Monday, October 31, 2016

Ancient enemies: man-killers of prehistory

Happy Halloween, readers! The human psyche is full of fear. A lot of fear comes from our vivid imaginations-horror is full of hypothetical situations based on pure fantasy, but on premises that date to real situations and concepts. Murder, disaster, accident, disease-people die from horrific causes. Most monsters are humanoid-people are the leading cause of human deaths. Many of our fears come from animals. Bats are alien-looking, rats carry disease, and arthropods are alien-looking and often dangerous. 

Then there’s the fears dating from actual experiences. History is replete with examples of people by accident or malice coming into conflict with animals.  People have been killed by our own domesticated animals: dogs can be taught to be brutal attackers, and angry cattle, horses, and pigs are more than a match for an unarmed human.  

Then there’s people being killed by wild animals; every day an unlucky person runs into a dangerous animal, are perceived as predator or prey, and dispatched by deadly natural weapons honed by generations of natural selection.  Without technology, a human being is pathetic. We’re bigger than most animals, but the largest predators dwarf us. Our resistance against venom and chemical weapons is just our size alone. Our natural weapons are pathetic: we can barely outrun an elephant on a good day, our strength is feeble, our teeth are small, and our fingers and toes are tipped with sensitive pads instead of hooves or claws. We have no armor or horns or quills, we can’t fly, and are only efficient swimmers with a great deal of effort. 

Now imagine humans without our technology.  No guns,  not even a spear. We were prey.  An enemy could come at any direction, and kill us without a fight. At night, we were blind without fire, at the mercy of nocturnal predators. You could wake up at any morning and you could find a member of your family vanished. In the day, you’d be looking at the grass nervously. Every time you tried to eat or drink you would have to keep your eyes moving and eating as quickly as possible. If you scavenged from a kill, you could easily find yourself the neighboring carcass.  These are the animals we feared. Welcome to my nightmare, my friends; I think you’re going to like it. 

Friday, October 21, 2016

An Overview of Dinosaur Exhibits Part 6: The Carnegie Museum revisited

When you think of timeless fossil museums in the USA, you usually think of places like New York, Los Angeles, and Chicago. You think of schools like Harvard, Yale, and Drexel. You think of places where they’re found like in Texas, Utah, Wyoming, Montana, and Colorado. When you think of the city of Pittsburgh, you think the highlands of western Pennsylvania as the Appalachians cut through the state towards New York. You think of the steel and the coal and the massive factories and sweating immigrants.  You would never connect Pittsburgh with a fossil museum.