A Perfect Partnership

In the Chauvet Cave of France you will find two sets of footprints… One set  is from a 10 year old child, the other set is of his dog. They are 26,000 years old. We’ve been walking together ever since.

We domesticated the dog long before any other animal. He was with us soon after our arrival to the new worlds we migrated to, in the days before agriculture, when we were still hunting and gathering food. What is more, he is the only animal that we created a mutual partnership with. All other domesticated animals were forced into that position. Maybe that is why the dog holds a special place in our lives. We didn’t ask or demand, he came willingly with us. In fact, I’m not sure who domesticated who. To be sure we benefited from the friendship. Our dog friend led us to game, helped us bring it down, and protected us from danger.

But seeing it from a dogs perspective. He also found safety and security, warm fires on cold nights, and a hunting partner that could bring prey down quicker and faster than he could alone, along with a shared meal and scraps gained with no physical exertion. The shared friendship made life easier for both.

Over the years an odd thing happened though, we always looked to our dogs for protection, but eventually the dog started looking to us for the same thing. Needing each other created an even tighter bond and that bond eventually turned into a very physical, emotional and social link that would forever be tied. Today Man and dog are so interlinked that it would be impossible to separate them. They have become a part of each other.

Dogs have evolved to become more human. They have learned cognitive abilities from us, they have inherited our health problems and our eating habits and because of that their very chemical make up has changed. Researchers say that humans have more in common socially with the dog than with the chimpanzee and that dogs emotional and cognitive skills are akin to a 16 month old human. NBC News and their vocabulary of understood words is as many as 260, equivalent to a six year old child Rico. Which is amazing when you realize that a six year old child understands enough to start school and communicate ideas and concepts.

Image: Man and dog    And we can feel the history when we’re with a dog. When you sit on a river bank, dog beside you, looking out at the world together, and he turns and looks you in the eye, it feels ancient. It feels as if you have known each other for lives long past your own.  They have always been there, and some how we know that in our souls.

In our evolution we have imprinted a genetic memory of the dog, and the dog has a genetic memory of humans. It is a bond that can never be broken

And Time Passed Over Him


For about 5000 years Otzi lay frozen in Ice and snow along the border between Italy and Austria. His body lay in a crevice in the Otztal range of the Alps. For 5000 years his body froze in the winter, thawed in the summer, and refroze in the winter. The time of the earth passed and as he lay hidden, Moses lived, the Pyramids were built, Jesus lived and died and Stonehenge was created… Until one day in 1991 two Mountain climbers veered off the path and found Otzi’s intact mummified body half buried in ice.

Otzi is the oldest European mummy and his discovery answered many questions, and created new ones. Scientists learned more from this one man than they had ever known previously. Otzi carried a copper axe dating to a time before it was believed humans had learned smelting. He set the Copper Age back at least 1000-2000 years.

After examining his body, x-raying it, cat scanning it and taking samples scientists learned that Otzi died from an arrow wound to his back. Otzi had been murdered. You can read the details at the museum site here — South Tyrol Museum.

As with any good murder mystery there are many speculations about what happened. Some think that his axe was rare and a status symbol and he could have been murdered for his axe, yet the axe was still there. Why wouldn’t someone take an item as valuable as his copper axe? Some say it is because the person who killed him was from his village and didn’t want to be found with the axe. It has been speculated that Otzi was being hunted and ran into the mountains to escape, but if that were the case why did he sit down and have a very large meal within an hour or two of his death? And why did he carry a bow not yet completed that wouldn’t hold a string, and 14 arrow shafts, only two of which were pointed and fletched?  Otzi had recently made the trip up the mountain, back down and up again.

I’m going to jump in here and give my ideas on what happened. I am no expert on Otzi but  like everyone else who has read about him I am a little obsessed with the mystery. I think there are a few things that have been over-looked that might have more significance than is given credit.

L’ascia di rame dell’Uomo venuto dal ghiaccio

Otzi’s axe was not hand forged but forged from a mold. If there was a mold for his axe then more than likely there were more axes made from that mold. Old stone carvings in the area show pictures of axes that look a lot like Otzi’s axe.  I don’t think Otzi’s axe was that rare, I think it was common. Otzi’s hair had traces of arsenic and other metals related to smelting. More than likely this was not the only item smelted by him.

