Of Humans, Chimps and Neanderthals
I recently saw an intriguing NOVA episode on PBS called ‘Decoding the Neanderthals’. The subject of human evolution has long fascinated me though I was never bright enough to pursue the study as a career. I stll prefer stone tools and cave paintings to the iPhone and social media.
Here’s the basic premise. The study of human evolution up until recently concluded that Neanderthals, our beetle-browed predecessors, were an evolutionary dead end. Their own ancestors had migrated out of Africa about 800,000 years ago. Until recently, it was believed that modern man followed the Neanderthal out of Africa about 40,000 years ago and that, ten thousand years later, the Neanderthal was gone, pushed or killed into extinction. But the recently completed decoding of the Neanderthal genome has proven otherwise. In fact, most humans carry some Neanderthal DNA, a small amount to be sure– from 1% to 5%. What this means is, Neanderthal and modern humans mated. Not on off weekends either but on a regular basis. The theory then goes that Neaderthal was simply bred out of existence over a period of ten thousand years.
But I wonder. Doesn’t that leave open the question of where modern man came from, aside from the fact that we are told he or she came from Africa. Modern man could not have evolved directly from something more primitive than Neanderthal, miraculously jumping from Home erectus to Wall Street banker. Modern man, Cro-Magnon, whatever you want to call her/him, had to go through a phase just as Neanderthal did. Perhaps, the migration of humans was an on-going affair, never stopping, back and forth for hundreds of thousands of years, with the various groups interbreeding all along, not just forty-thousand years ago. Change, the evolutionary process, is a constant trial and error process that may have produced many dead ends that we will never know about, but the process proceeded unhindered for millennia, leading to us. It is still going on. What, I wonder, will we look like in ten thousand years?
What does it truly mean to be ‘Human’?
Chiku Flynn wasn’t raised to be human. Born in the Congolese rainforest, she spends her first eleven years as part of an experiment. For her, the aboriginal—the primitive—is ‘normal.’
Just after her eleventh birthday, Chiku witnesses the horrifying death of her mother, and her father sends her ‘home’ to the United States, to a normal teenager’s life. But she can’t adapt. She is the proverbial wild child—obstinate and defiant.
When her father disappears, sixteen-year-old Chiku heads back to the primordial jungle, where she uncovers her own dark past and puts to use her greatest skill: she can communicate via sign language with the wild chimpanzees of Chimp Island.
But there is turmoil in the rainforest—civil war, environmental upheaval…and murder. The lives of the chimps and the safety of the people she loves depend upon one teenaged girl who refuses to be messed with—Chiku Flynn.
“Peter Clenott’s story of a troubled teen searching for her father in the African jungle skillfully combines the breakneck pace of a thriller with the emotional tug of a coming of age novel while providing a fascinating glimpse into the relationship between people and chimpanzees that will leave readers questioning which species is more humane. A thought-provoking read.” —Tasha Alexander, New York Times bestselling author of Behind the Shattered Glass
“Devolution is an enthralling, action-packed and fast-paced jungle thriller from beginning to end. The story is set in modern day Africa and is centered on the book’s heroine, Chiku, a firecracker of a girl full of energy and spirit. She can also talk to chimpanzees! The backdrops to the story are as old as time itself—war, racism, hunger and greed. Can a strong-willed sixteen-year-old girl and a band of chimpanzees survive in war-torn Africa? Or will death find its way into this strange yet wonderful family! This book is an interesting coming of age tale full of intrigue, wonder, romance and danger. A truly exciting and original read! This is not your grandparent’s Tarzan tale!” —Christopher P. Obert, founder of the New England Authors Expo
“If it takes a bipolar teenager and some chimpanzees to save their piece of the Congo, then Chiku and her primate friends are the ones to do it. Label them superheroes. Peter Clenott has captured diverse characters in a vibrant setting and added snappy dialogue for this unique and interesting novel.” —Shirley Ann Howard, author of the Tales series
Genre - Young Adult
Rating – PG
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