientists reported on Thursday, dating back about 23,000 years to the Ice Age.
The results, if they hold up to scrutiny, would rejuvenate the scientific debate about how humans first spread across the Americas, implying that they did so at a time when massive glaciers covered much of their path.
Researchers who have argued for such an early arrival hailed the new study as firm proof.
“I think this is probably the biggest discovery about the peopling of America in a hundred years,” said Ciprian Ardelean, an archaeologist at Autonomous University of Zacatecas in Mexico who was not involved in the work. “I don’t know what gods they prayed to, but this is a dream find.”
For decades, many archaeologists have maintained that humans spread across North and South America only at the end of the last ice age. They pointed to the oldest known tools, including spear tips, scrapers and needles, dating back about 13,000 years. The technology was known as Clovis, named for the town of Clovis, N.M., where some of these first instruments came to light.
The age of the Clovis tools lined up neatly with the retreat of the glaciers. That alignment bolstered a scenario in which Siberian hunter-gatherers moved into Alaska during the Ice Age, where they lived for generations until ice-free corridors opened and allowed them to expand southward.
But starting in the 1970s, some archaeologists began publishing older evidence of humanity’s presence in North America. Last year, Dr. Ardelean and his colleagues published a report of stone tools in a mountain cave in Mexico dating back 26,000 years.
Other experts have been skeptical of such ancient finds. Ben Potter, an archaeologist at the Arctic Studies Center at Liaocheng University in China, said that some of these supposed tools might actually be oddly shaped rocks. Dr. Potter also questioned some of the dates scientists have assigned to their finds. If a tool sinks into underlying sediment, for example, it may appear to be older than it really is.
“There are unresolved issues with every single one of them,” Dr. Potter said of the older purported sites. “None of them are unequivocal.”
The study at White Sands now adds a new line of evidence for an early arrival: Instead of tools, the researchers have found footprints.
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The footprints were first discovered in 2009 by David Bustos, the park’s resource program manager. Over the years, he has brought in an international team of scientists to help make sense of the finds.
Together, they have found thousands of human footprints across 80,000 acres of the park. One path was made by someone walking in a straight line for a mile and a half. Another shows a mother setting her baby down on the ground. Other tracks were made by children.
“The children tend to be more energetic,” said Sally Reynolds, a paleontologist at Bournemouth University in England and a co-author of the new study. “They’re a lot more playful, jumping up and down.”
Mathew Stewart, a zooarchaeologist at the Max Planck Institute for Chemical Ecology in Jena, Germany, who was not involved in the study, said that the evidence that humans had left the footprints was “unequivocal.”
The footprints were formed when people strode over damp, sandy ground on the margin of a lake. Later, sediments gently filled in the prints, and the ground hardened. But subsequent erosion resurfaced the prints. In some cases, the impressions are only visible when the ground is unusually wet or dry — otherwise they are invisible to the naked eye. But ground-penetrating radar can reveal their three-dimensional structure, including the heels and toes.
Mammoths, dire wolves, camels and other animals left footprints as well. One set of prints showed a giant sloth avoiding a group of people, demonstrating that they were in close company.
“What is fascinating about the study of footprints is that they present snapshots in time,” Dr. Stewart said.
The work of determining the age of the prints fell to Jeffrey Pigati and Kathleen Springer, two research geologists at the United States Geological Survey.
In 2019, they went to White Sands to get a feel for the site. Walking around some of the footprints, the researchers sometimes came across ancient seeds of ditch grass that had grown by the lake. In some spots, the abundant seeds formed thick blankets.
The researchers brought some of the seeds back to their lab and measured the carbon in them to determine their age. The results came as a shock: The ditch grass had grown thousands of years before the end of the last ice age.
Dr. Pigati and Ms. Springer knew those numbers would be controversial. So they embarked on a far more ambitious study. “The darts are going to start flying, so we better be ready for them,” Dr. Pigati recalled.
The scientists dug a trench near one cluster of human and animal footprints to get a tighter estimate of their age. On the side of the trench, they could see layer after layer of sediment. Carefully mapping the surrounding ground, they were able to trace the footprints of humans and animals to six layers in the trench, interspersed with eleven seed beds.
