What the Earth of 150,000 years ago was really like

SPOILER WARNING: This entire post is a giant spoiler for the Battlestar Galactica Season 5 4.5 finale, so I’ve tucked it behind the fold.

Battlestar Galactica ended with a bit of an anti-technology whimper. Humans and Cylons alike tossed their Vipers and their antibiotics into the sun in exchange for a new start. Alongside pre-speech humans, space warriors scattered over Earth, hunting and gathering and farming their way into our own glorious future.

But what was the Earth of 150,000 years ago really like? What was the climate like in Tanzania (where Adama mopes in his cabin) and Britain (where the Chief mopes in exile)? What giant predators might Lee encounter as he explores? And what is mitrochondrial Eve, anyway?

150,000 years ago, the Earth was in the midst of the the Pleistocene Epoch.  The continents were in about the same positions and many of the same plants and animals were doing their thing. But the climate was wildly different. Glaciers rose and retreated and rose and retreated, changing the world’s ecosystems each time. And 150,000 years ago was the maximum of the second-to-last, or penultimate, Pleistocene glaciation. (The final glaciation is the one we think of as the Ice Age, that ended only 10,000 years ago.)

Because of the penultimate glaciation, the African climate was colder and drier than today. North Africa was probably still desert and central Africa a grassland. But the biggest different is in Europe – southern Europe was a chilly steppe and Britain may well have been frozen under the Munsterian glacier. The Chief’s self-imposed exile may be even colder and more exile-y  than he thought, what with starving on top of a giant pile of ice. Maybe he’s really in exile on the Canary Islands?

Africa 150,000 years ago

Africa 150,000 years ago. From Oak Ridge National Laboratory.

The Pleistocene is also known for vast herds of giant mega scary mammals. And it seems like most of these would have been around to eat or be eaten by the Galactica survivors. The steppe mammoth and the European jaguar roamed southern Europe, while the Americas were covered in direwolves and giant sloths and 10-foot tall short-nosed bears. African animals, which were least affected by the late Pleistocene extinctions, would have looked relatively similar to today. Which is to say that they were big and hungry and scary.

The last thing that many of the Fleet survivors saw...

What about Hera as the mitochondial Eve, the mother of us all? That is a real biological concept, nicely explained by Peggy over at Biology in Science Fiction:

Unlike the chromosomal DNA which we inherit equally from both parents, our mitochondria are inherited only from our mothers. That means that geneticists can use the sequence of our mitochondrial DNA to follow maternal inheritance2. They followed this back for many many generations, until they arrived at the most recent woman who is the ancestor of all presently living humans. She is “Mitochondrial Eve” and she lived roughly 150,000 – 200,000 years ago….

She’s not our most recent common ancestor or even our only common ancestor. She’s not the only woman who was living at the time. She may not be the our common ancestor for chromosome 1 or 7 or 20.

So, 150,000 years ago, Tanzania was pleasant (unless you got eaten or trampled), the Chief was probably not in Britain (unless he was living on a glacier),  Lee should have explored the supercool sloth-ridden Americas (until he got eaten or trampled), and Ed Yong’s theory of Starbuck’s demise is reasonably likely:

Perhaps when Lee turned his head, Kara was quietly eaten and carried away by a leopard.

And in fact, the Galactica survivors may not have survived very long at all. According to mitochondrial genetic evidence, humans almost went extinct 150,000 years ago. The population could have been as small as 2,000 individuals – so not only might the Galactica survivors have killed most of the primitive humans, but they subsequently died off themselves.

Welcome to 150,000 years ago! Please enjoy your nasty, brutish, and short stay here in Pleistocene Earth. Though I would love to ride magnificently about on a giant ground sloth, I’d really rather have modern medical care and the internet.

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60 Responses to What the Earth of 150,000 years ago was really like

  1. Karen says:

    *wild applause in the peanut gallery*

    Of course, by deciding to shove God (or whatever it does like to be called) into all of their plot gaps, the BSG writers had already effectively decided to abandon the exciting possibility of mapping the BSG universe onto our own in a scientifically plausible way. SO disappointing.

    I mean, why did they spend the first four seasons going through all that trouble to get their science right, only to flush it out the airlock in the last episode!

