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Love in the time of prehistory 07/02/2013 17:50 #50

Love at the times of prehistory

There is an abyss between studying remaining on the surface and really understand and appreciate what you study. It's always worth making the effort to fill this abyss: only then can you love what you are studying and make it become something really good for your life. But how to bridge the abyss? So I do: I look fo elements of interest and emotion. Science also requires emotion to bridge the abyss and fly.

I'll illustrate it with an example that has nothing to do with Physics. But also in Physics I always look for an emotional vision, which motivates me and can infect others. Otherwise, I'm bored. I will speak of Anthropology, as an amateur, inspired by a wonderful book found many years ago on a stand: The dance of the tiger, a "prehistoric novel" written by the distinguished paleontologist Björn Kurtén and extraordinary communicator. While you are there, you also point out another of his books: Our earliest ancestors. See in the picture two drawings by the author that illustrate this book.

In books we read that "only" about 35,000 years ago, during the Ice Age, men of our "species" (Homo sapiens sapiens, also known as Cro-Magnon) from reached Europe probably from Africa. But Europe was already inhabited by another human "species", the Neanderthal man, from a few hundred thousand years. Note well, I have said "species" and "race". Always men, but as different animals. Differences of race are trifles in comparison, we are not really justified to give them so much importance. Well, Neanderthal man soon disappeared. This is what we read, but it leaves chilly and all ends there: we leave Anthropology behind us.

Björn Kurtén turns it into a novel, of love. Everything changes. With imagination we ourselves live in prehistory and the extraordinary and disturbing emotion of Neanderthals seeing the appearance of other humans but so different and with greater skills. As for us would be if extraterrestrial beings disembarked from a flying saucer. All in a world populated by wild animal species now extinct, such as the famous saber-toothed tiger. What a wonderful feeling to think at this incredible meeting of different species, both human. The Anthropology begins to give passion. But there's more.

Why the Neanderthals disappeared in a short time? A fascinating mystery. Kurtén puts forward a hypothesis: all because of Love, already then giving so much joy and so much trouble. Likely? I cannot tell you, but we are in the context of a novel and it does not matter.
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Images from The dance of the tiger by Björn Kurtén

I should not tell you how "it ends", how love may have caused the disappearance of the Neanderthals. But how to be sure that you also find a stand with the book? At this point I'd be wicked if I would stop telling story. Well, the love story is this. A Sapiens falls in love with a Neanderthal, returned. They have children, but they are sterile because their parents are of different "species". How are mules, produced by animals of different species: a male donkey and a female horse. And so, love upon love, the Neanderthal species disappeared in the face of the overwhelming Sapiens.

Well understood, is an outspoken novel. But not foolish. The prehistory becomes living, excites us, it is not only a matter that we "have to" study. Why not devote ourselves Anthropology? Nevertheless, I remain on Physics.

P. Strolin
Professore Emerito di Fisica Sperimentale
Università di Napoli "Federico II"
Complesso Univ. Monte S. Angelo
Via Cintia - 80126 Napoli - Italy

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