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Homo sapiens is the only species of all the huminids which ever evolved on this planet whose evolutionary fate can be assessed in perspective since he alone has been able to survive to this day and spread out to all the corners of the Earth. In the course of development of the Homo genus the more highly organized branches, races and populations, which were in what we call the mainstream of the evolution, prevailed over their rivals with lower forms of organization or whose organizational forms became even more primitive in the course of their adaptation to different environments (like mountains or tropical forests).
A hallmark of the Homo genus right from the start was its lust for boundless expansion. The logical result thereof was the birth in Europe of a truly unique civilization, oriented at the broadest spectrum of climatic and geographical conditions. Faced with a steady and seemingly endless technical and technological progress of our contemporary society, the obvious questions which springs up in one's mind is: can mankind keep up its traditional strategy much longer and is there some limit to it all? What about some more remote prospects of development of mankind-a time when there will be simply no room left on this planet for any new generations? This problem and its likely prospects are examined by Marianna Kozlova, Cand. Sc. (Biol.), researcher of the Vavilov Institute of History of Natural Sciences and Technology, RAS.
STRATEGY OF ADAPTATION
At the time of major geological transformations in the history of this planet, when conditions of the habitat became extremely unstable, the best chances of survival belonged to what we call universal life forms which happened to be least dependent on the environment. They gave rise to new and higher taxa - types and classes - of organisms.
The same general tendency was manifested in anthropogenesis. In the course thereof and all over the "oikoumene"-the inhabited earth-the local archaic forms of the Hominidae were replaced from time to time by some "newcomers" who were less "specialized" and possessed the potential for further development. As a result present-day humans have turned out to be the least "specialized" organisms on earth, a factor which paved for them the way into all of the ecological niches wherein they settled while preserving their integrity as a species.
One of the most striking examples of such displacement is the disappearance without a trace of the European Neanderthal populations soon after the advent here of humans of the present type-the Cro-Magnons who belong to the same Homo sapiens biological species. This happened 30 to 35 thousand years ago and marked a major turning point in the human evolution. For the past several decades scientists have been pondering over the puzzling question of why did the evolution took the side of the Cro-Magnon man and doomed Homo Neanderthalensis to extinction? (*)
WHERE HAVE THEY GONE?
In the opinion of many anthropologists what they call the archaic Homo sapiens dwelled in Africa more than 100 thousand years ago. Some populations thereof later migrated to Asia Minor where they evolved into the Cro-Magnons who developed their
* See: Yu. Gook, "Why's the Neanderthal Gone?", Science in Russia, No. 4. 1997.-Ed.
Upper Palaeolithic culture (Orignac) which they carried with them across the globe.
The Neanderthals stem from populations which had migrated from Africa to Europe and became adapted to the cold climate of the glacial period. A higher anatomical position of their larynx and a large nasal cavity made it possible for them to breath even cold air and they suffered no excessive losses of body heat thanks to their shorter, relative to the length, or height of the body, forearms and shin, while having broad feet enabled them to walk even through thick snow. It could well be that, as compared with our contemporatires, Neanderthals had better eyesight (this is suggested by the well developed occiput, or rear sections of the brain which contain the visual centers) and a thicker hair cover.
The last European Neanderthals lived in the epoch of the last glacial period which set in 70 thousand years ago together with mammoths, wooly rhinoceroses and polar deers. They became well adapted to their stern habitat and not only in the biological respect, so to say. They also learned to be skillful hunters which, in archeologists's view, is proved by the heaps of bones left from their prey at their camp sites. Neanderthals usually dwelled in caves, covering the entrance with animal hides which they also used for making fur garments.
Archeological finds attest to a high enough level of their intellectual development. These people, for example, were the first in the history of the human race to bury their dead and they also practiced some funeral rituals at that. Finds obtained from their burial sites point to some primitive notions of life after death and they also possessed some beginnings of art.
Thus it would appear that the evolutionary branch of the Neanderthal man was viable enough. But it was interrupted probably because of some clash with alien rivals who belonged in many respects to the more advanced Cro-Magnon populations. These newcomers were indeed better armed than the "natives" as proved by one of their inventions which doubled the effective range of a spear. At the same time the hypothesis of an all-out annihilation of Neanderthals by humans of the present-day physical type clearly holds no water because these latter ones acquired what we call their Neanderthaloid traits only after the initial migration to Europe.
