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200k-year-old hand art found near a Tibetan hot spring (gizmodo.com)
353 points by Hooke 24 days ago | hide | past | favorite | 155 comments

Found at 14,000ft on the Tibetan Plateau. Very likely altitude adapted denisovans, whose genetic adaptations to living in such low oxygen are still present in modern day Tibetans. Really incredible.

Really amazing. I find this sort of thing absolutely haunting. It's a vivid reminder that there is nothing particularly special about this moment in time: it's only special to us because we're living it. But their present moment was no less vital and immediate and real to them as this moment is to us. And yet, it happened so incredibly long ago!

I had the same feeling when I encountered a beautiful statue of a woman that was created in ancient Egypt. It was in a museum and I lingered at the display case, essentially just gazing into her eyes. Her personality shone through in some undefinable way: it felt like encountering another human being across an incredible expanse of time.

These moments, I find, are very poignant in the way they remind us of our own mortality — but also our deep connection to our ancestors and to the past.

I disagree, there is something special about this moment in time. We're in an insane inflection point of human development. For millions of years things stayed roughly the same. It's really only in the last 10,000 years that stuff has really kicked off, and the last 300 where human development has gone absolutely crazy. There's several existential threats that might destroy civilization over the next few hundred years (eventually a nuke is going to fall into the wrong hands, not to mention climate change etc).

There's a very good chance we're living the most comfortable lives that any creature on this planet will ever experience, past and future. It's truly mindblowing how lucky we are.

> I disagree, there is something special about this moment in time.

Your ancestors all felt the same way. So will your children.

It doesn't really matter what my ancestors felt, it's blatently obvious that there's more going on right now, and faster than 10,000 years ago. Back then, you'd be lucky to see a single revolutionary invention in a lifetime. Now we're seeing them every decade, if not annually.

I don't disagree that my descendents will be justified in feeling the same way, as long as the exponential curve keeps on going and civilization doesn't end.

Is this really true? If someone from 1950s America time-travelled to the present day, is there anything at all that they conceptually couldn't fathom?

Maybe if you transported someone from 1950s China to present-day China, they would be more shocked, but a present day suburban home in 2021 is not all that markedly different than a 1950s home -- and neither is the workplace, the commute, the cars. Mostly replaced paper with screens and tvs with bigger, flatter tvs.

The most conceptually difficult thing would be understanding that wireless telegraphs with cameras are pocket-sized and everywhere.

In the 1950's people technology was still relatively grounded in people's understanding. Any intelligent person in the 1950s could understand how an automobile or refrigerator worked if they wanted to. In present day, people treat technology as magic. It's easy enough to figure out how to use your iPhone to FaceTime someone on the other side of the world, but it's nearly impossible to truly understand how it's done.

Funny you should mention refrigerator because I'm pretty sure barely any non engineer could understand reverse Carnot cycle, let alone electricity on multiple levels of abstraction (current/fields/kirkhoffs laws/electromagnetism)

On the scales we're talking about, I would include the 1950s as "present-day". I would include the last 300 years as "particularly special"

> is there anything at all that they conceptually couldn't fathom?

Well you set the bar artificially high with that phrasing. Is there ever anything people of the last couple thousand years would be literally unable to conceptually fathom? No. We know that from ancient texts, they would be able to grasp anything we have today (even if it might take more elaborate explanation). 1950s Americans, or any citizens around the world at the time, would be more than astounded by 3-4 billion people being essentially always connected on a gigantic, seemingly instantaneous global communications and commerce network. The modern smartphone would similarly astound, what they can do all-in-one and the quality of it (the audio, the video, the music, movies, news, communication, click-button services & purchasing, digitization of money, the quality of digital photographs and how many you can take with no regard for space, it would all astound). Someone from the 1980s would be just as astounded by a recent iPhone, they'd feel like a time traveler.

People in 2007 were truly astounded by the iPhone. It almost felt like a product delivered from the future. It put all industry jaws on the floor and reset the grid for everyone in the tech industry, without exception. Maybe people have now widely forgotten the shock effect it had, I haven't forgotten.

That said, the parent's claim was an exaggeration. We're not inventing/harnessing such extraordinary stuff every year. Maybe a few things of note per decade globally.

CRISPR, cracking the human genome, modern antibiotics, Internet, Web, transistor and microprocessor, software, computers including personal, space flight, powered flight, various engines, electricity and electric light, fossil fuels, nuclear power and weapons, various green revolution outcomes (food production), solar and a few key renewable energy technologies, the commercial/industrial laser, and so on.

There are several dozen things that can be added to that list from the last 100-150 years. A few per decade globally might be a reasonable peg.

