Monday, November 07, 2011
Cocktail party theories.
Cocktail party theories are theories you would defend at a cocktail party or a home salon, but which you don’t publish in peer reviewed journals. I have many of them.
I was reminded of one recently. I have for decades – I think I first published it in Galaxy in the 70’s – had the cocktail party theory that humans and dogs coevolved. It goes like this: the same brain areas that needed for a sense of smell are also those needed for smarts. A long time ago humans made a deal with dogs. You keep the sense of smell. We’ll get smart. We’ll watch out for each other’s kids. Thrive.
Evolution goes more by villages and clans than individuals. Villages that have dogs tend to have more kids growing up to have children than villages that don’t. Dogs are an advantage.
What reminded me of this is the discovery, way back in one of the cave picture caves with the buffalo pictures of some 25,000 years ago, there are some footprints that turn out to be from that time. (How they were preserved and how we know how old they are isn’t obvious to me, but it seems to be accepted.) One is the footprint of what appears to be a ten year old human. The other is that of either a wolf or a dog. Since it’s unlikely that the cave painters would be allowing their children to wander back in there and then let a wolf in, I imagine that’s a boy and his dog. From 25,000 years ago. Now I’m going to go pet Sable.
I understand that there is some evidence of human habitation on America prior to the opening of the Siberian land-bridge 25,000 years ago. They are believed to have come along the front of the Atlantic Ice Sheet from what is now France, where the ice sheet then reached. The problem being that they clearly did not rise to the top of the food chain and wipe out all the big predators as the Siberian incomers did. Why could the one do this but not the other?
One possibility that occurred would be that the "French" couldn’t bring dogs with them (at least in sufficient numbers to establish sustainable breeding) and that humans on their own are much less effective hunters than humans + dogs.
I am sure my Siberian Husky would agree with you…
From Cave to Kennel: The Evolution of Man and Dog – WSJ.com,
I’m sure you got this already, but here it is:
For my money, we and dogs co-evolved, or at least European and Asian people co-evolved with dogs. Isn’t it interesting how, about the time our ancestors began associating with dogs, they began beating out the Neanderthals and the Denisovans?
I keep seeing more and more evidence that my cocktail party theory is true: we really are smart because we had dogs to do the smelling, leaving more brain cells to get smart with. Anyway it all fits…
The link gives much valuable detail about the co-evolution with dogs. This link mentions the existence of humans in America prior to the Indians - the facts do not seem to be in dispute though it is not widely discussed.
The other item was a response to an entry he made about research by his daughter into the formation of humanities oldest cities built in what had previously been marshland watered by the Euphrates. It reminded me of what I have done before in relation to hydroponic food growing.
The Iraq marsh may be a last remnant of wetlands that spurred urban evolution.
In his dying moments, Goethe's Faust foresees a happy day when a nearby foul swamp is replaced by green and fertile fields “where men and herds may gain swift comfort from the new-made earth.” He might have had a more benign view of marshlands had he pored over the data gathered by a young archaeologist who recently led the first American archaeological research team to Iraq in a quarter-century. She suggests that cities and civilization didn't rise along riverbanks, as most archaeologists have supposed, but out of swamps, which provided rich animal and plant resources to complement irrigation agriculture and animal husbandry. “Almost everywhere we look,” says Jennifer Pournelle of the University of South Carolina, Columbia, “the biggest and earliest [human settlements] are in that marsh environment.”
Pournelle is on a quest to understand the role of marshes in southern Iraq between 4000 B.C.E. and 3000 B.C.E., when humans first began to live in a network of cities. After a decade of work with satellite and aerial images, she and two colleagues finally got a chance to see the region up close last September, on an expedition with the University of Basra. She presented the team's findings at a meeting in November and hopes to return to Iraq this year.
If she is right, says her former adviser, Guillermo Algaze of the University of California, San Diego, “we may have to rethink how Mesopotamian civilization began.” “It's very intriguing,” adds archaeologist Jason Ur of Harvard University. “She's proposing a radically different environmental context for the first cities.” But additional on-the-ground data will be crucial to convince interested but skeptical colleagues.
Investigating Chinampa Farming http://www.sscnet.ucla.edu/ioa/backdirt/Fallwinter00/farming.html
Re your daughter’s writings on fertile crescent cities being formed on swamps:
This appeared to be how the Aztec empire was built. A small tribe forced to live in the middle of a lake became enormously productive & begat a great nation.
" How the Aztec Empire fed the burgeoning population of its capital, Tenochtitlan, has long intrigued researchers. Most of Tenochtitlan’s estimated 150,000 to 200,000 inhabitants at the time of Spanish contact were not food producers. The system, known as chinampas, of draining swamps and building up fields in the shallow Basin of Mexico lakebeds, was a remarkable form of intensive agriculture that Jeffrey Parsons of the University of Michigan suggests provided one-half to two-thirds of the food consumed in Tenochtitlan.
At the time of Spanish contact, shallow lakes covered approximately 1000 km2 of the Basin of Mexico. Archaeological surveys show that large expanses of the lakes were converted into chinampas."
Jenny has created considerable scientific interest in her theories of marshlands and the origins of civilization. Needless to say I am proud of her.