My last post was about asking questions we cannot fully answer because we don’t have perfect evidence to find a concrete answer. The post was inspired by Yuval Noah Harari who argues that it is important to ask such questions and who puts the idea in context in his book Sapiens by explaining that failing to ask questions we cannot fully answer means we would ignore tens of thousands of years of human evolution because we don’t have concrete material evidence for what humans were doing before humans settled into agrarian societies.
By asking questions we can’t fully answer, Harari argues that we can start to see the world in different ways and start to understand human influence on the planet even if we don’t have direct evidence of human action. As an example, Harari argues that the extinction of many large animal species can be tied back to humans, even if we don’t have perfect evidence for it. He writes about the extinction of a giant marsupial named diprotodon in Australia, alongside other megafauna of the continent from the time that humans arrived on the continent. Harari writes, “The evidence is circumstantial, but its hard to imagine that Sapiens, just by coincidence, arrived in Australia at the precise point that all these animals were dropping dead.”
Humans are good at working in groups and collaborating to achieve goals. This put large species that previously didn’t have to worry about smaller animals at a new disadvantage. Humans may not have been settling in large agrarian communities and may not have been leaving lots of evidence that archeologists could find tens of thousands of years later, but that doesn’t mean that humans were not shaping the planet. We were eradicating large animals that had strong defenses against smaller animals, but that were weak against teams of animals cooperating and coordinating actions to take them down.