Behavioral Modernity in “The Croods”!

The way cavemen have been portrayed in film and the media is often full of stereotypes and was not made for intellectual enrichment, unfortunately. The Croods is a movie made in 2013 about a family of cavemen in a sort of whimsical fantasy prehistoric world. The premise is that their home is destroyed, so they must find a new place to live and settle down. The whole family is mostly unintelligent and like stereotypical cavemen, but the main character, their teenage daughter Eep, shows more intelligence and curiosity which often made her clash with her “old-fashioned” father. During their journey, they meet a more anatomically (and cognitively!) modern human. He shows them his new “inventions”, which are humorously anachronistic played for comedy, and becomes attracted to the teenage daughter Eep which also perturbs the father, Grug. The film overall was average, nothing stood out of too much note plotwise, but one aspect many that have reviewed it including scholars seem to have overlooked is the theme of behavioral modernity and cognitive evolution portrayed in the film. In my opinion, it was quite sophisticated, even if it wasn’t fully intentional!

“Although often debated, most scholars agree that modern human behavior can be characterized by abstract thinking, planning depth, symbolic behavior (e.g. art, ornamentation, music), exploitation of large game, and blade technology, among others” (Wikipedia)

“A more terse definition of the evidence is the behavioral B’s: blades, beads, burials, bone toolmaking, and beauty.” (Wikipedia)

The character Guy, the modern human, shows many of the traits of behavioral modernity and more advanced cognitive skills than the other cave people. Anatomically, too, he is set apart from them as they all have more robust and stocky bodies. I actually do wonder if the creators of the film actually did consult with some paleoarchaeologists! I can only hope! I also find it amusing that they named him “Guy”, as in just a person. It’s similar to “Adam” being called “Adam” as the word merely means “man” in Hebrew, or “Everyman” in The Pilgrim’s Progress. It sends the message that yes, even though he’s primitive, he’s just another guy like you or me! Perhaps he represents modern humans as a whole just as Everyman in Pilgrim’s Progress represents all Christians. Moving on to the main point though, I made a list of specific examples of how Guy demonstrates behavioral modernity in his cognition:

  1. The Ability to Use and Control Fire

In the first scene with him, Eep discovers Guy when she sees a torch of fire that he made. Guy is capable of making and controlling the fires he makes and shows the others Related imagehow to do it. In one humorous scene, the family is amazed by his control of fire and accidentally sets their environment on fire when Eep’s brother tired to play with it! He also uses fire in another scene near the end to deter animals from swarming around him and Eep. Cooking food is also another human universal, made possible by fire! Guy does that too, to the Crood’s delight.


2. Domestication of Animals

Image result for the croods GuyGuy has a pet monkey-like creature that he takes care of. Modern humans domesticated the dog around 14,700 years ago. This was an important leap for humanity as it led to other higher-thinking behaviors in controlling aspects of nature down the road for the neolithic revolution. Many believe that the domestication of the dog arose out of a symbiotic relationship with wild dogs, humans would feed them and they gave humans protection.


3. Use of Blade Technology

Guy uses blade tools in the film. This is thought to be one of the marks of the “Great LeapImage result for behavioral modernity blades Forward” in human cognition around 50,000 years ago. Earlier hominids used tools too, but not to the level of sophistication that modern humans have made. However, 50,000 years ago tool designs really took off though! Tools went from more thick blunt pieces of flint, to thin pieces five times sharper than a modern-day scalpel!


4. Self Ornamentation

One can see that Guy wears jewelry to adorn himself as well as pigment. This was evidence of a great cognitive leap; a sense of self and the abstract concept of what is Image result for the croods Guyaesthetically pleasing. One has to have a certain level of self-awareness in order to care about how one looks and is perceived by others. There is more evidence of modern humans adorning their bodies, but some evidence is coming to light that Neanderthals did it too, but to a lesser extent. I noticed the other family members of the Croods did not adorn themselves the way Guy did, so I wonder if they did that on purpose. I assume it was to show his superior cognition visually too.

