Scientists have discovered that modern behavior by early humans started half-million years earlier than previously thought.
I could have told them that. It was Aunt Ja that started it. Her and Uncle Tok. You see, Aunt Ja was the original domineering mate. We would have called her a diva, if any of us knew how to sing. (I thought we did, but some big shot paleoanthropologist has said that rhythmic grunting was not singing, any more than the slap dance was true dancing.) She was tall, well, tall for a proto-hominid, and her bead string was always just so, to accentuate her hips, and her hair was always stylishly waxed with mammoth dung. When we made camp, she knew exactly where she wanted to sit to chew on the fish sinews, and where the fire should go, and how we should pile the yams and the nuts.
Uncle Tok was, well, a caveman. He was short, fat, and hairy, just the opposite of Aunt Ja. After a hard days hunt, he liked nothing better than to sit back on some hillside, preferably one with a patch of overfermented berries, and watch the hyenas squabble over the remains of some smilodon kill. Him and Dad each had a favorite hyena pack, and they’d make bets on which one would get the head and how far they’d get before the other pack brought them down. If it was a particularly good berry patch, they’d end up yelling advice at the hyenas and flinging chunks of rock at them. One day, they found a really good berry patch, and ended up throwing all their hunting rocks at the hyenas. Then they threw their cutting rocks. They’d have thrown the rocks they used for the slap dance as well, but they were laughing so hard they fell down and forgot to. Then they both were sick, and wandered back to the camp, their arms on each others shoulders, singing (yes, I said singing. Stuff it, anthros.)
So, no rocks meant no cut up game, and maybe no game at all. That meant that Uncle Tok had to make some more if we were going to eat, and Aunt Ja let him know it, in no uncertain terms. She went on about how he wasn’t going to get any yams, any nuts, and any of something else that I wasn’t too clear on until he had made a full set of hunting tools for the group, plus a set of kitchenware for her. She didn’t call it kitchenware, but that’s what she meant. Uncle Tok just stood there, holding his head and nodding when he thought she wanted him to.
Later that afternoon he wandered off, looking for rocks. We kids helped, by running over and pointing whenever we saw a good one. He didn’t seem to appreciate our help. When he came back, he dumped his armload of rocks next to the yams and sat down to eat and knap. That set Aunt Ja off again. Those rocks were going to get in with the yams, and some of the kids would eat them, thinking they were food, and then we’d have another round of kids with tummy troubles. Now, I know the difference between a yam and a rock (you can peel a yam, if you have a sharp rock), but my cousin Tak probably didn’t. That’s why he didn’t have as many teeth as I did.
Anyway, Aunt Ja went on an on, until Uncle Tok got fed up. “Fine,” he said, “I’m moving my stuff over here, and I’m going to use this big rock as an anvil, and you can just go find some other rock to crack your nuts on.” Aunt Ja could see he was steaming mad, and she really hadn’t liked the big rock anyway. It was slanted, and all the nuts kept rolling off. So she said “Fine”, and he said “Fine” again, and then there was no backing out.
And that’s the way the rest of our stay at that camp was. Uncle Tok drew a line in the sand with a stick, and said that all the girls had to stay over there, while all the boys would stay over here and have fun. It didn’t last, of course, but I still remember seeing the little piles of fish bones and flints, and nuts, and yams, each at a different place. Silly idea, but Aunt Ja liked it.
With apologies to Italo Calvino