Benjamin Riley Old Family Rivals A Novella of the Genus Homo DESMA 9 - Art Science & Technology - Prof. Victoria Vesna
Between 150,000 and 27,000 years ago, H. neanderthalensis lived in the frigid Europe of the Late Pleistocene. No primitive forebear of H. sapiens were they– the Neanderthals were contemporaries of anatomically modern humans, living in the same time and– late in their history– place. They were more like us than any species seen before or since. They had an advanced tool culture, they could control fire, they wore animal skins, their cranial capacity was actually larger than ours, and they almost certainly had language, culture, ritual, art– the things that make us human. Yet they were still a separate species, robust and stocky, built for the cold, with brow ridges and compact barrel chests. For the humans who would encounter the Neanderthals in their twilight, it was a situation their descendants would only know through fiction of fantastic creatures or aliens, so hauntingly similar to ourselves, yet still distinct and separate. ABSTRACT
Right: Carlton Coon’s 1939 drawing of the Chapelle-aux Saints Neanderthal in modern dress. Coon famously observed that with a shave and a set of clothes a Neanderthal could ride the New York subway undetected. But NB his chinless jaw, the forward projection of his face, heavy brow, etc. This project explores our relationship with our cousins in the genus Homo . The Neanderthals died out tens of thousands of years ago, leaving the species we perhaps had the most to share with unknowable in many ways. We still don’t even know why they died. Was it just that the cold they were adapted for receded? Or did encroaching humans deprive them or their niche? Or did we just kill them all? Old Family Rivals will utilize prose fiction to both explore this lost familial connection as well as broader issues of scientific ethics, biotech, etc., by telling the story of a team of scientists who resurrect their late cousins. CONCEPT / TOPIC
A novel is, of course, a work of fiction. It is not an authoritative scholarly paper, it can’t be cited, and by definition it is a work of invention. Yet a well-researched novel can still be distinctly educational, and provide a basic framework knowledge and a spark of interest to pursue further, more formal research. My precedents, then, are mainly outside the realm of science. I want to write a work of scientific fiction which does for the pre-history of our genus what novels like George Eliot’s Middlemarch, A.S. Byatt’s The Children’s Book or Possession , or David Mitchell’s The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet do for the years leading up the Reform Act, the Victorian literary world, and 18 th century Dejima. One precedent in the realm of the scientific is Arthur C. Clarke’s sequel to 2001 , 2010: Odyssey Two , the impetus for which was the real-world discoveries of the Voyager Probes. CONTEXT & PRECEDENCE
The hypothetical (and, in truth, rather implausible) situation of the story will also provide a stage for a meditation on the ethics– and efficacy– of science.
IMAGE PROJECT PROPOSAL (3)
The Neanderthals themselves are long gone, but their traces remain to baffle, enlighten, and tantalize us with the fear and wonder our ancestors must have once felt when faced with these familiar strangers in Pleistocene Europe. And these traces aren’t just fossils or stone tools: It’s recently been shown that Neanderthals and humans interbred very early in the history of anatomically modern Homo sapiens , before they’d even dispersed across the continents from Africa. We outlived the Neanderthals, and, tens of thousands of years after this early encounter, we may have even played some role in their demise. But we still carried their legacy into the 21 st century. We may be alone in our genus now, but we weren’t always, and that family connection will stay with us forever. CONCLUSION