Poster for the movie AlphaThis weekend I finally got around to watching the movie Alpha.  This is a story set in prehistory, about 20,000 BC.  It’s about a boy who gets injured and separated from his hunting party, and ends up thrown together with an injured wolf.  He takes care of the wolf, and they develop a bond.  The idea is that we’re watching the beginning of the relationship between humans and dogs.

It’s a good movie.  I enjoyed it, and highly recommend it if you’re looking for something fun to watch.  But as much as I enjoyed it, I also noticed discrepancies with how anthropologists think societies at that time worked, and some issues with how wolves work.  I think it’s fun to talk about these things.  I’m not going to spoil anything, at least not anything that wouldn’t also have spoiled by watching the trailer, so if you haven’t seen it yet, this post should be safe.

The first thing worth noting, is that the movie shows the tribe living in a particular location.  It’s plausible that was true for parts of the year, most likely the winter, but in general, hunter gatherer tribes moved around.  While there are scattered and isolated pieces of evidence for early permanent settlements, my understanding is that they only become consistent after around 13,000-12,000 BC in the Middle East with Natufian culture.

The other thing that stood out to me is that the tribe had a leader.  And it was implied that the tribal leader’s son might inherit that role.  Most of the stuff I’ve read about hunter-gatherer cultures don’t indicate that those types of roles existed.  These were likely egalitarian societies without any formal leadership.  Hunter-gatherer culture actually seems to resist anyone attempting to put themselves into that kind of position.  Someone might take on a leadership role temporarily to lead something like a hunting or war party, but that’s not what the movie portrays.

Of course, there’s a lot we don’t know about prehistoric cultures.  Most of what I’m saying here reportedly comes from studying modern hunter-gatherer cultures.  There’s no guarantee that prehistoric Europeans had a structure similar to the ones that colonialists came into contact with in the last few centuries.  But the human cognitive package hasn’t had time to change that much in the last 20,000 years, so it seems reasonable to assume they were similar.

(Every time I make this kind of statement, someone weighs in about the relatively quick evolution of lactose tolerance, the ability of Tibetans to live in high altitude conditions, or other cases of recent evolution.  But none of these represent fundamental changes in human nature.)

The movie implies that a wild wolf can be trained into acting more or less like a modern dog.  Genetically, dogs are gray wolves.  But a dog is not simply a tamed wolf.  There have been many stories of people who tried to adopt wolves.  A wolf is a much more difficult pet.  It tries much harder and much more persistently than any dog to escape, is more difficult to train, needs a lot more space for exercise, and has a higher chance of turning on its owner.

Put another way, you can’t convert a live wolf into a dog.  You can’t even take wolf cubs and raise them as pets and expect them to behave like modern dogs.  Modern dogs are separated from wild wolves by 20,000-40,000 years of domestication.  The early domestication of the dog likely took place across a large number of breeding generations.  It’s unlikely to have been anything someone planned.

The scenario I’ve most commonly read is that dogs probably followed a commensal pathway.  Packs of wolves likely started following bands of humans, living off heir refuse.  Over several generations, the wolves more likely to stick around were the ones most comfortable being around humans, setting off a process of self selection.  Humans also likely became increasingly more comfortable with them around.  This process might have taken several centuries, possibly even millenia.

There may have been a first person to realize they could train a dog.  And it seems plausible that first trained dog was female, since they’re generally easier to train than males.  But training dogs everyone was used to having around likely was far less dramatic than taming a wolf straight from the wild.  Of course, that would have made the story less entertaining, so the movie has some grounds for poetic license.

And who knows?  It’s conceivable that someone could have run into an unusually compliant wolf.  And as I noted above, there are enough uncertainties in our knowledge of prehistoric times to provide a space for the movie to work in.  It enabled me to suspend my disbelief long enough to enjoy it.

Have you seen the movie?  If so, what did you think about it?  Or about the plausibility of its scenario?

91 thoughts on “Alpha

  1. I love the idea that hunter gatherers did without kingship or inherited leaders. Clearly there were also no commercial titans. Sounds my sort of place other than the lack of medicine. You almost make it sound as if the Noble Savage was a reality, and an enviable one at that. If so, I would like to ind the clock back but take a supply of paracetamol and penicillin with me.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. There were things about the hunter-gatherer lifestyle that seem appealing. You move around a lot in the outdoors, generally work around 15 hours or so a week, and know everyone around you. In many ways, it’s the niche we evolved in, so it’s the lifestyle that probably fits our instincts.

      But the dark side of that is that anyone who can’t keep up, such as elderly parents, sick, or injured, have to be left behind or euthanized. A change in weather might leave you starving for a while. You’re much more exposed to the elements. Life is far more precarious.