> People in 2007 were truly astounded by the iPhone. It almost felt like a product delivered from the future. It put all industry jaws on the floor and reset the grid for everyone in the tech industry, without exception.

This is a large exaggeration. I was there as an adult. It was another cool piece of tech, sure, but come on.

I think it depends who you were. Some people went more or less directly to being always connected to an iPhone from a world of monochrome Nokias and portable CD (or cassette, even) players and the internet being on a PC tower in a separate room of the house, if you had it at home at all. The intermediate steps - laptops, Palm pilots, iPods - were far from universal, at least in my world.

I was already using a PDA by that time (pocket PC), and the technology was already there, so not like it came out overnight. The only thing Apple improved on was the UX.

"The future is already here, it's just not evenly distributed."

Most people were blissfully unaware of the existence of PDAs, much less how they worked or what they could do, and for them the iPhone might as well have emerged perfectly formed from an unspecified bodily orifice of Steve Jobs. The statement "It almost _felt like_ a product delivered from the future" is entirely justified.

> The statement "It almost _felt like_ a product delivered from the future" is entirely justified

Not in the American middle-class, upper middle-class, and wealthy.

who cares about them

People give too much credit to the iPhone. There where a lot of full screen smart-phones before the iPhone

The same with mp3 players before iPod.

Apples hardware and design is OK, but their marketing is in their own league, like for example a company selling flavored water bottles while there's good quality water taps available almost everywhere. They can take something that is already readily available and sell it for 2x the price, and at the same time make people think it's revolutionary.

>> truly astounded by the iPhone.

For some reasons I was not truly astounded at all. I had several smartphones before but I preferred smaller "cool" phones until iPhone 4.

The iphone became for phones what the ipod was for music players. Great device but not really from the future. I bought it for the web browser.

Even today I use my iphone perhaps at 10% of its power mostly for things that I do on my laptop anyway(mail, chat, web browsing) so

I'm actually astounded that I can't hook it to a monitor and use it as a computer/macbook so to me it seems we got stuck in the past.

One of my ancestors father was wealthy. They took long trips over the summer. One year, she came home and they had electricity. One year, they had a telephone. She saw one of the demonstrations of flight by the wright brothers. A global pandemic. No war is good, but I'd put the world wars as particularly bad. She saw people drive cars on the moon, on television!

~1905-1985 was a pretty good run.

Cell phones, the internet, mrna vaccines. There's probably tons of amazing stuff I'm overlooking. I don't think I would trade with Katherine. Although, I wish she was around for a few years longer so I could talk to her when I was closer to being an adult.

I don't think you could find a modern technology that would throw her for a loop. Maybe, but she's a cherry picked example.

Don't forget refrigeration and automobiles. 1885-1985 was an amazing century!

You're responding to a comparison to >10k years ago (8000BC) with '1950s America'?

> it's blatently obvious that there's more going on right now...

Blatantly obvious? Not to me. I'm a technologist (e.g. wrote a bunch of code the results of which you use every day) with a degree in history and in many ways ancient Greece seems more vital than today.

We’ve legit left the planet and put people on the moon. The past hundred years has absolutely been something special in the history of the human race

The person you're replying to seems to argue that the founders of our civilization were more vital than us, who are merely building upon their legacy.

I did say “seems more vital” because I have read a lot of the classics, for enjoyment and instruction, and find a lot of current writing on the topics discussed in classical literature to be derivative at best.

TBF there’s a survivorship bias in older work: the stuff people found useful has been more likely to survive. Also a more modern (i.e. anyone in the subsequent couple of millennia) has to say something new, not just repeat the old. Which is harder to do.

I’m not arguing that the current world isn’t amazing (went to the moon! Reduction in poverty and higher living standard! I’m typing this comment on an iPad!). Simply making the point that it’s hardly uniquely so (and arguably the 2021st century has so far not been the peak of technical or social development).

What is unusual of the current age is the widespread belief that the current times are somehow unusual.

It's a certainty that people in the future will look at us and say "they were merely building the future for us" and "right now is most important, not back then".

We have been saying this forever, and will continue to do so.

Well we are building on their legacy there’s no arguing than that. But I don’t think they’re more vital than us and I do think we are living in a more vital time.

By symmetry of the exponential curve, your ancestors would be just as justified.

I don’t think this is quite right. To take a European example, the ancient Romans discovered concrete, then successor civilizations largely forgot how it worked for ~500+ years. Not all eras of history even had a positive slope to the curve.

Another example of Rome. It took over 1000 years before another city in the world became as big as Rome in its heyday.

