Career Options for Early Humans

The recent discovery of the choices offered by my old career counselor, Uncle Ba, certainly brought back memories.

I had always thought I’d follow in my father’s footsteps — well, not the ones that went into the smilodon cave — but Aunt Ja wouldn’t hear of it. “You are not going to end up a no-good stumblebum like him and Tok,” she yelled. “You want to be a drunken, flat-footed, bug-bit, snake-bit hunter-gatherer all your life?”

Well, yeah. It looked like a fine lifestyle, if you could tell the difference between scree and smilodon droppings.

That was the wrong thing to say. In a trice (I’d spent lots of time at the lore-stone, and knew that was one less than a many), she had me by the ear and we marched (well, she marched, I kindof side footed) over to Uncle Ba. He wasn’t my real uncle, but everyone called him that, because he was always giving advice. He was kindof a shaman, lorekeeper, bee-whisperer, who did counseling on the side, whenever one of his spells gave him hives, or vice versa.

“So, young Ska, you are deciding on your future at last. I am glad. Too many seasons have gone by, and soon you would grow too old, and become unteachable — more unteachable.”

He always talked like that.

“You have come at a good time. Our pre-industrial protoeconomy has many openings for a bright, hardworking lad, but you, too should be able to get a job. I have a list here somewhere.” He unrolled a length of bark with drawings on it. Not Lascaux quality drawings, but good enough for us country folk who didn’t live in limestone canyons. Aunt Ja moved in, to counsel me on the counseling.

“There’s a whole range of jobs in the fashion industries,” he said. “You deal with the manipulation of color and form in the creation of shell ornaments, and fine bandeaux for the upper cave set.”

“I think that’s a terrible choice,” said Aunt Ja. “He’ll end up slicking back his hair, like La, and his boyfriends, prancing about with ocher on his nose and complimenting madam on how good she stinks. Besides, look at his hands. Look at his fingers. They’re so fat he can barely get them in his nose. Can you imagine him weaving something as fine as what I’m wearing?”

She was right. I could barely weave a net from bungee vines, I couldn’t tell burnt umber from burnt bone, and the last time I’d played with shells it had taken her two days to get them out of my ears. She was wearing a very nice bandeaux, though, with a matching string skirt, set off by a hyena-tooth necklace and nose-plug.

“Well, what about one of the professions, then? He could be a dentist. Lots of demand for holes drilled in teeth these days, and not just hyena teeth.” So even he had noticed.

Aunt Ja had to think about this one. Reluctantly, she said “I think we have the same problem we had with the weaving. How’s he going to get both those hands and a drill inside somebody’s mandible?”

I thought I might pull it off, work on it outside, then put it back on, the way you did a hat, but decided not to say anything.

“Ok, ok, (what he actually said was ook, ook, but this is a free translation), there’s another professional job he could do. He could be a counselor.”

“Like you?”

“Oh, no, that would be too much competition, and I’m too old and my arm is too weak to take him on as an apprentice. I was thinking of maybe a new field, like mating counselor.” He reached in his bag and pulled out a slightly curved, carved cylinder.

“Absolutely not!”

“Hmmm. Well that just leaves agriculture. Quite the new thing. People are settling down all over to try it. There’s even some specialized niches that need his ….qualities. I mean, he’s too smart to just have a bang-the-rocks-together-guys job. I was thinking of something like a Jiahu grogmeister.”

Did he just say I was smart? Maybe that was to shock Aunt Ja so she wouldn’t notice what that high-sounding job title meant. Since we were down at the end of his list, and she had run out of options, she agreed. Maybe she was overawed by the idea of having someone in the family with more than two syllables in their job description.

So that’s how I got my job. I spend my days wandering about, collecting big baskets full of rice, and honey and hawthorn fruit — and avoiding the rice snakes and bee stings and thorn scratches. I trudge back and put them into this technological wonder called a clay pot (who would have thought that dirt could hold water?), start a fire, so it is hot on the outside and wet on the inside, put my feet up, and wait for industrial things to happen. Then, when it tastes just right, I invite everyone over, and we trade for stuff.

Even Aunt Ja comes, but I can see she doesn’t approve.

Dad would, though.


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