I’ve already discussed the unique behaviors of humanity once, with the focus on our use of plants in ways that no other species on earth does. The intentional planting and harvesting of these plants isn’t our claim to fame, as many species of ants also do this. For an action to be uniquely human, in my opinion, it must fit a level of scrutiny. Birds and many mammal species construct homes of wood or grass. Many creatures show signs of familial attachments, even social structures not too unlike our own. To be uniquely human, it must be more.
Language doesn’t even qualify. Whales show signs of using unique sounds and calls to signify names, places, even times. Chickens and geese will make noises to alert each other of approaching danger, predators, or food. Bees use a form of sign language via dance to indicate distance, position, and type of flowers to harvest for their pollen. There is one aspect of language that is uniquely human however: Writing.
The written word is among humanities greatest achievements. By recording knowledge, we are able to pass on what we have learned to future generations. This transmission of knowledge allows our species to continue in progress that would otherwise be impossible. Sometimes it can be generations before what was recorded before becomes usable, but by keeping these forms of records, our species can overcome the entropy of time that keeps many other creatures firmly held in their stasis of habitual living.
The first instances of recorded language date back to approximately five thousand years ago. This is not to say we as a species didn’t have great achievements before this advent. Human history begins long before that, with the first indications of civilization beginning roughly twelve thousand years ago. Even more than this, there is anthropological evidence to show that humans have advanced language and social structures as far back as sixty thousand years ago. Advancement in our species is multiplicative. Each one we make builds on the next ones, increasing the rate of development at every step.
Written language has shown significant improvement over time. Earliest records are difficult to understand, perhaps because we do not understand the context, perhaps because they were so rudimentary that they no longer show much relevance to us. Whatever the case, we have continued to improve our use of the written word as time has progressed. Interestingly, while written language is largely attributed to being first developed by the Sumerians, it appears to have developed independently among many different people around similar time frames in human history. It’s no wonder why the use of written language took such hold on our early species. It enabled people to learn new things without having to experience them first hand. It allows for greater specialization for our species. Writing may seem commonplace to us. We used it every day. But it is this commonality of the written word that solidifies it as one of the most uniquely human things you can do.
Along with this desire to record our experiences is the record keeping of our history. Where other creatures may find the bones of their forbears a warning to stay away, humans actively search these ruins for clues of where we came from. This curiosity is a unique feature of the human race. Now, do not confuse my words. This is not to say curiosity itself is unique to our species. Many creatures show curiosity. But the curiosity toward where we came from, what was once normal for our ever changing species, that curiosity is very human. It is hard to say whether this would occur in other species if they left behind the sorts of remains that we do; cities, monoliths, foundations. But so far, where other mammals have left foot paths through generations of use, there has been no sign of the deer or elk who walk them showing any more interest in them than simply to use them.
Even our own fellows may show such behavior. How often do we consider how the computer came to be? Yet many of us use them daily. So perhaps curiosity is more of a behavior engaged in infrequently, whenever the moment is right. Either way, it is because of the written word that whenever a human decides to chronical how something came to be, any of us can go to it and read it, discovering more about our heritage and place in this world.