I am currently reading Alice Roberts’ book ‘The Incredible Unlikeness of Being’ about how humans come to be. At one point she says (and please forgive my liberties with the quote):
‘For most of history, Mankind thought himself the pinnacle of creation. Now he believes he is the ultimate purpose of evolution. Evolution has neither pinnacle nor purpose. We are simply one species on an extremely pruned branch of the great Tree of Life.’
What she means by being on a… ‘pruned branch of the Tree of Life’… is that every human species that has ever existed, except for us (Homo Sapiens), is now extinct.
Around 40,000 years ago (a blink of an eye in evolutionary terms – modern humans have been around for about 200,000 years. Neanderthals were around for another 100,000 years before that)….
Around 40,000 years ago, there were at least another 5 unique human species on the planet with us (Homo Sapiens):
Neanderthals in Europe and the Middle East;
The Red Deer people in China;
Denisovans in Siberia;
Homo Floresiensis (the Hobbit people) of South East Asia;
And possibly revenants of Homo Erectus – a common ancestor to all the above human species, who existed for almost 2 million years.
In the short time it took Homo Sapiens to dominate the world, each of those human species went extinct. Perhaps we were responsible. Perhaps we were not. Who knows?
All that now remains with us on our pruned branch of the Tree of Life are: orang-utans, gorillas and chimpanzees.
We share around 96% of genes with chimps and look how we treat them. We experiment on them in laboratories and eat them as bush-meat.
If other species of humans were alive today would we use them as experimental subjects? Would we be civilised and put them into zoos?
It is a sobering to think how we might treat other species of human when we consider how we have treated our own species throughout history.
The way we are going, perhaps one day we will be the only species left on the whole damn Tree of Life, never mind our one pruned branch. And that’s if we’re lucky.