    One commenter on another thread said it well: “good SciFi uses science to explain angels, not the other way around”.

  2. jebyrnes says:

    Yes. Yes, that is totally what happened to Kara. I feel so much better now!

  3. I rather enjoyed the religion part of the first two seasons – everyone’s gods seemed real so were the human and Cylon gods battling it out Trojan War-style? But it was resolved in rather a squishy way, seemingly in favor of the One True God. Did the colonists all cheerfully abandon their Greek pantheon?

  4. Anonymous says:

    This was the most disappointing ending I have encountered in years.

  5. I agree with Karen on this one.

  6. ha! says:

    ok so cheif is named “gaelen”

    he went to an island in the north…

    gaelen, say it . gaelen… gaelic, the people of gaelin, see?

  7. Moye says:

    i’m just sad they didn’t explain why all the corners were cut off on their books and papers. and picture frames. and photographs.

  8. Hieronymous Anonymouse says:

    They cut off all the corners to remove those Ebaumsworld watermarks, duh.

    P.S. It’s not Earth, the sabertooths were aliens too. I mean, c’mon.

  9. James says:

    Galacticans believed in all kinds of silly superstitions better explained by hallucinations and the effects of faster than light travel on the human brain, including angels and that corners are “bad luck.”

  10. Truck Shackley says:

    Apparently, that’s an in-joke referencing the relatively small budget they were given for the pilot. They had to “cut corners.”

  11. nevetsg says:

    Obviously to stop dogearing of the pages.

  12. AJ says:

    I completely agree with you Karen!!

    I feel like it went from Science Fiction to Fantasy.

    Ugh, I feel like because of the last season and the last episode, it will go down as a Great SciFi series, but not an amazing one.
    So much potential.

    I still love the series, but I was let down. :(

  13. Kirbylink says:

    To MOYE: The reason the corners were cut off on all pictures, movies, photos, is because the writers wanted to give Battlestar their own aesthetic preference, just like we like Widescreen movies.

  14. [...] Visit What the Earth of 150,000 years ago was really like [...]

  15. Nathan says:

    There was no season 5. You might want to fix this. The last few episodes were the second half of season 4. The reason for the large gap was because of the writer’s strike. Although if Moore really wanted to make Galactica a true sci-fi story, he should have taken another season to complete the story. In my humble opinion, I was satisfied with the ending since he felt it necessary to end the story so soon.

  16. Moye says:

    OH.

    So…no quietly bitten and carried away by a leopard theory?

  17. Moye says:

    I figured as much. :) It just seemed like a silly, impractical aesthetic to give their universe.

  18. Tom says:

    The Cylons had a plan … A shame Ron Moore didn’t!

  19. Kaley222 says:

    I was really disappointed in the BSG Finale until I came across this CAPRICA DETAILED REVIEW.

    The final five Cylons could not reveal too much more because it would blown the pilot for Caprica. The BSG Finale definitly made a LOT more sense after reading it.

    http://www.fmqinc.com/caprica-preview

  20. whysharksmatter says:

    People, are you really so cynical about religion? You can accept that people can travel at faster-than-light speeds to fight robots that can resurrect, but object to these same people having religious beliefs?

  21. Anonymous says:

    Well, actually, I think it was an homage to the original series from 1979. I seem to recall that series doing a lot with cutting off corners on papers and whatnot.

    And I think it was an inexpensive gimmick to make the show look “Sci Fi” at the time.

    I kinda liked it though…

  22. johnno says:

    Wow, so many clueless people around. Makes me wonder if any of you actually watched the series or are aware of it’s roots back in the 70’s. Fact is that the series was ALWAYS about god and religion. It was first pitched to tv execs in the 70’s as a religious series set in space and it’s first name was Arks of God or something like that. So it baffles me when I hear you people suggest that it’s a cop out for Ron Moore to link all the prophesies and events to God. Wake up and try to pay attention in future, you may not look quite as silly as you do now.
    PS I am in no way a religious man, just someone who is seemingly a bit smarter than the rest of you

  23. Steve says:

    Really, the entire series had an undercurrent of religion to it. Outside of a story about church or islamic terrorists, you never hear Gods or God uttered so much in a show.

