I know I’ve said it before…but I just love walking into the British Museum (BM) and watching the school children gasp as they gaze in amazement at the Great Court’s spectacular glass roof. The BM is a spectacular place (in my opinion). The last 2/3 days in London have been spectacularly warm and bright – stunning blue skies…so it’s a lovely 15 minute walk to the BM from Charing Cross station. There are many somewhat less charming sights around Charing Cross, which is something of a focus for the homeless, but if you choose, you can see the happy faces of the tourists, the steeple of St. Martin’s in the Fields and the stunning facade of the National Gallery.
One of the most spectacular things at the BM (again..in my opinion), is the very unassuming and un-bling-y prehistoric hand axe (a prehistoric knife) that’s on the Hands On desk in Room 2. The Hands On desks at the museum are where you can actually get your hands on the museum’s objects – you can actually touch them, and most of the objects are real (as opposed to replicas). The hand axe is around 400,000 years old. It’s so old, it’s not made by Homo Sapiens, nor the Neanderthals. Homo Sapiens has only been around for about 200,000 years – long, but not very long in the scheme of things. Old as it is, the hand axe is clearly made by a Homo that thinks the same way as we do – looking to make technology that will make his life easier. I find it a little weird that there could have been another animal around, who isn’t like me, exactly, but who pretty much thinks and probably looks very similar to me. I mean, in the animal world it is hardly unusual for more than one species of the same family of animals to co-exist (think of all the different kinds of cat, for example) and of course Neanderthals did once exist at the same time as Homo Sapiens…up until about 40,000 years ago. But having another being or animal around now, who thinks and behaves very similarly to me, who has a creative imagination…and makes stuff…develops tools/technology for convenience, but is distinctly different…that would be weird. Homo Erectus, the maker of the hand axe and the first Homo to stand/walk pretty much exactly as we do (to our knowledge), was an impressive guy. Not just because he made and used these hand axes, nor because he was likely the first Homo to make controlled use of fire….but because his species lasted something in excess of 1.5 million years. I hear, on the radio and TV, about the astounding success of Homo Sapiens – there has never before been so many of any Homo species on the planet – there’s over 7 billion of us….we cover and control every corner of the earth, and are marked out by almost exponential technological development. Can’t argue with our success and supremacy….but…I have to say, my definition of ‘success’ is Homo Erectus’s lengthy presence…clearly living in harmony with and adaptable to almost all environments.
Over 1.5 million years…beat that Sapiens (please)!