"Every new beginning Starts with some other beginning's end.” ; - SemiSonic ; - Seneca the Younger
“Oh look at those cavemen go; its the freakiest show.” - David Bowie
A sharp wind howls. The forms trudge into the cave. A light glows, beating back the darkness. Flickers of combustion dance along the walls. The flame's ebb pulls them to its warmth.
Solfa enters the cave's inner room. A burst of heat wraps around her. She husks off her pelts and stands before it in her nakedness. Ecstasy rolls up her flesh.
She smiles as she smells the mammoth meat roasting on the fire. Her tribe of twenty eats, moaning in approval.
With bellies full, they stand and erupt in song to celebrate this moment. Using their perfect pitch, the females and males calibrate their voices. The males begin with a deep bass. The females follow with a low alto.
And together they sing!
The walls reverberate with their voices. Bodies writhe around the fire, keeping step with the song's beat. Feet stomp, hands clap and bones drum. Their bodies quake, their larynxes rumble, and the children squeal and dance. This musical reverie melts the differences between them. Individuals become a chorus. A single unit who learned long ago they could only survive together.
For 250,000 years, the Neanderthals had struggled to thrive in Europe. They plodded through the harsh conditions of Earth's final ice age. Their survival depended on a deep bond which knit their clans tightly. Emotions held these groups together and singing, their emotional language, reinforced these bonds.
This night, they sing!
This night, they rejoice!
Their song echoes through the cave and flows into the night air, blanketing the forest in ever widening waves.
There's a familiarity to that sound. To the north and the west. Why is it so deep? Why is it so low?
The interlopers follow the sounds.
The Great Thaw was almost complete. This warming of the planet enticed the Neanderthal's cousins out of Africa. These are the humans whose ending I tell.
A group of male humans grab their spears, each with a stone flake tip. Ti, the alpha, leads the men towards the source of the song. Moonlight shines a path along a riverbed.
At the mouth of the cave, the men pause. They gesture to each other. Their mouths open. Words come out. These words communicate abstract ideas. These abstract ideas form a plan. Heads nod.
Ut holds back from his fellow humans and listens. This youngest post-pubescent male has yet to be fully socialized. His heart swells as tears rush to his eyes. Their song is so beautiful! He feels their ecstasy. He feels part of them!
Another hunter yanks him and they tiptoe down into the cave.
One Neanderthal breaks the chorus with a scream. All eyes turn. Standing between them and their only exit are...
The females and children fold behind the males. Solfa scans the intruders. They are smaller. They are darker. And their bodies are hairless.
Across the fire, they see their cousins. Separated by 300,000 years, these two species still share 99.7% of the same DNA.
A male Neanderthal steps forward, meeting the leader of the humans, Ti. The Neanderthal towers over him, staring the man down. His nostrils flare. His voice growls.
Ti does not flinch. He barks a string of harsh sounds. These sound waves travel through the cave and all hear. But the humans understand.
Sounds become ideas.
Ideas become actions.
These men raise their spears and create a semi-circle behind Ti. The Neanderthals recognize this aggression and step back.
This shrill sound pierces the sensitive Neanderthal ears, causing them to cower. Ti puffs himself up and mimics the Neanderthals, mocking them for their thickness.
Solfa grabs a hunk of meat, ducks through the line of males and stands before this alpha. With a pleading grunt, she offers the meat to the outsider.
Ti smacks the meat from her hand. He points at each of the Neanderthals menacingly. He screams a declaration of distaste, then turns and leaves. The other humans hold their spears firm as they back out of the cave.
Ut reaches for the meat from the ground. He holds this up to Solfa and smiles.
She smiles too.
Their cousin faces express the same welcome. Their emotions melt together leaving them with a warm feeling.
But then, fear pulls at Ut and he scurries out of the cave.
In the following months, these humans move swiftly through the Neanderthal land. With language, they communicate thoughts and ideas. They form complex multi-step plans to trap wild animals. During one hunt, three men move in from the left, four from the right and successfully corner a mammoth against a rock face. Two men stand on a cliff above. When signaled, they roll a boulder off the cliff, cracking the mammoth's skull, killing it instantly. A feast for two weeks!
Ideas expressed through words allowed this coordination. They teach each other how to make tools. These humans see an object and can envision how they can make it something else. They create a process of steps to build an object from an idea. With language, they share these steps with each other and then pass this knowledge through generations.
They bend the world to their will and build it.
There is no direct malice between the humans and Neanderthals. There is only a scarcity of resources and a shared, gnawing hunger. The humans outplan and outmaneuver their cousins.
