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A Bone From a Dry Sea:Human Evolution’s Missing Link
“Where do we come from?” Man has been asking himself this question for almost as long as he had the power to ask questions. Life’s mysteries have bewildered and troubled human kind for eons, and though we now have means to try to explain these enigmas, there are things no matter our technology we cannot explain . Throughout Peter Dickinson’s A Bone From a Dry Sea , two stories are woven together to show the striking similarities of humans and their ancestors, though millions of years may separate them. Li and Vinny are both two young girls on the same bit of African plain, but what separates them is not their curiosity about the world around them, or their desire to learn all they can, but four and a half million years. Li was the first of her kind to really think about the world and about life. To question feelings and to wonder why things that happened did happen. She had an inquisitive mind that could solve problems and she ultimately saved her kind from death. Vinny makes an impact on human kind in almost a profound a way when she discovers the remains of a humanoid who lives in and by the sea who wore a dolphin scapula in her hair just as Li did. This discovery could change the theory of evolution and fill in the “missing link” in our history. A Bone From the Dry Sea does not focus only on finding bones and explaining theories, but it is discussion on the wonders of an awakening mind. both the mind of a young modern girl, and that of a creature who is the first of her kind to awaken.
They swan, played, danced, together in the sunlit ocean and her sense
of wonder came back, but changed. This was not thinking wonder, but
a wonder like the sunlight, pure, itself and nothing else. Or it was as if
she and the dolphin were themselves thoughts in the delighting mind of
the sea, moving with the same exhilaration as the thoughts that moved
through her mind, telling her that she was in the presence of, part of,
an immense mystery. The dolphin was far more other than Ma-ma’s
dreams, or the stranger’s lost baby, but it and Li shared the moment
and the mystery in the rippling golden-green water. (39)
In only four sentences, Peter Dickinson put forward a wealth of interesting images and metaphors to show the reader the thoughts of an awaking mind. Li thinks about her world and her feelings about it. “This was not a thinking wonder, but a wonder like the sunlight, pure, itself and nothing else.” Through this simile the reader sees Li’s admiration and awe about her communicating with the dolphin. She sees the wonder as sunlight. The sun is the center of our universe, and the sun is all that is warm and splendid, it gives us life and it gives us hope. This first communication with the dolphin is actually what seems to be the first real communication between these two species. It is first awakening of Li to just exist for thought and not just to survive and pro-create.
There are further images and metaphors to help explain Li’s remarkable awakening. “It was as if she and the dolphin were themselves thoughts in the delighting mind of the sea.” This metaphor has so many levels of meaning. The first and most obvious is the physical similarities between Li and the dolphin’s movements and the movements of impulses through our nervous system. They swam and danced and played together bouncing and darting here and there. The thoughts in one’s mind are bursts of energy passing through one’s body going all over the body every which way.
On a second level one wonders about the mind of the sea. The sea, like the sun, represents life. But the sea also represents the creator of life. To think in this manner, Li and the dolphin are thoughts in the mind of the creator of life. Their movements and their actions are all under the direction of a great creator. Could the author be referring to a greater power that planned this whole thing we call life? Almost like a God? As water in the sea is never still, the movement of this water could also represents the passage of time. Time that flows through the mind of the creator, full of all the important moments in history, all planned by this creator of life. The phrase that follows this metaphor continues the dual meanings. “…telling her that she was in the presence of, part of, an immense mystery.” The communication between Li and the dolphin is a mystery, and like modern human communication with other animals, it is still unexplained to this day. The word mystery refers to so many things, not just the communication between Li and the dolphin, but that Li is part of the mystery of life. Life is still a fully unexplained circumstance. How and why the universe was formed, how the Earth came into existence, why there was a spark of life formed on Earth, and why those amino acids evolved into the intelligent creatures that roam the earth now, are unexplainable to modern humans are were unexplainable to Li. She, like every human and every plant or animal are part of the mystery of life, but for us she has a special place in history. For modern humans Li is part of the mystery of evolution, she is the missing link between very early, ape-like creatures and modern man. Li is definitely in the presence of and part of an immense mystery.