    If anything, be disappointed that the action ended half way through the finale, and we were left with an hour of ‘after all the excitement’.

  24. alexx says:

    The Cylons had a plan … A shame Ron Moore didn’t!.

  25. [...] blogger points out that Earth’s fauna and climate were very different 150,000 years ago (I’m kicking myself for not noticing this, but with so many self-contained clangers [...]

  26. Defender says:

    There’s a fine line between suspension of disbelief and disbelief.

  27. Duodecimal says:

    A note about abandoning technology – they were losing it anyway.

    They were down to the last 30k humans who happened to be in space at the time of the apocalypse. Their history, but for some books fortuitously carried around by people like Adama, was recorded in a database backed up on disks. They had no means to repair or manufacture additional software readers.

    We learn during their stay on New Caprica that they had already lost the means of manufacturing antibiotics. Their only crop after their food store was contaminated was algae, which, while versatile, is … just algae.

    Prior to the modern era, cities absent immigration had net population loss due to disease and conditions. Ancient cities required the influx of population from rural areas to maintain population levels. If the tens of thousands of colonists settled together and tried to retain their technological civilazation, it would hasten their extinction. Even disregarding epidemics, without domesticated crops (which would take a dozen millennia to show up), any significant concentration of humans could not be supported.

    Really, even though Lee made some kind of garbage appeal to emotion (I do not subscribe to the idea that our technology can outpace our hearts, it’s about individual will, not collective will), the end result would probably become obvious after a period of study. The only solution would be to spread out and learn how to live off the land, since there was no way to maintain advanced technology by that point due to lack of living expertise.

    … uh, not that I spend a lot of time geeking out over TV shows. Just something to think about.

  28. Church says:

    Yeah, RDM said several times that the ‘cutting corners’ thing started as a budget joke, but became part of the aesthetic of the Colonies.

    The irony is, they wound up spending a fair bit of time and money literally cutting the corners after they got picked up for the series.

  29. Church says:

    Searching around the net, I see “Gaelen” listed as gaelic for ‘tranquil.’ So he may have found peace on his glacier.

    However, I like to think that he took the other offered origin, as Greek (also, curiously, ‘tranquil.’) Still north, but not so barren.

  30. Justin says:

    “Why did they spend the first four seasons going through all that trouble to get their science right, only to flush it out the airlock in the last episode!”

    You very poignantly pegged what happened: “they [spent] the first four seasons going through all that trouble to get their science right, only to flush it out the airlock in the last episode!”

    Ironically, you don’t see that that is precisely the point.

    (And I’m not religious by the way.)

  31. Jeffrey says:

    I remember hearing about the human race going down to a very small number of people and wondered if that was where they were heading, none of the roaming people were ancestors to us but instead we descended from the Fleet.

  32. [...] What the Earth of 150,000 years ago was really like SPOILER WARNING: This entire post is a giant spoiler for the Battlestar Galactica Season 5 4.5 finale, so I’ve [...] [...]

  33. Justin says:

    Geez – I feel you guys so badly are missing the point when everyone’s getting hung up on the god stuff. I feel like I’m gonna ruin the elegance of it by spelling it out, but…

    The angel Six and the angel Baltar were symbology representing God and science, two sides of the same coin, co-existing in a duality. Scientists view the course of events to be decided by reality, physics, fate – whatever you might call it, while others view the course of events to be planned by God. The God types look at everything from that perspective, while the science types explain everything from their perspective. The angel Six said “God”, and the angel Baltar would’ve used the word “existence” or “the universe”.

    It’s philosophical; it’s poetic… And I think you guys have completely missed the point. Scientific people – of which I am one – these days are getting way too narrow-minded in thinking that God=flying man. C’mon people – you’re smarter than that. Crack some philosophy books.

  34. TK says:

    The show had decent acting, visuals, costumes, and an interesting concept. But the writing, for the most part, was horrid. There were good episodes here and there, but mostly the show was full of inconsistent characterization, cliffhangers which fail to make people want to see more, artificial-feeling drama between almost every two characters, actions without consequences, poor balance of screen time given to important events versus trivial ones, loose ends, missed opportunities, and retconned history revealed too late to be believable.