5. Abstract Thought

This one by far is the most important in my mind, and overarches to connect with all the other traits of behavioral modernity. Without our increased ability for abstract thought, we wouldn’t have any of the other traits. Guy demonstrates is increased capacity for it in his numerous inventions that the Croods were mostly incapable of thinking and imagining something new and unheard of. Guy’s ability to invent shows advanced problem solving skills and an imagination, which is in the abstract! He also shows it in his self-awareness in decorating himself and how he used fire to fend off animals. The most prominent scene that comes to mind though is when he disguised himself to be an animal for protection. This shows his ability to imagine being something he is not, which we may take for granted as simple, but is a massive cognitive achievement compared to the rest of the animal kingdom. The ability to imagine creating something and having a mental image of the finished product in your head is also a mark of behavioral modernity. While earlier humans had limited versions of those abilities, they really took off in the Great Leap forward 50,000 years ago!

Image result for the croods Guy disguised

This music video shows some of the scenes he displays his behavioral modernity! Can you spot some examples too?



Posted in Helping Make History More Interesting, Opinion Piece, Paleolithic and Neolithic, Reviews | 1 Comment

Latin and Spanish: More Cool Cognates :)

(I want to start this post off with a personal note: This post is specially dedicated to my awesome Spanish teacher I had in High School. Everyone knows an enthusiastic, dedicated teacher makes all the difference and helps inspire one’s passions in life. Thank you for being an above and beyond teacher and letting your passion shine through everyday for what you do. You enthusiasm for languages was contagious and I think I caught it! Muchos gracias. ¡Esto es para ti!)

The Romance Languages were all derived from Latin. This included Spanish, Portuguese, French, Italian, Romanian, and Catalan. The Roman Empire stretched as far as the Iberian Peninsula where Spain and Portugal are, as well as the rest of Europe into the Middle East. The Romans owned the Mediterranean Sea at the height of their expansion! Naturally, the conquered peoples started to Romanize and started to speak Latin. However, a funny thing happened, their “Latin” started to drift a bit from the Latin spoken by the Romans. Since they were isolated from each other, they developed their own dialects of “Latin”, but believed they were speaking what the Romans spoke! It was only until Rome was long Christianized and was losing power after the Vandals raided in 476 and sacked the capital in the west. I wouldn’t call it the “Fall of Rome”, since the empire still considered themselves to be Roman, just that Rome had a big setback. Modern day historians make that distinction for their own conveniene, but the people at the time considered themselves Roman up into the Holy Roman Empire in the Middle Ages! It was the Irish monks who knew and preserved the original Latin language that burst their bubble so to speak and broke the news that they were speaking something quite different! However, languages like Spanish and French and Italian share many cognates with Latin, a fact I found out when trying to learn a bit of Latin! Without Spanish, I would not have understood nearly as much Latin!

Spanish grammar is much more simple than German grammar, much less Latin! However, there are many cognates in verbs, adjectives and nouns that sound and sometimes even spelled similar! Here’s a chart of some parallels I’ve come across:

English Latin Spanish
I love you Te amo Te amo
Tree árbol árbol
Anger ira ira
Garden horto huerto
Sun sol sol
Alone sōlus solo
To live vivire vivir
We are sumus somos
To run curerre correr
To go Īre ir
You tu tu
You plural vōs vosotros
We nōs nosotros
When quando cuando

Obviously, there are many more, but these came to mind :) One can see the striking similarities in many nouns and verbs. This was in mind when I studied Latin. It’s funny to think that those people thought they were speaking Latin that whole time, but in many ways, the romance languages are mostly dialects of Latin. The boundaries between distinct languages are more blurred than many people realize, it is more a matter of political boundaries than linguistic differences.