I'd put just a bit of water in your wine. You're basing your view on technology and technological output, but in other cultures and times it might be of zero value. Personally that's not what qualifies for a special moment in history (the potential ecological collapse is higher).

Also consider that technology, even in it's most beautiful form, is rarely seen by people. They live in a blur of tamed down ease of use. It's not necessarily an existential enlightenment for them (it also backfires a lot, people are leaving devices to go back to more time outside and sport, look at parkour and people living in the wild for instance)

> Now we're seeing them every decade, if not annually.

Where do you live? The last sorta revolutionary tech I saw in my life was the cellphone, and I strain to see that as actually revolutionary in any meaningful way, to be honest.

Hinge of history. Effective altruism folks look at it mathematicaly. Historians look at it historically. Most humans look at it with their senses.

Seeing revolutionary inventions is not the meaning of life though nor makes our time more precious than others.

I'm not so sure they felt that way. For the average person life was pretty stagnant before the industrial revolution. You lived roughly the same way that your parents did. You used the same tools and techniques in farming. You did mostly the same things socially. You dressed in roughly the same types of clothes (or at least clothing materials).

Historical estimates for GDP per capita put it around $2 per day in 2011 prices. And that stayed fairly constant - it doubled in maybe a thousand years, if at all. Compare that to today: US GDP per capita has nearly tripled in my lifetime.

Politically things might've been just as turbulent back then though. New overlords and all that would be more impactful back then than now.

What major technological advancements like space travel, internet, computers, cell phones do you think the typical person 2000 years ago actually saw and knew about?

The (lack of) inter-connectedness of the world would effect the way our ancestors felt about their moment in time.

Well, that is unclear. Writing from Europe 100-1500 years ago suggests that most people felt quite different about time and did not have the impression the GP espoused. The overwhelming impression seems to be that things had fallen since the end of the (western) Roman Empire; there was a contrast in millenarian movements in the 10th century as the turn of the millennium approached.

However people are not uniformly distributed and such belief does not seem to have been the case in, say, the contemporaneous Arab world.

All that being said: I agree with you that claims that our era is somehow amazingly unique are way overblown.

So will your children

We’ve been on a long upward curve of progress for awhile now, but this isn’t guaranteed to continue forever. The future could be a mad max / book of eli hellscape that may set us back two thousand years.

It’s likely they will all look back at this particular period of a hundred or so years as one of the most pivotal times for at least one really big reason: that’s when we set the climate on a path of destruction

Why not when we invented nuclear weapons and set civilization on the path of destruction? Or when we invented fertilizer and set the wilderness on the path of destruction or when we started applying science and set traditional stabilizing religious cultures on the path of destruction? I know why. It's because you're overwhelmed with your own contemporary culture which has indoctrinated you to believe that particular doomsday prophecy. Other cultures have/had different ones and that will surely continue into the future.

Thanks for the downvote because you disagree that completely disrupting climate norms isn’t a notable event that is very much happening _right now_ and will disrupt future generations significantly. Go read my comment again, I never said it was the _only_ notable event. It is objectively significant. So are nuclear weapons. So are hundreds of other things that make the last 100 years extremely significant in history.

I don't think I have a downvote button. You said "path of destruction". That's the speculation based on current popular opinion. Had you been saying this 50 years ago, you would have chosen whatever the popular path of destruction at that time was instead, having no awareness of climate change.

Don't forget the pandemic. Plenty of people thought there would be some "new normal" we'd be living through for decades. Hell, I'm pretty sure plenty of people still cling to that particular doomsday scenario despite there being readily available, free vaccines. Look at all the dudes walking around outside wearing masks all along west coast cities..

i always come back to the fact that "time travel" wasn't a notion until relatively recently; simply by the fact that so little changed on a centuries-long scale, and traveling through time would essentially place you in precisely the same spot, with the same set of experiences and technologies.

presently, we've the opposite problem: technology advances so quickly it's difficult / near impossible to accurately predict life in five hundred years. (making time travel VERY COMPELLING!)

Stories of time travel in some form or other goes back thousands of years, e.g. Hindu mythology.

it's probably worth splitting the hair between spiritual and "literal" time travel

The stories in question involves literal travel.

In the face of accelerating change, every moment feels like an inflection point, and the past always looks stagnant in comparison. Measured from the baseline of where things are now, the past was so different. Measured from the baseline of how quickly things change now, the past was so slow.

The catch is that it’s true no matter when you say it from, so long as change is accelerating. Exponential growth is my favorite example. Plot y=k^t for any k from t=long time ago to t=T. It will look like y is at an ‘insane inflection point,’ regardless of the T you choose.