The researchers collected ditch grass seeds from each bed and measured their carbon. These measurements confirmed the initial results: The oldest footprints at the site — left by an adult human and a mammoth — were located below a seed bed dating back about 22,800 years.
In other words, the people who left the footprints walked around White Sands about 10,000 years before the Clovis people. The youngest footprints, the researchers estimated, dated to about 21,130 years ago. That meant that people lived or regularly visited the lake for about 2,000 years.
“This is a bombshell,” said Ruth Gruhn, an archaeologist at the University of Alberta who was not involved in the study. “On the face of it, it’s very hard to disprove.”
Dr. Potter praised the White Sands team for their care in the new study, saying that it is the strongest case yet made for people in the Americas before 16,000 years ago. But he would feel more confident in the extraordinary age of the prints, he said, if there were other lines of evidence beyond the ditch grass seeds. The seeds could have absorbed older carbon from the lake water, making them seem older than they really are.
“I’d like to see stronger data, and I don’t know if it’s possible to get stronger data from this particular site,” he said. “If it’s true, then it really has some profound implications.”
If humans were well established in New Mexico 23,000 years ago, they must have started spreading down from Alaska long before that. “That starts to wind back the clock,” said Dr. Reynolds of Bournemouth University.
Some researchers have argued that people could have spread through the Americas even when the glaciers were at their peak. Instead of traveling down the mainland, they could have moved along the coast. Alternatively, Dr. Ardelean and his colleagues have proposed that people traveled inland more than 32,000 years ago, before Ice Age glaciers reached their maximum extent and blocked off that route.
Dr. Gruhn argued that both scenarios remained possible in light of the new evidence from White Sands. It would take more work to find earlier sites that favored one of them over the other. “We’ve got a lot to do,” she said.
Mr. Bustos and his colleagues have more investigations planned at White Sands. They want to learn about the behavior of the people who left their footprints there. Did they hunt the animals around them? Did they live permanently at the lake or just pay it visits?
They must work quickly. The erosion that has revealed the footprints will erase them from the landscape in a matter of months or years. Countless footprints are disappearing before the scientists even lay eyes on them.
“It’s kind of heartbreaking,” Mr. Bustos said. “We’re racing to try to document what we can.”
Posted in Origins and tagged ancient humans, archeology, history, human migration, research by Charles Sheldon with no comments yet.
First of all they aren’t talking about bringing BACK the mammoth but creating an elephant-mammoth hybrid with long hair and a lot of fat. To live where? Second, lower in the article is the statement that mammoths pushing away snow to get at the grass beneath exposes the soil so the permnafrost can stay frozen. Really? Seriously?
Scientists Say They Could Bring Back Woolly Mammoths. But Maybe They Shouldn’t
Updated September 15, 20216:24 AM ET
An artist’s impression of a woolly mammoth in a snow-covered environment. Leonello Calvetti/Stocktrek Images/Getty Images/Stocktrek Images
Using recovered DNA to “genetically resurrect” an extinct species — the central idea behind the Jurassic Park films — may be moving closer to reality with the creation this week of a new company that aims to bring back woolly mammoths thousands of years after the last of the giants disappeared from the Arctic tundra.
Flush with a $15 million infusion of funding, Harvard University genetics professor George Church, known for his pioneering work in genome sequencing and gene splicing, hopes the company can usher in an era when mammoths “walk the Arctic tundra again.” He and other researchers also hope that a revived species can play a role in combating climate change.
“We are working towards bringing back species who left an ecological void as they went extinct,” the company, Colossal, said in answer to questions emailed by NPR. “As Colossal actively pursues the conservation and preservation of endangered species, we are identifying species that can be given a new set of tools from their extinct relatives to survive in new environments that desperately need them.”
To be sure, what’s being proposed is actually a hybrid created using a gene-editing tool known as CRISPR-Cas9 to splice bits of DNA recovered from frozen mammoth specimens into that of an Asian elephant, the mammoth’s closest living relative. The resulting animal — known as a “mammophant” — would look, and presumably behave, much like a woolly mammoth.