Posted in Ancient History, Helping Make History More Interesting, Linguistics and History | 2 Comments

Old English and German: Almost One and the Same

Old English is not Shakespeare’s English, which is Early modern English! Old English sounds unintelligible for the most part with Modern English and has much more complex grammar that we have cast off. However, for the Germans out there, Old English sounds vaguely like German grammatically and has many cognates! In a huge sense, I think it sounds like a dialect of German, like Low German. In light of the fact that the Anglo-Saxons spoke Old English it’s less surprising as the Saxons were a Germanic people and Saxony is in Germany. The Anglo-Saxons called it “Ænglisc” and we get the word “England” from them. I have studied German for about 2 years now, and I can personally attest to much of the grammar and vocab being amazingly similar! I think that’s cool considering how much I love the German Language!

For starters, there’s the similarity in the vocab. Guten Morgen is how you say “good morning” in German. In Old English: Gōdne Morgen! (The ō sounds like oo.) Grammar has some striking similarities too in regards to word order, with the second verb going last in a sentence, and verb conjugation. The present perfect both use the prefix ge– as well. In Old English, “Do you speak English” is Spricst þū Englisce? ( sprikhst thoo ENG-li-sheh?In German it is Sprichst du Englisch? (sprickst doo English?) In addition, Old English has many cases like the Nominative, Accusative, Dative, and the Genitive and nouns decline accordingly. Noun-adjective agreement is also important, unlike in Modern English but like in German. Modern English only has remnants of the case system prominent in things such as personal pronouns (I, me, mine, etc…). Another thing that Old English and German share are grammatical genders. In German, male is “der”, female is “die” and neuter is “das”. Old English has different ones though: “se” is male “sēo” is female, and “þæt” is neuter. (þ is pronounced like a th, æ is pronounced like the a in “cat”).  To make things easier to see, I made some charts:

Modern English Old English Modern German
Hello Ƿes hāl (singular). (WESS haal) Hallo
My name is… Ic hātte ______ . (itch HAHT-teh) Mein Name ist (Ich heiße…)
Do you speak English? Spricst þū / Sprecaþ gē Englisce? (sprikhst thoo / sprekath yay ENG-li-sheh?) Sprichst du/Sprechen Sie Englisch?
Good Morning Gōdne morgen. (GOAD-neh MOR-khen) Guten Morgen
Good Afternoon Gōde ofernōn. (GOA-DE O-VER-Na-O-n) Guten Nachmittag
Good Evening Gōdne ǣfen. (GOAD-neh AY-ven)Good night. Ēadigne ǣfen ġiet. (AY-diy-neh AY-ven yet) Guten Abend
I don’t understand. Iċ þæt ne undergiete. (itch thaat neh OONDER-YEH-teh) Ich verstehe nicht.

Note how a lot of the verbs are quite similar, although some vocab is a bit more reminiscent of English, especially the times of the day. This is just a theory, but I find hātte and heiße to be vaguely similar. Hātte, probably coincidentally, sounds like hatte, German for I or he/she/it “had”.

Old English Pronouns Witan To Know (Information) German Pronouns Wissen To Know (Information)
Iċ (I) wāt Ich (I) weiß
Þū (informal you) wāst Du (informal you) weißt
hē/hit/hēo (he/she/it) wāt er/sie/es (he/she/it) weiß
Wē (we) witon Wir (we) wissen
Ġē (you all) witon Ihr (You all) wisst
Hīe (they) witon Sie/sie (formal you/they) wissen
Old English Pronouns Cunnon  To Know (a person/place) German Pronouns Kennen To Know (a person/place)
Iċ (I) cann Ich (I) kenne
Þū (informal you) cannst Du (informal you) kennst
hē/hit/hēo (he/she/it) cann er/sie/es (he/she/it) kennt
Wē (we) cunnon Wir (we) kennen
Ġē (you all) cunnon Ihr (You all) kennt
Hīe (they) cunnon Sie/sie (formal you/they) kennen

One can see how similar they are in sound and conjugation as well. I chose these verbs because one, they’re not too irregular, kennen is regular and wissen has one stem change, and two, Modern English doesn’t distinguish between the two types of “to know”, but German and Old English do! (So does Spanish, but that’s a different story…). You can also see how Iċ and Ich sound similar, also þū and du :)

This is just the tip of the iceberg, so to speak, there are many examples too numerous to dive into in one post! You could write a whole book on the subject! But overall, you get the point: English had much in common with German, and still does and is a Germanic language! Lastly, here are some resources to hear and learn more old English! I personally find the development of languages quite fascinating, as the Germans say, “Ausgezeichnet!”