      The fact that people move from that lifestyle to farming, as grubby and problematic as it was, or even better, the modern lifestyle, as soon as it becomes available, indicates the old ways weren’t nearly as idyllic as they seem from a distance.

      Liked by 1 person

        1. In a future world where machines do all the work, it wouldn’t be hard for me to imagine some portion of humanity returning to that lifestyle, with the machines in the background ensuring adequate food supply.


          1. Good example. Personally, I think I’d get bored very quickly in such a lifestyle. But I don’t know that the constant partying alternatives would be that much better. I might end up in Special Circumstances.


  2. I saw the movie a couple of months ago.

    Regarding hunters and gatherers, it’s hard to say how they were thousands of years ago because the only representative samples we have are groups that have marginalized to relatively inhospitable locations like deserts. Typically these groups are very small (small extended family size) and nomadic most of the year but come together in larger groups on special occasions throughout the year.

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    1. That’s the issue. Probably most of the hunter-gatherers today are descended from farmers who, for whatever reason, shifted back to the foraging lifestyle. And virtually all of those societies at this point have a long history interacting with agricultural ones. Meaning that in most cases we’re not dealing with people where the concept of farming and domestication is a novel concept.

      Still, the commonalities between hunter gatherer groups scattered in disparate locations around the globe do seem to tell us something about the way human psychology works in those types of environments. We can’t take it as a absolutely reliable indicator of prehistoric societies, but we arguably can as a probable one.

      In some ways, the issue seems similar to the one of evolutionary biologists taking living species as a stand-in for ancient ones. It’s not perfect, but other than relics from the past, it’s what we have to work with.


      1. You might stretching a little to think current hunter gatherers tell us much about hunter gatherers from thousands of years ago before agriculture. Hunter gatherers following large herds through migrations might likely be larger and sedentary at various points in the migrations. Also, I think a hunter gather group in an region with an abundance of resources could very well be sedentary almost continually. I believe this might have been the case with the Northwest Indians – Northern California to British Columbia who relied on the abundance of salmon.

        Of course, everything is relative. Current hunter gatherers as well as current agriculturalists are human societies adapted to a particular environment. To that degree, they will in various aspects be like humans everywhere.

        Generally I think humans come together in groups as large as the technology will support. As the groups get larger, a hierarchy of power and a specialization of labor begins to develop.


      2. One other note.

        I’ve pointed out in various places that I believe a major change happened in the 70-100K years ago and a key part of this change came the ability for humans to have larger groups. Even hunter and gathers will have large groups with which they have reciprocity and mutual aid. To some extent, these are created through extensive kinship structures but a key part of the change, I think, was the ability to forge relationship on custom and language.


        1. Could be. Material evidence certainly implies something changed. But I tend to think language is more ancient, or at least proto-language. The evidence that keeps coming up showing neanderthals were sophisticated, and that homo sapiens appear to have seen them as people, make me think they weren’t that different.

          But it’s possible there was an increase in sophistication around that time. Or it may have simply been an increase in the population of homo sapiens, leading to migrations, first around Africa, then out of it.


          1. Neanderthals probably lacked the delayed maturation of the prefrontal cortex that is unique to humans.

            There is no evidence that humans perceived them as people. Mating with them doesn’t count because there is no way to know if the matings were really rapes of captured females/slaves. For that matter, most humans probably didn’t even regard other humans with a different language and customs as human.


          2. There’s no way to know for sure what the interactions were like. As we’ve discussed before, I doubt they were monolithic across all locations and periods. But the evidence that keeps turning up of Neanderthal sophistication, such as the recent discovery that they had string, makes me doubt modern humans saw them as straight out beasts.


          3. Would anyone involved have had the intellect to even ask the question?

            Or would they just recognize “us” and various types of “others” with different characteristics? With a simpler mind, things just are what they are. The simple mind doesn’t spend time pondering the whichness of why.


          4. I think at least on the homo sapiens side, by that point they would have had the same innate cognitive toolkit we have. Admittedly, their cultural worldview would be far more limited than ours.


          5. Culture and intellect. Cognitive makeup is also a product of environment. Our information dense world has produced modern minds. Someone from the 1600s would be blown away by modern thought, let alone someone from our distant past.

            If anything, I think our hominid ancestors would have readily accepted other types of hominids as essentially the same, compared to other animals in their world.

            Liked by 1 person

          6. Have you ever looked at Nazi propaganda about Jews? Or, the colonial British writing about the savages in Africa?

            “During the Holocaust, Nazis referred to Jews as rats. Hutus involved in the Rwanda genocide called Tutsis cockroaches. Slave owners throughout history considered slaves subhuman animals. In Less Than Human, David Livingstone Smith argues that it’s important to define and describe dehumanization, because it’s what opens the door for cruelty and genocide”.