But the original Cro-Magnon populations which appeared in Africa practically did not mix with the more ancient hominids. Anthropologists say that was because of some too serious biological and cultural distinctions, which prevented intermixing and which kept apart Homo sapiens from the more recent representatives of Homo erectus when they came into contact more than 100 thousand years ago. In Europe, however, there apparently existed a different situation with the divide between Cro-Magnons and Neanderthals being not so impassable and providing for some intermixing between the northerners and the southerners. This probably helped their descendants to adapt to the conditions of the post- glacial Europe.
It is of no importance to us that Cro-Magnon man adopted from his predecessors their entire experience of the struggle for survival within a stern natural environment and inherited some cultural achievements. Wild life resources available at that time promoted improvements in the hunting gear and strategy as the main source of livelihood. This also stimulated the development of primitive tools leading to the further expansion of the oikoumene-the inhabited world.
CRO-MAGNONS INHERIT THE LAND
The transition to the Upper Paleolithic was marked by Cro-Magnons spreading not only across the European region, but also in Australia and America which were still linked with Asia by patches of dry land. Hunters of the period ventured even beyond the Arctic Circle and became adapted to the conditions of the tundra as proved by the finds of their sites.
And the spread of the human race all over the world produced definite biological and cultural consequences.
Its adaptation to various niches of environment broadened to a considerable extent the range of variability of nearly the whole complex of morphological and physiological traits of the modern man. What we call local adaptive types took shape, such as "arctic", "highlanders", "continental" and "tropical", which are traceable in different races to this day in the similar living conditions of individual populations. Thus the New World must have been populated more than 30 thousand years ago by people who must have become adapted to the cold climate of the ancient Beringia, which does not exist today, which provided a wide bridge between Asia and America. In other words, what we call the Arctic type was formed in the Upper Paleolithic. Other adaptive types distinguished in present- day mankind took shape later in keeping with populations spreading to various climatic belts and ecological niches.
Beginning from the Upper Paleolithic it seems to make more sense talking about the progressing forms of what we call sociocultural genesis-which was constantly shifting from region to region in approximately the following succession: Asia Minor, Southern Europe, Central and Northern Europe. A transition to a new level of development always occurred within a limited span of time and space in places where there was formed a set of the required preconditions.
Having populated the continents with different natural resources, humans found themselves in different conditions for social development. Factors of the environment could not only accelerate, or retard this process, but also channelled it in certain ways. For example, of central economic importance for civilizations of the Near East were crops like wheat, barley, peas and lentil or lens, and also breeding of sheep and goats, pigs and other livestock. They also domesticated dogs, horses and camels. In America animals fit for domestication turned out to be comparatively few in numbers-mainly lamas, ducks, turkeys and also bees. But as for the New World in general, domestication never had a significant role to play there. Among the crops cultivated there one can mention maize, beans and gourd family plants. All in all, no less than 20 edible plants were cultivated there which later doubled the world agricultural potential.
But there were also other and more important distinctions between the civilizations of the Old and the New Worlds and it is these differences that brought about a situation in which it was Europeans who started conquering American territories and not the other way round. This process was initiated by Christopher Columbus with his discovery of America (*) in 1492. That marked a turning point in the history of mankind.
RUINS OF PAST CIVILIZATIONS
The traditional societies of pre-Columbian America were not oriented at what we call technical and technological development. And also the natives were familiar with metals, - mainly gold, silver and copper-which they used only for ornaments and religious objects. Their tools and implements remained at the Neolithic level with people knowing nothing of things like potter's wheel and used no carriages, probably in the absence of draft cattle. Due to the same reason the natives did not invent the plough and tilled land by hand.
At the same time considerable progress was made in the New World in areas like astronomy, mathematics and philosophy. The bearers of this scholarly knowledge were priests who also possessed the real power in society. In any case, it was religion which turned out to be the foundation upon which there sprung up the ancient civilizations of what we call meso-America with all of their cities and sacred sites. The priests were always claiming for offerings and sacrifices, including human ones, for the appeasement or pacification of their deities. And most of the military conflicts were started with the same aim in mind with the
* See: R. Petrov, "The Way to America", Science in Russia, No. 3, 1992.-Ed.
prisoners not only being turned into slaves, but used for religious sacrifices.
Wars, however, never played there the same role as in the Old World where the development and perfection of military hardware provided a major incentive for progress in general, including the development of European civilization. This covered metal casting technologies, the development of wheeled transport and a whole range of other inventions originally intended for military applications. This kind of social orientation made it possible for the secular state to subjugate religion and embark on what we call rapid technical and technological progress.