Old English Phrases

Old English Omniglot

Posted in Helping Make History More Interesting, Linguistics and History, Middle Ages | Leave a comment

Neanderthal Nature Show!

I discovered this documentary a few years back, but never wrote about it. I like to watch it from time to time because I love the style they made it in. Unlike many documentaries, it is far from the dry stereotypical narrator droning on putting people to sleep. This one is set up more like a nature show, as if cameras were following a band of neanderthals in their “natural habitat”, so to speak.  It details how they survive, and even a face to face encounter with a cro magnon! The neanderthals even are shown to possess their own language, as scientists now believe they spoke a simple language similar to our own. Unlike the common image of a more brutish neanderthal, they are shown to have a complex society, almost on par with the primitive humans. However, they lack more traits of behavioral modernity, such as body adornment and abstract thought and symbolism. New evidence suggests neanderthals may have possessed those traits too, but there is no hard evidence confirming it.

Related image

The story is mostly straightforward, the neanderthals try to survive the oncoming winter, but are forced to migrate to find better hunting grounds. However, one female stays behind and (amusingly to me) has a “one night stand” with a cro magnon! This isn’t too implausible, as hybrid human-neanderthal children’s remains have been found. I also like the part when they caught a female from another tribe and the dominant female looks her over to assert her dominance in the clan. I guess women have always had a catty side :) I can almost imagine it like a reality TV show about territorial catty cave women! The documentary gets gloomy at the end though, as it is unlikely the rest of the band would survive the harsh winter and the cro magnons in their old territory. Indeed, by the very end, the cro magnons resettled their abandoned campsite. Overall, the documentary is probably a bit slow paced for some people who want more of a story type narrative, but I personally enjoyed the nature show type format it was presented in.

One last thought of mine is a bit unique: If one could actually film real neanderthals, how unobtrusive could one be ethically? What I mean is, when a neanderthal gets hurt or ill, or is a victim of violence, is it ethical to just standby and film it. In most nature documentaries, it is deemed ethical since it is the way of nature with non human animals. If a lion kills a zebra, no one feels the ethical need to “save” the zebra as it is the way of nature that the lion must eat. However, the neanderthals are basically human, and probably have sapience similar to ours. Is it ethical to stand by and document a Neanderthal Cultureneanderthal’s suffering when we would have the technology to alleviate it such as an injury or illness? To capture their natural behavior, one must stay undetected, but is it unethical to document their suffering the same way it would be to document a violent crime for a documentary but not come to the victim’s aid or call the police? If one chooses to “save” the neanderthal, it ruins the whole study of them and alters their behavior, but if one lets it suffer, are they morally responsible? I don’t quite know the definitively right answer myself. Would they be under nature’s jurisdiction thus it being acceptable to leave it at the mercy of the natural world as we do other animals, or would a neanderthal, or caveman in general, require the intervention of the human world? One could argue the degree of personhood another species of extinct human has if they have different cognitive capabilities, but that would take up another post!