          7. You mean this point: “If anything, I think our hominid ancestors would have readily accepted other types of hominids as essentially the same, compared to other animals in their world.”


          8. Correct. Further that they lacked the intellectual background to even have a category “human” to begin with. They’d have “us” and “not us”, of course, but I think they would recognize the hominid nature of other primates compared to other animals. Similar abilities, similar behaviors, clearly competing for the same niche.


          9. The similarities, no matter how far the sub-species were from each other, would definitely have been far stronger than with any other species, even other great apes. And mating with them could produce offspring, something that wouldn’t happen if they copulated with other species.

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          10. I’m don’t know how you can argue that when German Nazis couldn’t recognize Jews as humans. If you are simply saying they saw a bipedal ape, I would agree that they had a functional vision system that could recognize a similarity. I think you may be thinking that Nazis were just using figures of speech to express hatred but I think it goes farther than that. The perception of what is human is embedded deeply in the cultural milieu of the perceiver . Behaviorally modern humans (by that I mean human from 70K years ago) had a concept of human and had myths about the origins of humans. Whether Neanderthals did we will likely never know. The point being that the category of humans wasn’t a question of science or biology. It was a category based on culture, language, and customs.


          11. I don’t know that I agree with the premise about Nazis or any other group that supposedly didn’t recognize other humans as humans. It takes a very special kind of intellectual blindness and rationalization to do that in the face of obvious evidence, and we usually find another goal lurking behind it (profit, world domination, etc).

            All I’m saying is that I don’t think our distance ancestors were capable of that level of rationalization, self-justification, or ideology. Their instincts were far more,… instinctive.


          12. I certainly agree that humans potentially have greater ability to overcome innate tendencies. However, given the right set of circumstances, the innate tendencies can reassert themselves and you can end up with atrocities.

            The nature/nurture question isn’t simple. Not only as individuals but as a society our behavior is governed by a mixture. For many years after Hitler came to power he didn’t talk about the Jewish question because it wasn’t received well by most of the population. Only gradually with propaganda, lies, and economic adversity, did Hitler begin pointing the finger at Jews as the source of the Germany’s problems. Eventually acceptance of the “solution” crept in and most of the active participants in the Holocaust convinced themselves that either nothing was happening or whatever was happening they weren’t responsible for it.

            But back to early humans. I doubt they were proponents of diversity. Not only the other hominids they were encountering were different but they were also frequently competing in the same ecological niches as humans moved out of Africa. Well-organized humans with a superior command of language and technology, which would include weapons, would mostly likely have annihilated what they encountered, maybe capturing females and some children for slaves.

            That’s my take on it anyway.


          13. I’ve read that there doesn’t appear to be much, if any, mitochondrial DNA from Neanderthals in modern populations. This seems to indicate that most of it came from male Neanderthals copulating with modern females. If there was raping going on (and I don’t doubt there was at least some), it may not have been moderns doing it.


          14. Doesn’t that just tell us that female offspring didn’t survive (were killed?) or the female line died out?

            I saw the Wikipedia too but tell me if I’m missing something.

            Human male mates with Neanderthal female.

            If a male is born, it would have a combination of DNA from father and mother and mtDNA from mother. But if the male mated with another human, the Neanderthal mtDNA wouldn’t pass on. The mtDNA from the human mother would pass.

            If a female was born, it could pass on the mtDNA if mated with a human but obviously not if killed or didn’t survive or the line didn’t survive.

            It would seem to me the only way to get Neanderthal mtDNA would be to have an unbroken succession of females from Neanderthal mothers.


          15. It’s not just the Wikipedia. I remember reading something like that in a National Geographic article several years ago, although I don’t know if it’s the latest info.

            I think all you need to have at least some Neanderthal mtDNA is Neanderthal females who produce female offspring that contribute to the gene pool. A lot people wonder if modern male to Neanderthal female matings were sterile. But to your point, it could have come about simply by the female hybrid line being statistically less successful reproductively (for whatever reason).

            My point is there are a lot of possible scenarios. The primeval Nazi one is far from inevitable.


          16. I think the way it works that few maternal lineages from even a few thousand years will survive and persist until the present. I know that doesn’t seem correct but I think that is the way it works. Most lines die out in the best of circumstances.

            I think most likely when human and Neanderthals, who may have not had a large population to start with, met the humans killed most of the Neanderthals. Possibly some Neanderthal females gave birth to hybrids and a few of those who had more human characteristics may have been assimilated. These might have been mostly males. By the time they matured there would be few female Neanderthals to mate with.


