Gardening with the Ancestors

From Darwin's notebooks – his first sketching of connections between life forms. The note starts with an 'I think...'. Image Mario Tama.

I was gardening today, while listening to the The Ancestor’s Tale: A Pilgrimage to the Dawn of Evolution by Richard Dawkins. Dawkins is careful to warn of not taking an anthropocentric view and as such journeys backwards in time,  to meet our different ‘concestors’ – those creatures which adjoin to our own path of evolution. There then follows from this a series of ‘tales’ from a long list of family relations – or evolutionary phylogenies.

The 40 Confluences/Concestors: (1) chimpanzees; (2) gorilla; (3) orang utan; (4) gibbons; (5) Old World monkeys; (6) New World monkeys; (7) tarsiers; (8) lemurs; (9) tree shrews; (10) rodents & rabbits; (11) Laurasiathere mammals; (12) Xenarthran mammals; (13) Afrothere mammals; (14) Marsupial mammals; (15) Monotreme mammals; (16) reptiles & birds; (17) amphibian; (18) lungfish; (19) coelacanth; (20) ray-finned fishes; (21) sharks; (22) lampreys & hagfish; (23) lancelets; (24) sea squirts; (25) starfish; (26) mollusks, worms, crustaceans, insects & spiders; (27) primitive flatworms; (28) jellyfish; (29) comb jellies; (30) placozoans; (31) sponges; (32) single-cell eukaryotes; (33) drips; (34) fungus; (35) amoebozoan; (36) plants & algae; (37) Giardia, diatoms, forams, & brown algae; (38) Archaea; (39) Eubacteria; (40) Origin of Life

Of the many tales that caught my attention and intrigue, was that of the agricultural revolution, and the suprisingly rapid domestication/taming of foxes (volpas volpas) within 20 years to behave and looked like border collies with fluffy ears.

Also of intrigue is the ‘Cro-magnon’s tale’ of the ‘great leap forward’ (Jared Diamond’s name), which is discussed as the flowering of the evolutionary process some 40,000 years ago and seems to represent a form of cultural revolution or evolution. Though anatomically the same, the cultural outputs for a million years prior had included only crude stone tools and weapons – no ornamentation, decoration, etc. Findings then show a marked shift, the sudden evidence of art, pottery, carvings, figurines, grave goods, cave murals, musical instruments. Lascaux cave murals are one example of this period. It is thought that language may have arrived just prior to this period. The linguist Stephen Pinker supports that language is older than the ‘leap’, and enabled a ‘what if’ imagination to flower. Words could be used as referential tools, about things not immediately visible, or in the past or future. Though it was also discussed that drawing may be pre-empted language – that they begain to draw bison not visible, which developed into learning how to talk about bison not visible.