Posted in Archaeology and Anthropology, Helping Make History More Interesting, Opinion Piece, Paleolithic and Neolithic, Reviews | 3 Comments

War Game

I discovered this short 30 minute film about WWI and it’s quite interesting! It’s animated like a kid’s cartoon, but has much darker elements to it to be considered solely for young children. The story is historical fiction about a soccer team in England joining up to be in Related imagethe army for the impeding war with Germany. The main characters, Lacy and Will are warned by their mother that war is not a “game”, and that they’re needed on their family’s farm, but it is too late. They have their call up papers for Wednesday. They both enter the scene with enthusiasm eager to defend England and the glory once they return. However, they soon find out the grim reality of WWI in the trenches. They begin to settle in after a while and find out how well the German can shoot when they throw things up into the air. One German even makes a smiley face on a metal plate just by shooting it! This is the first time one gets an inkling that the Germans are human too. Things looked grim again until Christmas eve when the Germans sing “Stille Nacht“.  That morning, a German comes out of his trench and bounces around a “foot ball”, challenging the English soldiers to a game of “football” (soccer in America). Will goes out first and soon both sides play a game of football! The fun gets so intense, they end up with 5 goals and 6 balls! Afterwards, both sides get friendly exchanging gifts and stories. Related imageHowever, their superiors get wind and stop the fun. After this, the gloom of war returns and the English soldiers miss their home and football team. The film ends with the English side charging into battle as Will tries to compare it to playing positions in his football games. An explosion goes off and Will is injured badly and lands in a crater with a wounded German. They exchange pictures of the German’s children and Will’s football team. A narrator narrates the rest as Will imagines his team for the last time and closes his eyes peacefully before passing away.

I liked the gentler introduction to the harsh realities of war the film portrayed. The animated style makes it more friendly for a younger audience and it isn’t graphic with blood and guts, but it is very sad especially at the end. I hate to imagine how their family reacted to the news. They were so upset to start with, now their fears were confirmed. I liked how it portrayed the boys as so eager to join and I liked the metaphor in the song “Play the Game” of England having these boys as puppets on a string, being Related imagepropagandized and manipulated by their government. I also loved how they made sure to humanize the Germans and that they weren’t different from the English soldiers. The bilingual element was cool, as it showed that even with the language barrier, they connected never the less. The ending scene really drove the message of shared humanity home when both the English and German soldier showed each other what was meaningful to them and then died together. The narration at the very end was also very touching.

I think the movie is great for kids actually, despite the sad parts. It shows the harshness of war but in a much more toned down way than adult war movies. It is not as focused on the violence, but on the tragedy of war and the message of shared humanity. Many people think children can only handle “unicorns and rainbows” nowadays, but children need to be exposed to big ideas and ethical dilemmas in order to learn to think critically and be aware of their world. Children need to realize that not everything has a happy ending, and yet, also strikes a balance of not being too graphic too soon. War Game is a great introduction to the history of WWI and to big ideas about the nature of war and shared humanity.

Posted in Helping Make History More Interesting, Military, Modern History, Reviews | Leave a comment

The Crucifixion: Was Jesus the Victim?

(Please Note: This contains some theological arguments. While I try to stick to a strictly historical context, due to the nature of this topic, some theological points come into play. This does not mean that these are literal religious standpoints that I endorse, but merely an analysis of what is said in the Christian narrative. To sum it up, I am analyzing the Bible as a source document, not endorsing actual religious views…)

For Christians everywhere, the Crucifixion of Jesus Christ is the central event in Christianity. Many believe that this led to the salvation of humanity, and the forgiveness of their sins. There are two main perspectives, the Substitutionary Atonement view, in which Jesus’ death was of primary importance, and the Moral Influence Theory, which the death is viewed more as a martyrdom.The latter is the most common view. Many Christians feel angered at Jesus’ death, saying it was unjust. In accordance, many blame the Romans and sometimes Jews for executing Jesus. In popular opinion, many feel Jesus was executed due to his teachings and stating he was “King of the Jews”. Many of these sentiments carry over anti-Roman/anti-pagan undertones. This casts the Romans as the bad guys in a lot of ways, in the light that they were intolerant towards Jesus’ beliefs and teachings. Naturally, one is inclined to feel more sympathetic towards the victim, especially one of such a horrific punishment, but how much of a “victim” was Jesus?