Sure if you look at it from a purely mathematical point of view, but we can anchor ourselves to something which is (relatively) constant - the human lifespan. We're one of the first generations to feel the effects of the exponential curve within our lifetimes.

If you plot anything exponential from t=T-60 years to t=T, it'll look just as dramatic now as ever. Try it. Plot Imagine you have some function like population or number of transistors per dollar or something that's exponential. You can model it as y(t) = a * b^(t+c). To look at how it feels when you look backwards, make it relative to what life is like today (aka divide by the "normal" value y(t) to get a function of how it seems looking backwards y(t)/y(T) = b^(t-T).

Let's make a variable for `years from now:` dt = t-T. If we look at the last 60 years, this is just plotting b^dt from dt=-60 to dt=0. It doesn't matter when you look at it from. The last sixty years of exponential growth always looks the same. It's just b^dt from dt=-60 to dt=0, which (being the exact same function) looks equally dramatic from any point.

tl;dr let's make it concrete and plot 1.1^t from 1960 to 2020, and then plot 1.1^t 1060 to 1120. They look exactly the same, even though each just spans a human life time:



I understand how exponential functions work. The graph looks the same relatively when you normalize the axes obviously. From the human perspective, the absolute delta over those 60 years is what matters. If society improved 0.001 "civilization points" it will feel very different to an individual than if it improved by by 1000 points.

A prehistoric hunter-gather saw basically zero technological change within their lifetime.

> From the human perspective, the absolute delta over those 60 years is what matters.

This is what we disagree on. From the human perspective, it's the relative delta that matters, because we look at yesterday's change relative to life today.

But that isn't how humans notice exponential change...

We reside in a "level" of order of magnitude in time and space. Things that happen outside of that level, too big or too small, and we simply can't comprehend them. When something crosses from an order of magnitude below our level, to an order of magnitude above our level, that's when we can perceive it.

A block accelerating exponentially from 1e-10 m/s to the speed of light will look completely stationary until it reaches a level of order of magnitude that we can perceive, probably about 1e-5 m/s.

If I tell you I will give you an exponentially increasing amount of money by 1% every day, it matters a lot to you if I start you at 1e-200 dollars because you'll be dead before you earn a single cent. If you lived to 150, you’d be the richest person on the planet. The absolute amount matters because we are physical beings anchored to a particular order of magnitude that we care about.

You're neglecting the fact that human development is not exponential. Population, for instance increased in its growth rate over the past 1000 years, with a sudden step up due to the industrial revolution. It didn't look the same 1000 years ago as it does today. The growth rate was less than 10% of what it is now. If population was exponential, the growth rate would be constant.

Could it be that in the distant future if you at human history (or even the history of life on Earth) from far enough away to smooth out the little bumps, it turns out that we 20th and 21st century humans are in fact in a pretty unremarkable point along an exponential curve?

If that's true (and I hope it is, because it means things go very well for humanity), we're still one of the first generations to see major change _within_ our short lives. For millions of years, technology and tools stayed roughly the same from generation to generation. I'm 25, and the technological progress since I was born is mind-blowing.

> we're still one of the first generations to see major change _within_ our short lives.

One could argue that people were seeing major technological/scientific/philosophical/cultural changes within their lives at least as far back as the Enlightenment (and I'd argue much further back than that), and what has actually changed is just that the number of people affected by those changes has grown (perhaps exponentially). Likewise in the future the rate of change we're so impressed by now may look laughable, and that's even ignoring the possibility of significant lifespan extension in the future!

Lets accept that the rate of change of technology during the enlightenment was as rapid as the last 100 years (it wasn't but lets accept it) - that was two centuries ago, these prints are 200K years ago, that's 3 orders of magnitude older.

There have been points in our history where technology/knowledge has advanced quicker than the baseline but the last two-three centuries (and particularly the last one) have been exceptional.

Whether that rate of change is sustainable for another century I don't know, I'd like to hope so since it'd mean humans are doing pretty well.

But if you took someone born in 1880 (a century before me) and they lived 90 years they'd have seen the invention of flight, the invention of the motorcar, the electrification of the world, the invention of wireless, the invention of TV, the invention of the internet, the invention of antibiotics, the invention of synthetic materials, the invention of the telephone, the first heart transplant, the invention of the nuclear bomb, the discovery of the structure of DNA and literally thousands of other technologies and discoveries in one human lifespan).

At no other point in human history has a single life span seen so much*.

Only if we populate the galaxy. Which isn't that hard if we try. But even then we lived at the origin of the galactic species. Pretty special.


The Universe is a lot bigger than our galaxy though. Why is it more special to live near the beginning of humans populating the galaxy than, say, living near the beginning of humans populating that new subdivision they're developing out at the edge of my town?

