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Published:November 11th, 2008 11:45 EST
Arthur C. Clarke

The Killer Ape is Dead

By Clinton Van Inman




Arthur C. Clarke

It has been forty years since Arthur C. Clarke`s 2001:A Space Odyssey made Hollywood.  Remember the scene where the pre-humans were fighting over the waterhole?  The ones that were armed with clubs secured the water rights. Clarke adapted Dart and Ardry`s killer ape theory, which states that man arose through the use of weapons. Man is a predator whose natural instinct is to kill with a weapon, ? Ardry declared in his famous book: African Genesis. Man learned to use weapons, learned how to eat meat, while his natural aggression and territoriality led to world dominance.  Nice theory, as I can imagine a pre-human setting taking place where apes are bashing each others brains out.  I think there is a truth to this story.


But that was forty years ago, and a lot has changed during that time.  Anthropologists today try to eradicate this belief in human aggression and territoriality by replacing it with cooperation, sharing, and the importance of culture. All the current models of pre-humans project this ideal from figures of Neanderthals that look more like characters out of Harry and the Henderson`s to National Geographical figures that look almost docile, amicable, and good natured.  Today the notions of Dart and Ardry are buried, or are they?  The killer ape hypothesis is an idea whose time has gone, ? avers Boyce Rensberger, a leading anthropologist fromNairobi. 


Was early man an aggressive hunter, a natural born killer or was he a fun loving creature depicted by modern science?  Only the fossil evidence can determine this if we really want to be scientific.  But the fossil record is incomplete especially when dealing with humans.  Any type of forensics to examine the cause of death in pre-humans is ruled out because time has eroded all the evidence. We would naturally look for evidence to support ancient murders, but there is little or no evidence, and real evidence is probably overlooked or not looked for at all.  Bashed skulls can be interpreted through other means, and even the weapons of crude stones would be almost impossible to differentiate from other stones.  We do have evidence to support later pre-humans indulging in savagery and even cannibalism, but we have no way so far of determining early aggression.  As a result anthropologists have turned to animal behavior, specifically the study of primates.  Rensberger cites that the gorilla and the chimpanzee both of which are remarkably amicable and non-combative animals, ? to refute Dart and Ardry.  Rensberger probably made this observation from a zoo or animals in captivity, but in the wild gorillas and chimps are anything but amicable as Jane Goodall has accurately shown.


Both sides have their argument, but little evidence.  I`ll leave it up to you to decide.  As for me especially when I drive home from school every day and pass the guy that has the pit bull barking behind the tall fence, I am reminded of my roots.