Charles Robert Darwin FRS (fellow of the Royal Society) – to give his full title – was the 19th century upsetter-of-the-applecart, who put his observational scientific cat well and truly amongst the dogmatic religious pigeons that had managed to convince the world that humans were designed, created and controlled by a heavenly power who himself was actually a man – at least in the gender sense.
Darwin was born in Shrewsbury, Shropshire – a town so English that it even alliterates with its ‘shire’ or county – in February 1809. The second youngest of six children, and born into a wealthy family, as a youngster Darwin disappointed his parents by showing very little interest in his medical studies, and was far more interested in nature… good lad! When his increasingly impatient Dad enrolled him in Christ’s College, Cambridge, he had hoped that the young Darwin would become an Anglican priest; and it all started snowballing downhill from there…
‘Descent’ though, in the sense Darwin implied it in the title of his 1871 book ‘The Descent of Man’ (‘and selection in relation to sex’ to give it it’s full title; it’s not as racy as it sounds) meant where ‘man’ – as in humans – had come from and how it came to be, not that we were headed downwards, although arguably we have been going that way ever since.
I’m sure most of the people reading this know that Darwin bothered the hell out of the enormously powerful Catholic Church, by figuring out that humans as we know ourselves today evolved into what we call Homo sapiens via natures ultimate game of trial-and-error; natural selection. This was the exact opposite view to those brought up not to question the bible – who were taught that ‘god’ made man – and woman, let’s not be sexist, despite this month’s theme – as a ‘design’, and supposedly a good one.
The reactions from elders of various christian churches varied from calling him the devil incarnate, to trying to convince people he was insane by stating that Darwin thought ‘monkeys’ could spontaneously turn into people overnight.
Were he not so ‘homme’ – and let’s face it, that was one hell of an impressive beard – he may have been dressed as a woman and burned as a witch!
“So then, ‘modern man’ in an anatomical sense seemed to arrive around 196,000 years ago, according to fossil records, and modern behaviours”
However, here’s where ‘they’ managed to stitch up Darwin, and it’s something that comes up regularly in conversation about our origins. Darwin never said that we evolved from chimpanzees, bonobos, gorillas or orangutans… he simply stated that we humans and species I mentioned shared a common ancestor… and a recent one, compared to the common ancestor that all life shared way back ‘in the beginning’.
Likewise, ‘man’ hasn’t strictly come from ‘Neanderthal man’. They were once again a related species, who shared an even more recent ancestor. Where this gets complicated though, starts with the habits of earlier versions of ‘modern human’, known as ‘Cro-Magnons’.
Somewhat typically Cro-Magnons seemed to quite like to indulge in a bit of inter-species ‘fun’, and scientists can’t decide whether Neanderthals became extinct, or were simply bred out of existence… absorbed by ancestral sexual deviance! This would then, in fact make them part of the evolution of modern man… and you thought bed-hopping caused complications these days!
So then, ‘modern man’ in an anatomical sense seemed to arrive around 196,000 years ago, according to fossil records, and modern behaviours; symbolic thought (abstraction), creativity and language – all the things you read Gallery for, naturally – seemed to arrive 50,000 years ago.
We seem to have begun to develop ‘States’ around 6,000 years ago (not that I would suggest Jersey is run by anyone stuck in the past…) beginning with Egypt. Technology has constantly ‘improved’, and the growth of science, discussion, art – and things that help us communicate them – seems to be the next stage of ‘our’ evolution.
Time and space – and the time it took our ancestors to travel across physical space – has always been one of the main factors that affected our development. As the advent of the Internet and other Information Communications Technology has literally changed the way time and space apply to us, it’s very interesting to imagine were we might be in even another 100 years – as long as we can stop fighting over oil and imaginary ‘gods’ that belong in the same pile of ‘history books’ as Thor, Baal, Adonis, Neptune and Zeus…
Wherever we are headed, hopefully there’ll still be people who look back, and remember how ‘man’ got to wherever it is they are!