Because the galaxy is a lot bigger than that subdivision, too.

Populating the galaxy isn't that hard? Care to explain?

If you had todays technology and 100 million years to do it it wouldn't be particularly hard. The hard part is getting things done within our lifetime, but that doesn't matter for something like populating a galaxy. Slow ships are just fine, humans can reproduce on the ship. High failure rate and those ships being huge and expensive isn't a problem if you have thousands of years of production to make them.

Probably a lot less time than that if we decided that is what we wanted to do.


The past 200 or so years have included the invention of the lightbulb and the first trips to our moon and other planets. Given how long we’ve been on the planet, I think this is indeed a special time and future historians will always look upon this era that way. They’ll probably refer to it as when humanity started walking, or spoke its first word.

Def, as far as we know, we're just a little slope upward.

And I'm not sure what the Y axis is even measuring.

Just wanted to share my opinion. I'm not sure if the number of existential threads for humanity is now larger than 200k years ago. My take would be it is probably much smallest than even 1k years ago. Nukes will not destroy civilization (it might be horrible disaster on the scale of WW2 but not civ. distruction.). Arguably we are now have better ways to adapt to climate changes and it or meteorite impact. And who knows, in another 100 years we might be an interplanetary species. AI might not be a thread like some suggests, and the up sides to productivity are enormous.

I agree. If you look at, say, Ancient Egypt from the start of the old kingdom to the end of the middle kingdom (a 1000 year period), people's lifestyles changed very little.

Compare the start of the 20th century to the start of the 21st (a mere hundred year period)—the differences are amazing. Air travel, radio and television, computers, cars being universal (in developed countries at least)—the list just goes on, both big and small.

Earth has been around at least for billions of years. Our modern existence is only of about few hundred years. It'd be over estimating ourselves to think that a civilization like us never existed on Earth let alone other planets. As the technology keeps on miniaturizing, there'll be a point at which the verbose existence of technology would largely be no longer there. In that state, if the civilization is reset due to some cosmic incident, a tech civilization like us in far future will think about themselves in the same way. We do read about Atlantis like legend and consider them a myth similarly, we'd be a myth for such future civilization.

I am rereading a novel from French author René Barjavel: “the ice people” on this exact theme. Scientists in the South Pole discover an ancient civilization 900k years old. Its also fun because he anticipates the near future quite accurately from 1968 when he wrote it. Well worth a read. https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Ice_People_(Barjavel_nov...

Plato made up Atlantis.

Even if it were true that societies today are more complex, why is that inherently more special than a time in the past when life was simple? How come so many people today long for a much simpler life, like in the past, as if the past was special? The point is, special is highly subjective and you really should be doubting your own notions of it.

In any case, I think that the original commenter really referred to how there’s nothing so drastically different about the experience of being human in the present and in the past.

https://www.cold-takes.com/this-cant-go-on/ has some interesting ideas that agree with you.

> there is something special about this moment in time.

You completely missed his point. This moment is special to you because you are living it. Not because of the latest i9 chip or flying cars.

I think you could say that about the industrial revolution. However, the events in the past 20 years seem to indicate humanity is moving backwards

>There's a very good chance we're living the most comfortable lives that any creature on this planet will ever experience, past and future. It's truly mindblowing how lucky we are.

The disparity between the haves and the have-nots in this moment in time would truly bewilder anyone in ancient history if they could see whats happening today. There are likely more people living in poverty today than there were 200 years ago, in absolute numbers - not percentage.

In percentage, poverty is probably at its lowest in history.

Thanks to Europeans?

I wonder — what civilisation can we attribute all this progress to?

Romans? British? Or Americans ?

Another interesting data point I'd like to share here is that of multiple stories found mentioned in ancient Hindu texts called puranas (which means historic). These stories talk about humans traveling to far away planets (lokas) wherein the wheel of time moves much slower than on Earth and thus is an indication of ancient Hindu knowledge of the phenomenon of time dilation. For instance, consider this story of King Kakudmi and his daughter [0]:

