IN THE BEGINNING – The Human Story So Far
8 MILLION YEARS AGO
Her ancestors lived in the treetops that once covered
the area. Indeed her relatives still live in the forests of the steamy
lowlands, climbing the branches, eating the soft fruits and grubs; her
way of life is, however, completely different. Hers is a dry landscape
of yellow grass, with brown and black thickets of hardy thorn trees.
The climate is much drier now, and the scenery has changed
considerably. The continent has been moving, gradually splitting the landscape
across with faults, while elongated slabs have slowly subsided forming long,
deep, rift valleys with strings of shallow lakes in their floors. Molten material
has been brought up from the Earth’s interior, and active volcanoes line the
edges of the rift. Grasslands have spread everywhere and there are many clumps
of trees, but no continuous forest.
At the edge of one such clump a small creature drops from a tree to the ground; and then stands upright. He looks around for danger and, seeing none, grunts a signal. The dozen others who drop from the branches and cluster around him include other males, much smaller females (some with babies) and children - it is a large family group.
Food has become sparse in their thicket, and they are moving. Further down the valley a patch of green by a lake holds out some hope. With a confident stride, they march downhill, leaving footprints in the volcanic ash that carpets the whole area from the last eruption. Their stride and their stance show that their legs have developed considerably in the last 5 million years. From permanently-bowed structures only good for climbing trees, their legs have developed into straight limbs that can carry their bodies vertically. Their arms, however, have changed little during that time: they still have the curved fingers for grasping branches, and the shoulder-socket angled upwards allowing a high reach, both features of a tree-living way of life.
If the landscape becomes much drier, though, and the trees more sparse, beings that are better adapted for a ground-dwelling existence will be more likely to survive than this partially tree-living creature, Australopithecus afarensis.
That time is not far off.
Volcanoes still bubble; grassy plains still spread along the rift valleys, but now only isolated umbrella-shaped trees and low thorn thickets break up the yellow of the landscape. Down by the edge of the lake a pack of large hyenas has brought down an animal that looks like a short-necked giraffe with moose-like horns, and are tearing its corpse apart.
In one mass of bushes a number of heavy-looking beasts forage
amongst the thorny vegetation for leaves and berries. If it were not for their
upright stance they would be mistaken for chimpanzees, as they have the same
heavy bodies and the same deep jaws with massive teeth. These also belong to
a species of Australopithecus called Australopithecus robustus, and they are
perfectly at home here as they contentedly chew any piece of vegetable material
Suddenly the nearby grass erupts. About a dozen screeching figures run at the feeders. They look much like the others, but are more lightly built and their faces do not have such a heavy-jawed look. They belong to another species, A. africanus.
The feeders stop eating and snarl back, staring defensively at the newcomers and showing their teeth and gums. They are not to be chased away from their feeding ground. The attackers halt in their assault; their intended victims seem more determined than they anticipated.
The attackers back away slowly, keeping up their aggressive noises and trying not to appear vulnerable, then regroup some distance away. The berries of the thicket are lost to them.
They turn their attention to the hyenas feeding down by the lake and, as a group, charge them. The hyenas are startled by this sudden assault and in a panic they abandon their kill. The attackers gather around the corpse, some of them tearing at the meat while others stand guard, waving sticks and snarling at the cheated hyenas.
These creatures can eat meat as well as plants, and can combine forces in order to procure it. Their larger relatives in the thicket continue munching their berries – meat-eating and co-operative hunting is not for them.
It seems the same place, for the landscape has changed very
little; though the climate is now much cooler. Large chimpanzee-like creatures
still forage for berries amongst the bushes. These creatures, however, are
larger than the earlier berry-eaters, and have very heavy jawbones. Later,
anthropologists gave them various names such as Zinjanthropus, Nutcracker Man,
before deciding that they were members of the earlier A. robustus.
Not far away several very much smaller ape-like beasts, evolved from the earlier A. africanus, carry a dead antelope between them. That is not all they carry: they have stones that have been chipped into edges, points and blades, for these creatures are tool-makers, and as such they have a culture, later referred to as the Palaeolithic, or old stone age. Their scientific name reflects this tool-making skill: it is Homo habilis, meaning ‘handy man’.
The two groups pass very close to one another, but totally ignore each other’s presence. Now they have evolved in such diverse directions, they no longer compete for the same food.
She is a member of the first group of humanoid creatures
to move out of Africa and spread across Europe and Asia. She crouches in a
cave entrance in what will be known as China; but far away, in places that
will be called Spain, Java and Tanzania, there are beings just like her.
If she stood up she would be seen to be very similar to a twentieth-century human, but with a heavier jaw, protruding eyebrows and a flat forehead. Her upright stance gives her species the name Homo erectus.
As she watches the hunters drag home the slain bison, while other females carry back their handfuls of hackberries and pine kernels, her thoughts are only on the food that they bring, and how this food is to be prepared.