Some say reintroduced mammoths could help reverse climate change
Church and others believe that resurrecting the mammoth would plug a hole in the ecosystem left by their decline about 10,000 years ago (although some isolated populations are thought to have remained in Siberia until about 1,700 B.C.). The largest mammoths stood more than 10 feet at the shoulder and are believed to have weighed as much as 15 tons.
Mammoths once scraped away layers of snow so that cold air could reach the soil and maintain the permafrost. After they disappeared, the accumulated snow, with its insulating properties, meant the permafrost began to warm, releasing greenhouse gases, Church and others contend. They argue that returning mammoths — or at least hybrids that would fill the same ecological niche — to the Arctic could reverse that trend.
“With the reintroduction of the woolly mammoth … we believe our work will restore this degraded ecosystem to a richer one, similar to the tundra that existed as recently as 10,000 years ago,” the company says.
Love Dalén, a professor in evolutionary genetics at the Stockholm-based Centre for Palaeogenetics, is skeptical of that claim.
“I personally do not think that this will have any impact, any measurable impact, on the rate of climate change in the future, even if it were to succeed,” he tells NPR. “There is virtually no evidence in support of the hypothesis that trampling of a very large number of mammoths would have any impact on climate change, and it could equally well, in my view, have a negative effect on temperatures.”
The body of Lyuba, a baby woolly mammoth who lived about 42,000 years ago on the Yamal Peninsula of Siberia, is exhibited in Hong Kong. South China Morning Post/South China Morning Post via Getty Images
The techniques might be better used to help endangered species
But even if the researchers at Colossal can bring back mammoths — and that is not certain — the obvious question is, should they?
“I can see some reasons to do the first steps where you are tinkering with cell lines and editing the genomes,” Dalén says. “I think there is a lot of technological development that can be done [and] we can learn a lot about how to edit genomes, and that could be really useful for endangered species today.”
Joseph Frederickson, a vertebrate paleontologist and director of the Weis Earth Science Museum in Menasha, Wis., was inspired as a child by the original Jurassic Park movie. But even he thinks that the more important goal should be preventing extinction rather than reversing it.
“If you can create a mammoth or at least an elephant that looks like a good copy of a mammoth that could survive in Siberia, you could do quite a bit for the white rhino or the giant panda,” he tells NPR.
Especially for animals that have “dwindling genetic diversity,” Frederickson says, adding older genes from the fossil record or entirely new genes could increase the health of those populations.
Speaking with NPR in 2015, Beth Shapiro, a paleogeneticist at the University of California, Santa Cruz and author of How to Clone a Mammoth: The Science of De-Extinction,said emphatically, “I don’t want to see mammoths come back.”
“It’s never going to be possible to create a species that is 100% identical,” she said. “But what if we could use this technology not to bring back mammoths but to save elephants?”
Mammoths might upset existing ecosystems
Colossal’s expressed aim also brings up another ethical concern: Although the extinction of the mammoth thousands of years ago left a gap in the ecosystem, that ecosystem has presumably now adapted, at least imperfectly, to their absence.
“There is a new normal that has existed for thousands of years that has adapted to the continually changing climate,” Frederickson says. “Bringing back something that has all the characteristics that would have thrived in the Pleistocene doesn’t necessarily mean it’s going to survive today, especially when you’re mixing in the unknowns of other genes that are acting in a warm-weather tropical animal and then trying to move it to a new environment.”
“There were plants and animals that were living alongside the mammoth that are now long gone or have drastically shrunk in their range, and just bringing back the mammoth won’t bring those back,” he says.
Colossal says it’s not trying to bring back an invasive species but instead wants to “enrich an ecosystem that has been, and continues to be, steadily degrading without its presence.”
In yet a different sense, there’s the question of how mammoths might fit in.
“The proposed ‘de-extinction’ of mammoths raises a massive ethical issue. The mammoth was not simply a set of genes — it was a social animal, as is the modern Asian elephant,” Matthew Cobb, a professor of zoology at the University of Manchester, told The Guardian, in 2017. “What will happen when the elephant-mammoth hybrid is born? How will it be greeted by elephants?”
Predicted six-year timeline would be exceptionally short
All of this, of course, assumes that producing a mammophant is even possible. Colossal says it hopes to produce an embryo in six years. But with an estimated 1.4 million individual genetic mutations separating the ancient creatures from Asian elephants, the task of gene splicing could prove a mammoth undertaking.