> Kakudmi's daughter Revati was so beautiful and so accomplished that when she reached a marriageable age, Kakudmi, thinking no one upon earth was worthy of her, went to the Creator himself, Lord Brahma, to seek his advice about a suitable husband for his daughter. When they arrived, Brahma was listening to a musical performance by the Gandharvas, so they waited patiently until the performance was finished. Then, Kakudmi bowed humbly, made his request and presented his shortlist of candidates. Brahma laughed loudly and explained that time runs differently on different planes of existence, and that during the short time they had waited in Brahma-loka to see him, 27 chatur-yugas (a cycle of four yugas, totalling 108 yugas) had passed on earth. Brahma said to Kakudmi, "O King, all those whom you may have decided within the core of your heart to accept as your son-in-law has died in the course of time. Twenty-seven chatur-yugas have already passed. Those upon whom you may have already decided are now gone, and so are their sons, grandsons and other descendants. You cannot even hear about their names.[2] You must therefore bestow this virgin gem (i.e. Revati) upon some other husband, for you are now alone, and your friends, your ministers, servants, wives, kinsmen, armies, and treasures, have long since been swept away by the hand of time."[3]King Kakudmi was overcome with astonishment and alarm at hearing this news.[3] However, Brahma comforted him and added that Vishnu, the preserver, was currently incarnate on earth in the forms of Krishna and Balarama, and he recommended Balarama as a worthy husband for Revati.Kakudmi and Revati then returned to earth which they regarded as having left only just a short while ago. They were shocked by the changes that had taken place. Not only had the landscape and environment changed, but over the intervening 27 chatur-yugas, in the cycles of human spiritual and cultural evolution, mankind was at a lower level of development than in their own time (see Ages of Man). The Bhagavata Purana describes that they found the race of men had become "dwindled in stature, reduced in vigour, and enfeebled in intellect."The daughter and father found Balarama and proposed the marriage which was accepted. The marriage was then duly celebrated.

0: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kakudmi

I know just the feeling you mean. I get it when I read history too, especially biographies that cover a whole life.

I can't remember where I originally read this but once someone suggested that you could also invert this idea for a fresh perspective on the modern world.

If there was a time machine that I could step into to meet these ancient people and ask them about the hand prints they left I would take that trip in a snap! (assuming there is enough fuel in the Delorean to get back of course) In fact I would take that chance to time travel to any period and see what that time was like up close.

While we can't go back and see that, we can time travel to exactly one place. You can look around and see how humans were living in September 2021. Maybe this is the moment stranded time travelers 200k years from now would really like to visit. It was a weird time in human history. Lots of interesting things to observe, questions to ask, and people to meet.

And one could help those people we find today to tell their stories, in a way that will be accessible to people in the future (decades, centuries, or hours in the future).

I noticed the same thing with a Roman marble statue! It was so lifelike, it felt like a real person with personality, draped with delicately light cloth about the shoulders and a keen but still vulnerable look in the eyes. It was hard to believe that it was made over a thousand years ago, and made me feel much closer as a human to both the sculptor and the model.

Each of us feels we are the ones living in a modern age, the past so distant and the future so uncertain.

I got the same feeling reading the "Pompeii wall graffiti". It's not beautiful, but it hit me hard: 2000+ years, and people are the same people! (https://kashgar.com.au/blogs/history/the-bawdy-graffiti-of-p...)

For me it's a stark reminder that while we think of ourselves as smart, well off individuals that have a grip on the world we actually own everything to our scientific knowledge and infrastructure and stripped of that we'd be just as royally screwed as our very remote ancestors were because we aren't even an ounce more intelligent than them.

What was the evolutionary advantage that being able to live at high altitudes 200,000 years ago gave you? There really weren't that many people around so finding land with available food and water doesn't seem like it would be that much of an issue.

One possible argument is that such people would transit high altitudes going between hunting grounds (for example) but is this really enough pressure to produce a genetic advantage like this?

Now nature does tend to want to find niches because having food only you can eat tends to be of more value than having abundant food other people can also eat (eg pandas and bamboo).

But it's not easy for humans to live at 14,000 feet elevation. Animals are scarce. Vegetation is limited (eg trees likely to be conifers).

This is different to just, say, living in Arctic regions as those do have much more available food options (eg fish, migrating game, plants that can grow in the summer) than high altitudes.

Has anyone put much thought into this?

The 'why' is pretty much unknowable. Evolution doesn't push organisms to do new things, it simply responds to existing selective constraints. What we observe is that Humans (even archaic ones) seem to have expanded into virtually every region they could find, regardless of how hospitable it was. This particular set of changes happens to reduce physiological stress at high altitude, so it was preserved in populations experiencing that constraint.

Just spitballing but maybe at that altitude humans tipped some sort of scale where they were more efficient predators of whatever was up there but below that altitude the larger pleistocene megafauna of the time represented a higher predation risk to humans themselves or there was less post kill (scavenger) competition.

High altitude survival probably wasn’t as important as the advantages of efficient oxygen use. Imagine living every day like you blood dope like Lance Armstrong!

Live high/train low is a training method in which athletes live at high altitude and train at low altitude, usually with the goal of improving performance at sea level. The main idea is to reap the benefits of high altitude acclimatization while maintaining the intensity of low altitude training.