          17. My understanding is that mtDNA was used to reconstruct prehistoric human migrations out of Africa and throughout the world across tens of thousands of year. That doesn’t seem compatible with maternal lineages disappearing after a few millenia.

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          18. It is counter intuitive. Look at the relatively small number of haplogroups used to trace the migration. There are only ten groups common in Europeans.

            Think that all of the lineages converge to one Mitochondrial Eve from about 150-200,000 year ago. Where did all of the other lineages go that were present at that time?


            I think when you apply the Galton-Watson process to mtDNA, it wouldn’t be expected that mtDNA from Neanderthals would survive without a large breeding population of Neanderthals at the time of contact.


            Also, successful interbreeding may have been rare.

            Extremely Rare Interbreeding Events Can Explain Neanderthal DNA in Living Humans


          19. I wouldn’t think a haplogroup not surviving intact is equivalent to complete disappearance of a contributor’s DNA from the gene pool, but I’ll concede human migration tracking wasn’t the issue I thought it was.

            Mitochondrial Eve is the most recent common ancestor, not the only ancestor. We all have DNA from a large number of other females who were alive at that time, just not all from the same ones.

            Most of the analyses I’ve read, including a lot more recent stuff, has admixture happening in numerous places across a wide stretch of time.

            But I think this debate is unproductive. All the disparate interactions across all the human cultures and time periods wouldn’t have been identical anyway. It’s not like they were in contact with each other and coordinating.

            I don’t doubt some human groups did annihilate Neanderthal groups they came in contact with, just at they probably annihilated some modern human groups. With others, the Neanderthals might have died out after having been pushed into marginal territories (again, as sometimes happens with modern human groups). But any assertion that at least some interactions didn’t result in alliances and interbreeding seem to me like rationalizations around the data.

            Maybe new data will come out tomorrow that changes the picture, but most of the new data I’ve seen point to more admixture rather than less.


          20. The genetic stuff is really counter intuitive and I have a hard time grasping it myself. MtDNA isn’t passed partially. It’s all or nothing from the mother.

            I think that we are much like chimpanzees in that we will make risk/reward decisions and wipe out potential threats and competitors when the ratio is in favor of reward and risk is low. It certainly doesn’t matter if it were Neanderthals or other humans. Part of the way we do this is by ramping up the “otherness” of the competitor.

            From the NPR link:

            While the architects of the Final Solution were busy implementing their lethal program of racial hygiene, the Russian-Jewish poet and novelist Ilya Ehrenburg was churning out propaganda for distribution to Stalin’s Red Army. These pamphlets seethed with dehumanizing rhetoric: they spoke of “the smell of Germany’s animal breath,” and described Germans as “two-legged animals who have mastered the technique of war” — “ersatz men” who ought to be annihilated. “The Germans are not human beings,” Ehrenburg wrote, “… If you kill one German, kill another — there is nothing more amusing for us than a heap of German corpses.”

            When the tide of the war finally turned, a torrent of Russian forces poured into Germany from the east, and their inexorable advance became an orgy of rape and murder. “They were certainly egged on by Ehrenburg and other Soviet propagandists…” writes journalist Giles McDonough:

            East Prussia was the first German region visited by the Red Army … In the course of a single night the red army killed seventy-two women and one man. Most of the women had been raped, of whom the oldest was eighty-four. Some of the victims had been crucified … A witness who made it to the west talked of a poor village girl who was raped by an entire tank squadron from eight in the evening to nine in the morning. One man was shot and fed to the pigs.


          21. “However, given the right set of circumstances,”

            Exactly. The right set of circumstances. Which intellect plays a big role in, as your own main example illustrates:

            “Only gradually with propaganda, lies, and economic adversity, did Hitler begin pointing the finger at Jews as the source of the Germany’s problems.”

            Classic scapegoating through propaganda. An intellectual exercise of power.

            As you mention, the Germans didn’t initially take to it at all. It wasn’t innate.

            “I doubt [early humans] were proponents of diversity.”

            No one is arguing they were proponents! 😀 That would also be an intellectual exercise. 🙂


          22. I’m not sure what point you are trying to make but my point is:

            “Well-organized humans with a superior command of language and technology, which would include weapons, would mostly likely have annihilated what they encountered, maybe capturing females and some children for slaves.”

            They would not have recognized Neanderthals as fellow humans and got together around the campfire to sing kumbaya.


          23. “I’m not sure what point you are trying to make…”

            Well, that’s disappointing. 😦

            No one is saying they sang Kumbaya.

            Look at it this way:

            Tribe A meets Tribe B1 versus meets Tribe B2. In either case the B tribe is competing for the same resources. The only difference between the B tribes is that B1 is the same species as Tribe A while B2 is a different hominid species.

