Rich inheritance of our ancestors passed through ages
What was, is and will be man?
By Olga Semenova
Scientists speculate that, in future, we may evolve a beak instead of teeth, or that our eyes will grow as large as saucers. Of course, the media love to report sensational announcements: the discovery of a vampire’s tomb or the burial place of a giant race. The remains of elves are yet to be found but perhaps we’ll soon be told. It’s difficult to know what to believe.
Of course, robots were once considered pure fantasy. At the Institute of History, part of the National Academy of Sciences of Belarus, researchers work to unravel fact from fiction. Prof. Lidia Tegako, who heads the Institute’s Department of Anthropology, is a Doctor of Medical Sciences studying ancient man’s appearance. She tells us, “Anthropologists, as a rule, believe in evolution, though there are other theories. For example, some assert that mankind arrived here from another planet. Such theories are classed within creationism (from Latin creatio — creator). Anthropology and other natural sciences support evolutionary theory, having data confirming the gradual development of man and all life on Earth. Certainly, ancient people did not look as we do today. Evolutionary development shows that we come from primates, with whom we bear similarities.”
Race of giants
On the Internet, you can find a photo showing archaeologists working on a huge skull. The caption reads that traces of a unique race of giants have been found — though to have once inhabited the Earth. Ms. Tegako explains, “Questions concerning sensations should be addressed to your colleagues I’m afraid. Some time ago, I read an amusing article about man’s evolution, based on studying louse DNA. I won’t comment on similar insinuations, or on other unscientific ‘stuff and nonsense’. I will say that there’s no confirmed data regarding the existence of half-races, amphibians, flying people, elves or gnomes! There are anomalies regarding the development of particular individuals or groups (for example, bushmen in Australia are small in height) but nothing more. Generally speaking, gigantism and dwarfism are ‘flukes’.”
Belarus was once home to the tallest person on Earth, Fiodor Andreevich Makhnov, whose height was 285cm. Born on June 6th, 1878, to a peasant family on a homestead in the Vitebsk Province, not far from the village of Kostyuki, he reached 2.5m as a teenager and soon became known worldwide as the ‘Belarusian Gulliver’. He worked in a circus for some time, travelling all over the globe under this nickname, before returning home and settling down with his wife, Yefrosinia.
His former home, in Gorbachi, is called the ‘Giant’s homestead’ and, in fact, his wife stood at 215cm. As you might expect, their five children were also reasonably tall! Fiodor died on August 28th, 1912, aged 34, and is buried in a churchyard just outside Gorbachi.
No change through the centuries
As for the appearance of modern Belarusians, we look as our great-grandfathers did: just a little taller. Ms. Tegako notes, “According to reconstructions of 18-19th century Belarusians, there’s really no change. The ‘Slavic type’ has its own characteristics, with Russians differing from Belarusians in having wider faces and higher cheekbones.”
Belarusian anthropologists have also been studying standards of physical development, which are defined every 5-10 years. Lidia explains, “We’re seeing leptosomisation, whereby the skeletal system gradually becomes weaker, with narrower shoulders and less muscularity.”
Such criteria can be measured objectively. It’s true that our environment brings evolutionary change over long periods of time but our offspring aren’t likely to notice any difference in their lifetime, or that of their great-great-great-grandchildren. There’s no danger of beaks or tentacles any time soon! As Stanley Kubrick said, survey the world with eyes wide open.