Welcome to "The Gods Are Bored," thinking and drinking and stinking at linking! I'm your host, Anne Johnson. You could call me a Pagan, and I wouldn't be offended.
One of the units I have to teach as an English instructor is a thing called "picture prompt." All New Jersey students must pass a proficiency test in reading, writing, and arithmetic, and "picture prompt" is part of the writing. The state gives students a photograph, and they have to write a story about it. In 45 minutes. Number two pencil.
Part of my teacher preparation is to compile a big stack of photographs that my students can use to practice picture prompts. In other words, I have to cut up a lot of magazines.
Awhile back I nabbed a stack of Adventure magazines. This sounded promising. Until I started looking at all the beautiful photos and realized they were all of rich white people with fancy gear of some sort, in exotic locations quite unlike anything seen in New Jersey. However, I picked and chose and got some good stuff -- people clinging to cliff faces or scuba diving to wrecked ships, or creeping up on rhinos. Just your average vacation, if you're a master of the bloody universe.
While sifting through this high-end rubble, I found a short essay about Australopithecines by an author named Laurence Gonzalez.
You probably already know this, but Australopithecus was a bipedal hominid genus that lived between 1.5 million and 3.5 million years ago in Africa. These little cuties stood about three feet tall and had small brains, relative to ours. Given the similarities in teeth and locomotion, however, it's a safe bet some kind of Australopithecine is down in the roots of our collective family tree.
Mr. Gonzalez wrote about the fossil footprints Mary Leakey and her team discovered in 1978. The footprints -- one set larger, one set medium, one set smaller -- were laid down in rapidly-accumulating volcanic ash. They record the flight of one little family from an exploding volcano about ten miles away.
Fast forward three million years, give or take, to the eruption of Mount St. Helens. Mr. Gonzalez reports that, as the massive volcano gave every indication of spilling its guts in spectacular fashion, many people arrived in the vicinity just to watch the event. People jumped roadblocks and ignored repeated pleas to evacuate the area. Then half the mountain fell to pieces, killing almost 60 people who had ample warning that they were in an area of intensifying volcanic activity.
My question is: are we sure we're evolving for the better? Three million years ago, three-foot-tall pre-humans had the good sense to pick up and scurry when a volcano erupted. Now imagine these same pre-humans of midget dimensions fending off primordial lions, hyenas, and proto-chimps. (An adult chimpanzee can kill a Homo sapiens in short order.) How successful would we be, stuck up moderns, taking on lions without the benefit of high-caliber weaponry, or at least torches?
Picture the pre-game tailgate party at any college or pro football game, and ask yourself: How far have we come?
Thus also it may be for our deities. Given how little we know about Australopithecus, except for the fact that they traveled in families at times and had the sense to evacuate volcanic regions, can we assume they had no deities? I suppose anthropologists would say no, these creatures' brains were too small to communicate with anything Immortal. To that I say, pish tosh! They might have had quite fulfilling relationships with Sacred Beings. Why do we always assume that we're better than our forebears? Could be the opposite.
The fossil footprints suggest that the female Australopithecus was carrying a child. If that child could witness a bunch of frat brothers puking after a long night of beer pong, would it feel superior to, or inferior to, Homo sapiens?
Tonight the Shrine of the Mists will be lit for the Deities of the Australopithecines. Newer ain't always better.