In this first, Patreon-funded issue of xenoglyph, we look through the eyes of the Academic Contactor Time Enough for the Meaning to Change as is presents its preliminary findings on the Climber people of the planet Oehun. We look at their physiology (especially their tongues), their families, we glimpse their self-motivated philosophical growth, we pick at some mysteries of their existence, and we look back at their tongues.
(Don’t forget to hover over the footnoted words!)
Tezjomr and Gifhhah Ero Describe: A Preliminary Presentation to the Contactor Enough Time For the Meaning to Change on the cliff-dwelling hominins of Oehun (referred to in earlier Academic record as Kozjifu Tige)
In this paper, we describe our preliminary findings of the so-called Climber people of the planet Oehun. We describe our observations and speculations about the hominins’ physical characteristics, sociosexual structure, and sociotechnological capabilities.
Four days after we arrived in orbit of the planet below us now, the contactor Enough Time for the Meaning to Change began its search for sapient life. The authors decided to take the approach of testing Rn-Gokiaga’s speculation that hominin settlements produce distinct patterns of heat expression that we can view from orbit or even interstellar approach.
In our initial survey using Rn-Gokiaga’s method, we discovered one such pattern implying a system of villages on the north-facing wall of a southern hemisphere system of canyons. We seeded the area with drones to surreptitiously collect information on the language and behavior of the inhabitants, which we will provisionally call “Climbers” until we have a greater understanding of their language. Except for a single individual we found dead at the foot of a cliff, we have observed Climbers only on the vertical surfaces of the canyon system. Their bodies have evolved to adapt to this environment and we suggest that any Rn-Zjafeta who expect to participant-observe with them adapt their body or equipment to compensate for such an environment.
Additionally, the corpse we discovered at the bottom of a cliff appeared to have been dead for mere hours. We studied it with minimally invasive techniques, lacking as we do an understanding of the Climbers’ treatment of death.
Here, we present this preliminary information for discussion within the Contactor about how to proceed with contact.
Samples of genetic material gained from personal effects imply strongly to us that a conscious force modified the Climbers’ genes in the distant past. However, their genes show us evidence of substantial evolution since that time and, until we can say with some certainty the rate of mutation on Oehun, we can not say when such modification took place to a precision of more than three orders of magnitude. Because of the technological abilities of Climbers we have so far observed, we posit these hypotheses:
- The Climbers designed their own genes, then altered the technological focus of their societies in such a way that they lost such ability.
- Some cultures on Oehun still practice the technology, but we have not yet encountered those cultures.
- The ancestors of the Climbers were subjected to this engineering by another entity to colonize or otherwise populate Oehun, and that entity has lost contact.
- Such an entity remains on Oehun in some form but we have not detected it.
Individuals possess a tetrapod configuration of long, strong limbs radiating in typical hominin fashion from a small, dense torso that includes the skull. Hands and feet show the evidence of compelling selective pressure on extremities useful for climbing vertical faces. Extending from the front of the skull, we observe two eyes on stalks as well as a stiff and muscular proboscis, terminating in a pair of lipless jaws bearing substantial blunt teeth. We observe nostrils above the mouth that lead to an air bladder rather than the lungs. We speculate that such a configuration developed (or engineers developed it) to compensate for the relatively small lung volume mandated by the densely packed thorax, allowing the Climber to sniff their food without needing to fill the volume of a nasal passage with air.
The proboscis includes a ventral extension of the spine that passes the skull. While articulated, the skull has few degrees of freedom and bears heavy muscles and ligaments binding it into the top of the thorax. We have witnessed several Climbers casually hanging or even swinging from a cliff wall, holding on with their teeth while adjusting their position. While the proboscis connects to both esophagus and trachea, the trachea seems to function solely as a speech organ, never inhaling. Climbers instead inhale though a tracheal sphincter below the skull, connecting to the lungs through a short, wide branch of the trachea. The teeth imply an herbivorous diet, though we witnessed a single case of hunting.
The skull is ringed with with eight small eyes, each connected to the visual cortex with its own bundle of optical nerves. We speculate that these eyes give faster information to the visual cortex than the substantially distal, stalked eyes. We further speculate that this array gives infomation about predators, rivals, an other immediately-relevant information, while the larger, more complex eyes on stalks give detailed, precise vision with variable parallax.
The proboscis also contains the Climber’s trifurcated, prehensile tongue. It extends from its root inside the thorax and can extend nearly a meter past the teeth. While this tongue is a substantial and powerful muscle augmenting the proboscis’ peristaltic collar of muscles, its three textured “fingers” can, when extended, delicately manipulate tools, write, operate equipment, and appear to be the primary sociosexual organ. The tips of the tongue contains three extremely sensitive organs, extended only toward food, very delicate manipulations, or sociosexual partners. We speculate that these contain densely-packed chemical, temperature, and pressure nerve endings.
The evolution of the tongue appears to follow the evolution of the hands for climbing. The thumb has migrated to the center of the wrist and the four fingers have fused into two heavy, padded, and clawed digits. The last knuckle of each digit flexes backward to pull claws out of the way at the climber’s discretion. The claws, when relaxed, wrap more than 180° back, allowing Climbers to hang from their fingernail with minimal effort. We have observed Climbers using their hands for only gross manipulation, using their tongues for finer activities.
The feet of the Climbers have similar utilitarian form, with toenails extending into hooves. Thick calluses extend from their heels, as well.
A webbing connects the wrist to shoulder, ankle to groin, and elbow to hip. We speculate that the webbing itself acts as a simple airfoil, reducing falling speed or perhaps even allowing the Climbers to glide. The long edge of the webbing can contract, giving individuals the ability to supplement brachial and femoral muscle strength with substantial leverage.