The Neanderthals have not made complex tools. For more than 250,000 years they have survived in Europe, static. They have no language to transmit thoughts and ideas. They have only song to convey emotions. Their grunts have come to signify objects, but their brains could never comprehend abstract ideas.
One day, Solfa stands along the riverbed, collecting berries. Songbirds flit and flirt around her. Captivated by their sound, she sings with them.
Human women arrive on the other side of the riverbed and swiftly pick through the bushes. Their lips are painted a deep red. Each wears a necklace crafted with the skulls of tiny birds. The women use pieces of bark bent into bowls to collect their berries. Solfa looks at the pile of berries which overflows in her hand. She lays these down and reaches for the closest tree trunk. With a few grunts, she pulls off a large piece of bark. Free from the tree, the edges curl, making a large, shallow bowl.
The human men parade past, carrying their kill, a red deer, over their shoulders. The women run up to them, trilling with excitement. The humans head back to their camp to prepare this feast. Ut walks a few feet behind them. His eyes are downcast. He is still not accepted by the other adults.
Solfa beams a smile across the river to him. Ut's eyes absorb this sign and he feels happy. He grins back to her and catches himself. He looks around to see if the others have noticed and then he runs off.
After the feast, the humans sing around the campfire. The men and women pair off, retreating from the fire to create their own warmth.
Alone, Ut grabs the forearm bone of a vulture's skeleton, which has been skinned, devoured and left by the fire. He taps the bone on a rock and notices a hollow sound. An idea bursts into his mind and then sprouts down his spine to be made real by his fingers.
He can imagine.
He can create.
He snaps off the top and the bottom of the bone. With a flint, he carves two holes, equally spaced. Near the bottom, he adds a third hole, twice the distance of the first two. With the last embers of the fire, he cleans out his creation.
He purses it to his lips and blows.
He places a finger over one of the holes.
He places half a finger over the third hole, a third note! Through the evening, he experiments with his flute, creating 27 distinct notes and numerous combinations of these.
Across the river, Solfa shuffles out of her cave. Her body is weak from hunger. Food has been scarce for more than a moon cycle. What scraps they find are first given to the children and then to the hunters. No longer a child, not yet a mother, Solfa has gone many nights without food.
Out of earshot of her clan, Solfa sings. A low, mournful rumble escapes her lips. She aches to expel the sadness within her.
Ut sneaks away to play his flute along the riverbed, ensuring he won't disturb the others.
She hears a sound she's never heard before. It thrills her! Like the song of birds! But its too late for them and this sound has a wider range. She follows the music and hums along.
She sees him across the river, playing peacefully. He pauses to take a deep breath. Hidden from his sight, she repeats his last four notes.
He scans the periphery.
Was that a dream?
Or has his toy conjured something wonderful?
He plays ten notes and pauses. A voice echoes each of these. He plays a more complicated mix of notes to trick the phantom that haunts him. The wind whistles through the bushes. She takes a deep breath, concentrates and sings, hitting each note.
The soulful voice possesses him.
He stands and walks along the river, looking for its source. She steps out from behind a tree, letting moonbeams bathe her. Through the darkness, he sees a silhouette. She repeats the intricate set of notes he last played. He smiles. He plays the sequence again. She sways and sings along with him.
A pang of hunger hits Solfa and she stumbles. She struggles to stand. Ut reaches for her and can see tears forming in her eyes. With a slow whimper, she brings her hand to her open mouth and then chomps her teeth. Ut watches her repeat this gesture.
And then he realizes!
He runs off through the forest. Solfa, abandoned, collapses along the riverbed, her fingertips quenched by its waters.
Minutes pass and he appears with a thigh bone in his hand, glistening with meat and fat. She weeps with joy.
He sits next to her and watches as she devours the meat. She cracks the bone open and sucks out the marrow. A deep appreciation trembles through her as she looks at him.
She sings a song of thanks.
Ut reaches out and feels her fury body. She freezes, unsure of how he will react. He smiles again and lays next to her. His lips graze hers. Their bodies envelop each other. Her body hair bristles under his bald flesh. She tingles with excitement.
Groans of pleasure roll from them as their bodies rock in harmony, eager for this sexual healing.
Afterwards, he holds her and kisses her gently. He rises and smiles. He points to the moon and points to the ground beneath her. She understands. He will return the next night and she will be here, waiting for him.
During the following nights, Solfa sneaks out to meet him. Each night, he brings food for her and her clan.
