FROM THE BEGINNING OF TIME
Sources to understand early human history
- Discoveries of human fossils, stone tools and cave paintings help us to understand early human history. Each of these discoveries has a history of its own.
- Fossils are the remains or impressions of a very old human which have turned into stone. These are often embedded in rock, and are thus preserved for millions of years.
- Stone tools made and used by early humans are available in various parts of Africa and Europe. Stone tools such as pebbles, sharp stones, stone blades etc were used for various purposes in early human life.
- Paintings found on the walls of the caves in Europe and Africa are helping us to understand early human history.
- Most scholars refused to accept that these objects were the remains of early humans. They did not believe the ability of early humans to make stone tools or paint. Because according to Old Testament of the Bible, human origin was an act of Creation by God. After a few years the true significance of these finds was realised.
How was Neanderthal man`s skull discovered?
- August 1856, workmen who were quarrying for limestone in the Neander valley a gorge near the German city of Dusseldorf, found a skull and some skeletal fragments.
- These were handed over to Carl Fuhlrott, a local schoolmaster and natural historian, who realised that they did not belong to a modern human.
- He then made a plaster cast of the skull and sent it to Herman Schaaffhausen, a professor of anatomy at Bonn University. The following year they jointly published a paper, claiming that this skull represented a form of human that was extinct.
- At that time, scholars did not accept this view and instead declared that the skull belonged to a person of more recent times. But later they accepted it and named as Neanderthal man
The Story of Human Evolution
- Between 36 million years and 24 million years primates, a category of mammals emerged in Asia and Africa. Primates are a subgroup of a larger group of mammals. They include monkeys, apes and humans. They have body hair, a relatively long gestation period following birth, mammary glands, different types of teeth, and the ability to maintain a constant body temperature.
- Between 24 mya and 5.6MYA there emerged a subgroup amongst primates, called hominoids. Hominoids are different from monkeys in a number of ways. They have a larger body and do not have a tail. Besides, there is a longer period of infant development and dependency amongst hominoids.
- Between 5.6 mya and 1.8 MYA hominids have evolved from hominoids and share certain common features and have major differences as well. They differences were,
a smaller brain
a little bigger brain
They are quadrupeds, walking on all
Hominids have an
upright posture and bipedal locomotion (walking on two feet)
They have flexible forelimbs
And marked differences in the hand
They have flexibility in hand, leg and fingers which helped them to make tools and weapons.
- Hominids are further subdivided into two branches, known as Australopithecus and Homo. Each of these in turn includes several species. The major differences between Australopithecus and Homo relate to brain size, jaws and teeth. The Australopithecus have smaller brain size, heavier jaws and larger teeth than the Homo. The name Australopithecus comes from a Latin word, ‘austral’, meaning ‘southern’ and a Greek word, ‘pithekos’, meaning ‘ape.’
- Homo is a Latin word, meaning ‘man’, although there were women as well! Scientists distinguish amongst several types of Homo. The names assigned to these species are derived from what are regarded as their typical characteristics. So fossils are classified as Homo habilis (the tool maker), Homo erectus (the upright man), and Homo sapiens (the wise or thinking man).
THE POSITIVE FEEDBACK MECHANISM
- Some of the features or developments in the anatomy of early human beings favored or shaped them to become modern human beings. These developments are together called positive feedback mechanism.
- Bipedalism or upright walking helped to use less energy for hunting, carrying infants, making and using weapons.
- Flexibility in hands and fingers enabled hands to be freed for carrying infants or objects. In turn, as hands were used more and more running became easy.
- Growth in the size of the brain helped for thinking, memorizing, planning and realizing to make new attempts for further developments.
- Visual surveillance improved in early humans it favored for long distance walking, search food, find animals and many more works.
The Replacement and Regional Continuity Model Theories (OR)
The Centre of Human Origin
- The issue of the place of origin of modern humans has been much debated by the scholars. Two totally divergent views have been expounded, one advocating the regional continuity model (with multiple regions of origin), the other the replacement model (with a single origin in Africa).
- According to the regional continuity model, the Homo sapiens originated in different regions (continents) and gradually evolved at different rates into modern humans.
- The theory is based on the regional differences in the features of present-day humans such as colour of skin, height, colour of hair etc. According to those who advocate this view, these dissimilarities are due to differences between the pre-existing Homo erectus and Homo sapiens populations that occupied the same regions.
- According to the replacement model human beings first originated in a single region, which is Africa and migrated to all the other regions (continents).
- Those who support of this view take the evidence of the genetic and anatomical homogeneity of modern humans such as two hands, two legs, five fingers, two eyes, one mouth etc. The enormous similarity amongst modern humans is due to their descent from a population that originated in a single region, which is Africa.
Early Humans: Ways of Obtaining Food
- Early humans would have obtained food through a number of ways, such as gathering, hunting, scavenging and fishing.
- Gathering would involve collecting plant foods such as seeds, nuts, berries, fruits and tubers. That gathering was practiced individually rather than collectively. Fossilized plant remains are relatively rare but plant remains that were accidentally burnt results in carbonisation. In this form, organic matter is preserved for a long span of time to find out evidence for food gathering by early human.
- Hunting probably began later – about 500,000 years ago. The earliest clear evidence for the deliberate, planned hunting and butchery of large mammals comes from two sites: Boxgrove in southern England and Schoningen in Germany.
- Increasingly, it is being suggested that the early hominids scavenged or foraged for meat and marrow from the carcasses of animals that had died naturally or had been killed by other predators. It is equally possible that small mammals such as rodents, birds, their eggs, reptiles and even insects were eaten by early hominids.
- Fishing was also important, as is evident from the discovery of fish bones at different sites. Fishing was practiced from rivers, bonds and lakes with hand, stone and wood by the early human beings.
