OF FOSSILS AND BEYOND!
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OF FOSSILS AND BEYOND!

Islamabad : Pakistan | Oct 20, 2012 at 2:15 AM PDT
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OF FOSSILS AND BEYOND!

BY KBINWAKEEL

Fossils – a quick look over the shoulder will tell us – have become a big thing of late. One may take time off to clarify that when one talks of fossils, one means fossils - the genuine variety. One does not refer, for instance, to the ones found mooching around in the city’s fashionable supermarkets. Discoveries of these fossils are being reported from all around the world. What is more as soon as they are unearthed the archeologists, or whatever they are called, promptly class them as ‘pre-historic’.

In a very recent news by AFP, datelined Moscow, it was disclosed that an 11-year old boy from a nomadic family in Russia’s north had “stumbled upon a massive well-preserved wooly mammoth in what scientists describe as the best such discovery since 1901”. The boy, reportedly, “discovered the frozen prehistoric animal when he was strolling along the banks of Yenisei River”. Director of the Saint Petersburg-based Zoological Museum called it “mammoth of the century”.

Not so very long ago, one came across the report of a “fossil” having been discovered in a remote region of China. It was ‘estimated’ to be some twenty million years old – give or take a million. Remarkable that (is it not?) how these archeologist chaps manage to calculate their ages in millions of years so accurately! Once they have discovered their fossil, one cannot help wondering how it is that they put their finger on whether the beastly thing is ten, twenty or even thirty million years old. Still, hats off to the experts! They do manage to cadge the headlines, though, which is all that appears to matter in the glittering world of the day.

The stories of fossil discoveries, it must be noted, rise and fall with the dooms-day lore, possibly because such discoveries are often linked to dinosaurs. Now, here is one species that is not only of prehistoric origin but has actually been extinct for several million years! Yet our gallant researchers still keep on speculating about the instance of their erstwhile appearance and eventual extinction from the face of the good Earth. Each time the discovery of a new dinosaur fossil is announced the accepted theory about the emergence and demise of the species is brought out from the dust covers and is re-assessed, so to speak.

Fairly recent studies had concluded that both the rise and fall of dinosaurs had occurred due to asteroid impacts on the good old Earth. The first such impact, some two hundred million years ago, precipitated the climatic and environmental changes that helped these awesome creatures to thrive. The second one, some sixty-five million years ago, triggered the changes that led to their mass extinction. Fairly handy things, these asteroids, one cannot help noticing. And mind-boggling is the way these scientist chaps do their sums and come up with all the right statistics! Not that statistics is anything one can bank on!

Some years ago, when the scientific community had finally got over the millennium bug scare, it was let known by ‘usually reliable sources’ that the theories on the extinction of the dinosaurs were being researched once again. Just shows you that these researcher chaps never sit idle! They have yet to come up with an alternative theory, though.

While on the subject, one may as well confess to often having had occasion to wonder why the late lamented dinosaur was chosen by nature to get it in the neck, while other species managed to scrape through with nary a scratch. The lowly cockroach readily comes to mind. This species is reputed to be the oldest one still around – having gone about their shady business for some three hundred million years! During these millions of years, they not only managed to survive the many cataclysms but also continued to go about their business as if nothing untoward had happened. One can hardly help wondering why?

The answer to this conundrum, dear reader, lies not in the stars – nor, indeed in the asteroids – but in the very nature of the species itself. One lesson to be learnt from the demise of the late lamented crop of dinosaurs is that it never pays to grow too big for one’s boots. And if, for some unfathomable reason, a being is obliged to expand, it would be advisable to ensure that the growth takes place in a balanced fashion. In the particular case of dinosaurs - one learns from the fossils in question - their growth was anything but balanced. The development of the brain, for instance, failed to keep pace with that of the waist (presuming, of course, that dinosaurs had waistlines!). The resultant product - sad to report - turned out to be lopsided in more senses than one. There you have the story in a nutshell, as they say.

That said, one cannot but allude to another aspect of the case – this one related to the nature of the species. Given that a certain creature happens to be outsize – as was the case with dinosaurs - it would help things if it (the creature that is) adopts a benign posture rather than an aggressive demeanor; it would not pay to throw its weight around. Putting it another way, taking advantage of one’s generous girth to exhibit a threatening posture vis-à-vis other species or even one’s own ilk that may be less endowed, can only lead to trouble.

Having blundered thus far, one may be excused for succumbing to the temptation of taking a faltering step further and adding a word or two about the ‘application’ of what may loosely be termed as the ‘dinosaur model’ to the (living) fossils of modern civilization. Larger than life empires, fiefdoms and conglomerates continue to erupt - dinosaur fashion. Again dinosaur-like, they take pride in taking advantage of their girth and weight to become scourges for their smaller and weaker neighbors. They would do well to study the story of the dinosaur. History is witness that, sooner rather than later, such monstrosities invariably collapse under their own weight. It makes a great deal of sense to learn from past mistakes. And yet, dinosaurs of the modern era continue to insist on re-living the past – a one-way passage to disaster. That is human nature for you!

All in all, fossils (whether living or dead) had more profitably be left to the researchers. Idealists will continue to pop up from time to time, unmindful of the pitfalls of yore. For the realist, the most prudent course that holds the secret of survival would be the straight and narrow! How’s that for a moral?

kbinwakeel is based in Islamabad, Federal Capital Area, Pakistan, and is a Stringer for Allvoices.
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