Having arrived at Charles Darwin’s contribution last week, we now have to see what it really was useful for since science has overhauled most of it. That, of course, is also a quite useful reminder that our species is quite capable of doing things alone, aliens appear not to be necessary. We can also assume on the basis of the biological evidence and a lot more that if there was any kind of civilisation before humans, it was not very helpful since they left us with nothing, seemingly not even genes. As to the exact origin of our origin, it clearly bypassed any previous civilisation or visiting aliens. That is where we head now.
Darwin produced one of the first illustrations of an evolutionary ‘tree’ in The Origin of Species. Evolutionary biologists still use ‘trees’, already mentioned when we were looking at DNA, to illustrate evolution because graphic representations most effectively convey the notion that speciation occurred through an adaptive and semi random splitting of lineages. That system of classification has become far more forceful as more about evolution has been discovered or, very often, hypothesised. Early use of ‘branching’ phylogenetic trees included a ‘palaeontological chart’ which showed geological relationships among plants and animals in Edward Hitchcock’s 1840 ‘Elementary Geology’. So it is nothing new at all. A phylogenetic tree is based on recombinant DNA (rRNA) genes that show the three (known) life domains that are archaea, bacteria and eukaryota. There is a black branch or root at the bottom of the phylogenetic tree that connects the three branches of living organisms to the last universal common ancestor (LUCA). The substance of that root is speculative. The assumption thus far is that a combination of naturally occurring substances that included or were born of H2O, that is an inorganic, transparent, tasteless, odourless, and almost colourless chemical substance made up of one oxygen and two hydrogen atoms that in its liquid form we call water. It is the main constituent of this planet’s hydrosphere and is found in all known living organisms. It is vital for all forms of life although it does not provide food, energy or any kind of organic micronutrients. Aha, you might say. Water may well contain ‘things’ but in pure form provides none of those things.
No matter how many unknowns there may be, including that some molecules combined to form a single celled organism that was not archaea, bacteria or eukaryote but over many millions, billions or even trillions of years somehow that first accidental organism became many; mutation or the same accidental process producing other organisms that eventually evolved. So here we are the children of a couple of molecules that bumped into each other in water. We still need that water, which explains why we are happy, give or take a few grumbles, to pay a disproportionate amount of money for a small bottle of the stuff in airport or railway station shops. Just bear in mind that every time we metaphorically throw a pebble in a river, the ripple might cause another species in an evolutionary trice, give or take a few billion years. So, if we are to survive, perhaps we should stop throwing stones in water, caution before making yet another error such as developing belligerence in our strange nature. The next lot might be worse.
Now scientists, particularly astrophysicists and astrobiologists are looking at far distant stars that may have satellites comparable with our planet. They are already certain that hydrogen is universally present, speculating on the presence of water, thus of an opinion that water is the basis for life. It is here, so why not there? Thus any planet with water may have life of one kind or another. That is where our improbable alien visitors may have come from. So back to ‘Was There a Civilization on Earth before Humans?’
Where does that leave a space for this unknown civilisation, or by putting von Daniken’s theory in that frame, a number of dispersed unknown civilisations? Now let us just imagine that the world was all but wiped out by a devastating nuclear war. A few survivors dotted around the world would need to start again, but let us go a step further and picture these as not people from advanced industrial societies but simpler, often remote living people who nonetheless had to change from a strategy of livelihood to one of survival because ‘civilised’ people had also negatively affected them too by blowing each other up. Despite being remote, nuclear fallout, for instance, tends to reach places explorers never go to. Time can have an effect of collective amnesia whereby not even oral histories persist. However, given tens or more likely hundreds of millennia, these people become highly civilised. Then one day somebody finds a vault deep down underground. In that vault there is a collection of twentieth century art that includes Giacometti sculptures, Picasso’s painting ‘Guernica’, a couple of Kandinsky and Dali paintings and a lot more. Our new people would almost certainly know some of the architecture, what would be left of it, and probably artefacts and some human remains. But just like the strange figures, circles on the ground and other items that shaped von Daniken’s hypothesis, they may be astonished by evidence of ancestors being very different, especially if they looked like Giacometti’s tall, thin people. It would all be in their minds because their society would have forgotten the past, probably rightly so. Creativity and imagination can be signposts on the road to the wrong place, if not getting irretrievably lost.
As the phylogenetic tree is developed by science that is becoming more sophisticated in its abilities to trace development backwards, there seems to be no space in ‘modern’ evolution, which is to say looking at what was here around 245 million years ago which is something like the equivalent of a few seconds in evolutionary terms and scarcely over today. If there had been alien intervention then there should be evidence in mtDNA or even, but unlikely, in rDNA whereby earlier evolution was a set of accidents comparable with laboratory experiments that produce positive outcomes. It has been, in other pro alien life theories, postulated that either Earth is a laboratory experiment of a highly developed species that is watching us closely or the seeds of humanity were planted here by visitors. That the very least it makes the notion that all life was created by the actions of a god that some Creationists say happened in a single creative event and that organisms created by him or her cannot produce new forms of organism, since only he or she can produce new ones, look rather absurd since it even clashes with their beliefs. For them we are unique and their god is omnipotent, extra-terrestrial life is not in their creator’s scheme of things.
Yet the supreme being they describe who resides in heaven, which is a place we cannot locate but is actually considered extra-terrestrial, has to be one of those visiting beings so perhaps on the basis of never be satisfied until something is tested and tried, perhaps there were other civilisations so that what we have come to accept as received wisdom is a complete misunderstanding of the age of dinosaurs. I don’t think so myself, anyway my Vulcan friends said there was not. Whatever the case and with all the bits and pieces that make us what we are, we are still quite imperfect as the unwanted, unjustifiable, very violent and destructive war ongoing in Europe and to a lesser, or at least less well known, extent conflicts in the rest of the world illustrate. Perhaps the original question should be more in the direction of ‘Were There Humans on Earth before Civilisation? A look at the available evidence that we have still not reached it’. If anybody thinks that is a question The European Network should not raise, they have a lot of explaining to do. The Ah¡buts will, of course, have much to contribute. Think about it. Over to you.
If you just happen to be an alien, would you please leave your contact details on your home planet and, for reference, the registration number of your spacecraft, we like to be thorough. If you are being sought for intergalactic speeding we promise not to turn you in.
Featured image by Cottonbro on Pexels.