2014 has begun, and already I feel like I’m coughing on the exhaust from the bus leaving me behind. Gotta catch up! Gotta catch– Gotta– Guh.
The classes at ELM — Enrichment of Life Movement — are going to be great. Just need to brush off the syllabus from the spring session, update as needed, and get ready for some fresh new minds to corrupt. Heh, heh. Here he comes, kiddies!
On the writing front, my struggles with the new book continue. About a third of the story is contemporaneous; the rest takes place 12,000 years ago, but not too far away geographically. ‘Course, things have changed a bit in the interim. The temperature around here a dozen millennia back was five to ten degrees cooler and much drier (if there had been a Savannah back then, it would’ve been — are you ready? — pleasant in August). The landscape featured a good deal of open grassland punctuated by oak and pine forests, which all sounds pretty familiar. If you’ve ever driven through south and central Georgia, you know what I mean.
But the biggest difference was the population. It consisted of relatively few people, mostly scattered bands of 20 to 50, which moved from place to place in search of food. I’m guessing they looked for other things too, like entertainment and companionship — things we wouldn’t ordinarily associate with the idea of daily life among the Paleoindian set — and that’s the essence of the new book (working title: Artifacts).
The non-human cast consists of some interesting, but now extinct, critters like the Glyptodont, an armadillo built on the scale of a Volkswagon Beetle. But it didn’t forage alone; there were a variety of other formidable veggie noshers like giant ground sloths, camels, horses, and my personal faves, the mammoths.
Can you imagine what it must have been like back then, having so many magnificent creatures in one place, without fences or moats, or signs reminding us not to feed them? After getting by on squirrels or fish and a tuber or two, it’s understandable that our paleo-ancestors may have hungered for a few thousand slothburgers every now and then. That said, I’m not a member of the “Damned People Killed ’em All” school when it comes to explaining what happened to those big life forms. Africa, after all, still boasts some pretty large and amazing creatures, despite their having to share the continent with a human population that’s been expanding for a long, long time.
One of the things I find most interesting about the topic of paleo-anything is how the experts often hang on to ideas that have been passed down for generations, even if the logic behind them has been discredited. History is studded with examples: Gallileo, Copernicus, Darwin, and Flibnitz to name a few. (Flibnitz? Okay, he was a complete nob, an utter douche canoe, and nobody believed him. But that doesn’t mean he was wrong. Right?)
In 1967, palynologist and geochronologist Paul Martin decreed that “man, and man alone, was responsible” for the extinctions. Lots of people agreed. Lots of people ignored him. Lots more hung on to other explanations, like climate change, disease, and natural disasters, including the 2006 theory that comet strikes wiped the megafauna out.
I have neither the time nor the patience to debate the issue here. I’ve got a book to write, and some part of it, not sure which yet, will address the topic. It’ll also address a more localized question: in lieu of archeological evidence, how likely is it that some of those super-sized critters lived around here (suburban Atlanta, Georgia) 12,000 years ago? Did our ancestors rub elbows with giant tapirs, dire wolves and short-faced bears? How about some of those gigantic tuskers with the Marley-style dreads?
Why the hell not?
And that’s where book ideas come from.