In contrast to all that, the traditional social systems in the New World strove neither towards modifications in the state order or the development of what we call the means of production in general. Scientific knowledge, which mainly served the interests of the priesthood, found no practical applications in daily life. That is why when the Spanish conquistadors first set foot in meso-America, or Central America to use the more common term, they found the level of development of these native societies to be a far cry from the European standards. And having practically enslaved the aborigines, the Europeans started setting up their own order, demolishing heathen temples and replacing them with Catholic churches in a bid to wipe out all traces of the alien cults and destroying into the bargain the ancient culture of the aborigines.
Later still Europeans found their way to North America where the British, Dutch and French started to settle from the 17th century. Thus the natural cause of cultural development of the New World was forcibly interrupted, and it was but several European powers which divided between themselves the two continents together with the neighbouring islands. The world situation began to change rapidly, however, with the formation of new and independent states, above all the United States, in the place of the former European colonies. The struggle for world leadership and for markets gave new momentum to the technical and technological development. The civilization, which originated in Europe and which engulfed the unique cultures of the other half of the world, became one and the same for both. Later on it also spread to those countries of the Old \\brld which had been still clinging to their traditional lifestyles. By the end of the 20th century even they were pulled into the common system of international market and other kinds of relations.
Right before our eyes the cultural distinctions between nations are now fading away and it looks as though this tendency will lead in future to an obliteration of national borders- something which is already in progress in Europe. Thus the history of civilizations may well terminate in the emergence of just one all-planetary system.
Thus one can say that in the course of its contemporary history the Earth has been conquered twice. First, the Cro-Magnons of the Upper Paleolithic, while discovering for themselves new lands in their search for new
hunting grounds, broadened up the oikoumene to the scale of the whole planet, ousting out in the process all of the ancient hominids, including the European Neanderthals. And then representatives of one of the most technically advanced civilizations of the Old World introduced its achievements into the New World, setting up there states which combined the traits of different national cultures.
WHERE ARE WE GOING?
In the opinion of many scholars, at the dawn of the history of mankind every tribe lived in balance, or harmony, with its environment. The meaning of the Neolithic revolution consisted in a change of this strategy of harmony in favour of a strategy of conquering nature. Starting to exploit nature as a mere resource, society embarked on a path of rapid progress and the progress of civilization turned out to be linked with a degradation of the biosphere.
The more successful was the development of society, the more important became its social organization whose peculiarities are directly related to the shaping of the man of today. As Academician Nikita Moiseev (19IT-2000) pointed out, the progress of mankind since the Upper Paleolithic has been proceeding chiefly through the development of improved forms of social organization. Occupying one and the same ecological niche, different tribes engaged in mutual competition with those of them whose organization fitted best the specific conditions of their existence, displacing out the less adapted neighbors. However, if the latter found themselves in circumstances which stimulated their further development, they managed to achieve rapid progress with the help of new technologies, finally outstripping their formerly stronger rivals.
In the words of the French paleontologist, Pierre de Chardin (1881-1955), man is the hub and peak of evolution, and his emergence as the vehicle of reason in the mainstream of evolution, as the ultimate link in its chain, is quite legitimate. But in accordance with the idea of universal evolutionism, life, including intelligent life, can originate in principle in any point in the Universe where there are suitable conditions for that. And even within our Galaxy mankind can ultimately be not the only race endowed with reason. However, proceeding from the phylogenetic nature of man, his innate striving for expansion and mastering new territories, one can assume that when there is nothing left to conquer here on earth, man, having reached a new level of development, will first master other planets of the Solar system and then proceed to conquer the Galaxy. But will our descendants be able to face up to the fact that this Galaxy is not their sole possession?
Let humans gaze at the stars with anticipation, discerning in them new worlds, let them be and remain the inquisitive primates tormented with a desire to look beyond the horizon. But if they continue to stick to their strategy of limitless multiplication and propagation in the surrounding space, they may find themselves at a dead end. The Earth is not boundless and can sustain but a definite number of people, and the population of this planet continues to grow, having swollen tenfold over the past two centuries. In the past human society was developing in an extensive mode by broadening of the oikoumene. Today all habitable territories are occupied already and mankind, being unable to spread out, is facing for the first time in history problems of overpopulation and exhaustion of natural resources. To be able to cope with these problems the human race must definitely alter its pattern or strategy of relations with the biosphere. And it might well be that in a not too distant future it will have no alternative to building what they call an "ecological society". This new society will have to abandon the ideas of anthropocentrism in favour of ascetic ideals with the spiritual values having dominion over the material ones.
M. S. KOZWVA, "Fate of Evolution", Chelovek (Man), No. 1, 2000
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