            I’m saying Tribe A sees both B tribes equally as a threat to their resources and will attack them pretty much the same, including slaves and women. I’m saying I doubt B1 being the same species as A will grant them leniency.

            If I reverse the scenario, same tribes, but this time there are resources for all, plenty of distance, and no need for conflict, then I’m saying Tribe A would treat with both B tribes essentially equally, trade and such. I don’t think the B2 tribe being different would alone be grounds for conflict.

            Ultimately I’m saying they’d likely be far more aware of the similarities than the differences compared to other living beings. If anything, it’s those similarities that place us in the same niche and generate conflict.

            Liked by 1 person

          24. That story is about territorial chimps and says not one word about babies. (Do you have any experience with babies or very young children? They’re like dogs; they tend to be immediately accepting of strangers until they’ve been trained not to be.)

            The story does mention how flexible humans are with outsiders. For example, the !Kung people, in a resource poor region, walk miles to give gifts to their neighbors. They spend energy and materials to reach out and form bonds.

            It even goes on to mention that our behavior isn’t determined by biology alone, but also by culture.

            Were we territorial? Absolutely! We no doubt fought with anyone, regardless of species, we saw as competing with us. And no doubt we were ruthless — it was, after all, a matter of life and death.

            But as Mike points out, we could mate with closely related hominids and produce offspring. For our ancestors, that’s going to be a very significant fact. So would be the striking similarities between us and them: arms, legs, hands, faces. All physical realities that would matter a lot to them.


          25. More quotes from the link.

            “When the Nazis described Jews as Untermenschen, or subhumans, they didn’t mean it metaphorically, says Smith. “They didn’t mean they were like subhumans. They meant they were literally subhuman.”

            “So “sub-Saharan Africans and Native Americans were denizens of the bottom of the human category,” when they were even granted human status. Mostly, they were seen as “soulless animals.” And that dramatic dehumanization made it possible for great atrocities to take place.”


  3. It’s very true wolves are not dogs! Funny that you should post this; I’m reading Dog is Love, Why and How Your Dog Loves You, by Clive Wynne, an animal behavior scientist who specializes in dogs (he’s written several books about animal cognition).

    He talks about visiting and doing experiments at Wolf Park, in Indiana, where workers have been hand-raising wolves from pups for a long time. Some of these hand-raised wolves can actually be trusted not to kill people they don’t know.

    Suffice to say they don’t make good hunting companions or friends. Dogs have undergone some genetic changes that have changed their cognition. They gained an emotional capacity indistinguishable from what we recognize as love in humans.

    Wynne mentions an interesting theory that applies a bit here. Around 14 KYA the ice receded and forests grew. Humans, with eyes that worked great with long distances, had some limits seeing through the trees. And it was harder to move through forest. This had an impact on hunting.

    By then wolves with a trait of being less threatening were long tolerated around our garbage dumps. We may even have preferred them to rats and other vermin. They might even have fended off the interests of bears and such. That was a successful evolutionary path towards increasing domestication on their part with no real effort on ours.

    When the big forests grew, we already had tame canines, smaller than wolves, so easily capable of moving through the forest. And without the kill skills, but possessing vocal skills, they could use their senses to locate prey and alert the humans rather than doing what a wolf would do: kill the prey and eat it (or take it to the pack).

    But wolves make for a nice story. 😀

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I think some Russians did a study trying to domesticate foxes. They bred and selected the ones that would tolerate human contact. The thing is, what they got did not look like normal foxes. Turns out they selected for foxes whose maturation was stunted or arrested. I could see something similar in wolf -> dog.


      Liked by 1 person

    2. That sounds like a fascinating book, and a very plausible domestication scenario. Hope there’s a post on it coming when you’re done!

      The phrase “an emotional capacity indistinguishable from what we recognize as love in humans” interests me. I’m curious what the differences are, if that’s explored. We’d expect the dog version to be simpler, more primal perhaps? But I’m wondering if there are any details.


      1. It’s a pretty good book. I’ll definitely post about it.

        Regarding the Russian foxes, Wynne visited the facility and met some of those foxes. Two caveats: Foxes are neither dogs nor wolves; they are genetically distinct canids. The tame foxes were the result of a deliberate breeding program that leverages our knowledge of genetics. The guess is that it seems unlikely our ancestors would have understood about breeding for a future trait.

        It’s a question that many have sought an answer for: How did one of our serious competitors — an enemy of humanity — become its Best Friend? No other animal is like dogs in sharing a mutual relationship with humans.

        “We’d expect the dog version to be simpler, more primal perhaps?”

        Absolutely. They don’t spend a moment intellectualizing, agonizing, or second guessing; they’re just in the moment. We’re the ones that make it complicated and weird.

