This Wednesday in the awakening gathering, the topic of sharing was on walk. It was heartening to see various perspectives on this simple, yet complex act of humanity. In my tern I shared the evolutionary perspective of walking. As the time permit was not adequate and the audience was limited I thought of elaborating it and reach to a wider audience. Hence this story…
Since last two years, I have developed deep interest on the aspect of humanness. We humans, irrespective of our living in different environments, practising different religions and differences in look, show unique oneness, as a single species, and are amongst the newest species of the living world.
The story starts in East Africa’s Savannah about 3.5 million years ago. The environment then was much different from the present. It was akin to today’s Amazon, a lust rainforest, filled with trees of various heights and forms, yet mostly leafy. At that time there were no animals that walked on two legs. Our ancestors were all tree living apes, could see long distance from tree tops, jumped, climbed, howled and all those acts that monkeys do. They were social, lived in bands, similar to ones of our own social behaviour.
But the climate had its own terms and conditions. As the Indian landmass pushed further to the Asian plate, the Himalayas grew higher and higher, eventually changing the course of world’s weather, the birth of monsoon. As a result of this event, the moisture from the Indian Ocean that brought rain to Africa’s east now turned its face to the Indian Subcontinent. With the paucity of rain, the east Africa’s forest turned dry. The tree living apes faced great difficulties adapting to this hostile changing climate. For survival they tried their luck to climb down. They fell and stood, not once, or twice but for millions of times, generations after generations. By the process they became biped. They walked on their two legs, slowly and often rested after walking a few steps. This was the first step of becoming humans.
Walking in Savannah was not always safe. Its vast grassland had turned it into an evolutionary laboratory with thousands of species of animals, both hunters and hunted that had made their home here. Many times, the two legged apes lost their lives to their hunters. But those who survived changed the course of human journey.
One of the best evidences of our ancestors’ earliest walk is preserved in the form of footprints at Laetoli in Tanzania. The Laetoli footprints were formed and preserved by a chance of combination of events, a volcanic eruption, a rain storm, and another ash full. They were discovered in 1976, and dated at least 3.5 million years ago. It was a moment in time, when perhaps a female ape carrying an infant on her hip walked by on her two legs in one of the earliest attempts of walking.
As time advanced, the biped apes became more stable and over a period of million years became another species, a prototype human, which made tools. Eventually, hunting became a major activity of our ancestor. Hunting was not an easy task. It required complex cognitive mapping of the movement of games, seasons, landscape and so on. Most of the wild games of Africa’s Savannah have always been fast runners. So to chase them, the proto-type humans had to run miles and miles under the open tropical sun. Running had a dual advantage. It shaped our feet allowing walking and running smoothly. While running on daily basis, years after years for more than a million year, they lost most of their body hair. Losing hair had yet another advantage. They could keep their body cool through sweating, which the other animals lacked.
Through running and chasing games, eventually they moved out of Africa and reached Asia and Europe. However, most of them ultimately died out. About 200,000 years ago, a few left over among proto-humans in Africa became us, the modern humans and eventually through fighting all odds of prolonged droughts, or severe ice age, they were spread in the entire world.
Colonisation in the world was made possible both through walking as well as navigating. They walked and ran along the courses of Asia’s and Europe’s mighty rivers for chasing games, gathering fruits and finding safe shelters. They became aborigines of Australia, jungle tribes of Southeast Asia, adivasis of India, and pastoral nomads of West and Central Asia. For thousands and thousands of years they carried on hunting and gathering till the time they became agriculturalists, about 10,000 years ago. With agricultural evolution emerged the settled way of life. With settled way of life they found more free time, spurting human creativity in all spheres. Wheel was made as a mode of transport replacing long district walking at least among human elites. But a majority of humans still walked across vast deserts to fetch water or to transport trading goods, in dense jungles for resources exploitation and on the grasslands to chase games or pasturing cattle. All these walking have shaped our cultural roots. However, in a last few decades, most of these walks have come to a halt with the invention of automobiles. We have stopped walking as vehicles of all kinds and forms take care of our travelling.
I do not know what evolution lies before us, but definitely it is alarming as it goes against our body’s designing.