Some early Totem reviews

“I believe that this book is a fitting conclusion to a remarkable set of novels. I enjoyed them so much, I plan to order up each in paperback to have them sit on my bookshelf. As far as I’m concerned, the Strong Heart trilogy is the best Netflix series yet to be filmed. Seriously. As I read each of these books, all I could think of was watching the story come to life on TV. I hope that these novels get into the hands of a reputable producer and are adapted for the screen.

“What I liked most were the wonderful characters, each unique, each with their own strengths and weakness, each with their own speech patterns that help to establish their individuality. I also appreciate Mr. Sheldon”s commitment to the land and the environment, a theme that runs through the entire series, one that causes the reader to take pause and consider what is happening to the planet because of climate change…

“The weaving of the mystical with speculative history is fascinating; the visions help move the story and successfully set the stage for the exciting conclusion. My only regret is that the series has come to an end because I would certainly have liked to spend more time with these exceptional characters.” OnLineBookClub for Readers reviewer, Feb 12, 2022

“I’m only at the third chapter of the book and I already love it, I have read the previous two books of the series and cannot wait to see how this one turns out. Judging by this forum and its reviews, it is going to be excellent as well.” OnLineBookClub for Readers reviewer, Feb 8, 2022

“I loved the journey this book took me through. It wasn’t just the North Pacific, but it was a journey through a culture that surpassed time and place. It’ was a learning journey that can be applied today to anyone who loves the past and wants to connect past and future with one another. That writing style is what keeps readers coming back for more. The ability to not only tell a tale but make readers live within it is a blessing. GREAT series!” OnLineBookClub for Readers reviewer, Feb 3, 2022

Woke human origins?

Here below is an article about a new take on ancient humans and the eating of meat. Essentially it argues that the thesis that ancient humans shifted from plant-based foods to meat around two million years ago is not correct. This finding came not from any new evidence or studies, but from an analysis of already-found sites, their frequency, and basically a reinterpretation of the data. It seems as if the authors a building a case for a reinterpretation of humans as a killing, meat eating species.

This study, much reported of late, follows hard on the heels of a book that came out last year, The Dawn of Everything, by Graeber and Wengrow, claiming that the earliest large societies of humans were in many cases non hierarchical, lacking evidence of temples and other manifestations of class and power distinction. The book is massive, wonderfully written, and basically offers no proof for any of its conjectures, yet it is being lionized everywhere. It seems the authors are trying to argue we humans arose as a peaceful, pacific species. However, the book is admirable in confirming that indigenous peoples carried great wisdom and western industrial societies could learn much from them, and in the past have learned much from them.

It sounds like a thesis is emerging that the earliest humans were not meat eaters, primarily, and that, furthermore, human societies since the beginnings of time have chosen many forms and many of them, early on, were benign, classless, cooperative.

It is interesting that Darwin’s survival of the fittest emerged at almost exactly the same time that European nations were busy colonizing (and had been colonizing) vast swaths of the earth. One might even argue that this thesis was justifying colonial behavior, ie, if indigenous peoples could not resist invaders then this was OK because the “winners” were fitter.

There is other history whereby scientific theses were used to justify ideologically-driven points of view – for example “eugenics” being used to justify the sterilization of people considered retarded as happened in the first decades of the 20th century.

As human evolution theories expanded during the period, say, 1875 – 1960, greater numbers of ancient human-like (or human) types (or “species”) were named and discovered. Then it was found that homo erectus, the first really big brained hominid (mentioned in the attached article about meat eating) had expanded from Africa nearly 2 million years ago (coincident with the start of the ice ages) to spread all over Eurasia and Indonesia. A school of thought arose that held that the different “races” of humans arose each in their turn from erectus all over the world, with specific appearance traits like skin color, yet interbreeding enough so the difference were groups, not species, but after World War 2 this thesis lost favor to another, arguing that all modern humans arose from a single mother in Africa, “Lucy,” born about 200,000 years ago. The multiple origin thesis was declared racist, or feared would be used to support racist ideology, whereas the “Lucy” thesis held everyone was basically the same, and countered any racial tendencies. Today the multiple origin thesis is essentially banned from any discussion whatsoever.