        It has a lot to do with imprinting. Herd protection dogs love their flock of sheep or geese or chickens or pigs. They are explicitly raised with less human contact than most dogs get to prevent them imprinting on humans. And they get lots of contact with their future animal charges from an early age.

        As it turns out, a lot of it has to do with oxytocin. They’ve even identified receptor differences that seem to account for temperament among breeds. Those with a reputation for friendliness are more responsive to oxytocin.


        1. Looking forward to the post!

          On the foxes, I don’t think anyone argues that that’s what prehistoric humans did with wolves. Just that the artificial conditions are creating an accelerated and controlled version of the slower and unplanned process for wolves to dogs. I suspect they chose foxes because they were easier to acquire and handle in the 1950s. It would be interesting to see a similar attempt with actual wolves, but I’m sure it would take decades.

          Interesting on the herd dogs. Sounds like it might not be a good idea to try to pet one.


          1. It would depend on their view of you as a threat to their flock. The author tells about visiting a farm that used herd protection dogs. (Note that herd protection is an older skill than herding. Protection is essentially just managed imprinting, whereas herding is a learned skill.)

            Wynne left the group at one point, and although the dogs had been introduced to him, they wouldn’t let him rejoin the group until their human masters told them it was okay. (But then they were fine again.) Dogs in general are protective of their “pack” — whatever they conceive that pack to be.

            The folks at Wolf Park have been doing a much milder version of the foxes experiment, and after generations of wolves exposed to human care, albeit not raised as house animals or pets, they have wolves who, as I mentioned, can be trusted not to kill strangers.

            So long as the stranger doesn’t make any wrong moves. Outsiders aren’t allowed to meet these wolves without training and supervision. Mistakes include too much eye contact and too little eye contact (same as with human predators). Don’t even think about going near their food.


          2. The Wolf Park experiment sounds interesting. I poked around their web site, but wasn’t able to find anything. (Although it sounds like a good amount of research happens there.) Something to dig into.

            I noticed that they also have foxes, coyotes, and bison. Not a good place to be a bison!

            Liked by 1 person

          3. Maybe I should be clear that they aren’t trying to replicate the foxes experiment to create domesticated wolves. But they do have several generations that have been hand-raised by humans. Wolves who are about as friendly as wolves ever get (which is to say not very).

            Liked by 1 person

          4. Ah, I see what you’re saying now. Unless they’re doing controlled breeding, we shouldn’t expect the same dramatic results as the fox one. It’s more about how much socialization can affect the wolves. In that case, I’m not surprised the friendliness is uncertain. They should probably be happy they achieved even that much.

            Liked by 1 person

    3. The Goodness Paradox by Richard Wrangham goes into the biology of domestication – the particular changes that occur – and has the thesis that humans domesticated themselves by humans culling the more aggressive males. This bred out reactive aggression but left us with sophisticated proactive aggression which we use for war, ethnic cleansing.


  4. Re “The first thing worth noting, is that the movie shows the tribe living in a particular location. It’s plausible that was true for parts of the year, most likely the winter.” Summer was a time more likely to hunker down as waves of various foods would come through an area (fish runs, eel runs, plants coming into ripeness, shellfish into maturity (or at least nontoxicity), etc.) But many a California Indian tribe had primary winter and summer quarters. Of course, the climate in a California winter wasn’t as extreme as in ice age Europe.

    Many HG societies had Shamans but many of these were kept on a leash by suspicious people and, yes, from what I have read those societies tended to be egalitarian, having next to no use for a chief or other “leader.”

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    1. Good points. On seasonal homes, I’m sure the geographic location and animal migratory patterns had a lot to do with it. I read somewhere that the Natufians in the Levant were able to be sedentary because of their location on some of those migratory paths.

      With Shamans, I wonder how much of it was sham vs interpretation of the effects of ingesting things like mind altering herbs.


      1. Shamanism is complex and varies a good deal from one culture to another.

        There certainly is a placebo effect which, it is well known, can contaminate modern drug trials. Placebos actually do have real effects so a shaman triggering it, even if all the ritual around it is hokum , is having a real effect. This is the case even with physical illnesses, not just illnesses with a psychological component.

        Also, shamans in many places have a natural pharmacy of herbs with various degrees of real effectiveness. Even the primarily mind altering herbs often have associated purely physical effects. B. caapi, the key ingredient in ayahuasca is a MAO inhibitor which usually induces vomiting – something that could be useful treatment in various digestive ailments.

