The human race is like that kid on whatever teen website you hate, you know the one. They’re always going on about how they’re so unique and how all the other species just don’t understand them. Well here at All Over the House we love nothing more than to crush the spirits of hypothetical straw man argument people so let’s take this old argument out the back and do it in once and for all.
It turns out humanity isn’t all that different from other animals, we’re actually just a grab-bag of several traits that we share with a variety of species. Such as…
Humans rose to dominance partly because of our immense brains, which let us think up new ways to be truly, truly awful to everyone and then justify it to ourselves later. We also came to dominate the planet because we have the ability to construct tools; which helps us the important task of developing new ways to be utter monsters to one-another.
Well it turns out we aren’t so different to the rest of the animal kingdom on this one. There’s a species of bird that can sew leaves together to make a nest (we covered this one in a previous article, as you may recall). There’s a species of bird that plays the drums and guess what? Those little feathered guys became musicians to get laid, just like all our musicians did!
Cockatoos are fantastic birds and their music is far better than the noise I can make when I try to play an instrument so I’m not going to make jokes at their expense. Instead, let’s move on quickly because even the cockatoo can’t compete on tool use with the animal that is currently in second place on the tool use evolutionary scale.
In the mid-1980s I recall watching the news with utter fascination as a newsreader related a story I never thought I would hear outside of science fiction: a group of monkeys had entered the Stone Age. Now that news was shocking to me at the time but recent archaeological evidence discovered in Thailand has demonstrated that a colony of macaques in Thailand have been using stone tools for as long as 700 years.
So 100 years before Western Europe entered the Renaissance period, Thai macaques were rushing headlong into their own Paleolithic era and I’m tell you right now guys, once they discover fire, we’d better watch out because they’ll be coming for us.
It’s not just other primates and those incredibly cute little parrots that we have to worry about, either. We have competition on the “you thought that was a human thing?” front from the Proboscidean order, too! What’s a Proboscidea, you might ask? Well it’s a mostly extinct order of animals with one giant surviving species: the Elephant.
It’s a well-documented myth that elephants have their own graveyards. These are supposed to be places where elephants will go off to on their own, in order to die. Elephant graveyards don’t exist; and elephants in fact hold funerals for their fallen friends and relatives, so the idea of an elephant going off on their own to die doesn’t fit with observed behaviour. Instead, the relatives and friends of the deceased will often gather to caress the body of the dead elephant. Elephants have been observed coming back to the bones of long-dead family members to conduct this ritual years after the elephant died.
Although it’s bad practice to try to ascribe certain emotions to animals (it’s actually a bad idea to do it to humans as well, partly because it can lead to misunderstandings but also because you could, y’know, just ask them) but it’s hard not to see this as a clear case of mourning the dead.
Here’s the thing though: elephants aren’t the only animals that do this. Not ones to be outdone by giants with huge noses, our old friends the magpies also take part in funerals. It’s not uncommon to see a group of magpies approach a dead magpie before engaging in ritualistic behaviour around it. Some magpies will even bring grasses or other items and lay them beside the body of the deceased.
Magpies will stand vigil around their fallen comrades, just as some humans do. It’s hard not to see that as a major sign that our own funeral rites aren’t as unique to us as we might think.
Now this one was something of a shock when doing the research for this article and so far we have to admit it’s limited to the homo- order of species but since humans as we know them aren’t the only homos in history, we had to include it. Religion isn’t a unique trait, we share it with the creatures that came before us.
Neolithic cave paintings, often thought to be evidence of ritualism and early religion, have been found in caves inhabited by Neanderthals. Neanderthals are an ancestor species of modern Eurasian humans; so our ancient ancestors believed in some form of religion and we may have had that passed on to us, although it’s also possible that we developed it separately as well since African religions also exist and many African humans don’t have Neanderthal DNA (because Neanderthals didn’t live in Africa).
If Neanderthals are too close to modern humans for your liking, can we also have a small amount of evidence that Australopithecus, one of the earliest known pre-human species, carried stones with humanoid faces on them around with them.
Why? We don’t know and we can’t ask them (it’s not that we’re lazy, it’s just that they died out a long time ago and also, we’re totally too lazy to go and ask them) but given that the Makapansgat Pebble, one of the earliest suggested forms of humanoid art we know of, was found a very long distance from any source of the mineral it’s made from, it was clearly important to its owner.
Parrots talk, kind of. Magpies talk, kind of. That “speech” is more like a repetition of sounds they’ve picked up, however. The term “Parrot Fashion” comes from the fact that these birds will repeat sounds they like, without any real display of understanding what the words mean. That’s not language, that’s just tiny, feathered morons shouting things.
Then there are dolphins. Dolphins communicate with groups of other dolphins using clicks and whistles – you’ve probably heard it before (you’re probably hearing it in your head right now) – but scientists have now also observed that dolphins talk to individual dolphins and that the listening dolphin will wait for the speaking dolphin to make entire groups of clicks and whistles at a time before replying.
What does that sound like to you? We are asking, despite the fact that we won’t be able to hear your answer, because it sounds to scientists like those dolphins are having a conversation. They think that was a display of a language not unlike the way humans understand language.
We’ve long known dolphins were smart and that they were just choosing not to let on to us just how smart they are but now we have actual evidence that they talk about us behind our backs and if that sounds paranoid to you it’s probably because it is. Doesn’t mean it’s not true, though. Watch out for the dolphins, they’re plotting something; we can tell.
Yes, this one surprised us too. Sadly it’s now a well-established fact that young male dolphins seriously don’t like porpoises; a species of whale. There are many recorded sightings of adolescent dolphins ganging up on porpoises and ramming them to death if they can get them corralled. We won’t be sharing any videos of this, for obvious reasons, but we suppose you can look them up if if you absolutely must. You know, if you’re into animal kingdom snuff videos and stuff.
Bottle-nose Dolphins (like that cute little guy, Flipper!) also don’t like spotted dolphins and will regularly harass them; just in case you thought the previous paragraph was all about some kind of dolphin-whale beef being resolved. Turns out it’s not, dolphins are just mean.
Ever paid to swim with dolphins? Were you told it was therapeutic? Well guess what, sucker: you paid to swim with assholes. Slippery, aquatic assholes! No, we’re not jealous, why do you ask?
So there you are. Next time someone comes along talking about how wonderful and unique humanity is and how that is evidence of us being just so super important for the planet, you can point out that pretty much everything we’ve ever thought was great about humanity is actually something at least one other species also does.
You can then follow that up by reminding them that all the bad stuff we do, dolphins do as well. It doesn’t excuse us when we do it (we are all old enough to know better) but it does show it’s not unique to us.
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