Today’s topic: science.
I watch The Voice, quasi-religiously. And, so doing I have to suffer through commercials, including those for other NBC programs. On one the newest is a science-fiction thriller called La Brea.
In La Brea, a group of people fall through a sinkhole into a far past (or is it?) This past is populated by scary creatures such as giant sloths. In the same ad where the giant sloths appeared a character said “I think we’ve fallen back into at least 10,000 BC.”
I was all prepared to be outraged about this. “No!” I thought. The Egyptians had a thriving civilization on the banks of the Nile!
Well, no they didn’t. Not even remotely. Egyptian civilization dates to the 4th century BC.
The problem with my outrage turns out to be that Megatherium (giant sloths) did in fact co-exist with humans. As did giant short-faced bears, and Irish red elk, and the last of the saber-tooth cats. (And the wooly rhinoceros! Can you imagine? I find that more impressive than giant ground sloths.) These all died out in the Quaternary extinction event, which went on from the mid-Pleistocene to the beginning of the Holocene era, which began in the mid-11,000s BC. People were around long before that. And had early civilizations before that. (Dogs were domesticated around 12,000 BC, cattle even earlier.) Cave paintings in Altamira date to 36,000 BC.
Clearly, in my trips to the Natural History Museum in DC, I was too hasty to stop and look at the anthropology exhibits. I was too busy charging ahead to the gem and mineral section so that I could look at the Hope Diamond.
I sometimes sneer at the lack of knowledge of civic sometimes shown by MAGA-types. Clearly, I have my own areas of academic darkness. (As a former history major I feel vaguely ashamed.) Not that they have much more knowledge of prehistory than I do, but that maybe me sneering at things like some of the exhibits in things like Creationist museums are not quite warranted. (Displays showing humans with dinosaurs are right out though.)
The world is so much stranger — both then and now — than most people, including myself, can comprehend. We have the opportunity to learn so little of it in school, and some of us turn our curiosity to other, vaguer areas, such as the social history of Britain in the 19th century, or the ways in which current society resembles the run-up to Nazi Germany or the Fall of Rome, take your pick, and cherry-pick your facts to satisfy whatever political points you wish to make. (Not that there are not some parallels, but they are less clear than people believe.)
It’s a lot harder to politicize wooly mammoths and giant ground sloths. Or, to take another current example, octopuses. Octopuses are phenomenal! Just look up John Oliver’s piece on octopuses to see why.
Oh, I suppose you could start a discussion about climate change and the ways in which it is leading to mass extinctions that resemble the Quaternary mass extinction event. It’s an important conversation to have.
But in the meantime, I am just going to marvel at the fact that human beings actually got to see giant sloths. And that an over-the-top (at least judging from the commercials) television show got their facts right.