The Nonsapient Hominids

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Somes J
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The Nonsapient Hominids

Post by Somes J » Mon Feb 23, 2009 1:43 am

On the alter-Earth (ChoM World, but I’m using “alter-Earth” now because ChoM World just doesn’t sound very good) hominids have adapted to fill various empty ecological niches. Not all the lifestyles they have adapted to require high intelligence, and so some of them have lost sapience, and can no longer really be considered people. This thread is devoted to them.


LEAF EATERS

The Leaf Eaters are originally evolved not from Homo Sapiens but from Homo Erectus. Homo Asiaticus shared its ancestral range with Asian Homo Erectus, and during their preindustrial era the Masters had domesticated Homo Erectus, using them as servants and grunt laborers. By the time they developed technology they had already subjected their domesticated Erectus to centuries of selective breeding, producing a subspecies that was stronger but more compliant than the wild Erectus. When they discovered genetic engineering they applied it enthusiastically to their Erectus slaves. One of the Erectus-descended species they created was a creature they bred for hard physical labor. The Masters gave it tremendous physical strength, but enfeebled its mind so that it was just barely smart enough to follow simple orders, but no more. They also modified its digestive system so that it could live on cheap low-quality feed and even garbage.

The Masters who tried to use the Gateway to flee to the alter-Earth brought a number of these creatures with them to perform the hard labor that would be necessary in bringing civilization to their new world. When their human slaves rebelled, they freed these brutes and drove them into the forest, to deprive any surviving Masters of their labor. Their modified digestive system allowed these creatures to digest all sorts of tough plant matter that was inedible to their cousins, and they thrived.

The browsing lifestyle these creatures were ideally suited to move into did not require high intelligence. They spent most of their lives chomping away at low-quality food that was all around them, and they had no need for tools. With no incentive for intelligence their brains remained stunted and in fact atrophied even further, until they became considerably less intelligent than chimpanzees. After all, a stupid Leaf Eater needed less food than a smart one, placed less strain on its mother during childbirth, matured faster, and was basically just as good at what it needed to do to survive. With no need to use their hands for tools the Leaf Eaters reverted back to the knuckle-walking habits of their distant ape ancestors, exchanging manual dexterity for the ability to run faster. Today they resemble small, mostly hairless gorillas shambling through the forests of the alter-Earth, constantly nibbling at shrubs and trees as they move. Though we might tend to view the Leaf Eaters’ story as a tragedy, they are in evolutionary terms extremely successful, being the most numerous hominid species on the alter-Earth by far.

Today, the Leaf Eaters are the main source of protein for most of the other hominid species on the alter-Earth, being the largest terrestrial plant-eating animal on the planet by far. Unfortunately for the humans, their temperament makes them ill-suited to domestication. Since the day their independent evolution began their only predators have been other hominids, so all their survival instincts are honed to make them fear and avoid anything that looks, smells, or sounds like one of those meat-eating tool-using bipeds. They will run away in terror at the sight, scent, or sound of any sort of human-like creature. They will also attack humans if cornered, and their great strength makes them extremely dangerous in such situations.


DIRT EATERS

The Dirt Eaters are descended from relatively unmodified Homo Erectus brought to the alter-Earth by the Masters. With their less sophisticated tool-using and linguistic faculties, these creatures found themselves at a disadvantage in competition against human-descended hominids, so they began to specialize in scavenging. There were already indigenous scavengers on the alter-Earth when humans arrived, but none of them were large enough to be much of a match for a hominid, so it was an ecological niche the ancestors of the Dirt Eaters could readily exploit.

The intelligence of the Dirt Eaters has also atrophied, as their lifestyle does not demand a great deal of intellect. To survive they simply need to follow their sensitive noses whenever they pick up the scent of rotting flesh or blood, wait for any superior predators that may be around to move on, drive off any lesser scavengers that might be working at the carcass, and take as much meat as they can. They have no fire, few tools, and only a very simple pre-language adequate for conveying simple messages like “run away!”, “I smell food!”, or “follow me!”. However, unlike the Leaf Eaters they do retain a very rudimentary facility for making and using simple stone butchery tools (crude blades for cutting meat and stones used as hammers to crack open bones and get at the marrow).

The Dirt Eaters have changed somewhat from their original form, becoming smaller and gaining a number of adaptations to their scavenging lifestyle. They are squat, dwarfish hominids with shrunken craniums averaging around a meter or less in height. Like the Killer People, they have become beardless as an evolutionary adaptation to their feeding habits. If one’s diet consists of raw (and often spoiled) meat, having a big absorbent mop of hair around one's mouth is not a useful trait. They have sharp teeth and prominent canines like the Killer People, evolved for shearing and cutting flesh. Their sense of smell is much more acute than the ancestral Erectus's was.

The Dirt Eaters mostly live in the forest and feed on rotting carcasses they find there, chiefly those of other hominids. They are often drawn toward communities of other hominids, where they know there are often opportunities to scavenge garbage, butchery left-overs, and sometimes corpses. Most other hominids regard them as disgusting vermin, although some cultures believe they play a role in guiding the souls of the dead, and will deliberately leave their dead to be eaten by them. They are also frequently regarded as creatures of ill-omen as they are naturally drawn to the smells of sickness, bloodshed, or death. They will often follow hominids that they sense to be dying, and while they are usually not dangerous if they sense an individual is weakened and vulnerable enough they will sometimes attack them and try to finish them off. There are stories among the humans of Dirt Eaters climbing over the defensive walls of villages experiencing terrible famine or plague and falling upon the weakened inhabitants, though these are probably myths. The Dirt Eaters are generally to weak and cowardly to be dangerous to any hominid that is not isolated and severely weakened by injury, disease, or hunger.

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Any ideas for more? I'm thinking there might be some sort of hominid that's in the process of evolving into an ocean-going species (a sort of real life mermaid - well, more of a seal-man really). I'm also considering a subspecies of Dirt Eaters that moved into the caves of the Blind People and became blind albinos.
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Somes J
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Re: The Nonsapient Hominids

Post by Somes J » Mon Feb 23, 2009 9:25 pm

Update:

I've decided to change their evolutionary origins of the Dirt Eaters around a bit, making them direct descendants of Homo Erectus. An evolutionary path from Homo Erectus to a scavenger was a lot more direct than from something like a Leaf Eater to a scavenger. I've also changed their physical form a bit, making them more of an obvious (though specialized) Erectus offshoot.
Participate in my hard SF worldbuilding project: The Known Galaxy. Come to our message board and experience my unique brand of terribleness!

"One is respected and judged only as a human being. It is an appalling experience."
Ursula K. Le Guin, The Left Hand of Darkness.

"Open your mind and hear what your heart wants to deny."
Samuel Anders, nBSG, Daybreak, Part 2.

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Somes J
Posts: 377
Joined: Tue Feb 17, 2009 4:04 am
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Re: The Nonsapient Hominids

Post by Somes J » Tue Feb 24, 2009 6:53 am

Update:

On second thought, I liked the old write-up for the Dirt Eaters better, and have changed it back to the way it was.

Sorry, I tend to get a bit messy with revisions when worldbuilding. ;)

Edit: speaking of which, as of midnight Pacific time, I have made some minor changes to it yet again. :P
Participate in my hard SF worldbuilding project: The Known Galaxy. Come to our message board and experience my unique brand of terribleness!

"One is respected and judged only as a human being. It is an appalling experience."
Ursula K. Le Guin, The Left Hand of Darkness.

"Open your mind and hear what your heart wants to deny."
Samuel Anders, nBSG, Daybreak, Part 2.

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