    I didn’t start watching until a few months ago, and for the first couple seasons, I couldn’t figure out what everyone was so excited about. But I kept hearing “it gets better” so I continued watching. Some parts were genuinely interesting or fun, but most of it was hard to get through due to the writing.

    So, with this background, I went into the final episode with low expectations. And, surprisingly, it exceeded my expectations — it was worse than I had feared it could be.

    At first, I simply didn’t like the end. But the more I thought about it, the more I disliked it. The writing was worse than usual (why spend the past few seasons building up a shared vision which ends up being completely pointless?), but more than that, what bugged me was the message.

    The only explanation I could come up with for the ending is that the deity in BSG’s universe is a complete prick who likes to inflict pain and death. Otherwise, why spend thousands of years teaching people a very painful lesson, only to hit the reset button at the last moment so everyone will forget and repeat the process?

    This show wasn’t about hope, love, peace, overcoming incredible odds, or becoming better people. It was the Tower of Babel.

  35. xlynx says:

    Realistically, the fleet would have brought with them disease that wiped between 50 and 95% of the indigenous population, as happened in the americans, australia and new zealand when European settlers arrived.

    The story sounds feasible besides Chief being in Scotland (RDM confirms it was Scotland). Let’s call it Sicilia or Cyprus instead.

  36. [...] party was so extreme that it ripped a hole in the space-time continuum, dumping us all 150,000 years in the past. Some party guests thought that de-evolution could protect them but instead were immediately eaten [...]

  37. Chad says:

    The original BSG was indeed based on religion. I bet many would be surprised by just which one though.
    http://www.mormon.org

    Think:
    Kobol = Kolob
    Quorum of the 12 = Quorum of the 12 Apostles
    12 Colonies = 12 Tribes of Israel
    Temples, resurrection, One True God…it’s all in there and more.

  38. joe says:

    i have deduced through dreams that i am the direct descendent of baltar and the blond cylon from 150000 years ago!

  39. joe says:

    i have deduced through dreams that i am the direct descendent of gaius baltar and the blond cylon

  40. pbm says:

    The colonials probably would not smell like food to the predators, especially the Cylon contingent. Remember, they are faster and stronger, they are disease resistant and don’t get cancer. They would probably live a long time too. It would take a while before they and the humans smell begin to change, then they have to worry. But the Cylons and any mixed offspring could probably fair better then just the humans.

  41. woodgnome says:

    Yeah what he said !

  42. woodgnome says:

    NO BUT SERIOUSLY GUYS YOU JUST GOTTA GET OUT MORE HAVE A DRINK SPEND TIME WITH THE OPPOSITE SEX GO OUT IN PUBLIC AT LEAST !

  43. Goldenknave says:

    hmmm, to the author of the post, you made a big big mistake regarding the “only 2000 humans left”, it was not 150000 years ago, seriously, get it right.

    the supposed moment in prehistory when humans were at the brink was about 70-75000 years ago, according to the Toba Catastrophe Theory, the nasty volcanic explosion caused a big weather and ecological upheaval, perhaps as few as 2000 to 1000 breeding pairs were left from as much as 1 million modern anatomical humans.

    dont place this tidbit of info at 150000 years ago just so it fits galactica lore.

    thanks.
    Omar

  44. chris says:

    I loved the finale and the series, flaws and all. I thought it was a beautiful end to a brilliant but flawed show. I look forward to watching the finale again and like Lost has inspired me to research and look into things like god and religion, reincarnation, history and philosophy. BSG has become my second fave show after Lost, well worth the time.

    I am glad it didn’t go out in a blaze of glory like some might have expected or wanted. It went out with grace and beauty. However, I would have liked to have seen where Hot Dog and his (Tyrol’s) son ended up.

    Realistically, they probabluy didn’t end up living that long or the best of lives, but at least they all got to live life and not run.

  45. bryce says:

    Maybe since *real* FTL would = travel backwards in time…as the Colonials jumped across the galaxy – they also jumped into their own past…???

