Talking of fossils!

All in all, fossils (whether living or dead) had more profitably be left to the researchers

Khalid Saleem March 04, 2019
The writer is former ambassador of Pakistan and ex-assistant secretary general of OIC

When one talks of fossils, one means fossils -- the genuine variety. One does not refer, for instance, to the ones found mooching around in cities’ fashionable supermarkets. Some time ago, discoveries of these fossils were being reported from all around the world. What is annoying is the fact that as soon as they are unearthed archeologists, or whatever they are called in these days of loose definitions, promptly class them as ‘pre-historic’, whatever that connotes.

Several years ago, there was a report in the media stating that “the skull and tusks of a 10,000- year-old elephant had been found in the central Mexican state of Tlaxcala”. The news was let out by Mexico’s National Institute of Anthropology and History that was quoted as having volunteered the additional information that “the ‘Gomophotheres’ size was similar to modern elephants”. Anthropologists should know!

Then again, 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 archaeologist chaps manage to calculate ages in millions of years so accurately! Once they have discovered their fossil, one cannot help wondering how is it 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!

The stories of fossil 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.

While on the subject, one may as well confess to often having wondered 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!

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.

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 neighbours. They would do well to study the story of the dinosaur of yore. History is witness that, sooner rather than later, such monstrosities invariably collapse under their own weight. It does make a great deal of sense to learn from past mistakes.

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 prudent course would be the straight and narrow! Any alternative – however attractive -- can only lead to a downfall. How’s that for a moral?

Published in The Express Tribune, March 4th, 2019.

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