> What was the evolutionary advantage that being able to live at high altitudes 200,000 years ago gave you?

Having exclusive use of an ecological niche is pretty advantageous.

> There really weren't that many people around so finding land with available food and water doesn't seem like it would be that much of an issue.

While density was (likely) quite low, so was "productivity", and people were no less territorial, just because you didn't need all that space didn't mean you'd allow other groups to exploit it.

Not an anthropologist, but my first hypothesis would be avoiding other humans (war and predation). Perhaps disease-carrying insects as well.

There are lots of them. In many places in Tibet I've seen them, especially in the old Kham area, they were all over the place. The Tibetans believe it's prove of the depth of meditation that one can put the hand in the rock.

Source: https://books.google.es/books?id=OUhmDQAAQBAJ&pg=PA101&lpg=P...

Thats right, the explanation for these handprints is that Tibetan Buddhist monks have transcended normal human abilities and made handprints in stone. This is for Vajrayana Buddhism or what westerners refer to as Tibetan Buddhism.

Seems unlikely.

It's awesome, But bit disappointed that the artist's impression shows them bare body without any protection from the elements while clearly showing the elevation. They would have obviously had very thick clothing made up of animal fur.

I wonder how high it was 200k years ago.

Edit: another comment mentions the mountains were formed 40-50 million years ago. So I would presume roughly the same height.

Yeah, 200k is not much in geological terms.

The himalayas grow actively and quickly, we're talking of cm/year scale.

So 200kya means the site could have moved 2+km up (assuming a roughly constant growth rate), which is nothing to sneeze at or ignore. There's one hell of a difference living at 4000m versus 2000.

I remembered that fact, too and was wondering about it, how it fits with it. My conclusion was rather, that the growth rate was probably not constant over that time, because yeah, 2km is quite a lot. But others mentioned that this area was quite unchanged.

I am going to investigate..

I don't have an answer, but I would say not necessarily the same height. Mountains do not grow all at once or at a constant rate. For instance, there are some parts of the Himalayas that are currently growing at 1-2 cm/y. It is thus not impossible that this place was several hundred meters lower 200k years ago.

And they’re really young for mountains (which is why they’re so high!)

Would have been closer to 10000 feet back then but incredible nonetheless.

200k years ago, that's incredible, not even the wildest science fiction can imagine what the world will look like 200k years from now

The assumption by some of the scientist is that the handprints were created in the mud and then stones formed. But others question this, could also be created after: https://www.nbcnews.com/science/science-news/art-not-ancient...

It's very common to find handprints in the Himalayas in rocks, they are everywhere.

Hopefully people thinking about us 200k years from now will consider us as primitive as we consider the people from 200k years ago.

Well, not to give away the plot, but two of the things that happen are the Y10k event and then the Y100K event. You’d think people would be well prepared but people are still people—there is a ton more legacy code each time and they don’t know if the fixes will really work until it happens.

probably like Mercury looks today - a ball of fire

Maybe you mean Venus.

Regardless of which - it's a massive over exaggeration. We're not gonna be experiencing fluctuations of 500C+ on the surface of our planet or an atmospheric pressure of 90x+ ours.

Mercury today is ball of fire from one side and ball of cold charcoal from other.

200k is quite a massive time period and the only thing is certain that modern humans would be long dead and most of them would share fate of Denisovans, where most of modern people would not be direct ancestors to people of that distant future. That is a very long time for humanity to exterminate itself to near extinction and achieve the same technological level 3-4 times over again.

Hugely enjoyed The Hunters of Prehistory by Andre Leroi-Gourhan. Such an inspiring introduction to paleolithic archeology, even if it's inevitably a bit dated these days, and it is Eurocentric. Great as an introduction to structuralism too, and philosophy of technics.

This is covered in the article, but: the term art is quite generous here. These may not even have been imprinted intentionally. Fascinating nonetheless.

It doesn't dispute that they were made intentionally - in fact, it says the opposite. (These are carefully made so they don't overlap and they were not produced by locomotion.)

If this is "art" art... is up to everyone to interpret for themselves.

But then again, today you can give yourself a paint enema, squirt it from your asshole all over a canvas and some people will call it art.

> It doesn't dispute that they were made intentionally - in fact, it says the opposite.

> The fossil impressions, which date to between 169,000 and 226,000 years ago and seem to have been created intentionally, could represent the earliest known art of its kind.

> According to Matthew Bennett, a geologist at Bournemouth University who specializes in ancient footprints and trackways, it’s likely that these ancient imprints were intentional.

Emphasis mine.