    I agree though…giving up ALL technology was just *dumb*…I would rather it have been written clearly that by the time they got to Earth (2.0) they were so worn and ragged that they just *lost* it all and were forced to give it up…

  46. tomas says:

    the final battle star ending wasn’t what i expected but really sparked the imagination to our own humans history. before watching so many ideas was running around my head to how they would end it. apart of me was thinking that the fleet would jump out of FTL in orbit only to have the US launch missiles at them and collect the advance tech and let history repeat it self. but what really is pissing me of it when baltar and 6 at the end was talking about history repeating it self over and over he said the the following words kobol , Earth then a short pause then said the real earth before this one. i could be wrong but could a group of humans on a continent lets say Australia continued using technology which led to another repeat????

  47. bhabyjames says:

    what the matter of this fucking hill shet of the earth 150000 years ago what the sun years whats the bigger than the earth and sun fucking your mother

  48. big al says:

    The ending is the greatest one for a tv series ever. All major characters are given resolution. Howver one is left for more story. What happened next? How did they influence our modern day society through out the ages.

  49. antey says:

    Quite simple – bunch of pro- and anti- religious nuts simply can’t easily enjoy and discuss an idea, only have to have everything exactly to their liking.

  50. Anonymous says:

    This is quiet funny as from what is knowned, there was no “Y”, but only “XX” DNA. The degradation of “xx”, the unfit, malformation of a female, turn a female into what is called a male, the scientific Adam apeared! So for all the god stuff… What was he (who do not exist) doing when we were only worms???

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  52. pakachaka says:

    I very much enjoyed the ending. I don’t know why people are complaining about so many things including the ending. To me a good show or movie must have an unexpected and provoking ending. This one really was a huge surprise. Sure the humans didn’t arrive at Earth to be rescued by other fully developed humans – which was the ending that I’m sure we were all hoping for. The hole series involved so much from our culture, beliefs, values, history, and so forth. SO ofcourse, the matter in which the series ended was a perfect ending for me. They (the Galactica survivors) were therefore the type of people (if they were only real) fit to be our ancestors as they shared so many of our values, religious conflictions and commonalities, human flaws.

    Furthermore, my interpretation of the ‘cut corners’ is as follows. The series accentuates our human flaws and downfalls, one of which was the fact that the ‘toasters’ were invented to make human life easier. If you think about it, the initial function of these robots is to ‘cut corners’ – hence the corner-cut pages and screens and ballots, etc. This is a current happening in our real world today: we are “cutting corners” when we invent human-like robots for many purposes especially for military experimentation, but mostly to make our lives easier.

    This hole corner-cutting thing (again, as I’ve interpretted it), ties back to my first point about the ending of the series. What you all may have precieved as a ‘corner-cutting’ of an ending, I saw as a perfect wrap – up of the series. Realizing their ‘original sin’ of creating the robots and allowing technology and the pursuit of it to dominate them to the extent that it almost wipes their race out, they realize the only way to avoid this is to dump all of their technology and start from scratch.

    I loved the series, everyday I discover something new. Like the other day, I was reading my history book, I discovered that the tiny angel statue that Kara gives Bill Adama is an actual reference to the statue of Winged Victory Samoe Thrace, Greek goddess of Victory (note Kara’s last name is Thrace who in that episode or the few after brings victory to Galactica). The story behind the Winged Victory is that this goddess came to a Commander’s ship (2nd century BC) after having won a great sea battle and landed on the ship’s prow to greet the victorious fleet. She lands or mounts on the ship’s prow which is the exact location on which Commander Adama places the tiny statue on his model ship.

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  56. Fabian says:

    I didn’t twig to the bun in the toaster’ cnoemmt till after i’d hit publish on the roast and decided on a title! Next week!And I really can’t wait till S4 starts. To be strictly true, I really can’t wait till S4 makes it to DVD because we won’t be getting it on the TV over here and I can’t do naughty things with streaming because that would be bad Just promise me to make sure any spoilers are clearly flagged so I can avoid them, m’kay?

  57. BOB S says:

    just revisted the series once again.I thought the ending was terrific and entertaining. The actors did a great job of creating their characters and after 5 years didnt lose alot of continuity. Take the time to enjoy the show and be entertained forget about all the hidden meanings!! its just good TV , we could use some of that todaY !!

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  60. I think I will dont like to live 150 000 years ago

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