Did you know that 15,000 years ago the American West looked like the plains of Africa?! Lions and cheetahs chased herds of horse and elephant. Camels and giant ground sloths moped around the flat lands. Imagine the American West looking like the Serengeti.
Of course that all changed when Homo Erectus arrived on the scene. We have a pretty predictable habit of elbowing all the other mammals up into the mountains.
Right now I’m on the island of Bali in Indonesia, and around here there’s no room for large mammals like Buffalo or Elephants. However, they do have Komodo dragons, which I haven’t seen yet but plan to. I can’t miss out on my only chance to see real live dinosaurs.
And this part of the world has a remarkable history of exploration and colonization.
Long before humans made it into Alaska and down into North America (around 12,000 years ago), they had already island hopped their way from Asia to Australia (around 40,000 years ago).
THOSE guys were badass. They were some of the first to develop watercraft and explore the uncharted oceans. Essentially they island hopped – from West to East – all the way across to Australia. It was a golden age of successive human population explosions. And what’s crazy is that Australia would not have been visible from where the explorers set out, which means they were just going, casting off into the sea with no idea if they’d find another island, no idea if they’d row off the last cliff of the universe.
And when they reached Australia, they found giant kangaroos, giant pythons, land-dwelling crocodiles, 400 pound ostrich-like birds. Can you imagine? All of these creatures just walking around. And the craziest part is that the animals probably weren’t scared of humans, simply because they had never seen us before. We just showed up. How could they have known?
It’s easy to mourn the loss of a world we’ll never go back to (I’d be a fool to want to live back then). But I’m grateful that I have leaned against a 2,000 year old sequoia giant. I’m grateful that I have seen the bear and moose and mountain goats, the wild oceans and the Himalayas and man’s marvelous skylines from the vantage point of an airplane window.
The Vita-mix universe tosses the earth around on it’s geological spin cycle. I’m living in a polaroid snapshot of a curious events. I’ve got history books that help me see the past, Sci-Fi books written by insanely smart minds that help me see the future, and a 15 minute yoga practice that helps me slow down and discover where on earth I’m actually standing.
7 million years ago, African Apes are branching into four different groups: Gorillas, Chimps, Bonobos and Humans.
4 million years ago humans are walking upright like a bunch of silly wankers.
1 or 2 million years ago Homo Erectus is found in SE Asia. The “Java Man” has literally walked out of Africa and into Europe and Asia. Holy shit! And I call myself an explorer when I fly to Paris, book a hotel, and ride the elevator up the Eiffel Tower.
200,000 years ago these Homo Erectus guys are starting to look like me. If one of those guys got a haircut and put a jacket on, they’d be able to watch Star Wars at the cinema today without causing too much trouble.
50,000 years ago, give or take, you have the sudden “Great Leap Forward.” People go from using crude stone tools to painting in caves and sewing with bird-bone needles. By 13,000 years ago we’ve populated all of the main continents except for Antarctica.
How weird that we were the ones to populate the world, and not the Apes or the Chimps or the Bonobos who all, at one time, crouched at the same exact starting line and waited for the same exact whistle to blow.
One of my favorite explanations for how humans covered the globe comes from E.O. Wilson’s book: Social Conquest of Earth. For the all the concepts that flew over my head, the one that stuck with me was “Eusociality.” It’s a biological term for a species that has an advanced social system. Ants are the poster boys for an Eusocial society. They divide labor, cooperate, store away food, look after the young. Like us, Ants have successfully spread to all the earth’s continents. (Except Anartica but who cares.)
At some point humans stopped being solo hunters and we started sitting around the fire. Some of us cooked while others hunted and others set up camp. Women were able to have more than one child, and children had more than two parents. The fire was synonymous with home; we’d leave for a time, but we’d always return to the fire. We laid awake looking at the stars. Nobody told us what was out there, what flew around up there in the cosmos, so we invented our own mythologies and passed them around the fire. The stars were brighter, the nights were longer, and there was a lot more magic back then.