Let us all thank messy eaters

Researchers at the Arizona State University Institute of Human Origins have found that our species’ first ancestors began to climb down from trees to retrieve snacks they had dropped. Anatomical evidence from the 6-million-year-old fossilized remains of Sahelanthropus peinaó—which was unearthed earlier this year in South Africa and is now believed to be the last common ancestor shared by chimpanzees and modern humans—suggests that the animal frequently descended from the jungle canopy to retrieve food that fell from its hands owing to inattention, overeager eating, or a loosening grasp as it dozed off after a meal.

According to the researchers, everything humans have accomplished as a species—from “colonizing every corner of the planet, to building the Colosseum, to walking on the surface of the moon”—can be traced back to that first human forebear “sweating and breathing heavily as it struggled down a tree trunk” to recover a snack .

At some point in the Miocene epoch, one of the hominids realized that if it wished to continue snacking, it would have to come down from the tree, wander out onto the savanna, pick the morsel up, and put it back in its mouth. This was the impetus for several other key adaptations, including the increased brain size and cognitive capabilities that are the hallmarks of Homo sapiens. They began gradually developing the ability to form abstract thoughts—including planning, problem-solving, projecting into the future, and evaluating alternative options—as they grasped the notion that if they did not retrieve the food they would go hungry. Moreover, complex human emotions, from regret to longing to a desire for remediation, are also said to have begun emerging as humans began to reflect on the meals they dropped.

Speech arose from the grumbling about having to climb down the tree. The hominids’ final shift to becoming an exclusively ground-dwelling species is said to have occurred roughly 5 million years ago when, having finished the snacks they had retrieved, they looked at the trees, realized what a hassle it would be to climb all the way back up there, and opted instead to take a nap on the ground.

Does all this really matter? Not really, but it takes your mind for a moment off the world political situation!  That’s what Epicurus would have advised us to do – if possible.

One Comment

  1. in one of my first grade-school history club meetings, I distributed an article on the subject of our human descent–from the trees. They loved the idea that we came down for a snack. So much better than the Genesis hypothesis.

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