Otzi carried two things with him that tell secrets of what his occupation was. He had a bone disc with strings that is used to carry several fowl and he had a small grass woven trap for rabbits. He also had the muscle mass of a man who traveled a lot in hilly terrain. if Otzi was a wanderer or traveler he would need this rabbit trap to feed himself, but a fowl string would be used to carry several fowl and that means he probably brought them back to his village. Also he had eaten herb bread which was probably baked by someone else. As a traveler he probably would only eat the meat from animals he caught. I think Otzi was a trapper and a hunter. I think he probably made trips up into the mountains on a regular basis to hunt and trap game to bring home to his family.

Otzi had made a trip into the mountains, went back to the valley and then went back up the mountain. If Otzi had a very successful hunting trip, could it be possible he wasn’t able to carry all the meat down the mountain at one time? Perhaps he hid some in the snow to preserve it, brought some down and went back up for the rest. This may be why he had no weaponry with him. He was only making the trip back up to get the rest of the meat. Once he had made his way up the mountain he sat down to rest before bringing the meat back down. He sat down by a fire, cut some of the meat from the game and had a very large meal. Other hunters or travelers in the area saw Otzi’s fire, slipped up behind him and shot him in the back and took the game. Otzi used the bow shaft as a walking stick and when his body was discovered  his quiver had been laid on a rock and his bow was leaning up right against a rock. He had removed his belongings and laid them aside while he started his fire and ate. None of Otzi’s things were taken because that’s not what the murderer was after. It was the precious meat needed to feed a village.

Otzi also had a wound across the palm of his hand and it is believed it was a defense wound from shielding himself against an attack a few days before. This is what leads researchers to believe that he might have been hunted. But if Otzi was a hunter and trapper he would be using his knife quit often, perhaps it slipped while cutting game, or slipped while he was sharpening the edges of the flint blade.

Being a hunter and trapper Otzi may have even hunted for trade. Researchers believe there was a trade route that ran along the bottom of the mountain and Otzi could have sold his game on that trade route, which means that his game could have been an expensive commodity.

You can read more about Otzi’s DNA discoveries at Discovery Magazine

Pictures courtesy of  South Tyrol Museum

Ekwo and Kwel (Horse and Wheel)


SO… Neanderthal weren’t as simple as once thought. They had art, buried their dead and they had speech. The new people arriving had their own speech that they brought with them. These people (Homo Sapiens) spread across Europe, and eventually inhabited all of Europe. As they travelled they took their speech with them, but as time and distance separated them their speech became different. Soon their speech became so different that they could not communicate with people in other areas.

The original language of the people arriving in Europe is called Proto-Indo-European. No one speaks it today, but Linguists are able to guess at what this language sounded like by working backwards from languages today. Predictable vowel and consonant changes allow them to be able to reverse those changes and create this first language. Proto-Indo-European was the mother language and almost all of the languages in Europe today are her offspring.

Proto-Indo-Europeans were not a specific group of people. Archeologist will never be able to find a village of people called Proto-Indo-Europeans. The name signifies a speech group. The languages that fall into this group are Anatolian, which is now extinct and included Luvian and Hittite, Indo-Iranian, Greek, Italic, Celtic, Germanic, Armenian, Baltic-Slavic, Albanian and  Tocharian, also extinct.

The most interesting of this group is the Anatolian and Tocharian. Anatolian, because it became extinct early, and the Tocharian because it is found in an area never expected. Writings of both of these languages were only recently discovered. The Anatolian branched off the earliest and became extinct the earliest. There language was frozen in time and resembles the Indo-European language the most.

The Tocharians were only recently discovered when mummies found in the deserts of China revealed tall European looking people with red hair and tartan like clothing. Their writing was found in Buddhist temple writings. Some believe the Tocharians were a merchant people who had traveled the silk road.Proto-Indo-European was spoken around 4,500 BC in the Pontic-Caspian steppe – the steppeland stretching from Moldova and western Ukraine across the Southern Federal District and the Volga Federal District of Russia to western Kazakhstan. This image shows a 4,000 BC site of the Trypillian culture near modern-day Nebelivka, Kirovograd region, Ukraine. Image credit: Nataliia Burdo / Mykhailo Videiko.

4000 BC site of Trypillian Culture in the Ukraine courtesy of Sci-news.com

There is debate about where the Proto-Indo-European language began, but many words of plants and animals help narrow it down. The popular belief is that they began on the Pontic-Caspian steppes of what is now Turkey Moldova and Ukraine 6500 years ago. These people were the first to tame the horse and they invented the wheel and cart.