We speculate that the pelvic structure we observed makes it difficult or even impossible for individuals to walk upright, as across a horizontal plane.
Familial and Sociosexual Structure
Families focus on both a monogamous K-strategy reproductive cycle and a larger, more fluid, nonreproductive network of individuals. We speculate that incest taboos prevent inbreeding, but we have observed prolonged and deliberate tongue-sensor-to-tongue-sensor and tongue-sensor-to-genital contact between all members of an immediate network.
We took delight in the improbable event of a birth taking place while we were observing. Much of the parents’ network attended the birth, with a central male (who we infer is the father) and female participating in the birth directly. The mother and network seemed unsuprised by the ease and speed of the birth, and we speculate that the process is not as difficult for them as it is for many other hominins, perhaps due to the unique configuration of their bodies.
We observed that both father and mother had small, but swollen breasts compared to the other members of their networks, as well as a greater amount of body hair than others present. Both nurse the child, who clings to the fur. We speculate that this arrangement has evolved to afford the need of the Climbers to stay close to the cliff face. While we must account for individual variation, we suggest speculatively that other members of the network may have also had slightly swollen breasts and more hair than the general population. We do not have enough information to suggest a cause for this secondary reaction.
The child’s stalked eyes did not extend or open while we observed and we speculate that their ambiguous genitals may differentiate over time in similar fashion. The smaller eyes on the skull gave us no indication whether they could see. No one present showed any indication of distress over this that we could see, so we infer that this behavior is normal. However, the child showed a clear clinging instinct, attaching first to the mother until they fell asleep, and then the father, who hung beside the mother in a hammock. Others brought food to them over the subsequent hours.
We observe that the Climbers use an agrarian model of society, growing their food and materials in close proximity to stationary homes. Because of our brief window of observation, we are unable to meaningfully speculate about the economy of this society beyond our observations that they give each other both materials and the tools from which they are made, even over extreme distances.
Tools and Symbols
Climbers live sedentary, agricultural lives, tending crops growing in cracks of the cliff. They use a variety of specialized tools and we suggest that our physical anthropologists examine the record to inform the Contactor of what we can infer.
They build homes and gathering places of woven plant fiber, suspending them on cliff faces. Their technologies would seem to limit such buildings to a particular size, carrying no more than 30 individuals. The structure of the homes allows for temperature regulation in both heat and cold, from which we infer the sedentary nature of their society. Our preliminary finite analysis of these buildings shows us that their constructors have built them with extreme precision, with even tension across the cliff face and redundancies in construction that minimize the effects of structural failure.
We never observed Climbers wearing clothing, but the Climbers we have encountered so far are currently experiencing summer. They make heavy use of weaving technologies and have developed slings for carrying children and tools, as well as decorative items. Because our calculations suggest a significant seasonal change of temperature, we speculate that they may wear clothing in colder times of year.
Because we do not yet have an understanding of hospitality etiquette, we have not fully mapped the contents of individual homes, but have seen Climbers using tools for farming, modifying cliff faces to suit their purposes, building their cliff-clinging homes, and in one case, hunting.
Individual members of sociosexual networks bear body paint on their backs that bear similarities to each other, as well as what appear to our untrained eye to be constrained individual aesthetic choices. We suggest that the linguists of the Enough Time for the Meaning to Change explore the symbols to determine their meanings, as they seem to bear little resemblance to their more obvious written language. We speculate that the bearer uses them to represent network affiliation, with individuals bearing distinctions that make it clear who they are from a distance.
Climbers write with smut ink and brushes made of a variety of materials. They prefer a substrate made of the rigid, flat stalks of one of their crops, though they write on their homes, their skin, and the cliff walls themselves. We have made a preliminary catalogue of their system of symbols and suggest that the linguists of our contactor may find it to be of great interest in combination with the voice and body language recordings we have made.
Climbers make heavy use of pulley systems to carry buckets up, down, and along the cliff faces. They use the buckets to carry both instances of information and material goods. They may use such a system to convey standard units of debt or trade, so we refer our econolinguists to our records.
In addition to their use of pulleys to carry, they also make heavy use of block and tackle. Many individuals create devices with these blocks and tackle that seem to serve no mechanical function. We suggest that the engineers of the Enough Time for the Meaning to Change might find that such machines represent an information technology. Additionally, many individuals use a small, complex pneumatic device that we first suspected served a musical function, but we now speculate represents another information technology.
- Did the Climbers develop a genetic engineering technology? What caused them to lose such an ability? If their genes were modified by an outside entity, what was its purpose? If such an entity is working on a timescale orders of magnitude longer than hominins we have studied, are we interacting with their experiment, and how would we determine if such an entity retains an interest in Oehun?
- Do the mildly swollen breasts of other members of the new parents suggest that indicate physical or socioemotional proximity to the mother during pregnancy? Does it indicate a particular status within the social network?
- Do individuals mark themselves with their names? Do they carry quantized, syntactic data, or do individuals modify them by whim?
- How do they treat their dead? Did the corpse we discovered die as a result of accident, violence, or suicide? Was such an action socially sanctioned?
- Do they use their dual writing systems in other contexts? If so, what distinguishes them?
- How do they travel across horizontal ground when necessary?
- How do they use their pneumatic computation devices? To what purpose do they put them?
- Why does an apparently herbivorous species hunt? Do individuals other than the one we witnessed do such a thing? Why do they tether their projectile/prey?
- Where do the Climbers obtain their water?