05 November 2006

Lord of the beasts

[No, it’s not the lion.]

Although we like to fantasise about dinosaurs and humans in a fight to death, dinosaurs were extinct long before humans were found on Earth. According to the established and accepted systems of dating the Earth – in Geological Ages – dinosaurs lived in the Mesozoic Era, somewhere between 248 million years and 65 million years ago (give or take 5 million years). The first humans were found only 2 million years ago or thereabouts.

It is acceptable today to describe or define the first humans as those who, having emerged from the ape species (the hominids), could naturally walk erect on its two legs (a biped). Evidence from fossils, dating between 2.6 million and 1.7 million years ago, points to Africa – particularly East and South Africa – as the earliest source of human life form, called the homo habilis.

The homo habilis – and a younger contemporary, the homo erectus – were really something to talk about. They had a much larger brain than other hominids of the time, and expectedly, greater intelligence. Evidence suggests that they may have lived collectively in groups, uttered gargling sounds which could be believed to be the first ‘words’, and could make stone tools by striking one stone against another, breaking away flakes to get a cutting edge.

This cutting-edge technology allowed the early humans to make weapons, which were used for protection and to kill other animals. Kill they did in such large numbers that many animals became extinct or reduced drastically in numbers. Lions, tigers, leopards… fell in this category. Some fled and survived in the wild as humans began to form colonies and settle down in specific locations.

As lord of the beasts, man promoted only those animals – such as horses, cattle, pigs, sheep, goats, poultry, dogs, cats, and even elephants – which he could domesticate or bring within his control by other means. Others had to take their own chances. In a fight to death, early man ruled over all animals… and lived to tell the tale.

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