And there but for the grace of the Science-God go we: stuck eating vomit in a world without boobs.
Evolution is a gamble where you lay not only your life, but the existence of your entire species on the table. What's more, it's an absolute crapshoot -- there are any number of pitfalls, dead ends and natural disasters that can boot you out of the casino at any given moment. But far from hating the game, we love evolution, fickle bitch that she is. Because, as humans, we pretty much rode that dumb luck to the top of the world. One meteor here, or a jacked up gene there, and we might well have been challenged or even replaced as the dominant species by one of these silly bastards ...
Lizard people, also known as reptilian humanoids or "the government," depending on your recommended daily pill intake, feature prominently in fantasy and science fiction, where they either serve as some beefcake's sword fodder or rule the world with an iron claw.
If a certain little extinction-level event hadn't turned all the dinosaurs into Exxon executives' paychecks, there's a pretty decent chance that you would be reading this article with your creepy lizard eyes, fondling your crotch with your tail instead of your left hand. (Yes, we know.)
There are a whole lot of different theories on dinosaur evolution, but by far the funniest one, and therefore the one we choose to focus on, is courtesy of paleontologist Dale Russell, and it looks like this:
That is what Troodons, a species of dinosaur, might have ended up evolving into, had they not been space-punched into oblivion. Troodons lived in what would eventually become Canada, and were well on their way to dominating the world before disaster struck. They were two-legged and had a brain proportionally six times larger than that of any other dinosaur. What's more, they had not one but two opposable fingers on each hand, making them the seven-minute abs of the digital arms race.
Obviously, if evolution had decided to put these guys in the driver's seat instead of us, civilization would look quite different. Dinosaur humanoids (or dinosauroids) wouldn't require too much dental care, what with having toothless beaks. Their internal genitalia would render tall buildings, Hummers and other phallic symbols meaningless. What's more, they wouldn't have mammary glands and would feed their young by regurgitating food from their mouths, bird style.
And there but for the grace of the Science-God go we: stuck eating vomit in a world without boobs.
Many, many years ago, a small tribe of people lived on Flores Island. They were a bit different from their primitive cousins, in that they rarely grew over 3 feet tall and had long, nimble arms. Their most distinctive trait was their huge, fuzzy feet.
Sound familiar? The scientist who strolled along a few millenniums later certainly thought so when he found their bones and exclaimed "Holy shit, hobbits!"
That's a true story, by the way. We're not just being goofy, confusing fantasy and history to make it sound more badass -- there really was a race of hobbit humans, and that's what the scientists are calling them.
These human hobbits were neither mutations nor the product of a nutrition deficiency. They were a unique and previously undiscovered hominid species who just happened to be almost identical to Tolkien's most famous creation. Their surroundings reflected their unique nature, too: Upon closer inspection, all of Flores turned out to be a ridiculous fantasy island that contained remnants of rats the size of golden retrievers, komodo dragons so big they didn't really need the "komodo" part and awesome miniature elephant things called Stegodons that the hobbits hunted for food (and certainly must have ridden around on, because wouldn't that have been hilarious?). Of course, such a harsh living environment also ensured that the hobbits themselves weren't of the cuddly Elijah Wood subspecies, but rather had a foot firmly planted in Gollum territory:
There they lived, on their crazy island full of monsters -- hunting, using sophisticated tools and maintaining the kind of complex civilization that shouldn't even have been possible with their brain size. They were doing alright, too, having outlasted Neanderthals by over 12,000 years. At that point, it looked like humans and hobbits were going to be in direct competition to carry forward the proud name of "Homo."
And then the volcano erupted.
The geology of the area indicates that the real-life hobbits never had to take a continent-wide hike to Mount Doom, because their volcano made house calls -- it wiped out Homo floresiensis along with all of Fantasy Island's wildlife in one fell swoop.
Neanderthals are probably what you think of when we say the word "caveman" (well, either that or "Captain"). Their species was so similar to ours, in fact, that they gleefully boned with our ancestors and left a bunch of their DNA all up in our genetic business. Which is actually kind of curious: Neanderthals were physically stronger than us and their brain capacity even rivaled ours. What's more, they matured way the hell faster than Homo sapiens, reaching full adulthood at around 15.
So, not only were they stronger than us and potentially as smart as us, but they had to deal with way less puberty, and were therefore ready to start clubbin' heads and takin' names far sooner than we were. If survival of the fittest was a game of Punch-Out!! we were Glass Joe to their obnoxious spinning Indian guy.
But it didn't quite go that way. In fact, we killed them. Just straight up murdered their fast-developing, super strong, intelligent-beast-man asses, no problem. See, Neanderthals were actually royally screwed by that seemingly bitchin' early maturity thing. High school keg parties notwithstanding, being of legal drinking age at 15 actually has little evolutionary value -- in fact, it's more of a drawback. As we've pointed out before, taking your time to mature isn't a disadvantage; it's a survival trait. Our ancestors chose the sightseeing route to adulthood, and that gave them more time to develop a society. This, in turn, honed their social and organizational skills. Meanwhile, Neanderthals dead-sprinted into humpin' age without really paying attention to what was going on around them. They were plenty strong, smart and fast -- it was just their bad luck that they lived next door to the organized and bloodthirsty abomination that was us.