Early Humans` shelter (patterns of residence of early humans)
- One way of reconstructing the evidence for patterns of residence this is by plotting the distribution of artefacts. Some places, where food resources were abundant, humans visited repeatedly have more artefacts. In such areas, early humans left behind traces of their activities and presence. The places that were less frequently visited would have fewer artefacts.
- It is also important to remember that the first shelter was tree and which could have been shared by hominids, other primates and carnivores.
- Between 400,000 and 125,000 years ago, natural caves began to be used by them. Evidence for this comes from sites in Europe. In the Lazaret cave in southern France, a 12x4 metre shelter was built against the cave wall. Inside it there were evidence of stone tools and food sources.
- At another site, Terra Amata on the coast of southern France, flimsy shelters with roofs of wood and grasses were built for short-term, seasonal visits.
- Houses made of stone and baked clay and burnt bone along with stone tools, dated between 1.4 and 1 mya, have been found at Chesowanja, Kenya and Swartkrans, South Africa. On the other hand, are indications of the controlled use of fire. This had several advantages – fire provided warmth and light inside caves, and could be used for cooking. Besides, fire was used to harden wood, as for instance the tip of the spear. The use of heat also facilitated the flaking of tools.
Early Humans: Making Tools
- The use of tools and tool making are not confined to humans. Some chimpanzees use tools that they have made. Certain anatomical and neurological (related to the nervous system) adaptations have led to the skilled use of hands and fingers favored tool making by the early humans.
- Moreover, the ways in which humans use and make tools often require greater memory and complex organizational skills, both of which were present in humans. The earliest evidence for the making and use of stone tools comes from sites in Ethiopia and Kenya. It is likely that the earliest stone tool makers were the Homo habilis.
- We do not know whether tool making was done by men or women or both. It is possible that stone tool makers were both women and men. Women in particular may have made and used tools to obtain food for them as well as to sustain their children after weaning.
- About 35,000 years ago, improvements in the techniques for killing animals are evident from the appearance of new kinds of tools such as spear throwers and the bow and arrow.
- There were other needs such as the trapping of fur-bearing animals (to use the fur for clothing) and the invention of sewing needles. The earliest evidence of sewn clothing comes from about 21,000 years ago. Besides, with the introduction of the punch blade technique to make small chisel-like tools, it was now possible to make engravings on bone, antler, ivory or wood.
Modes of Communication: Language
- There are several views on language development. The first user of language was the hominid. The hominid language involved gestures or hand movements.
- Later they developed another way of communication known as vocal but non-verbal communication such as singing or humming.
- Homo habilis may have possessed a small number of speech sounds in the initial stage. Gradually, these may have developed into language. It has been suggested that the brain of Homo habilis had certain features which would have made it possible for them to speak.
- Thus, language may have developed as early as 2 MYA. The evolution of the vocal tract was equally important. This occurred around 200,000 years ago. It is more specifically associated with modern humans.
- Another suggestion is that language developed around the same time as art, that is, around 40,000-35,000 years ago. The development of spoken language has been seen as closely connected with art, since both are media for communication.
Modes of Communication: Art
- Hundreds of paintings of animals done between 30,000 and12, 000 years ago have been discovered in the caves of France and Spain. These include depictions of bison, horses, ibex, deer, mammoths, rhinos, lions, bears, panthers, hyenas and owls.
- Several explanations have been offered. One is that because of the importance of hunting, the paintings of animals were associated with rituals and magic.
- The act of painting could have been a ritual to ensure a successful hunt such as a big animal was hunt by an individual etc.
- Another explanation offered is that these caves were possibly meeting places for small groups of people or locations for group activities. These groups could share hunting techniques and knowledge, while paintings and engravings served as the media for passing information from one generation to the next.
- The above account of early societies has been based on archaeological evidence. Clearly, there is much that we still do not know.
Hunter-Gatherer Societies From the Present to the Past
- As our knowledge of present-day hunter-gatherers increased through studies by anthropologists. Anthropology is a discipline that studies human culture and evolutionary aspects of human biology of the past.
- Whether the information about living hunters and gatherers could be used to understand past hunter-gatherer societies. One group of scholars suggests that data from present-day hunter-gatherer societies can be used to understand the past societies.
- Ethnography is the study of contemporary ethnic groups. It includes an examination of their modes of livelihood, technology, gender roles, rituals, political institutions and social customs
- On the other side another group of scholars who feel that ethnographic data cannot be used for understanding past societies as the two are totally different. For instance, present-day hunter-gatherer societies pursue several other economic activities along with hunting and gathering.
- These include engaging in exchange and trade in minor forest produce, or working as paid labourers in the fields of neighbouring farmers and these societies are totally marginalised in all senses – geographically, politically and socially.
Developments between 10,000 and 4,500 BCE in early human life
- For several million years, humans lived by hunting wild animals and gathering wild plants. Then, between 10,000 and 4,500 years ago, people in different parts of the world learnt to domesticate certain plants and animals. This led to the development of farming and pastoralism as a way of life. The shift from hunting to farming was a major turning point in human history.
- With the introduction of agriculture, more people began to stay in one place for even longer periods than they had done before. Thus permanent houses began to be built of mud, mud bricks and even stone. These are some of the earliest villages known to archaeologists.
- Farming and pastoralism led to the introduction of many other changes such as the making of pots in which to store grain and other produce, and to cook food.
- Besides, new kinds of stone tools came into use. Other new tools such as the wooden plough were used in agriculture. Gradually, people became familiar with metals such as copper and tin.
- The wheel, important for both pot making and transportation, came into use. About 5,000 years ago, even larger concentrations of people began to live together in cities.