In the years since, other hominid species have been found – Denisovian, Florensis – and genetic analysis had determined that these different types interbred with each other and with Neanderthal and with homo sapiens. It seems that hominids of many different types in the last several hundred thousand years interbred when they could. This means they were all one species.

Some might argue that science has been used as a support mechanism for ideology. Others might argue that scientific theories and social movements may be more interlinked than anyone wants to admit.

Now we seem to be entering a new era, call it “wokeness” with studies and books sifting through available data and coming up with entirely new conclusions which support the current ideological thrust of those who are trying to characterize us and our ancestors as peaceful, vegetarian, benign beings who have somehow gone entirely wrong since….agriculture? Industrialization?

As regards this meat eating study, which again is simply a reinterpretation of existing data, the authors seem to miss many salient points. One, apes and other primates are primarily plant eaters and have huge guts to process the fiber. Two, humans were able to control fire at about the same time brain size expanded and also when teeth became much smaller. Controlled fire allows for the cooking of food, the breaking down of the structure so it is easily digested. The use of fire, and cooking, required smaller teeth and meant that the energy needed to digest all those plants in earlier primates and maybe hominids could now be used to support a much expanded brain. It is all linked together.

My personal thesis is that the earliest humans ate meat when they could find it and seafood and marine food; ie, clams, shellfish, fish, marine mammals. We forget that until 12,000 years ago we humans were not the apex predator. The great animals were – short face bears, dire wolves, saber tooth tigers, lions, huge hyenas. Humans had to hide on islands and protected refugees in the ice to prosper, and many groups were wiped out, again and again. On land, or in the interior, life surely was difficult, and dangerous.

It feels, a bit, as if there is a desire and urge to somehow classify we humans as somehow evolved from a peaceful, pacific species, to thus deny danger and death and suffering and tragedy.

https://gwtoday.gwu.edu/new-study-calls-question-importance-meat-eating-shaping-human-evolution

How did humans reach the Americas?

The article below continues a series of findings and speculations that humans arrived in the Americas long before the end of the last ice age. For decades the prevailing view was that humans made it to the Americas by crossing the exposed Bering land bridge and then racing south to the rest of the Americas when the ice began to melt 14,000 years ago. However, recent discoveries have pushed those dates back.

The oldest human remains found to date anywhere in the Americas are perhaps 14,000 years old, in a Mexican cave. The oldest clear evidence of human hunting anywhere in the Americas was discovered in Sequim Washington, at the foothills of the Olympic mountains – a spear point was discovered in a mastodon skeleton shoulder bone. This was dated to 13,800 years ago, and can be seen today in a little museum in the center of Sequim with the mastodon skeleton. However, within the last year fossilized human footprints were found in New Mexico that were 23,000 years old – the height of the great ice time. Additional sites are suggesting humans arrived in the Americas at least 33,000 years ago.

Dogma held that ancient humans could only travel over land. Only relatively recently has the field of human origins accepted that perhaps ancient humans were capable seafarers, able to transit long distances over the ocean, island to island or along the coast. There was evidence found in Timor of deep-sea fishing for tuna 40,000 years ago – a fish found far from land. As long as 80,000 years ago humans crossed to Australia over a strait 60 miles wide, requiring sailors to be able to navigate the open ocean out of sight of land.

For most of human history – nearly 2 million years – sea levels were lower than today, mainly because during those 2 million years we have suffered an ice age every 100,000 years which has lasted 80,000 to 90,000 years, and during which time the weather was colder worldwide and sea levels lower, often much lower. The Bering land bridge has been exposed and then buried many times during this period.

Also, for most of human history, we shared the planet with huge mammals, the so-called megafauna. The wooly mammoth and mastodon may be the most familiar, but it was the predators – dire wolves, saber tooth cats, huge hyenas, and short face bears – that are of concern here. These were meat eaters, huge, and the apex predator – not humans. The short face bear, for example, stood 12 feet high and could reach 15 feet. How high is 15 feet? If you go to a Costco gas area, the roof stretching over the pump stations is 15 feet high. Next time you’re there, take a look and then imagine a bear, weighing up to a ton, standing and reaching that high. Short face bears only ate meat, and could run 40 miles an hour.