Perhaps an even bigger obstacle might be developing an artificial uterus for gestating the embryos. Even Church acknowledges that this might not be so easy. Among other things, the company plans to create “a pumping system for exchange of gas, nutrient and waste metabolites, and umbilical blood supply with the goal of carrying a woolly mammoth embryo to term in vitro.” Researchers have been working on just such a device, but technical hurdles remain.
“Is this going to happen anytime soon? The answer is absolutely not,” says Frederickson.
Dalén agrees that the six-year timeline is “exceptionally short.” “It seems pretty ambitious,” he says.
But Church and his colleagues aren’t alone in their ambition. The idea of mammoth de-extinction has been around for some time, and other groups, such as the California-based nonprofit Revive & Restore, which last year managed the first-ever clone of an endangered species, the black-footed ferret, have also been working on a mammoth-elephant hybrid.
The traditional scientific view is that our ancestors hunted the mammoth to extinction, while more recent theories point to habitat destruction at the end of the last ice age as the biggest factor, but with humans still copping part of the blame.
Frederickson thinks that’s one of the reasons that the question of de-extinction — fueled by pop culture and real-world advances in science — is raised so frequently by
the patrons at the museum he heads. “I think, as humans, we have a little bit of guilt in us, still knowing that we almost certainly contributed to that extinction event.”
“This may be a way of getting that burden off of our backs,” he says.
Posted in Real or Folk Tale? and tagged arrogance, climate change, humility, ice age, mammoth by Charles Sheldon with no comments yet.
This article reports on hand prints and footprints found in Tibet, made by children, as art. Either modern humans were far from Africa that long ago or another branch – Denisovian, or Neanderthal – also created art.
Posted in Origins and tagged art, human origins by Charles Sheldon with no comments yet.
The urge to survive is one of the strongest forces within humans. It seems that this urge is overcome, or overridden, only when a parent’s child or close relative is in imminent danger, in which case one sacrifices oneself for another, or in combat when a soldier sacrifices himself to save his friends. Except for a blood relation or combat, though, it seems the urge to survive triumphs over all else. A few years ago someone became trapped on a cliff and cut off his own arm to escape- to survive.
In the face of a deadly pandemic most people have chosen to follow whatever steps they can to survive – isolate, wear masks, and, when finally available, become vaccinated.Yet in the case of this Covid pandemic, millions of people are choosing not to take such steps, and now, with this Delta variant, tens of thousands are dying because they have refused to take the vaccine.
This counter view, that vaccines are bad, that wearing masks is weak, is held by millions, with little change despite the very clear evidence masks and vaccines either prevent catching the virus or minimize medical consequences if people do become infected. The evidence is overwhelming that deaths caused by this virus are enormously lower if people are vaccinated. Yet, still, millions refuse to take the vaccine.
The reactions to Covid are surely tribal. Most tribes of people – groups of aligned views and interests – follow the suggestions of medical experts, believing that people who must study for eight to twelve years know more about this disease than they do. There is, however, a large and intense anti-mask and anti-vaccine group, or tribe, that, despite the clear and obvious risks, nevertheless choose to welcome their exposure to that risk. This seems to be a matter of tribal belonging, identifying with this tribe, being a member. It is almost as if the need to be tribal, surely wired into we humans for group protection in the ancient past, is stronger than the urge to survive. This seems to be the case with Covid, as it was with the Jim Jones cult years ago in South America.
While appearing, initially, illogical, it may be there is a survival mechanism at place here, in that in the distant past those who held the strongest tribal ties were able to prevail over those others without such ties. In other words, maybe in the distant past there was a selection element in favor of tribal identity overpowering even the survival urge.
It seems, whether true or not in the past, this is the case today.
Posted in Origins and tagged Covid, disease, Origins, survival by Charles Sheldon with no comments yet.