Co-operation with others and skills learned from her parents provide her with food. With a stick, she stirs the powdery whiteness in the fire pit before her, uncovering the deep red glow. She adds dry twigs to bring the glowing embers to life. She cannot remember when or how the fire started but hers is the responsibility for keeping it going. It is a heavy responsibility, too, since fire makes the meat tender enough to eat easily, its smoke preserves what meat they do not eat immediately, and its frightening light keeps away the fierce night animals.
She knows that it is her responsibility because the group of 23 who occupy the cave have ‘talked’ it over — not in words but in significant sounds that mean something to those in the group – a long stride on the road to civilization.
A horse develops before him. Red soil from one part of his
stone dish has been applied with a pad of moss to the cave wall to block in
the basic shape. Now he takes soot and smears it along the figure’s back, pointing
up its ears. The same black pigment goes into making the legs and the hooves.
In the confined space, and by the flickering light of his flame, it is difficult for him to stand back and appreciate his work. He knows, however, that he has done it to the best of his ability, and this gives him a deep satisfaction.
Squeezing through the narrow limestone passage towards the cave mouth he passes other paintings. Bulls, reindeer, bison and rhinoceros have been depicted there since long before his time.
He blows out his flame and stands, dazzled, on a limestone shelf looking down the hill at the wooded gorge below. Smoke rising against a far cliff shows where his people live, sheltered against the coming winter blast beneath the overhang.
He belongs to the species Homo sapiens, subspecies sapiens, and there are probably no more than 10,000 like him in the area that will one day be known as central France. Further to the north, on the tundra plains of Germany, his cousins Homo sapiens neanderlhalensis are now extinct, either wiped out in the latest surge of the ice age, or else so interbred with the more successful Homo sapiens sapiens that their characteristics have disappeared in their offspring. It is Homo sapiens sapiens, or Cro-Magnon man, with his artistry and his advanced Palaeolithic culture, who will be the ancestor of mankind to come.
The river valley has always produced the best plants and,
since most food comes from one plant or another, the river valleys of northern
Europe are well settled. With the knowledge that plants grow from seed, the
people of the settlement have gathered seed and planted it in the fertile valley
soil. When the plants are ripe they are cut down with stone-bladed sickles,
and the seeds ground down to flour by rolling them between coarse stones.
What can be done for plants can also be done for animals. On the cold plains to the north people still follow migrating herds of reindeer, so that meat is always available; but the settlers can do better than this. Their animals - their cattle, sheep, goats and pigs - are kept penned near the settlement so that meat, wool and milk are constantly accessible.
As a result, for the first time in history substantial houses can be built, on frames of tree trunks, hewn by the stone implements, walled by dried clay and sticks. Straw, left over from the grain harvest, goes into making the roof. Now there is also time and opportunity for pottery and horn ornaments to be crafted.
It is the era known as Neolithic, or new stone age. The cultivation of plants and the domestication of animals have both heralded this new culture. It will not be long now before the settlers, with their more stable lifestyle and the time to apply their minds to abstract problems, learn to smelt and use metals – first bronze and then iron – and this knowledge will spread throughout most of the populated world.
Lucius Septimus chews his twice-cooked bread at the entrance
of his hide tent, having cleaned his iron weaponry and his armour. Out there,
in the rain, the grey choppy sea that beats against the northern limit of Gaul
is an uninviting sight. The wild Britons of the lands to the north have been
a thorough nuisance, giving constant aid to rebellious Gauls and holding up
the establishment of Roman civilization in these northern lands.
Also, it is said that there is great mineral wealth to be had there. Stories abound of wealthy metal merchants making their fortunes by plying these dangerous waters.
Certainly the military victory achieved there by the late Julius Caesar was small; but the talk is that other invasions are planned. He certainly hopes not. He would rather be serving in newly-annexed Aegyptus at the other end of the empire.
Only the generals and the officers in the big tent at the end of the row know what the long-term plans of the new emperor Augustus are. Lucius merely goes where he is told, and fights where he is told. He feels lucky to be a part of the great nation of Rome: a nation that controls practically the whole world and will do so for ever.
Empire after empire developed around the Mediterranean sea
and spread across Europe, Africa and Asia, clashing with the other empires
found there. Then they collapsed; and usually the culture and technology generated
with each empire collapsed with it.
Eyjolf Asvaldsson understands little of this. He is about to sail home, guided by the stone that seeks the north star. He does realize, however, that places visited by long ships during the summer raids seem to have different histories, and display different ruins.
Almost everywhere in the world shaven men teach the Christian faith and vehemently denounce the sacred names of Thor and Odin; and everywhere the people are adopting this faith - even some of Eyjolf’s own people. In this country, the Arab Kingdom of Spain, is a mixture of religions. Dark-skinned peoples who scorn the Christian religion have been settling here for a long time, alongside Christian people. They worship God in domed buildings, surrounded by spindly towers. What’s more, they are gardeners and poets, and have a technical knowledge that is lacking elsewhere.