When the sun's light fills the moon a third time, Solfa's lower abdomen swells. The Neanderthal females respond to her bump with downcast eyes. The matriarch squawks at her, brandishing her frustration. Solfa understands the emotional significance of these shrill tones. She should be ashamed. They all fear another mouth to feed during this difficult time.
Ut meets Solfa in the woods and notices her pregnancy. Nervousness flushes her cheeks. He smiles and hugs her close. With one finger raised, he flicks his wrist towards himself, towards his clan, beckoning her to join him. Relief drains the anxiety from her. She follows him home.
That night, Solfa sleeps with him for the first time. Wrapped under piles of pelts, she feels his warmth on her back and cries such joy until she drifts off to sleep.
Screams wake her. The pelts are ripped away, exposing her to the cold morning air. The women hurl disgust in rounds of insults. Solfa rises and the women recognize her pregnancy. Ut jumps to her defense, standing between her and the women. He beats his chest and shouts at them. He turns and holds Solfa. The women disapprove but walk away.
The day's first rays dance on the treetops. Ut and the men leave for the hunt, hoping to finish before the sun's heat sizzles the land.
Alone with the women, Solfa whimpers, pleading for their support. She reaches to the ground and begins to clear brush that has blown into their camp. Her attempts at usefulness are met with scorn.
The women leave to gather food. Solfa decides to imitate the appearance of her new family. She rubs red ochre on her lips. She reaches into the cold fire pit and collects ash on her fingertips. With this, she paints her face a darker color.
When the women return, they shriek with delight, seeing the clown that Solfa has become. The women surround her and push her, squealing with high pitches. One of the women spits in her face. Two others smear the makeup on her face.
With their words, these human women create an abstract social order and exile her from it.
Months pass as tensions buzz between Solfa and her new clan. The humans move to find different hunting grounds. She follows. She now sleeps at the edge of the camp, just out of sight. She can hear them laughing, singing and talking with their unlyrical guttural sounds, but she can't understand what they say. She cries into her mangy pelts.
Her only solace is Ut's nightly visits. He creeps through the darkness to lay with her for an hour before returning to his spot near the fire. When he leaves, she sings the song he first played for her, comforted that a piece of his love remains.
One night, humans and Neanderthals both awake to an agonizing scream that echoes through the valley. Ut recognizes Solfa's voice and runs to her. Squatting, leaning against a tree, she uses the force of gravity to birth their child.
A boy! Their son is born. Ut grabs a flint and cuts the umbilical cord. She holds the child in her arms. Still blind to the world around him, the baby flails in the cold night air, crying. She rocks him and begins to hum. The crying continues. She opens her mouth and sings. She sings Ut's song.
The baby recognizes this melody. He has heard it every night for the last three months, ever since his ears could perceive sounds from outside the womb. His cries soften to a sniffle. Ut wraps his arms around Solfa and their child. He joins her in the song. Their child stops crying and falls asleep.
She names him for the note that sings from her heart when she sees him. La!
“La, la la la la, la la la la la.” She sings to him.
Come morning, the humans surround the child and inspect him from head to toe. They want to know, is he like us or is he like her? This unformed boy gives little hints as to what he'll be when he's grown. Unfulfilled, the humans surrender him back to his mother and stomp away.
Months pass and La grows. He opens his eyes and begins to see the world. He squeals and cries and screams and smiles. Solfa holds him close and sings.
Utter Nonsense! Devoid of meaning but brimming with love and devotion, this song soothes him each night.
And for his part, he opens his mouth and sings. He mixes consonant and vowel sounds: “ga-ga” and “goo-goo.”
His first attempts to be heard, to be understood.
Solfa twirls him around, repeating these sounds in waves of notes, low to high and back again.
He purses his lips and pushes out, “mmmmm mmmmmbop.”
Solfa looks at him with excitement. He opens his mouth.
She squeals with excitement. La gurgles and repeats himself.
“Ma ma ma maaaa. Ma ma ma ma maaaaa.”
During the child's second summer, he strings complex sounds together. Solfa recognizes objects: mother, fire and the names for tools. But she can't understand the rest. The humans smile at him and nod their heads.
They share a knowingness she never will.
With nouns and verbs, he constructs sentences, expressing a whole range of ideas.
The women grab him and tickle him. They grunt long lines of sounds and he listens. In awe, he absorbs what they say. But there's no music in these sounds. He repeats these and laughs with them. The women point at Solfa and squawk sounds to her son. Her eyes widen. Her ears perk up. She can hear them, she can see their angry gestures, but she can't understand them.