You can go to Archaeology Magazine to read more and even hear a parable spoken in Proto- Indo-European. To translate your own words into Proto-Indo-European you can go to the Proto-Indo-European translator, and the  University of Texas at Austin has the dictionary at Linguistic Research Center.

It is interesting to see how our language began and how it evolved over 6000 years. You will be surprised at how many of these words you will recognize and how many of these 6000 year old words we still use today.

We Were Not Alone

A reconstruction of a Neanderthal female.

National Geographic

So it’s great to think we all came from the same person, the mitochondrial Eve. Maybe we did or maybe we didn’t, but Eve was not the only one out there. We were not alone. Surprisingly, we were only one of at least five subspecies of humans, though scientist have not settled the argument yet of how exactly all these people running around on the earth hundreds of thousands of years ago were related. Were they different species, subspecies, or same species?

Here’s a little tidbit of fact to blow your mind… Neanderthals and ancient Homo Sapiens were more related to each other than we modern humans are related to ancient Homo Sapiens. Which means that even though Neanderthals and ancient Homo Sapiens could breed, it’s possible that we would not be able to breed with our own ancient ancestors.

It’s a well documented fact that we have Neanderthal DNA in our makeup. How it got there is also up for debate. Some hold with the theory that Neanderthals and Homo Sapiens came from the same ancestor while others believe that there was interbreeding.  DNA studies suggest that there were several (at least three) periods of interbreeding. Neanderthals were already in Eurasia when Homo Sapiens packed their bags and headed north and since Neanderthals were all across Eurasia they were met all along the way and across the millennium of years that it took the northern Homo Sapiens to settle in and become Eurasian themselves.

Neanderthals, art work

courtesy of The BBC

Neanderthals have gotten a bad rap since the day they were dubbed Homo Stupidus by Ernst Haeckel. Finally they may be getting the respect they deserve. They lived during a time when Homo Sapians were in the area and scientist are thinking now there wasn’t much difference in the way Homo Sapian and Neanderthals lived. They both created art, both painted thier bodies, both buried their dead, and both had a language. Stone age man has been seen in the past as unintelligent cave dwelling unthinking, unspeaking creatures, but science is proving today that both Homo species were more advanced than we gave them credit for.

Courtesy of Christian Science Monitor

Although Scientist have sequenced the Neanderthal DNA they are still learning exactly what it all means, and how it affects us today. Neanderthals were light skinned, with fair hair and light eyes. They had lived in the north a very long time before the arrival of their southern cousins and had already adapted to the cold and the weaker sun. Did the new arrivals make the same changes once they arrived or did they get their Eurasian features from the Neanderthal? it’s not just features that we may have inherited. Scientist believe that we may have inherited our immunity from Neanderthal, as well as obesity, heart attacks, depression and oddly enough, nicotine addiction. So if you’re having trouble quitting, blame it on your Neanderthal ancestor…

Or did we get it from somewhere else?  In 2008 in a cave in Siberia human remains were found. Their genetic makeup was not Neanderthal or Homo Sapiens. A third human was found, and one that lived during the same period with the other two. They were given the name Denisovans. Here’s the kicker… Although these remains were found in Siberia, genetic studies show that the only people today with that DNA sequence live in the southern pacific Islands of  Melanesia.

Let’s see, we’re up to three human subspecies living on earth at the same time. Now we have to add Homo floresiensis (The Hobbit) found in Indonesia and now there is a new mysterious one also found in Eurasia who interbred with the Denisovans.

So, I’m wondering, will we find out in a few decades that we are not Homo Sapiens after all, but a mixed breed mutt made up of bits and pieces of DNA from many different types of humans who all lived and shared the same world…Something to think about!


Let’s Start at the Beginning


Since this is a blog about the origin of humans and their history through time I thought a good place to start would be as far back as possible, which leads me to Bryan Sykes of Wolfson College, Oxford and this great book he wrote on genetics. The Seven Daughters of Eve explains how all Europeans came from one of seven women based on genetic studies done on mtDNA. This number is contested and some believe there are as many as eighteen haplogroups, with even more additions if you include all people outside of Africa. Although the women didn’t all live at the same time, they do all trace back to one woman, the mitochondrial Eve. Sykes is now studying the nine Japanese haplogroups, none of which coincide with the European groups.

Although many people may have left Africa to travel north, not many of them survived.  The time and place for a successful exit was limited. It is amazing to think that only a handful of women survived all the attempts to travel north to find a better, more abundant life.

You can find more information about Bryan Sykes and his other books here Wolfson