The Mini Evolution

by Anna

Having been researching a little into my mitochondrial past, my mother line, and being aware of today’s understanding of human evolution, I came to see just how fast we develop today.

What our ancestors learned over many thousands, even millions of years, we now learn in a single lifetime. We learn to walk in the first couple of years of our life together with the first words that soon transform into proper sentences followed by proper reading and writing when we enter school.

During our teens we discover ourselves and the world around us, we trial and test and grow up with a pretty good understanding of how we should behave, though a lot of us might have different ideas.

We enter adolescence and are expected to become responsible, look after ourselves and make decisions about our life and the future. We are curious and want to see for ourselves if the photos from places far away are correct and many go to see it for themselves.

Annapurna, Himalaya, Nepal

After a few years we may get tired, no longer hungry for knowledge we begin to settle down. Quite naturally children are born which repeat the cycle of growing up and once they have left the house to explore the world for themselves, we hope to spend the rest of our life in the peaceful surroundings of our home that we have established during our lifetime.

Granted this describes the average Western view on life. In poorer countries, like Nepal above for example, which is one of the poorest countries in the world, this theory is a completely different ballgame.

Today we live on average twice as long as my mitochondrial mother Helena did 20 000 years ago, at the time of the last ice age. We can get a good 90 years out of it if we are lucky, yet the majority of important transformations take place in the first 20 years of our life. So what are we doing with the rest of our life? Is it maybe not that lucky at all to live to such a high age?

What is it that evolution tries to teach us by enabling us to grow up to our full potential so quickly and then allowing us to live that long?

On a related concept, researchers have realised that our brain has been steadily shrinking for the past 20 000 years. The reasons are yet unknown. One idea I like. It suggests that we have adapted to life, became used to our surroundings and simply don’t need some of the early functions that enabled us to survive in the wild. It is for example also mentioned that a larger head would have been of benefit to counteract the cold ice age.

Our ancient ancestors were mostly travelling by foot and many didn’t make it either due to old age, illness or accidental death while hunting. Today’s life offers us the possibility to travel relatively safe to places that those living a few thousand years ago didn’t even knew existed. Travelling further got easier with the first railway tracks and nowadays we take travelling afar for granted.

Aotearoa – New Zealand – The land of the long white cloud

The first time I set foot on a plane was nine years ago, at the adventurous age of 21, when I decided to take a look at New Zealand at the bottom of the world. Prior to that I thought flying was only for rich people. And to be fair, it has only been a fairly recent development that low cost airlines made flying more accessible to those on a low budget.

Two years after my trip to New Zealand I moved from Germany to England and spent the first few years flying back and forth twice a year to see my family until I got fed up with it and began taking the car on the ferry to cross the English Channel about once each year.

It was the realisation during the years of “commuting” between England and Germany that I looked at myself and asked “Just when did you become a frequent flyer?” An innate fear response set in that suggested that the more often I fly the higher the chance I will crash one day. So I stopped flying, which I know is silly since crashing I can anywhere be it in a car, bus, train or even more so on my bike. Did my prehistoric ancestors begin to settle in one place because they were afraid to venture further into a dangerous wild?

However silly this approach of mine to flying may be, it does enable me to be prepared for the possibility that the oil on the planet may run out at some point. How prepared are you to do without the comfort of distant travels and to be forced back onto your own two feet to walk, just like our prehistoric ancestors did? Would that cause our brain to grow again?

As mentioned above, I have become a little less adventurous now compared to a few years ago when I went to Nepal and ended up climbing over a massive rock and mudslide.

Rock and mudslide in Nepal

Actually, this may sound clichéd, having just turned 30 I feel I have aged a lot in the past six months. As if the whole of evolution had suddenly caught up with me. My eyesight rapidly declined, my driving isn’t as boisterous as it used to be, I am more aware of the possible dangers around me and my handwriting is deteriorating to mere hieroglyphs. I read somewhere once that our body is only designed to function to it’s fullest potential until about age 37. Is this what I’m feeling?

My sense of adventure has turned inward, to be happy with myself wherever I am. I have even only recently bought a little bungalow. “Only old people buy bungalows” used to be a common stereotype. I just like the compact cuteness of it. And the immense feeling of security this new house evokes in me is tremendous, despite my inability to commit even to a fulltime job until a few years ago.

My warm and happy feelings towards the house as a place where I can retreat to and rest might be similar to the first farmers 10 000 years ago that settled down because they found it much more comfortable to grow their food around the house compared to running after it in the wild.

We all start of as hunters when we are born and return to the shelter of a home to settle down in comfort. And I think that in my very own mini evolution, I am just at that point. Just children are not on my horizon 😉