Skip to main content

I used to think I was pretty smart. Well, I figured I was at least in the upper fifty percent of the population as far as intelligence goes. Part of that, I know was a function of youth, when I didn't yet know what I didn't know. But age has brought humility, and more knowledge, such as the recent discovery of the world's first filling. The owner of this cracked left canine was a 24 to 30 year old man living in southeastern Europe 6,500 years ago. This poor neolithic denticle sufferer must have been in agony. Then some shaman pressed beeswax into the crack in his tooth's enamel (above), and the pain ceased. And the filling lasted 6,500 years, until an Italian scientist noticed it under a microscope. Obviously this stone age dentist was not using the generic version of beeswax.

Anyway, that got me to thinking about two other things. First - beeswax seems have been the stone age gaffer tape. Ancient humans also used beeswax to hold their arrow heads to their arrows. Maybe we should re-label the Stone Age. But, secondly, according to South African archaeologists, other neolithic hungry humans with sticks well on their way to being evolutionary dead ends, improved their odds of finding dinner by using chemical warfare. We know this because of the little sharp sticks recently found in a cave the humans occupied. They are identical to the sticks still used by the San people of the Kalahari desert, to apply poison to their arrows, poison made from a pest of the diamphidia beetle. Modern archaeologists have carbon dated these notched sticks to 44,000 years ago. Now, how did the ancient shaman figure this one out?
*
First they had to notice the diamphidia (above) out of the thousands of other bugs crawling around them, and then they had to notice the even smaller carabid Lebistina beetle, which preys on the diamphidia beetle while both are in the larval stage. Evidently, during the beeswax age, etymologists were as important as computer techs are today – an analogy which got me to thinking about the computer techs who failed to get my wireless working between our office and my wife's lap top in the kitchen. Are modern computer techs that much dumber than ancient shaman?
*
It is hard to imagine an ancient shaman claiming to produce a magic potion which would bring down a gazelle, but didn't. In the hand to mouth existence of hunter-gatherers; one ineffective spell would be grounds for termination. Those that survived must have been pretty savvy. Except – I firmly believe that people have not changed in at least 10,000 years. We have not acquired any original emotional responses to stimuli, and considering the Republican economic proposals, we have clearly not gotten smarter. This means that there must have been as high a percentage of doofus shaman 44,000 years ago as there are doofus computer techs today. And that large percentage of doofuses would explain why it has taken us 10,000 years to get from the invention of agriculture to Birdseye Frozen Peas. The idea of very cold peas took that long to occur to somebody? Individually we may occasionally be geniuses, but collectively, most of the time, we just aren't that smart.
*
Part of the limit to human progress has to do with the combination of talent and available technologies. Can you imagine, before numbers were invented about 35,000 years ago, how many Albert Eisensteins must have been lousy shamans? And how sad to be born into a 21st century advanced society, with the skills needed to be a good shaman. Is that even listed on any of the career placement exams anymore? Of course, a modern shaman could have a very successful career in televised religion. But would it be of any comfort to know you have a talent, but were born 44,000 years too late to reach your full potential? What became of all those born in the 14th century with the talents required to be a really good electrical engineer?
*
Another part of what is holding us back is that most of us follow the rules, we do things the way they have always been done, because most of the time that is what works. But some don't follow the rules. And I think I may have figured out why they do that. I call it my “pigeons on a wire” theory. Ever notice them on a telephone line, usually in a tight line, and close together. Pigeons group that way mostly because of hawks. A hawk, looking for their dinner needs to isolate an individual pigeon. And a flock, even one sitting on a line, does not offer an individual target. So the hawk swoops, hoping to startle the pigeons into scattering, when they can be isolated. And that is why pigeons on a wire group together – to make it harder for the hawks.
*
But look again at the pigeons on the wire. No matter how many there are, a couple are always sitting away from the main flock. Now why are they doing that? Since they are making it easier for the hawks, these “loners” are usually evolutionary dead ends, a gift to hungry hawks with chicks. But, what if some human shows up with a spear or a gun? Will this human aim at the isolated pigeons or at the flock? If the human shoots at the flock and misses the one he is aiming at, he might hit another. So the isolated pigeons have an advantage in the unlikely event of a hungry human showing up with a taste for squab.
*
I suspect this is how personality became a factor in evolution. Being a loner myself, I like this theory. Perhaps you have your own, which displays the evolutionary advantages of someone with your personality. That would be a very human way of looking at the world. Albert Eisenstein, it is said, came up with the idea for relativity in physics, while riding on a street car in Vienna. How many hundreds of thousands of passengers had ridden those same street cars and not come up with that insight, just because they did not know enough about physics? Right there, on a telephone wire or a Viennese street car, is evolution explained. Very unlikely does not mean impossible. Given enough time, in fact, very unlikely means inevitable.
*
We know from the bones in the ground that humans evolved about 2 million years ago. And, it seems, it took us 1, 935,000 years to figure out beeswax would make a good tooth filling. And it took us 1,966,000 years to figure out that grounding up a particular beetle would help bring home a fresh gazelle for dinner. And, it seems, it took us 2 million years to figure out that gravity bends space and time. Does that sound unlikely to you? Because, as a loner, I don't find it unlikely at all. And I just ain't that smart.
- 30 -