        Liked by 1 person

  5. Thanks for the recommendation! I’ve been looking for something new to watch.

    I saw a documentary about this topic a while back, but I can’t remember what it was called. PBS, I’m sure. It described the genetic mutation in dogs as being the same as (or similar to?) a rare genetic mutation that occurs in people with Williams Syndrome, which is associated with hypersociability. Here’s an article on that you might find interesting:

    By the way, when did you change your blog? I like it.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Wynne mentions this in his book (see Wynne: Dog is Love). He visited a place that was kind of a camp for children suffering that syndrome. His guilty first reaction was that the children seemed like puppies. (As it turned out, people who’d worked with children like that a long time immediately made the same connection themselves.)

      Definitely related to what happened with dogs!

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Did you see the documentary on PBS? I wish I could remember what it was called. Anyway, they feature a young woman with Williams syndrome. Apparently she makes friends with everyone, and everyone in her town knows and loves her. If you see her on the show, you’ll see that bubbly puppy-ness in her for sure. Extremely outgoing in a pure-hearted and lovable way…which…yeah…sounds like I’m describing Geordie.


        1. Or any mentally healthy dog, yeah. Wynne does get into the genetic connection, but I can’t recall what it involves now. Might have something to do with the oxytocin receptors. (Or I’m conflating that. Wynne does talk about discoveries involving oxytocin in dogs.)

          Liked by 1 person

    2. Hey Tina,
      That’s interesting on Williams syndrome. I don’t think I’ve heard of that condition. It does make sense that that something like it is the underlying genetic difference between dogs and wolves.
      And Dmitry Belyayev’s foxes are ones that have been bred to have it. Thanks for sharing it!

      On the movie, I think you’ll enjoy it, but a word of warning. None of the dialog is in English, although there are subtitles. All the characters talk in a fictional prehistoric language. I was annoyed at first, but it ends up working okay. That said, I’ve had some friends abandon it over that.

      On the site, thanks. I was actually forced into it. The site was having problems, and when I contacted WP support they had tracked it down to a bug in my old theme, a theme I was informed is no longer supported. I hate shopping WP themes. Honestly, I’m not entirely happy with this one, but after trying several, it was the one I can live with.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I tried finding the movie on Netflix and Amazon, but I couldn’t get it. Where did you watch it? I’m really trying to find something to watch these days…PBS is going on this whole WWII kick which I’m getting sick of. They need to go back to airing shows that take place in beautiful locales…Durrells in Corfu, for instance!

        I don’t mind subtitles at all. In fact, I can barely watch anything without subtitles anymore. My husband’s hearing isn’t great, and now I’m finding I’d rather read than listen.

        On WP, what a bummer. Since I don’t know what I’m doing with blogging and never really did, I’m finding WP annoying in a way I can’t quite pinpoint…everything “updated” is taking up my time and getting on my nerves. For instance, I still haven’t figured out this block editor. Whatever it is, I hate it. I probably wasted half an hour trying to move a paragraph. But my problem is that I almost never ask for help (no way I’m watching a tutorial!), I usually just give up and move on to something else. Like taxes.

        Anyway, I like your site! Kudos to you for going through all the trouble.

        Liked by 1 person

        1. For the movie, I think I saw it either on Starz or Hulu. Whichever one, it was included with the subscription.

          PBS was once one of my favorite sources of entertainment. Over the years though, I’ve gradually grown away from them. A lot of the stuff I used to get from them started showing up on other cable channels, then on streaming services. Although I probably should check them out more often. They still do occasionally have good science shows.

          On the block editor, yeah, I took a look at it when they first started pushing it, poked around, decided I hated it, and went back to the classic editor in the black and white admin UI, which I’m probably going to use until they pull it from my cold dead fingers. Some of the themes I looked at advertised being optimized for the block editor. Maybe it’s more useful with one of those themes, although none of them appealed to me.

          (One thing I learned with this is I really don’t like fancy themes. I pretty much want basic blogging functionality and for it to otherwise stay out of the way.)

          On the site, thanks! I think I might just about have it customized to my tastes. I had promised myself I wouldn’t do that again, but I just couldn’t take many of the defaults. Hopefully it’ll be another seven years before I have to do it again.

          Liked by 1 person

  6. Aw, nuts. I don’t have a subscription to Starz or Hulu. Well, if it comes out on Netflix or Amazon, I’ll check it out.

    Yeah, I’m the same about blogging, I want simplicity. I’ve been having problems going back to classic, but I’ll give it an honest go when I get some time to focus on that. I might have to start writing posts elsewhere, then do a cut and paste.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I don’t remember what I did to switch back. I only played around with it for a few minutes. But I’m pretty sure if you go to the WP Admin interface (last menu option under your MySites panel), and go to Posts under it, you’ll get the old classic editor. Although if it’s a post you started with Block, it might redirect you back to that editor. Hope they aren’t locking people into it. That might make me consider self hosting.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. FWIW, I keep a bookmark to the classic admin page, so it’s easy to just click there. Also bookmarks to the classic comments page and new post page. Makes life a lot simpler.