As humans expanded their societies beyond the intimate 20-person tribes of Neanderthals into social groups of more than 150 humans, they needed a way to communicate with each other about which humans they could trust and which they couldn't. As the tangled webs of human interactions changed rapidly, they needed to convey who was having sex with whom, who was the new alpha, who had lost favor, and who was a thief and a liar.
Thus gossip was born. Humans evolved language skills so they could share these complex, abstract ideas about each other and quickly reorganize their social order.
The human women mock Solfa's stocky build and plod around her, puffing their cheeks, grunting words as they point at her. They pinch at her hairy skin.
Her son rolls on his back and laughs and laughs and laughs.
He points at his mother and repeats the harsh sounds the women have made. They pat him on his head and feed him scraps of deer meat.
In an instant, their gossip has poisoned La's interpretation of his own mother.
Solfa pleads with Ut, pulling on his arm and pointing to their son, now wrapped in the adoring embrace of the women. He tries to retrieve their son, but La howls.
With a word, he severs his family and creates a new one.
La slips further from her. He stops looking at her. He runs away whenever she approaches. Despair drags her down as she understands. He has grown ashamed of his thick, hairy, ugly mother.
But as he sleeps, in his fits of childish dreams, she creeps next to him and lays his head on her lap. And she sings.
His tense body relaxes.
And for a moment, he is her baby again.
But that ends each morning.
The human women teach their children elaborate ways to torment Solfa. They kick her and throw rocks at her. She retreats further into the forest, away from the humans.
But every day, she watches her son from the bushes. His young body develops a solid, muscular frame. Through the years, she observes him grow stronger and taller than the human boys.
One night, around the fire, her son surprises the group with a flute he made with his father. He begins to play it idly while the others feast. Up the scale and down the scale, he plays. A sequence of notes feels familiar to him. He repeats it. Again and again. A melody strikes something deep inside his psyche.
Hidden in the woods, Solfa hears the flute.
Its her song! It's the song she sang during those cold, lonesome nights during her pregnancy. She follows the flute and sings along.
All the children stop, enthralled by a beautiful voice billowing from the trees. They look around, eager for its source. Solfa steps into the fire's light and sings this song with all her strength, filling night. The children's faces turn from excitement to shock.
One boy rolls on his back and cackles, pointing at Solfa.
He has sealed her fate.
The others pick up his cue and laugh at her. Tears fill her eyes as she looks to her son. The other children turn to La with disgust.
He snaps his flute in half and runs at his mother. Solfa opens her arms to embrace him. He spits in her face. He kicks her shins and she falls. The other children circle them, cheering him on. He grabs his mother's body hair, twists and pulls. She screams in pain as blood trickles from where a fistful of fur had once been. He pummels her with all the frustration he feels for being a half breed. The other children join in, pounding their knuckles into her back. In the distance, she can see the adults smiling. Ut sits at the fire, paralyzed, watching these children. No one stops them.
She summons her strength and stands up. The children jump back, afraid of what this monster will do to them. She picks up her son and hurls him to the ground. She howls and staggers away.
She walks and wails all night. Through the trees, she keens her misery. Just before dawn, she finds a river. She washes the blood and dirt from her face and body. Once the tears no longer blur her vision, she sees. The bend in the river seems familiar.
Memories flood her mind!
She darts through the woods and she finds her way back to the mouth of her cave.
Back to her clan!
Rapture rushes through her as she sings her way down the cave, back to her kind.
She calls. No response.
She calls again. No response.
They could all still be sleeping, she thinks.
Down she skips, her footsteps' echoes urge her on.
She enters the inner room. Darkness cloaks her. She walks to the fire pit. The ground around it is cold. She searches the cave for any clues of her family. The uneven ground cracks beneath her feet.
She sits. Her song softens to a hum as she waits for her eyes to adjust.
Her retinas survey the cave with minimal light. She can see shapes littering the ground. Bones! Maybe there's scraps of meat left on these deer bones.
Earth turns until sunlight pours into the cave.
She carries the largest bone she can feel to the light.
Its a skull.
The white photons bounce off its surface, illuminating it for her eyes. And she realizes.
Its a Neanderthal skull!
She feels around the inner room. Skulls. More skulls.
The horror grows in her.
They're all dead!
Everyone of her kind is dead.
She's all alone!
An epic wail roars from her body and rumbles from the cave. All the animals that hear it pause.
A songbird ruffles its feathers and sings.