EMAIL TO A FRIEND X
Your Email has been sent.
You must add at least one tag to this diary before publishing it.

Add keywords that describe this diary. Separate multiple keywords with commas.
Tagging tips - Search For Tags - Browse For Tags

?

More Tagging tips:

A tag is a way to search for this diary. If someone is searching for "Barack Obama," is this a diary they'd be trying to find?

Use a person's full name, without any title. Senator Obama may become President Obama, and Michelle Obama might run for office.

If your diary covers an election or elected official, use election tags, which are generally the state abbreviation followed by the office. CA-01 is the first district House seat. CA-Sen covers both senate races. NY-GOV covers the New York governor's race.

Tags do not compound: that is, "education reform" is a completely different tag from "education". A tag like "reform" alone is probably not meaningful.

Consider if one or more of these tags fits your diary: Civil Rights, Community, Congress, Culture, Economy, Education, Elections, Energy, Environment, Health Care, International, Labor, Law, Media, Meta, National Security, Science, Transportation, or White House. If your diary is specific to a state, consider adding the state (California, Texas, etc). Keep in mind, though, that there are many wonderful and important diaries that don't fit in any of these tags. Don't worry if yours doesn't.

You can add a private note to this diary when hotlisting it:
Are you sure you want to remove this diary from your hotlist?
Are you sure you want to remove your recommendation? You can only recommend a diary once, so you will not be able to re-recommend it afterwards.
Rescue this diary, and add a note:
Are you sure you want to remove this diary from Rescue?
Choose where to republish this diary. The diary will be added to the queue for that group. Publish it from the queue to make it appear.

You must be a member of a group to use this feature.

Add a quick update to your diary without changing the diary itself:
Are you sure you want to remove this diary?
(The diary will be removed from the site and returned to your drafts for further editing.)
(The diary will be removed.)
Are you sure you want to save these changes to the published diary?

Comment Preferences

  •  I'd rather be lucky than smart (4+ / 0-)
    How many hundreds of thousands of passengers had ridden those same street cars and not come up with that insight, just because they did not know enough about physics?
    that and they weren't Albert Einstein

    Happy just to be alive

    by exlrrp on Fri Nov 30, 2012 at 06:09:57 AM PST

  •  I imagine Shamans used to the same ruse (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    GreenMother

    that's used today. It's your fault, you didn't pray hard enough or you broke some taboo.

    It amazes me that when some athletes win they point to the heavens but when they lose...it's their own fault.

    "The human eye is a wonderful device. With a little effort, it can fail to see even the most glaring injustice." Richard K. Morgan

    by sceptical observer on Fri Nov 30, 2012 at 06:14:14 AM PST

    •  rats, used the same ruse, (0+ / 0-)

      not used to the same ruse.

      "The human eye is a wonderful device. With a little effort, it can fail to see even the most glaring injustice." Richard K. Morgan

      by sceptical observer on Fri Nov 30, 2012 at 06:26:02 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

    •  Sometimes. But read about Modern Shamans in (7+ / 0-)

      the deep S. American Jungles. These men and women are living repositories of amazing knowledge about the flora and fauna in their territories.

      Including knowledge for treatments for things like deep fungal infections of the skin, and various other diseases.

      It seems easy to dismiss these people with all our handheld knowledge, but if all of that were to go away tomorrow, I would through my lot in with the Shamans.

      •  My comment was too flippant. (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        GreenMother

        I have a great respect for Shamans and natural knowledge in general.

        This is what I was referring to.

        It is hard to imagine an ancient shaman claiming to produce a magic potion which would bring down a gazelle, but didn't. In the hand to mouth existence of hunter-gatherers; one ineffective spell would be grounds for termination.

        "The human eye is a wonderful device. With a little effort, it can fail to see even the most glaring injustice." Richard K. Morgan

        by sceptical observer on Fri Nov 30, 2012 at 06:36:44 AM PST

        [ Parent ]

        •  The reference to magic is misleading though (1+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          sceptical observer

          Just because it refers to an unseen process doesn't necessarily mean that it is believed to be supernatural.

