December 8th, 2009

Been There, Done That....

There's a cave in the rock of Gibraltar, facing the sea, where the very last group of Neanderthals lived. Tony Robinson has a new programme about the history of climate change- and he took us there last night to show us how a species very like our own got wiped out by the weather. It was very sad- poor old Neanderthals- but there was an upside too, because- while the Neanderthals were being thinned out by successive ice ages to the point where they were no longer viable- our human ancestors were riding out the bad weather in the Russian steppes, building huts out of mammoth bones and digging deep pits to serve as larders for mammoth meat. They were also making the world's first art- or at least the first art that has survived- in the shape of those wonderful, big -bellied, full-breasted "Venus" figurines.

The Neanderthals didn't do art. They didn't do trade either. We know this because the objects we find in their settlements were all sourced locally. Human settlements, on the other hand, are full of objects sourced from hundreds of miles away. This is almost certainly a factor in our survival and their demise. We had developed a "social brain"; they hadn't. They lived in isolated small groups; We lived in communities that communicated and interacted and exchanged goods, information and technology.

It's because of things like this- because we're clearly such a resilient bunch- that I refuse to get hysterical about climate change. We've coped with it before; we'll cope with it again. Our earliest ancestors migrated from the forests and grasslands of Ethiopia to the frozen steppes of Southern Russia and not only dealt with the radical change of environment but thrived. Maybe the earth is warming, maybe we're helping the process along, but whatever we do or don't do now this is a volatile planet we're living on and change is bound to come- if not tomorrow then the day after tomorrow- and if we've got half the spirit our ancestors had we'll adapt and make a go of it.