The article below describes in some detail the revealing of an ancient technology used to trap fish using wooden stakes, woven nets, and the tides. A very very simple concept – construct fish traps on the shore such that fish enter the traps at high tide and then are trapped in shallow pools when the tide goes out. People take the fish they need and let the rest go. The stakes and systems examined here seem to be 1300 years old, but the concept is so simple, using natural materials, it’s hard not to think humans did the same thing tens of thousands, even hundreds of thousands, of years ago. Of course, throughout most of human history the sea level was lower than today, because of the ice advances and retreats, meaning any evidence of most traps has been buried deep in the water since.
Posted in Origins and tagged ancient technology, human origins, ice ages, pacific northwest peoples, sea level by Charles Sheldon with no comments yet.
Denny was born up Pubnico way in eighteen and ninety two,
In nineteen eleven to Boston he came, a dory man tried and true.
He fished from a dory for thirty two years till the war put an end to the trade
Moved to Chatham and fished alongshore in good weather, not much, but a living he made,
When seventy-two he fetched up on the beach in a shack in the woods by the Bay,
Rigged gear for the fleet and cleared our bad snarls, recoiled in a tight perfect lay.
A master, was Denny, rerigging our gear, each bundle a near work of art,
With his help all that summer we landed huge trips and a half share we left in his cart.
Denny was tiny, a lone quiet man, no family he had of we knew,
We’d leave him some beer and groceries to hand in the winter when gear work was few.
The following winter Denny fell sick, in his shack stone cold and in pain,
To a hospital bed in Hyannis he went not far from our boat on the bay.
We’d travel to see him, kids twenty five years, he’s lost in the bed, thin and pale,
Hated that hospital food, he did, wouldn’t eat and was wasting away.
So we went to the fish store and bought us some haddock which we cooked on our boat at the dock,
Wrapped it in foil and raced to the hospital, still hot when he reached for his fork.
Oh that fish he did eat, every bit, every bite, and a smile we’d see in his eyes,
So each day we’d cook and bring him his lunch, hear his stories which Denny called lies.
Later he moved to an old people’s home in South Chatham for hospice care,
The food there was better, but Denny was failing, companionship all he could share.
And always with Denny, those last weeks he had, three men sat with him for hours,
Old dory mates all, telling tales of days they all shared in their youth and their power,
Harold and Peter and Edward their names, first sailing then steaming offshore,
From their dories through years of weather and waves, saw men lost in the fog evermore.
I can hear those four men, all old, one quite ill, in that pale late afternoon light,
Their memories and laughter of days now long gone when from dories they worked with such pride.
Denny came to Boston a century ago, a dory man he and his mates,
I was lucky to know him, see his art working gear, he was small but to us he was great.
His lies now all lost, the memories too, but I hold in my heart that rare sight,
Four dory men true, gathered together, keeping real their lost way of life.
Now Denny’s long gone, it’s nigh fifty years since we kids brought gear to his shack,
And just as his memories are lost now forever our soon will fade in the black.
When you see an old fisherman, hands like burled wood, skin pale and eyes watery and dim,
Unshaven, clothes rumpled, slumped deep in a chair, never judge there’s no glory in him,
His story not written, his memories mist, his whole way of life but a dream,
Whaler, salt banker, dory man he, now one with the unchanging sea.
Posted in Sea Stories and tagged Chatham, dory men, Georges Bank, Grand Banks, Salt bankers, Sea stories by Charles Sheldon with no comments yet.
Really happy to receive this from Kirkus today:
Posted in Reviews by Charles Sheldon with no comments yet.
During the last, say 150 years there has been unrelenting and consistent technological change in nearly all areas – medicine, communications, travel, energy, the list is seemingly endless. It is almost unbelievable, actually. Somehow there seems to have been a parallel assumption that we humans have also changed greatly, maybe because we think we must have changed to bring forth all these marvels, and maybe, even more, many of us think that with all these new wonderful tools the measure of people, their character and behavior, must be changing rapidly as well. There has been, for at least six or seven generations, a steady belief in inevitable progress in all areas, including the character and behavior of humans.
This is a huge, huge mistake, in my opinion, because human nature hasn’t changed despite all these technological breakthroughs. The evidence of our own eyes and memories, for those of us who have been around for eight or nine decades, is exactly the opposite, as is the historical record – we humans have been bad to each other, always and forever.