To understand the why’s of the Crucifixion, one must understand some of the historical and cultural context of Jesus’ world. The Romans conquered ancient Judea and the surrounding regions by the time Jesus was supposedly around (History Is Interesting’s First Anniversary!: Reflecting On The First Post Ever). The Jews in the region and the Romans did have some clashes, they had resentments over being under Roman rule and Romans did not take kindly to insurrections, but Rome was more relaxed on matters of religion. Ancient Rome and pagan religions in general, take a more relaxed view on other belief systems. Unlike Christianity and Islam, pagan religions are not exclusivist in that they do not assert that only one religious doctrine is true, thus are more tolerant of other belief systems. Many pagans have even integrated foreign deities into their own pantheon including the Christian god! Jesus’ teachings were not seen as a threat to Rome, in a world where there were dozens of other mystery cults too! The only thing that would get the Romans’ attention would be a threat to the state. The whole “King of the Jews” thing was considered blasphemy by the Jewish courts, and Blasphemy was not a Roman crime. The Romans often let the local courts preside over such matters that do not interfere with Rome. Also, the punishment for Blasphemy under Jewish law was stoning, not crucifixion. During the alleged events, Pontius Pilate, the prefect of Judea, asked the people whether or not he should spare Jesus or another condemned man. In reality, if Jesus was thought to be a threat against Rome, Pilate would not have let the people choose to release him, as it would only fuel any revolt. Many of the events proceeding up to Jesus’ death and resurrection parallel many much more ancient narratives. Syncretism was not a problem in pagan religions, and even earliest Christianity! There is even a name for the phenomenon, Dying and Rising Gods. The events in Jesus’ death and resurrection are part of an ancient literary tradition in many other cultures. In essence, the facts as presented in the narrative have a more dubious standing in light of the historical background of the time.

In addition to many historical inconsistencies, claiming Jesus as a victim in popular opinion does not have a sound theological basis. In Christian doctrine, the salvation of humanity through Jesus’ death and resurrection was part of a wider divine plan by God. Jesus was aware of the plan beforehand!

From then onwards Jesus began to make it clear to his disciples that he was destined to go to Jerusalem and suffer grievously at the hands of the elders and chief priests and scribes and to be put to death and to be raised up on the third day.  Then, taking him aside, Peter started to rebuke him.  ‘Heaven preserve you, Lord,’ he said, ‘this must not happen to you.’  But he turned and said to Peter, ‘Get behind me, Satan!  You are an obstacle in my path, because you are thinking not as God thinks but as human beings do.  Matthew 16:21-23

Another passage states: “If God is for us, who can be against us?  Since he did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for the sake of all of us, then can we not expect that with him he will freely give us all his gifts.” Romans 8:31-3  Both passages state explicitly that God planned and ordered the whole thing. And to add to the confusion, if one believes in the trinitarian nature of God, then Jesus is also God, so God planned to crucify himself! To blame the Romans and make them out to be the bad guys does not make sense if a divine being was in control of his own fate the entire time! I honestly feel bad for the other two men beside Jesus, as they didn’t have the privilege to come back to life after their executions. What if the people said to spare him? While many would have liked that, what would the divine consequences be? I assume God would need a plan “B”; stoning perhaps? How much control do mere mortals have over any divine plan?…

Overall, the whole issue is more appropriate for the theologians, and not the historians to argue. However, history provides some evidence and insight into the matter. If you go back to my older posts, the stance is that the existence of a historical Jesus is also dubious, due to the lack of secular sources on him. Despite that, the crucifixion of Jesus colors perceptions of other ancient people, so I have come to their defense.


The earliest crucifixion in an illuminated manuscript, dated 586 AD

Posted in Ancient History, Holidays, Opinion Piece, Religion | Leave a comment

Art and History III: German Soldiers

As in previous posts, Art and History Part II: Sculpting The Insane for example, I am often inspired to make art about the history I’m studying! This time, I made German soldiers from WWI up to the Berlin Wall!

P1050309 “Defeated German WWI”


German soldier WWII


German Tank WWII


                           German boarder guards from East Germany and West Germany                                 (These function as bookends so the books in the middle help represent the wall!)

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