Of Meadowlarks and Close Human Encounters

The interesting thing about science is that we discover all the time that we were wrong. Sometimes, we even admit that we were wrong, and then we rewrite what we know of history. As scientists, this can be a painful process of humility and discovery. For most people on the outside looking in and using some common sense, it’s a matter of duh? Human nature is to boink, freely and often, so why wouldn’t there be ‘ghost DNA’ from species not yet discovered?

The super-archaic and Neanderthal-Denisovan ancestor populations were more distantly related than any other pair of human populations previously known to interbreed. For example, modern humans and Neanderthals had been separated for about 750,000 years when they interbred. The super-archaics and Neanderthal-Denisovan ancestors were separated for well over a million years. (Read more)

I’m going to bet that as time goes on, we discover more than we have – because there is more. The Earth’s surface is vast and major portions of it have felt the footstep of man only lightly. We will learn more, and reshuffle things yet again, and it will go on and on. Even then, we won’t know the whole story. We never will in this life. Which is why we make up stories, and why fiction is so essential to the human makeup. We are an “irrepressibly meaning-making species” and the world we live in has too many loose ends for comfort.

Want to write some really interesting stories? Look up just how many missing persons cases are out there, and once you wade through the ‘missing but we know what happened to them’ and the ‘missing on purpose’ you will get to the truly bizarre of the ones where they just vanished. In places where they ought not to have been able to do that. In shorter times, a matter of moments, than should have been humanly possible.

Humans have wandered all over this planet, and have changed, with time. Somewhat less than you might think, though. Like the meadowlark, which has not changed much in tens of thousands of years. Humans have been walking with woolly mammoths, cave lions, dogs-that-were-not-wolves, and bring their dead to lie in sacred places that they might not be alone even at the end of all things. Homo sapiens, Homo neanderthalensis, Homo erectus, whatever name you want to give them: all humans. Doing human things, like boinking pretty girls they came across while they explored and thereby diversifying the genetic heritage of long-separated families of homo-whatsis. Because that’s how it works.

Science seeks to find answers. And they do find them. But sometimes we wind up cocking our heads a little at the conclusions and wondering if maybe they are just a little slow? Because the storytellers already knew that boys court girls, and then there are babies, and it really didn’t matter if they weren’t the same species, he loves her and even more, he loves that little bundle of joy. The storytellers know. It’s a tale as old as time. She falls for the Beast.

Maybe that’s why romance novels tend to be the bestselling of all the genres, with mysteries a close second. It mirrors the whole experience of mankind on this planet. We fall in love, have babies, sometimes bad things happen we struggle to make sense of… so we write stories about mysteries that have resolution, so as not to look too deeply into the abyss of the unknown among us. And we peer into the sky at the strange cold pinpricks of light so far above us, and we dream about what lies out there and then we write science fiction. Everything we write is human, in the end. The stories that tell of what we are, and what we want to become.

(Header image: the author holding an anthology of romance tales)

26 comments

    1. I can beat that–I wrote a Precambrian Romance for Cirsova #1. Boy meets girl, boy and girl get thrown to a shoggoth, boy and girl kill shoggoth and ride off together on dinosaurs.

      So it’s not historically accurate…

    2. Jean M. Auel beat you to it. If you can call _Clan of the Cave Bear_ et al “romances.” As opposed to erotica with a background of mastodons and cave bears.

      1. The first three aren’t so bad, though Jondalar is a jerk, and I could do with less ‘oooh Ayla, oooh Jondalar’ magic sex. The research in very 90ies, understandably. But they work as stories if you don’t mind lots of worldbuilding and not so much high edge action.

      2. Why I barely got to book four. Started reading with the first one way back in college – which wasn’t erotica at all. Probably wouldn’t be able to read them today without picturing Jondalar as sporting a man-bun…

        1. While browsing Amazon, I once saw what appeared to be erotica With Dinosaurs. [Shocked]

          1. I remember running across that subgenre once, and I have no idea how I ended up there, but it gave me a while of entertainment – me laughing at the very concept, and inflicting the notion on my husband. (Him: -_-; never mind the how; WHY)

            … I haven’t inflicted the notion yet on my son. I think I shall, the next time he tells me about the latest sex thing that is the subject of conversation at his high school.

  1. About my only complaint is the way that “species” keeps flip-flopping in use between “cannot generally interbreed, physically” and “subspecies.”

    I understand the reasons for both, especially for stuff like how they didn’t realize that wolves and dogs could cross with coyotes, then it became “in the wild,” then someone actually started looking at the genetics for all three and discovered that “red wolves” are actually wolf/coyote hybrids.

    I’m sitting back here wondering how the heck nobody noticed it before, because holy cow is the difference between the coyotes I grew up with in Nevada and Washington and the “coyotes” in a lot of other places huge. (A lot of “coyotes” are 90% wolf, but if you classify them as wolves they’re protected. You can shoot them, hopefully before they kill people, if they are coyotes.)

      1. Ring Species are how I found out that the definition didn’t require not being able to naturally breed– there are quite a few little half-breeds that are from opposite ends of “ring species” who bred just fine, they just were not interbreeding regularly when the folks decided they were ring-species species.

      2. IIRC, the fix for that was “do not REGULARLY breed in the wild,” which ran into issues with the whole barred/spotted owl thing.

  2. I don’t think anyone contends lions and tigers are the same species, yet ligers are a thing. Some female ligers are fertile, though you gotta breed them to pure lions or tigers if you want cubs. Seems male ligers are shooting blanks. So far as hominids cross-breeding, I think I’d prefer a Neanderthal chick over a pink-haired, pussyhat wearing feminazi, so I have no prob seeing that as possible, if not likely.

    1. That one was “patched” in the theory when they realized some jenny mules are rarely (about as often as liger males) fertile– so they required that all the offspring usually be fertile with both parent groups and themselves.

      The cool thing with ligers/tigons (sire species goes first) is that they think it’s not a genetic issue making the males sterile, it has to do with the conditions in the womb– kind of like how if you have a cow that births a mixed-sex set, the female will look and develop like a steer. (called a martin, not sure if I spelled it right, though)

      It looks like there hasn’t been a systematic attempt to figure out what breeds with what, other than Wynnewood Zoo in Oklahoma, which apparently proved you can cross a third-generation hybrid to a second.

      This is so cool. ^.^

      Also, you have now triggered my son on to the possibilities of Cool Huge Tigers.
      (Did you know that Ligers are roughly the size of a saber tooth cat?)

      1. They are called “freemartins.” Huxley used that term in Brave New World for the pre-sterilized women.

      2. I know they were big mammy-jammers. I’ve been wondering when some “deplorable” acquires one for the purpose of adding to his bug game trophy collection.. I recall reading a story as a kid about trophy hunters using time travel to hunt stuff like T. Rex. It does not turn out well.

  3. The interesting thing about science is that we discover all the time that we were wrong.

    As a kid, this is what made science so appealing to me. ENDLESS DISCOVERIES AWAIT. Still does. I ended up not going into the sciences sadly (that course of study is expensive) but I still like to read.

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