Go way back, way way back, before farming, before towns and cities, the time of great ice and terrible animals, and humans barely hanging on in remote safe places. When a group invaded another group’s territory, back then, it seems they captured the women and children but killed off all the men, all of them, so there would not be retribution. Surely humans then, and in the years since, and today, are selfish, vengeful, hateful, lustful, cruel, possessive acquisitive, tyrants, murderers, just as humans are loving, caring, friendly, empathetic, self sacrificing, and noble.
Look over the last 150 years – many huge wars, hundreds of millions dead, maybe 70 million in the two World Wars alone. Millions more killed with famine, whether in China, Russia, India, Asia, or elsewhere. Millions more lost to disease. Remember that a century ago only smallpox had been defeated, there remained the scourge of measles, mumps, whooping cough, scarlet fever, polio, rickets, cholera, not to mention millions more lost to raw poverty. Yes, it is true that today millions of people are living far better than their forebears, but does this mean human nature has changed? That the legacy of grim news that has underpinned all the technological triumphs will somehow miraculously end?
I think not. Somewhere in the rush to greatness, and the ability to build and invent great things, we seem to have entirely lost awareness that we are both good and evil, flawed and noble, and any excess – ANY – promises difficulty, death, destruction. Nowadays we may look back and consider earlier people cautious, conservative in behavior, keeping their heads down, but maybe the truth of the matter was they were raised humble, cautious, well aware of their own dark side, and the dark sides of others. Throughout all of history the battles have remained the same – on the one had wresting survival from a hostile world, which we humans successfully did such that the world seems now to be ours, but on the other hand always, since the beginning, struggling with the much larger danger – ourselves, our conflicts and fights, and these days our narrative driven views that only we are right and all others not only flawed but even evil.
In ancient times, when we were not the apex predator, the world was above us, more powerful, and we were careful, humble, cautious, because we had to be. Now we rule the world, but it has not been the world that has brought evil, it is ourselves, plain as day, brought forth in the urgency of ideology and zealotry and certain-ness, and further complicated because the public megaphones respond to only anger, rage, froth. My sense is the greater mass of us are sick of all of it, and want to just get on with our lives, as best we can, and all of us know that only through humility will come the wisdom to regain some kind of balance.
Posted in Blog Posts, Humility and tagged history, human nature, humility, philosophy, struggle by Charles Sheldon with 1 comment.
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I wonder if we as a species are dumbing down. Before farming (ie, dense settlements, crowds, and a need for administration) human bones we have recovered shows that skeletons were stronger and brains bigger. In fact the very recent discovery of that skull in northern China, maybe 150,000 years old, has a brain bigger than modern man’s. My guess is we had bigger brains because we needed to remember everything in order to carry forth learning and culture. We did this with stories, I am sure, stories as a way to encode memory for years, then for generations.
Then with farming, and the development of a priestly class, writing developed, first used to catalogue the administration of commerce and materials, and to document religious structure and belief. Until very very recently – as in, the last say 500 years – only a tiny percentage of we humans could read and write; needed to read and write,. Then, about 400 years ago, education in the literary arts became more widespread, and now, in the 21st century, nearly everyone can read at some level.
So for the last say four or five centuries humans began to store their memories and their data with writing and scrolls and books in levels great enough to see the broad development of libraries. Libraries, and palace records, documented what had been learned and exported all this information to ink and paper such that humans did not, any longer, have to carry everything around in their head. At the same time, of course, culture and civilization became increasingly complex, requiring great specialization in the professions and in learning itself – further requiring the use of paper and ink to hold records, instructions, historical accounts.
With the wide use of reading and writing the tremendous importance of verbal and oral histories, and teachings, began to diminish. What had been held in a person’s large brain was now stored somewhere else. This meant that the brain no longer needed to remember so much. And maybe this is why the average brain of we humans today is smaller than the brains of our ancestors who had to survive in a world filled with terrible animals, great ice, and huge swings in climate.