The idea that humans wandered across the landscape anywhere on earth, or between melting ice sheets to reach the rest of the Americas, seems totally inconsistent with their ability to survive attacks from these animals during the tens, even hundreds, of thousands of years these predators were ascendant. More likely, it seems, our ancestors back in those times were few, scattered, and always choosing places to live and hunt as secure as possible from attack, suggesting that they lived on islands off the mainland, or in glacial refuges guarded by thick ice. It also seems logical that humans back then would choose to live along the coast, taking seafood for food – fish, shellfish, clams – and able to stay away from the great predators by choosing islands for safety.

We may never know, of course, mainly because all those coastal sites were located on a shore now buried beneath as much as 200 feet of water, and all evidence of their settlement, anywhere on earth, is vanished, gone, buried, forever.

Here is a speculation – humans learned to use canoes and skin covered boats and other craft long, long ago, maybe even before we became “modern” 70,000 to 100,000 years go (whatever that may mean) and we followed every coast, living off the sea and sheltered as best we could from the great predators, from our earliest existence and memory. Humans reached the Americas along the coast, not over land. This could have happened whenever the Bering land bridge was exposed – 14,000 years ago, 30,000 years ago, 80,000 years ago or, even, 130,000 years ago at the end of the ice age before this last one from which we emerged 12,000 years ago. (Interestingly, during the warm interglacial between that ice age – the Eemian – and the latest ice age, for a period of 10,000 years, it was warmer than it is today and sea levels were 20-50 feet higher than today.) We don’t know.

The absence of evidence does not mean there is no evidence, it simply means evidence may not have yet been found. Yes, there are no human remains found in the Americas older than 14,000 years, but does this mean no humans were here before then? Maybe. However, logic suggest that humans first travelled using water and the coasts, relying on seafood, staying as far as they could from the great predators who ruled the upland. Logic suggests early humans lived in small groups and frequently were wiped out by those animals or other great disasters, like glacial floods, earthquakes, volcanoes. All the evidence for the earliest human living spaces lies buried beneath the rising seas. And this is how things were until, this last time the earth warmed, the great predators were finally overcome either by human hunters or climate change or disease.

http://www.sci-news.com/archaeology/coxcatlan-cave-humans-09721.html

Are we becoming less intelligent?

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.

The Plot Thickens

When the Kennewick Man was discovered in Washington State a great argument ensued. Native tribes demanded that the bones remain with them, as an honored ancestor of 9,000 years ago. Others – non-Natives – argued the Kennewick Man carried “Western” traits (whatever the heck that means) and might have origins from Europe. A battle ensued. Along the way, of course, DNA analysis and genetic testing has evolved rapidly, such that today there are complete genomes of ancient peoples available from both the Old and New World. Recently, as the article below describes in fascinating detail, Kennewick Man has been confirmed as a true Native American ancestor, and his remains returned. It is still the strong belief, supported by evidence, that Native American peoples came from Eurasia, mainly Siberia, some 15,000 to 24,000 years ago. We have already forgotten that just two decades ago the STRONG belief was that nobody was in the Americas until the “Clovis” people appeared 12,000 years ago. As every year passes, dramatic rethinking is being forced by new finds:

  • Ancient people reached the Americas at least 20,000 years ago, and maybe much earlier;
  • Ancient peoples understood maritime seafaring and wandered widely, but during a time when sea levels were much lower such that all their sites are now covered;
  • Ancient patterns of trade and resource exchange were complex and widespread, often covering thousands of miles;
  • All during human development the climate has changed, some times rapidly, in enormous swings, equally as dramatic then as the current concerns about global warming have people panicking today;
  • There is now a begrudging acceptance that humans living in the time of the great animals were, for thousands of years, NOT the top predator, but barely able to linger in out of the way protected sites.

Ancient Humans Thought Experiment (2)

Humans arose during the last two million years, according to available fossil evidence, with so-called “modern humans” – that is, humans leaving behind evidence of culture, art, technology – emerging perhaps as recently as 70,000 years ago, or perhaps 200,000 years ago. Nobody is quite sure and a bitter argument is raging about the exact when and where, though nearly everyone agrees the first such “modern” people arose somewhere in Africa before migrating elsewhere.

