Picaresque: Anthropoids

There are four types of anthropoids frequently found on worlds with divergence points closer than ~5 Mya (TAQ 6 or less). Taxonomy is a controversial mess across timelines, particularly for anything resembling humanity, so in this case common names are more useful than (frequently revised) scientific precision. All types use tools and have some form of language. They are considered “indigenous persons” rather than “animals” in international law and protected under the UN Charter.

Humans are genetically indistinguishable from baseline residents. Behaviorally modern humans (BMH) are found on TAQ 3-4 worlds and exhibit the same range of cultural and linguistic traits as baseline humans. Anatomically modern humans (AMH) are found on TAQ 5 worlds, where they typically demonstrate a more conservative set of traits, with less scope for creativity and innovation. Yet when exposed to more diverse cultures (especially as children), they rapidly adapt and have no trouble assimilating new concepts and skills from then on.

Basajaunak (singular basajaun, Basque, “hairy mountain people,” thought to be a cultural memory of the last surviving Neanderthals in baseline Europe) are the modern-day descendants of Homo sapiens neaderthalis, and can be found on TAQ 4-5 worlds. They are slightly shorter than humans on average but more robust, with a larger, more elongated skull. They are adept in their home environments, but do not adapt quickly to novelty. Their languages are simple and direct, about equivalent to human pidgins (but not advancing to the creole stage). They have hair rather than fur, wear clothing, and use fire (TEC 1). They are sometimes colloquially referred to as wild people of the woods or woodwoses. The alternate term “trog” is extremely pejorative.

Dasheng (Chinese, “great sage,” one of the titles of Sun Wukong in The Journey to the West) are the living descendants of Homo erectus, which died out on baseline around 145 kya after living in Asia for two million years. As such, they can be found on TAQ 5-6 worlds. Dasheng are small, furred, bipedal, and on the low end of human intelligence. They make simple tools and can use fire (TEC 0). They have speech (sounds with recognizable and consistent meaning) but not language; they can be taught human words and (especially) signs. They are curious, learn quickly through imitation, and often employ a variety of human tools (when they can get them). Alternate names include agogwe, goblins, imps, iratxoak, maricoxi, and sehite.

Mangani (“great ape” – which also refers to humans – from Edgar Rice Burroughs’ Tarzan novels) are the descendants of genus Paranthropus, which became extinct on baseline around 1.2 Mya; hence, they are found only on TAQ 6 worlds. They are larger and stronger than humans, bipedal, and furred. They have speech (but not language) and can make and use simple tools. In the wild they typically do not make fire, but can exploit it if it occurs naturally (TEC 0). Mangani are more diverse than other forms of anthropoid, ranging from timid vegetarians to extremely aggressive carnivores; this makes it difficult to assess their overall intelligence. Common nicknames include bugbear, grendel, ogre, oni, pongo, sasquatch, wendigo, yeren, and yeti, but should be used with caution: it’s not wise to upset a Mangani.

These are the “major races” of the Picaresque setting. The current-Earth term is “homonin,” but I use “anthropoid” for a more pulpish feel. One thing to keep in mind is that these are not the species found in the fossil record on our Earth, but their game-present descendants in timelines where they were able to survive. As such, they may differ as markedly from their ancestors as we do. The descriptions are intended to establish them as viable, if challenging, options for PCs at some point. The alternate names are also a clue that perhaps some of them have leaked through to baseline Earth by mechanisms other than the space-going shift drive.

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The standard spelling is “hominin,” not “homonin”; the Latin combining form of homo is homin-.

Do Denisovans count as basajaunak? How about Naledi? It seems to be fairly widely asserted that some modern humans have Denisovans DNA, and I’ve seen a suggestion that Capoid humans have Naledi ancestry, though I don’t know how solid that is.

I suppose Floresians would most probably be Dasheng?

It occurs to me that another plausible nickname for mangani would be “wookkies.”

Are there any cases of basajaunak, dasheng, or mangani that have independently acquired either speech or signing at a level comparable to human language? Is that a possibility in this milieu?

You’re right about the spelling, of course. I didn’t think to check, since I stopped using it.

Denisovans probably merged with Neaderthals into basajaunak. Naledi might have become basajaunak or dasheng; I can’t tell from a cursory glance at the literature. Remember, it’s their present-day descendants that we’re talking about.

My impression is that Floresians were a pygmy offshoot of Denisovans, rather than a completely separate species. If I get into the anthropoids in more detail, I planned to have dwarf and giant variants of each.

I was deliberately coy with that nickname for the mangani, but that connection certainly informs my image of them.

Language acquisition is an open question in the setting. The distinction between behaviorly and anatomically modern humans is intended to reflect the changes that occur in the archaeological record c. 50kya. There doesn’t appear to be any genetic correlate (although there are indications of a bottleneck c. 70-100kya), but there is a marked shift in cultural patterns. The AMH populations, then, are those where this didn’t occur on its own (whatever it was).

The descriptions of the anthropoid groups reflect a certain amount of in-universe chauvinism, but they are intended to be flexible enough to allow a referee to explore the implications if they are wrong. My basic feeling is that basajaunak could potentially develop the full spectrum of human language on their own – but then the UN would classify them as human, more or less by definition. My worldbuilding rules allow basajaunak civilizations up to about medieval technology. The mangani are diverse enough that language is remotely possible for them as well. The dasheng almost certainly would not, due to their different anatomy.

Is the anatomical limitation on dasheng a matter of the vocal tract? Could they acquire signing?

I really see them as restricted by the structure of their brains: their crania are larger than fossil Homo erectus but still consistently smaller than Homo sapiens, while their language centers are less developed.

This puts them in a weird category, one with which we have essentially no experience on baseline Earth. They are several times smarter than chimps and gorillas, but only about as smart (by some measures) as 5-6 year old humans. They understand language, but can produce it only on a “me Tarzan, you Jane” level even in sign. Yet they are not defective: they are fully functional, just differently abled. I expect they get underestimated quite often, with severe consequences.

I should probably add “bandar-log” to their list of epithets. I like the irony and classical source of “dasheng,” but the former may be more readily understood.