The passage itself moves between reality and internal thoughts effortlessly, just as the novel itself moves between reality and imagination. The first sentence is informative, telling us the general idea of what is happening. The next two sentences are also informative, but in another way. These sentences let us into Li’s mind, to see and feel what she does. These also help the reader see deeper into the story more than just who, why or how. The last phrase brings us back to reality. Our quick journey into Li’s mind is over, but we will soon return, and will learn to understand her. This reality and fantasy in this passage is just a microcosm of the book as a whole. The reality of the book is “Now.” We live in the world of now and the things that happen are easily graspable to our mind. The world of fantasy, though it may in some way be true, is the world of “Then.” Li is part of a world that is a fantasy to us. Things seem familiar, but they are definitely not our reality. The similarities between now and then are very interesting to notice.
The wonder of life is an important theme throughout modern and prehistoric times there are other parallel incidents and characterization. As the story jumps between “Then” and “Now” the reader sees the similarities between the actions and movements of the people of then and now. When Li made the discovery of “calling” to dolphin’s to chase the fish into the bay, so her people could catch them and feed the dolphins and the tribe both. Presh the leader could have been threatened by Li’s power over the dolphin’s but instead he used it to his advantage. “He seized her beneath the arms, lifted her up, and strode ashore. Watched in silence and alarm by the rest of the tribe, he turned and raised her to sit on his shoulder.” (52) This incident is parallel to when Vinny found a second important artifact. “Without warning he (Dr. Hamiska) bent and picked Vinny up and set her on his shoulder like a three-year-old. The others cheered.” (123) This is only one of many interesting parallels throughout this novel.
Another interesting parallel is the characterization of men. In the tribe of “Then” they communicate through grunts. On numerous occasions the men in “Now” are described as “grunting” when they speak or respond to each other. This is especially true of Vinny’s father, Sam. Sam is a introspective man who when confronted doesn’t usually fight. Since he doesn’t talk much he is described as grunting. These sounds might not usually be described as typical “grunting,” The sounds are possibly “huh” “yea” “umm” and other common words. These words are not usually described as grunts. Each has a meaning to it. “Huh” could be described as a question like “what.” “Yea” is usually sound of excitement like “great.” “Umm” could be described as “I don’t know” or “Give me a second-It’s coming to me.” The grunts in “Then” each had important meanings. “Shark.” “Go away.” “Come.” “Help.” Each “Then grunt had a meaning like the modern grunts. This grunting is actually very prevalent throughout society, maybe it is just a hold over from our prehistoric roots.
By looking at a passage from Peter Dickinson’s A Bone From a Dry Sea we can easier understand this images and parallels throughout the whole novel. The two stories are dependent on each other, yet separated by millions of years. This parallelism shows that many of life’s modern problems, such as power struggles are far more inherent then we realize. Through Dickinson’s use of metaphor we can feel the feelings of Li, the pre-historic human ancestor, and also the feelings of Vinny, her modern finder. The images of the sea and water giving life are throughout the book as is the symbol of the sun, the center of being. Upon Vinny’s arrival in Africa the sun is her main focus as she is overwhelmed by the heat of it. Two important themes of A Bone From a Dry Sea are mystery and wonder. For Li the whole world was one great mystery, but unlike many of the others like her she could find answers to a few of her questions. There were so many things that Li saw that left her in awe. She wondered how the stars moved across the sky and how the spider made it’s web. This was not much different for Vinny who found her somewhat estranged father a mystery, but she soon grew to understand him. Vinny was in awe of the fossils and could only dream about how they really got there. But for both girls the greatest mystery and wonder that is brought up in this novel is the mystery of the creation of life, as well as the meaning of life. I hope is never solved, for if it was solved there would be no need to go on living.