        (I’m afraid to even try the block editor for fear of bursting an important blood vessel. Or, more realistically, screwing things up. I don’t care for that first new editor they put out, either, although I will use it for certain touch-ups. I do almost all of my writing in the classic editor. It’s the only one with the features I require.)

        It might be helpful to understand that most of the changes they’re making are in aid of all those folks who do this from their phones or pads. This is all about the touch interface. Those of us still using desktop machines are becoming dinosaurs.

        Mike, that first theme you switched to was clearly optimized for phones. On my 27″ desktop monitor, it was like reading a billboard. Even the comment section was HUGE. This theme is better. Much quieter. 😀


        1. All of the newer supported themes seem to be optimized for mobile, or at least have responsive designs. This one is as well, gracefully adjusting down to mobile screens instead of switching to the generic WordPress mobile UI.

          I wonder how the block editor fits in with mobile through. It seems more like a classic web page designer. My initial reaction to it was that it might be good if I cared a lot about the presentation of particular posts, but most of the time my posts are straight text with an occasional image. Making me think about layout beyond that seems to defeat the purpose of using a blogging application. It’s supposed to be easier to use, but everyone I know has struggled with it.

          That’s not to say it might not be nice to have the block editor as an option, to be used when it’s the right tool. But I hope WordPress doesn’t do away with the classic editor. (I just read somewhere that it will be supported through 2022 by, but that the block editor was getting pretty negative reviews.)

          That first theme was Intergalactic 2. I found it beautiful, but it buried too much information. I did like that my side bar was available on mobile, but tucked away. The problem is that it was also tucked away on desktop. The ideal solution would be to have it display on a large screen, then switch to something dynamically available for smaller screens, but I couldn’t find a theme that did that.

          In general, I had issues with every theme I looked at, including this one. With a lot of CSS fiddling, I’ve managed to take care of many of the ones in this one, but not all of them. But at least it’s classic blog on desktop, and reduces to something useful on mobile.

          Liked by 1 person

    2. I played around with the block editor in my test blog. It looks like once you switch to the block editor, you can still create posts in the classic editor, at least in the old WP Admin UI. The Add Post has a drop down letting you select which editor you want to use for that new post, although block is the default. You can also switch back to the classic being the default, but the option to do it is buried. In a block post, you have to exit full screen mode, then look for an option on the tools menu at the bottom.

      Regarding the editor itself, it looks like they’ve been working on it. It’s not the pit of rancid despair I recall. (It’s possible my old theme was the issue last time.) It has some useful functionality, like the ability to create tables, something I’ve always been annoyed with WP’s inability to do without ugly hacks. And you can do stuff like embed blog posts, which I could see uses for.

      So I might activate it in my main blog if and when a post comes up that would benefit from it. But probably not until then. It still feels unnatural.

      Liked by 2 people

      1. For me the problem wasn’t so much switching back to classic editor after beginning a draft in block as getting that reformatting to save the way I wanted it to, with my photos in their proper places. I think it might be okay if I had started out with classic. Next time I will. Honestly, I don’t know why I didn’t start with classic to begin with last time. I think I was just rushing, a bit distracted.

        Yeah, block editor has some nice features, but for me it’s not terribly intuitive. I like the ability to move paragraphs, but it took me a long time to discover how to do that. Maybe one of these days I’ll take a look at their tutorial, but I hate taking the time to learn how to use things…I just want to use them! I’m the sort of person who refuses to read the manual until after I’ve throughly screwed things up. I just push buttons with the expectation that everything will be obvious.

        Liked by 1 person

        1. I’m with you on not reading the manual. Too boring. One of the problems is that the classic editor is just standard text editing, something we’ve all been doing as long as we’ve used computers. The block editor is…different. It’s kind of a cross between a text editor and a design package. That could make it far more powerful. The widget blocks make me wonder if it might someday be used to design your own theme. (Given my frustration with the canned themes, something I wouldn’t mind having the ability to do.)

          But overall I agree. Until it has a lot more, it’s not worth the extra mental effort.

          Liked by 1 person

    1. I’ve never read/seen The Call of the Wild, but if you like The Clan of the Cave Bear, you probably would dig this one. The only thing is, the language isn’t English. It’s subtitled. The characters are speaking some fictional prehistoric language. It ends up working, but I know some people who were turned off by it.

      Liked by 1 person

          1. I looked up some info about it. I was kind of wondering if it might be proto-indo-european, but no. It looks like they just made something up. I still think that’s really cool.

            Liked by 1 person

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