This means that humans evolved coincident with the ice ages, that two million year period we call the Pleistocene within which ice has advanced and retreated on a roughly 100,000 year cycle, at least 20 times, with the most recent ice age having its “maximum” about 20,000 years ago before retreating until, maybe 12,000 years ago, the ice was mostly gone (except for some remaining caps in Canada and Eurasia). But, before that 20,000 year ago maximum, there were many rises and falls during the previous 80,000 years. It seems that even during the height of an ice age the summers could be hot, maybe as hot as today, just shorter, and of course the winters were colder. It also seems that the temperature could rise and fall over a very very short period, maybe as little as a year or two, certainly a decade. It seems likely that the way an ice age begins is not that somehow glaciers far in the north grow thicker and thicker and then march inexorably south to cover much of the land north of 40 degrees north; instead, a more likely cause is that the snows fail to melt one summer, then another, then another, until after 10 years the snow compresses to ice and after 100 years a thick glacier in place exists.

The earliest humans, as far as we know, did not farm, or grow crops. This invention, agriculture, started about 10,000 years ago, following the latest ice age, when a roughly 10,000 year period – the interglacial – began, when the weather stabilized for centuries of warmer weather. It may be, in fact I am sure it was, that humans during the ice time worked a form of “primitive” agriculture – using fire to clear underbrush so food plants could thrive, for example. The first human societies, whether modern or not, were hunter-gatherers, seeking game for meat and gathering nuts, fruits, edible plants, as well as foraging along the shore for shellfish and seafood, and of course fishing.

The ice age warm time between ice advances before the warm time we are now in occurred about 120,000 years ago. It was called the Eemian, and lasted 10,000 years. The average temperature during that interglacial was apparently warmer than even today’s warmer days, maybe as much as one or two degrees Celsius warmer, and the sea level back then was as much as 20-50 feet higher than the sea level is today. During the over 20 previous ice advances during the Pleistocene, land bridges appeared as sea levels dropped because of all the fresh water locked in ice. Sea levels dropped as much as 330 feet from sea levels today, and during the entire ice period, as the ice advanced and retreated, so did sea levels vary.

All of this serves to show that there were short periods of generally stable warm climate conditions called interglacials that lasted between 5,000 and 15,000 years (generally) with the warm period before the one we are now in – and approaching the end of according to the glacial record – happening over 100,000 years ago, maybe before the appearance of so called “modern” humans. This means that for most of human history, in fact for all of it, we lived and evolved during periods of great changes in climate, huge changes, some times happening within a year or two, and certainly within one or two lifetimes. These changes in temperature, weather, sea level, storm intensity all surely greatly influenced behavior patterns of prey animals and the location of edible plants. Along the seashore, the tide lines would rise, and fall, some times greatly, and all these changes would alter the locations and behavior of seafood clusters.

Of course, we humans have incredibly short memory spans. Who among us knows, for example, what our grandparents or great grandparents did every day to live? These days many people remember winters when the snow was much deeper, when they were children, though maybe that was because they were half their adult height. When I was a kid in the 1950s I remember vivid stories and memories of the Great Depression, seeing older men and women still carefully saving and pressing flat tin cans for reuse. Most people alive back then knew of times when electricity was scarce, even unavailable. A life without electricity today would seem unimaginable for most people alive in developed economies. Yet, a century ago, 1921, electricity was still not available for over half the U.S. population. The point here is that huge change is happening all the time these days and we forget about the change as time passes, and especially as those who lived in such different times pass on, because then instead of hearing directly from an eyewitness we hear from someone who was told by someone, and this must be the case for almost anything that happened more than 60 or 70 years ago. And, beyond that, say, back to the Civil War, the people alive then are now our great or great-great or even great-great-great grandparents, myths of imagination and memory.

So, even though during most of our history the climate has changed greatly and often, any changes occurring over, say, a century and surely over two or three centuries would not be seen in the immediate life of anyone living, not really, such that then there would be legends of warmer times, or colder times, almost myths, lost in the haze of memory and history. And this means that we humans think that what has been happening in our most recent memory – a year or several years – is what has and will always happen. We are, if nothing else, adaptive, and so we adapt, and as the climate changes, we adapt or die. We need to find new hunting grounds, or new edibles. We need to move the village because the sea now floods our shelter. The great herds upon which we depend have suddenly wandered away over newly exposed land that rose from the sea (though in fact the land emerged from the falling sea).

