Ancestral Ideas Early in our lineage the handy man, Homo habilis, sees in his mind’s eye a useful connection between his hand and an egg-shaped basalt cobble milled by a river’s turbulent current long ago. He fits it to his hand and swiftly strikes another stone which produces a flake, a thin sharp-edged chopper or scraper easily seen as a tool to cut trees or meat, to scrape bark or the hide of an animal. Striding through tall grasses of the African savanna in the bright sunlight, Homo erectus, holds steady the image of his hunting fellows, taking a grazing zebra bachelor by surprise, by their combined effort like a pack of hyenas. They circle around under shady acacia trees, hearing casual snorts and the switching of tails; a lame one flees too late and is killed with clubs. A runner, having returned to camp, brings others with handaxes, cleavers, and growling stomachs. Tonight, around a cooking fire, they feast while two babies fuss suckling their mothers’ breasts. Not enough for them but more since siblings died. One mother clicks her tongue; the other, blows air on her infant’s face to bring on sleep. Pinkish streaks at the horizon announce dawn. Lanky men emit a sliding sound, eeeennaaaa. Sleepy youngsters stir in the dust while women search the ground for bones that their children can break for marrow when they feel hungry. Men slink down a slope to a muddy watering hole. Birds burst upwards in fright. In the night a pig has been killed while it drank. Would there be remains for scavenging? Only a muddle of animal tracks are found. The group will have to search elsewhere. Into the hot sunshine this sweating group of early humans find it pleasurable to lope over the wide savanna. To their minds no horizon is too far. They move toward the blue rise of mountains in the distance, hoping to find caves. Blue-colored horizons mean many days and nights spent looking for carcasses. Savanna grass gives way to scrub trees and succulents, the latter becoming a reliable water source. They meet other groups of roaming strangers. Babies who fussed under acacia trees are now men. Their deceased mothers left for predators or buried in shallow soil. They carry memories of white-haired Biftu who gave names to each in the small group to organize them and enable members to communicate. Succeeding this migrating group come others who slip through horizon after horizon, over endless surfaces, imagining what a difference a wooden shaft would make fitted to a long sharp blade of flint. Groups split apart, seeking alternative ways to live. Homo sapiens emerges as intuitive, if not conscious, aware of a companion’s motives and life’s potentials around them. They thrive on the northern edge of the African continent, adapting to variable environments, learning from their experiences and positing “what if.” By the seaside their outlook is flat and blue as sky. They walk through a vegetal corridor and find a land northward, not as luxuriant as the Ancestors had known. Caves become dwelling sites, but here they encounter new inhabitants who have moved from icy valleys in the north. Stockier, with a heavier brow, Homo neanderthalensis competes with the African immigrant for lynx and foxes, pestered by jackals and hyenas. This singing cave dweller of the Levant crafts small flint points with gripping fingers and his sharp-edged burin carves on delicate bone or antler. In open-air sites men design a core stone for specialty flakes. Fishes, hippos, small cats and bears along with wild cattle are butchered. Women look for bedding grasses, nuts and seeds. The two competing groups realize that combining their efforts to live make sense so they begin to cooperate and interbreed. When Elisav loses her daughter other women cry with her and fold the child’s knees into her chest. A niche in a rock formation is found in order that her closed eyes look toward the northwest. As an intentional act of affection a red deer jawbone is placed on the girl’s pelvis. That night mothers hold their children close. Later, offerings of fallow deer antlers and wild boar mandibles to the dead are incorporated into a simple ritual using words of a rudimentary language. Competition arises when a neighboring family shows deliberate intent to use the same burial ground. The original group, claiming ownership, drives them away with stones. With heads full of ideas and increasing physical skills, combined groups, not liking a crowded landscape, disperse east and west and proliferate along the way. Their progeny establish a variety of races and cultural traditions. At long last successful groups beget you and me and generations of space travelers seeking the moon. Thus, humans evolved using an ancient cognitive toolkit that went: I am preverbal. I am a figment embraced by imagination. I am the moment of eureka. I am the prize of consciousness. I AM AN IDEA.