Fossils are the only remaining traces of once-living beings, and their collective and individual lived experiences simply cannot be known. Yet, because the value in considering these aspects of humanity is philosophical rather than scientific, it is often overshadowed by scientific debates based on what we can actually interpret.
In my hands was the skull of a not-quite-human: a young male Australopithecus sediba. He had probably died when while he was walking above a cave chamber hidden underground, tripping into one of the exposed openings. He was alive before woolly mammoths existed, when 200-pound saber-toothed cats roamed the earth, and he lay where he died for nearly two million years while the rest of human history continued without him.
Did this human relative have thoughts or feelings? Did he feel pain or fear when he fell? Was his chimp-sized brain capable of generating happiness or sadness or anger?
We should take care to remember those facets of lives lost to history—the parts of humanity that will be forever beyond the grasp of science—and acknowledge that although data and interpretations may change, each piece of the puzzle has inherent value.
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