Eyjolf’s abiding memory of the last raid is of a tower with sails. Ships, like his own, use the wind; they catch it in their sails and it drives them along. These people, however, use the wind to turn wheels and grind grain.
It is 69 days since they set out from Palos, and all that
time they have been sailing westwards, except for a brief stop for provisioning
in the Canary Islands. Now they have arrived, in India.
Pablo Diego chides himself for mistrusting the captain. There was no way of telling whether or not the voyage was foolhardy. They just kept sailing westwards - totally the wrong direction for India - to the edge of the world, possibly to be enmired by sticky seaweed or eaten by sea monsters. They could tell how far north or south they were, by measuring the angles of the stars, but there was no way of telling how far west they had sailed. Several times he and the crew were on the verge of mutiny.
They were wrong, however, and now here they are, safe beneath the palm trees on the warm beach, while offshore the three proud ships lie resting at anchor. It is the Indians that puzzle Pablo. Evidently this is not the mainland of Asia, but one of the outlying islands, possibly the Japans.
But where are the fabulous treasures, the gold and jewels that have been promised? Friendly or not, the gifts that the Indians bring are rubbish - beads and strangely-coloured birds. Nevertheless, they do have gold rings in their noses; so there is wealth somewhere.
If there is, why are the Indians not using it? They seem to have nothing, living in grass huts and growing strange plants for food. That does not worry Pablo. The captain has said that after a brief rest they will sail around more of these islands. He can be sure that further to the west is the main continent – a civilized continent of civilized people who know what to do with their wealth.
The train rattles out from between the narrow paper houses,
sending up thick clouds of black smoke that settles as soot on the ornate carvings
of the eaves, then coughs its way along the low embankment between the flooded
fields of rice towards the distant cotton mills. If there is anything that
emphasizes the changes that have come to Renzo Nariaki’s beloved Nippon it
is this. He is an old man now and he can still remember his place in the feudal
society of the Tokugawa Shogunate before it was overthrown.
Then, with the civil war and the emplacement of the emperor Meiji, the barbarians who had long been attempting to gain a foothold finally flooded in. They arrived at the request of the new emperor, and changed everything.
They were altering all aspects of society. At least he still had an emperor, but the government was now like that of a place called France. They still had a navy, but run along the lines of the British navy. Their industry was being reorganized into the American style; while the army was no longer the army of the Samurai — it was now like the army of Germany.
The train has disappeared into the dark mills now, ready to pick up a heavy load. The traditional road transport could never have handled the volume of goods now being produced. It is probably like this all over the world, thinks Nariaki. The foreigners are imposing their way of life everywhere.
Or perhaps we are absorbing the foreigners’ way of life?
Time will tell.
|FOREWORD by Brian Aldiss||8|
|INTRODUCTION – EVOLUTION AND MAN||11|
|IN THE BEGINNING||16|
|The Human Story So Far||16|
|8 MILLION YEARS AGO
|3 MILLION YEARS AGO
|2.5 MILLION YEARS AGO
|1.5 MILLION YEARS AGO
|500,000 YEARS AGO
|15,000 YEARS AGO
|5000 YEARS AGO
|2000 YEARS AGO
|1000 YEARS AGO
|500 YEARS AGO
|100 YEARS AGO||19|
|MAN AFTER MAN||22|
200 YEARS HENCE
|Piccarblick the aquamorph
|Cralym the vacuumorph
|Jimez Smoot the space traveller
|Kyshu Kristaan the squatty||29|
300 YEARS HENCE
|Haron Solto and his mechanical cradle
|Greerath Hulm and the future
|Hueh Chuum and his love
500 YEARS HENCE
|Gram the engineered plains-dweller
|Kule Taaran and the engineered forest-dweller
|Knut the engineered tundra-dweller
|Relia Hoolann and cultured cradles
|Fiffe Floria and the Hitek
|Carahudru and the woodland-dweller||48|
1000 YEARS HENCE
|Klimasen and the beginning of change
|The end of Yamo
|Weather patterns and the Tics
|Hoot, the temperate woodland-dweller
|The end of Durian Skeel
2000 YEARS HENCE
|Rumm the forest-dweller
|Larn the plains-dweller
|Coom’s new friend
|Yerok and the Tool||61|
5000 YEARS HENCE
|Snatch and the tundra-dweller
10,000 YEARS HENCE
|Leader of the clan
|Disappearance of the plains
50,000 YEARS HENCE
|Families of plains-dwellers
|The advancing desert
|Schools of aquatics
500,000 YEARS HENCE
|Strings of socials
1 MILLION YEARS HENCE
|Hunters and carriers
2 MILLION YEARS HENCE
3 MILLION YEARS HENCE
|Slothmen and spiketooths||111|
5 MILLION YEARS HENCE
|In the end is the beginning ...||123|