> But then again, today you can give yourself a paint enema, squirt it from your asshole all over a canvas and some people will call it art.

Jesus, what artist is this a reference to?

The Big Lebowski has a scene not quite like that but in the same spirit: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FuMbc1Q2OQ4.

Parent is unknownOrigin not Jesus.

Whenever I see things like this, I'm reminded of Arthur C. Clarke's novel Childhood's End.


I like to imagine I've been given the device used by the overlords to monitor earth for X years, and I can stand affixed in a position to experience the timelapse as I push "rewind". It would be so cool to watch history unfold this way.

Sounds like something I'd really enjoy. Observing one particular space over time is the concept behind the graphic novel** "Here" by Richard McGuire.

** It's really light on dialogue (and characters for that matter). Way more emphasis on the Graphic part than the Novel part.

Given that the Tibet is particularly cold place, shouldn't these humans wear something to resist the cold? Can humans (or any fur-less animals) survive such cold climate without extra-fat or really good clothes?

Yeah, I can't tell if the clothing is supposed to be historically accurate (what clothing would survive that long?) or whether it's only there to satisfy modern viewers.

Early practitioners of Wim Hof


“These prints, however, are more carefully made and have a specific arrangement—think more along the lines like how a child presses their handprint into fresh cement.” A good reminder of the fact that for all that society has changed we as people haven't really.

It is interesting to see how people seem to intuitively experience joy from changing their environment, in particular when it seems to not serve any direct use.

It leaves me feeling very connected to think that across hundreds of thousands of year, you'll still find humans being humans. Creating handprint art has to be one of the most lasting and quintessentially human behaviors.

Either that or we have changed enough that we are now capable of being creative, in terms of both art and theorizing about prehistory. Personally I think it's the latter.

If we were capable of appreciating art 200,000 years ago, we also must have been incredibly lazy. How could well over another 150,000 years pass before we left signs that we were improving our technology? It doesn't make any sense.

Impressive that this didn't get worn away.

Article states found at 12000'. I wonder how much lower the mountains were, 100k years ago? They are for sure not static. Bet some geologist somewhere should be able to give us a yearly estimate. Interesting.

IIRC the himalayas grow at 1~2cm/year, assuming a constant growth rates 100kya the area would have been about 1km lower, or about 8500ft

Incredible that a child 200k years ago left something behind that we can still see today.

I struggle to imagine what I could do today that someone 200k years from now would find. Any ideas?

Build a massive coil out of stone around a ferromagnetic core, 500 feet high, engrave walls with Maxwell and QM diff equations, so future generations would know that our civilization was built around electromagnetism. In reality, though, they'll think it's a tower of power with inscripted incantations for rituals.

Scratch your name into Hoover Dam? A handprint in wet cement?

Collect plastic drink bottles?

In case anyone else forgot the timeline, I just googled, and there’s evidence going back to ~2 million years ago of huminoids in Eurasia.

Wouldn’t that upend most theories about when the people who left Africa left Africa?

Never mind, new estimates go as far back as 300,000ya.

most of the established timelines are based on "well this is the oldest thing we've found so far". most of it is probably wrong

There are other hominids apart from homo sapiens during those periods. These will probably be Denisovans

No, it's known that Homo Erectus left Africa and colonised Eurasia up to East Asia a bit more than 2 million years ago.

The estimate on when "we" left Africa often means modern humans, Homo Sapiens.

Some of those hand prints are highly distorted. Is that just due to the topology of the rock?

Or the fact that these have been slowly eroded over 200,000 years.

Hello message from the ancestors!

Oldest "Hello world!" ever

More like a dirty joke, surely.

Any chance they could recover some DNA?

> A study of DNA extracted from the leg bones of extinct moa birds in New Zealand found that the half-life of DNA is 521 years. [1]

So at most ~5.6% of DNA could have survived. It would be interesting if researchers would be able to detect a fraction of that amount, but it seems implausible.

[1] https://www.sciencefocus.com/the-human-body/how-long-does-dn... | https://archive.is/S39fv

Art is (almost) forever.

It’s inspiring to get hints at what life was like back then when the universe was younger.

I think that even at the scale of “just” a two hundred thousand years, to the universe it’s probably just yesterday.

"When humanity was younger" would have been a perfect phrasing.

or even just an hour ago.

When the universe was an appreciable fraction younger, all life on Earth was unicellular.

And those uncultured bastards didn't even think to leave a note.

A monoculture is still a culture!

My gut biome is just projecting.

It’s fascinating to think how they lived full lives and probably even pondered the ancients (relative to them.)

It was, (and still is), 40-50 million years since the mountains formed.

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