All of which to say, even though the climate has changed always (but changed much less during the warm times between glacial advances and retreats), within the lifetime of one person, much of the change, maybe all of it, would be impossible to see, and big changes over, say, four generations would soon be considered exaggeration or myth. What is true, though, is that the changes taking place force adaptation, learning, adjustment, flexibility, and this was surely the case everywhere on earth, even those places near the equator far from the advancing ice, because they, too, would be changing as well.

I think it was the ice ages that had much to do with making us human, maybe as much as the control of fire for the ability to build culture and learning with stories. These days many if not most among us think we face a climate crisis. What many if not most of us fail to realize is that the human condition is exactly one of adapting to climate crises, and it has always been so.

Ancient Humans Thought Experiment (1)

It seems we now have fossil evidence of at least 6500 individuals from ancient times; that is, older than, say, 10,000 years, and much of this evidence has appeared in the last 20 to 30 years. There is today a revolution taking place in the study of human origins. New technologies, new methods of dating, the ability to retrieve DNA from ancient bones and even from the dirt over which ancient people lived, is announced on a monthly basis, and as the new finds are reported new theories arise, are defended, some times accepted. We know today that there were several different types of ancient humans coexisting together and that these different types interbred and produced offspring. We know, for example, that many of us contain Neanderthal DNA, or Denisovian DNA. Yet, while the fossil record may reflect 6500 individuals, there are only about 200 fossil skulls that have been found, which suggests that, given all the effort and energy expended searching for human origins, the evidence is still very sparse.

There is another debate that occurs, as well, concerning when these ancient humans became “modern,” whatever that means. It seems that some versions of ancient humans were as large as humans today, with a brain case as large or larger than today, extending back at least 600,000 years. Yet evidence for modern behavior – burial of the dead, artwork, sculpture, sophisticated tool kits and technology – is generally agreed to only extend back into the past 70,000 years, although sites in Africa much older show red ochre as a possible decoration. This raises the question – what happened, then, that enabled humans to develop culture, technology, community as we understand it today; what was the incident or event that caused a being with a certain brain size and structure to suddenly begin leaving behind evidence of myth, dreams, narrative, and history?

It is agreed that hominids arose in Africa, and extended from Africa to the rest of the world, maybe in a couple of migrations, the first being Homo Erectus almost two million years ago and a latter migration much later about the same time as modern humans appeared. But the evidence is contested. Some argue the first modern humans were found in northeast Africa, others say the Middle East, there is even a find in eastern China that may be older still. There seems to be general agreement that humans crossed the sea to reach Australia 80,000 years ago, and it is also generally accepted that the western hemisphere, North and South America, was empty of hominids until the end of the most recent ice age when some humans crossed the Bering Land bridge and entered North America, either along the coast or inland once some ice had melted. There are disagreements about this, of course, with some arguing humans made it to the Americas about 14,000 years ago and others arguing humans arrived much earlier. There is a site in the Yukon, Old Crow, that may be 24,000 years old. A few argue that humans came to the Americas far earlier than that. However, there are hardly any archeological finds older than 14,000 years to support such an argument.

For decades the belief was that humans crossed the Land Bridge, then waited for a channel to melt in the two great ice sheets covering Canada, then raced south to fill the continent, killing all the great animals on the way. More recently another argument has emerged, arguing that humans first made it to the Americas by traveling the coast in boats or canoes, beach to beach or island to island, living off the marine resources and bypassing those places where the ice sheets met the sea. One big challenge with this thesis is that during the ice ages the sea level was as much as 330 feet below present day sea level, meaning any coastal communities or evidence lies buried beneath tons of water. The beach scene pictured above, Olympic National Park in northwestern Washington State, which is probably what that ancient shore looked like tens of thousands of years ago, was, back during the ice time, on a slope hundreds of feet above the beach below it.

We now know that ancient humans were capable of using boats or canoes and fishing offshore, and moving island to island. In Timor evidence of tuna fishing was found, 40,000 years old, and to catch such tuna one needs to travel beyond the sight of land.

Two factors seem to be missing from all these arguments, at least in the research I have done. The first applies to the animals among which these humans lived, and how their presence and behavior might have influenced human decisions and choices as to places to shelter. The second concerns the relationship between human behavior and movement and the frequent ice ages that swept across the top half of the world – one every 100,000 years for at least two million years.