Science used to think that the Humanity Cake was divided between two known factions: one made up of modern humans and Neanderthals, and the other consisting of Homo erectus, the humorous highpoint of many a biology lesson.
March 2010 changed those views for good, when the X-woman was discovered in a Siberian cave. Well, her finger bone, anyway. Other bits from other individuals followed, but were so scarce that to date we've only found three tiny physical remains: a tooth, a toe bone and a finger bone.
Of course, a mere lack of material has never stopped scientists from sciencing. They analyzed the ever-loving crap out of each bit, and as a result, we have a massive load of information about the girl and her kin, now dubbed Denisovans, after the girl's finding place.
First of all, the tooth they found was far bigger than those of either Homo sapiens or Neanderthals, which means Denisovans were pretty damn huge (or alternately had the kind of buck teeth that were capable of both starting and ending fights).
Denisovans were pretty handy, too -- besides Homo sapiens, they were the only hominids around that might have been using tools and making jewelry. The scientists found some strangely advanced tools and ancient jewelry alongside the X-woman's remains. Although the researchers say they're not yet sure that these were made by Denisovans, their aspirations are betrayed by the loud whoosh of blood rushing to their science boners.
Hey, speaking of boners: We know that Denisovans were on pretty friendly terms with both Neanderthals and Homo sapiens. Sexy friendly.
Denisovans were notorious connoisseurs of sweet loving, and they were pretty generous about doling out humps. The only currently known encounter between Denisovans and the ancestors of modern-day humans is thought to have been a "fleeting encounter" between a group of 50 Denisovans and a thousand or so humans. There followed so much intense, exhaustive, primal banging that people in certain parts of Northern Australia share 4 to 6 percent of their DNA with Denisovans to this day.
Sadly, Denisovans disappeared around the time when Homo sapiens decided we'd had enough of the arrogant way all these other hominids kept existing. And while logic dictates that they went the way of the Neanderthal, we like to think that they were just chased into hiding by angry Homo sapiens spouses and will one day emerge from their giant caves for some good ol' fashioned snu-snu.
When you're told to imagine an alien, you probably picture something like this:
You know -- tiny face, big head, creepy shark eyes, skin like a British teenager. There's a lot of theories on why we picture aliens the way we do. Some say they're a remnant from when we were babies and our facial recognition condensed everything to that simplistic, big-headed visage. Others maintain that they came from a TV show.
According to neuroscientists Gary Lynch and Richard Granger, though, the truth might be a lot simpler. Your ancestral memory might just recognize your funny-lookin' neighbor from a few thousand years ago. Meet the Boskop man:
Named after the South African area where their remains were first located, Boskops supposedly roamed the land a mere 10,000 years ago. Well, we say "roamed" -- chances are that they mainly spent their days at the prehistoric Starbucks, working on their screenplays and scoffing at all the crude monkeys. According to rough estimations, Boskops had a ridiculously huge brain (around 25 percent larger than ours) featuring a massive prefrontal cortex. This gave them an estimated average intelligence quotient of around 150. To put that in context, the average IQ in the U.S. today is 100 points.
Essentially, that means that every one of these big-headed dudes was a Mensa-level genius. A bunch of butt-ugly prehistoric rocket scientists, walking the Earth back when were still trying (and ultimately failing) to domesticate the house cat.
We already know that the big-heads interacted with our ancestors, and at least one ancient burial site features a carefully constructed king-tomb containing a very familiar-looking giant, pointy skull. So, why aren't we all card-carrying Morlocks right now, toiling under the superior brainpower of Boskops?
Two things: One, they may have been so preoccupied with their thoughts that they simply couldn't be bothered to put up any social structure to speak of, which in turn gave them precious little opportunities for procreation (ha! Ancient nerds).
Two, big brains are really only useful when you already have a civilization set up. Before the social network of companies, schools, libraries and caffeinated soft drink manufacturers is firmly in place, a powerful mind is usually the runner up in the Daily Fist and Fang Competition. The theory goes that the Boskops were smart enough to realize this, so, having assessed the situation, they accepted their fate and just sat there, withstanding the great evolutionary wedgie that we Homo bulliens inflicted on them.
Dawn likes to tweet about smashing things. She has a smashing new blog where she also talks about smashing things. J.F. Sargent is a workshop moderator for Cracked and likes to tweet about things that he almost did and Tumblr about things that can never be. Agneeth can be contacted at Agneeth152@gmail.com.
For more on human evolution, check out 5 Disturbing Ways the Human Body Will Evolve in the Future and The 5 Strangest Things Evolution Left in Your Body.