Naïve Anthropology at the Airport

by Ethan Seavey

There was a period in my life when I believed that all humans came from one man. This included his wife Eve. After that followed a period when I believed nothing and I thought that was enough.

I never negated the information that I loved as a child. In Catholic school they’ll teach you that Adam and Eve were factual human beings, and then a few years later, they’ll teach you that Adam and Eve didn’t exist, sure, but it’s an allegory. In fact, as if to dispel any rumors that their story had any basis in fact, they show you that the Bible has two different creation myths: the one with Adam and Eve, and the one where God takes a big nap after making the universe and an abundance of humans. So it doesn’t really matter that it’s a creation myth; that’s not the point. If you pay attention in religion class, you’d know that it means that humans are all connected to one another. If you speak to a stranger and trace your family trees back far enough, you’ll find a shared grandmother who gave birth to both of your families. And her name was Eve.

No, I didn’t believe Adam and Eve were the origin to humanity anymore. I did think the story had the power to bridge gaps between humans who look different from one another (of course, then, I did not know that historically it has had the inverse effect). And I suppose I figured that somewhere along the timeline, a monkey named Eve who must have had a uniquely enormous brain must have reproduced with a monkey named Adam who liked to walk on two feet.

The man I love is studying anthropology and he hates it when I call early hominins “monkeys.” He’d like to step in here and explain that humans are more closely related to chimpanzees (which are not monkeys) and even then our relation is very far removed, by millions of years. It makes me wish some other type of hominin were still living so that he could point to them and explain everything that makes a human unique, what gives us two stories of divine creation and to everything else, one or none.

I’m sitting in the airport. We are waiting for our flight to board. I sit. I watch people go by. People dress themselves very differently at the airport. It’s a good place to observe. There are the [people who dress comfortably], with lots of terrycloth and lightweight cotton, lots of frumpy sweaters, lots of fuzzy boots as well as sandals to be removed for the flight. There are the [people who dress uncomfortably] who sport linen suits and worry about creasing them while tightening their seat belt. And there are the [people who dress curiously], who dress fashionably and gaudily for a space devoid of style and identity.

“When did humans first develop clothes?”

I pester my boyfriend. I do so often, so he’s not annoyed. He says there’s evidence of humans making clothes for 700,000 years. There are many other interesting things he says but it’s hard to think about anything but that number. I don’t much like when he uses a number so big. He knows that I once thought the world wasn’t much older than 10,000 years. To an extent I was right (but that extent is very limited).

“When did humans first develop farming?”

I asked this question a few weeks before the airport. I had been researching early hominins and kept stumbling over those big numbers. Two hundred thousand years; seven hundred and fifty thousand years; two-to-four million years. If humans have been along that long, then surely there were cities before Mesopotamia, right?

He tells me there is no concrete proof that humans developed advanced, permanent civilizations much earlier than 10,000 years ago. To translate these numbers to the human brain (which cannot comprehend numbers so large): if homo sapiens evolved out of Africa 300 years ago, it was only within the past 10 years that they figured out how to farm, build cities, rule over other humans, seize individual identity, develop medicines which would double their lifespan, and destroy the world around them in the process.

This is not to imply that human or hominin societies haven’t been advanced for hundreds of thousands of years, but just that they didn’t sit still long enough to accrue large amounts of property. With more property comes more manpower. With more manpower, humans can defeat other humans to collect even more property.

“Am I more Neanderthal because of my enhanced brow ridge?”

The odds are likely.

I asked him this question after looking in the mirror for a while. I noticed that if I wanted to put eye shadow on the eyelid above my eye, it wouldn’t be seen. That’s because my eyebrows extend like an awning over the storefront of my eyes. I imagine it’s one of the things people notice first about me, because it’s one of the things I use to identify myself in photographs. It is also one of the reasons that people say I resemble my father.

If we trust the facial structure of my face, it resembles a Neanderthal, sure.
If we can trust genetic testing, then I learned a couple years prior that I have relatively strong Neanderthal lineage. It’s a question that opens up the door to more frightening conclusions.

“Am I less homo sapiens because of my Neanderthal-ness?”

No, of course not, he says. The human we see today is some genetic melange of Homo Sapiens and Neanderthal and that small hominin from 30,000 years ago and many more hominins from even further back. Your brow ridge isn’t any more an indicator than the fact that you’re a European human and most European humans have some Neanderthal in their blood. One theory is that humans didn’t really kill off the Neanderthals, they overwhelmed them with population. Humans reproduced with them and soon there were no more Neanderthals.

Who were Adam and Eve? Certainly not homo sapiens, then. They might have been Homo Erectus, which gave rise to homo sapiens and neanderthals alike. They hail from a million years ago, but even they didn’t come from nowhere, of course. To Erectus, Adam and Eve might have been a type of Australopithecus, whose Adam and Eve would have been Ardipithecus from five million years ago. Before that they were likely the same beast as the ancestor of chimpanzees; before that, they were ancient gorillas. Trace it back far enough and Adam and Eve were the fish that crawled out of the sea and the single cells which figured out a way to work together.

Adam and Eve never existed. I knew that a long time ago. Their creation story, though, offers a foot into the door of a world that existed before humans. What did it look like? And why did it change? “Why are humans here? Because some God put us here.” It’s a question that forbid the Occam’s razor: “Why are humans here? Because humans who are now dead once gave birth.”

Why is life on earth? Because life continues to produce more life. It is a force which arrived on this planet 3.7 billion years ago. Creation is unfathomably far away from us. It is hard to say where it came from. It might have been some elements mixing in the air to form the first amino acids. It might have been a single fungus cell which flew through space from another world. It might have been a God who planted the seed of life on Earth to watch it grow.

Adam and Eve were delivered to a world they did not understand. They couldn’t understand the point of it all. Yet, they moved along and started to understand it. They gave names to animals. Through disobeying their God, they found a system that could determine good from bad. With so much uncertainty, they were still able to define themselves.

Life does not understand itself. That is not necessary for its survival. In a world where you are the one born with no understanding of the world, would you, too, disobey the God you were born under in order to understand yourself? You’d be silly to say that you wouldn’t do it, but you’d be sillier to pretend you’d ever really understand. Maybe you can take a bite from the apple, learn all about it, and decide that it’s something you’d rather forget. Maybe God will accept you again, if you decide that it’s easier to know something you don’t really believe than to try to understand something you’ll certainly never know.