Early Humans Possibly Hibernated (And We Should Too)

Now is the winter of our discontent. Like, seriously, you guys. Between the cold dark days, further isolation, and, even more unbelievable, that we’re running out of shit to watch online, fear of the first pandemic winter has never been higher. Plenty of sources have already offered advice on how to develop the many coping mechanisms you’ll need to brave the long depressing season ahead. But have you considered just crawling into a cave, like a bear, and sleeping for the next three months?

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Many mammals, even some primates, choose to spend the long, barren winters Netflix and chilling, by which I mean lazily hanging out and lowering their body temperature to conserve energy. Until now, anthropologists have assumed that humans never developed this ability to achieve torpor, that Olympic level of procrastination. But a recent study in the journal L’ Anthropologie posits that our prehistoric cousins, Neanderthals and/or Denisovans, may have chosen to laze smart, not work hard, during the harsh winters. 

From data gathered at the Sima de los Huesos (the Bone Pit, the name of a cave in northern Spain and at least three gay bars in the greater Milwaukee area), archeologists have discovered peculiar markings on the bones of the literal cavemen and women who were laid to rest there over 400,000 years ago. Their bones show not only the type of ingrained lesions (bedsores) typically found in hibernating animals like cave bears but also sporadic disrupted bone growth. That usually only occurs when you spend an entire season each year like you’re in an extended Christmas food coma.

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According to the researchers of the paper, this strongly suggests that our distant relatives chose to skip unreasonably harsh winters. And if they can, so can we. We might be even better suited for it because, like detractors of the paper’s theory have noted, early man didn’t have as many motivations to hibernate as we do. For instance, they didn’t have to worry about a major factor in developing hibernation skills: avoiding predators like birds of prey, wolves, or landlords. They were also not in a great position to cope with the ill effects of recovering from torpor. And, sure, hibernating can ironically lead to sleep deprivation -- but what else is new? Or it may affect our ability to remember things. Like you’d want to remember the murder hornets anyway. 

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All of that still sounds better than staring at a sun lamp every minute you’re not a Zoom call for months on end. And there’s even a bright side. Some studies claim hibernation may cause cells to be protected against radiation damage, which is pretty great if the upcoming American civil war turns this winter into a nuclear one. Best of all, you might get to develop a natural butt plug like bears do to keep from pooping. Skipping the worst part of the worst year and not having to worry about another toilet paper scarcity? What’s not to love?

Whenever Cedric is out of torpor, you can find him on Twitter.

Top Image: MJ Boswell/Wikimedia Commons

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