          They lack microscopes, not brains.

          Language can be tricky for us, because whatever word that is translated into our word, "Magic" has it's own cultural baggage.

          That's right up there with calling any NonChristian religious art, an idol. It's a pejorative term that reveals built in prejudices and invites assumption rather than fact finding.

          Even modern chemistry and physics evolved from alchemy, and what finally turned this "Esoteric" collection of natural observations into science-- the microscope, and the scientific method.

          It took a long time for humanity to create both. But that doesn't mean that many smart people, or even geniuses before, didn't have  a grasp on incredible insight into the workings of this world, or the cosmos in general.

          Galileo wasn't the first to state that we live in a heliocentric solar system. He was the first to fight for this notion, in a Christian culture, and what helped him was the telescope.

          Eratosthenes however knew this, as did some of his predecessors via observations and geometry. But it was the telescope that finally gave others irrefutable, visual proof that this was the case, and not a disputed argument.

          Look at something as simple as the Teepee. Created by what was essentially, stone age peoples, but nonetheless an engineering feat. It's cone shape, allows for the hot air forced upward, to be pushed back down, because the top is significantly more narrow than the bottom.

          These people didn't write. They had an oral tradition with occasional pictures. And yet someone figured out that hot air rises and that it can be manipulated because this air follows the walls of a structure.

          They knew to treat the hides, not just tanning them, but to grease them or wax them, to make them water proof.

          These seem simple to us, but to a people living hand to mouth, as nomadic hunter gatherers, exposed to weather extremes, these are superb technological innovations.

          If those ideas, came to a man or woman in a dream about spirits, rather than systematically in a lab,  does it make the discovery and implementation any less useful or profound?

      •  yeah, you should expect that (3+ / 0-)

        from people living at ground level with the insects for thousands of years.

        knowledge built up over time, was passed down and was lost forever when war came.

        this cycle has been repeating for who knows how long...

        -You want to change the system, run for office.

        by Deep Texan on Fri Nov 30, 2012 at 06:39:15 AM PST

        [ Parent ]

  •  I like the way your brain works. (8+ / 0-)

    I judge intelligence -- or the ability to survive, anyway -- by how much folks think they know.  The really smart people know how much they don't know -- and will probably never know.  That in itself demonstrates a keen understanding of the full scope of the universe.  And that, to me, is smart.

    (Small note: the word you want is entomologist.)  ;)

    "Throwing a knuckleball for a strike is like throwing a butterfly with hiccups across the street into your neighbor's mailbox." -- Willie Stargell

    by Yasuragi on Fri Nov 30, 2012 at 06:21:12 AM PST

  •  I would humbly point out that: (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    JG in MD, northsylvania
    We know from the bones in the ground that humans evolved about 2 million years ago. And, it seems, it took us 1, 935,000 years to figure out beeswax would make a good tooth filling. And it took us 1,966,000 years to figure out that grounding up a particular beetle would help bring home a fresh gazelle for dinner. And, it seems, it took us 2 million years to figure out that gravity bends space and time. Does that sound unlikely to you? Because, as a loner, I don't find it unlikely at all. And I just ain't that smart.
    You are operating on the assumption that when we find ancient proof of these abilities, that the carbon dates of these individual finds equates to earliest known instances.

    I would offer you that instead these refer to earliest known evidence of said abilities.

    Many things that are being found in Modern Science today, with regards to the "Nature" of the Cosmos have been promoted by various Shamanic notions before. These are discounted outside the realm of religious cosmology because these beliefs lack mathematical proofs and reproducible, verifiable scientific results.

    That doesn't make these statements any less true however. Just that the source is not recognized as credible, from our literate society, to their pre-literate ones.

  •  Smart diary (2+ / 0-)

    The many uses of beeswax - fascinating!

    I've often wondered what I'd do if I was born in another time. And also have concluded that I'm lucky to not have encountered apocalyptic conditions with my mix of skills/talents - I fear I'm not surviving the zombies ;-)

  •  I can understand (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    FourthOfJulyAsburyPark

    how beeswax became glue and filler when people chewed on honeycombs, and how an obviously poisonous bugs and frogs, which were probably consumed to disastrous effect by omnivorous and desperate humans at some point could be used as poisons. The years and years of experimentation with obscure plants and the attention that had to be payed to the results, and all of that memorised and passed down, is truly astounding. Willow bark for example: who was the first person who ate that who happened to have a headache?

    "There's a crack in everything; that's how the light gets in". Leonard Cohen

    by northsylvania on Fri Nov 30, 2012 at 07:26:52 AM PST

Click here for the mobile view of the site