Now we have entered a third phase in this process, in the last half century – the development of the computer, the ability to store incredible amounts of information on chips and drives. This was something in the early years but still required the printing of thousands of pages to reveal the stored data. However, in the last 20 years the “cloud” and the Internet has created a paradigm shift – now everything is stored in the “cloud” and there are applications and programs that enable anyone on earth, using a cell phone or computer, to ask any question and receive an answer. This is called “googling.” You see it all the time, someone asks a question and someone else peers at their phone and a half minute later gives an answer, because they googled the cloud and the cloud spat back an answer.
So these days humans no longer have to remember everything with stories, as our bigger brained ancestors had to, or know enough to read a card catalogue to find data in a library – no. These days all someone has to do is be able to read and click in a question, and the “cloud” gives the answer.
If human brains shrank with the advent of writing, the first form of remote storage, won’t brains shrink even more, and faster, with this “cloud?” Why exercise your brain, train it to learn and hold information, contain it and sort it, when an external thing does it for you? All those stresses and pressures creating neurons and pathways will fall idle.
The brain will shrink.
We are making ourselves stupid.
Posted in Origins and tagged ancient hiumans, brain, Evolution, intelligence, stupidity by Charles Sheldon with no comments yet.
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When I was fishing on the East and Gulf Coasts a long time ago – actually a damn long time ago – there was a saying that wandered the docks. When boats tied up together in a port the guys working on the boats would talk to each other, on the dock or aboard boats or in the nearby barroom, catch up on scuttlebutt and gossip, tell lies. There was a phrase that floated around about some captains – actually at times more than some captains – and that phrase was, “He’s a screamer.” This meant that this person could not give an order without screaming the words, shouting, and often it seemed the case that no order was properly given unless it included at least two graphic insults.
There were of course more captains, usually many more captains, who were not screamers, they were level-headed men (and these days they include many women too) who had the crew’s respect, who rarely had to give orders because the crew knew what was expected and jumped to.
If you were lucky enough to be on a boat with a “good captain, meaning, someone who was all right to work for, this usually meant you were also on a boat that was well maintained, that carried the proper survival gear, where things usually worked, and where you made money. The crew members often became friends. I can name many boats which were based in New Bedford which had the same crew for two or three decades, they fished together, hunted deer together, and their captains, I am almost sure, were never screamers.
I worked for both types, and let me tell you, working for a screamer was dangerous, difficult, and downright scary at timers. The biggest issue was that screamers could not keep crew, they either fired those they did not like or drove the crew away, which meant that those of us who remained had to work twice as hard training the new guys every trip as well as doing the work. Boats with screamers in the wheelhouse gathered foc’sle lawyers down below, and disgruntled complainers, and laggards and bums.
I always figured the good captains remembered where they came from, how hard it was to learn the ropes, and had the good sense to admit when they didn’t know something, and were unafraid to ask. The good captains explained what was needed and gave others the respect to get it done, and in my experience if you treat someone as if they will do the job well, they usually do, whereas if you hover and pester the result is terrible.
The good captains were humble. They knew they did not know everything. They honored the weather and the force of the ocean. They supported the others around them and the others around them supported them. They went to work and brought back fish and an income, and they did it without breaking the crew.
Screamers? Never humble. Always trying to be on top, and better than. Never listen. Shout and scream and get angry easily. Have these ideas they have come up with which they declare must be true and refuse to admit they make no sense.
“Watch out for him, he’s a screamer.”
It feels, these days, the screamers gave taken over damn near everything, shouting their point of view and beliefs everywhere, insulting others, not listening, and most of all not learning or facing facts. Wouldn’t it be nice to have someone in the wheelhouse who assumed everyone on the boat was equally intent on making an income and coming home safe. That’s the case, or was, in the fishing industry, anyway.
It seems to me that the reason it feels like we have screamers everywhere – in politics, in the media, on school playgrounds – must have something to do with forgetting that we cannot have a community unless people listen and speak carefully, meaning, are humble with themselves and others. At sea, in the microcosm world that was limited to the boat, a screamer was toxic, dangerous, and inflected the entire world. In ancient times such a person was driven from the tribe, shunned, left to wander alone. Maybe we could use a little more of that now, because with all the screaming going on, people lose sight of what they don’t know, what they need too learn, and what they should be doing to keep the community strong.
Posted in Sea Stories and tagged fishing industry, grace, humility, leadership, toxic behavior by Charles Sheldon with 1 comment.