How did first humans build tools?

How did first humans build tools?

I'm referring this question in this way and tell me if I'm wrong:

The first humans were just surrounded by: rocks, trees, plants, water, sand, animals, fruits. So how just with hands, mouth, feet could they do for example a knife? They would need to take wood but the trees are too heavy for taking from there…


Our closest genetic relative, the chimpanzees, have been observed to fashion themselves tools. That link even has a video showing one doing it, if you are interested in the process.

So most likely this is a behavior that was shared by our common ape ancestor over 7 million years ago. The only real tool innovation early man initially brought to the table (or at least the only surviving one in the fossil record) is that he seemed to be really into creating rock tools with chipping. Currently the oldest known examples are from about 3.3 million years ago.

Chimps and bonobos will use stone tools, but they haven't been observed systematically setting out to make themselves better stone tools by chipping off bit of stone. They will improve sticks to make tools, but not rocks (that we've seen).

Considering our species' lofty self-image, it doesn't seem like such a huge step to me.


Did Neanderthals Teach Modern Humans How to Make Tools?

Neanderthals apparently created the oldest known examples of a kind of bone tool used in Europe, thus raising the possibility that modern humans may have learned how to make these tools from Neanderthals, researchers say.

Neanderthals were once the closest living relatives of modern humans, dwelling across a vast area ranging from Europe to the Middle East to western Asia. This ancient lineage of humans went extinct about 40,000 years ago, about the same time modern humans expanded across the world.

Neanderthals created artifacts similar to ones made at about the same time by modern humans arriving in Europe, such as body ornaments and small blades. Scientists hotly debated whether such behavior developed before or after contact with modern humans. [The 10 Biggest Mysteries of the First Humans]

"There is a huge debate about how different Neanderthals were from modern humans," said Shannon McPherron, an archaeologist at the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, Germany.

Now, McPherron and his colleagues have discovered that Neanderthals created a specialized kind of bone tool previously only seen in modern humans. These tools are about 51,000 years old, making them the oldest known examples of such tools in Europe and predating the known arrival of modern humans.

New Neanderthal behavior

The bone tools in question are known as lissoirs ("polishing stones"), which are used to smooth out hides to make them tougher, impermeable and lustrous. Scientists unearthed fragments of four examples of such tools at two Neanderthal sites in southwestern France. The uniform smoothness and rounded edges of the lissoir tips probably resulted from scraping, thus hinting that they were, indeed, used against soft materials such as hides.

"We have found an entirely new aspect of Neanderthal behavior," McPherron said.

Until now, all known Neanderthal bone tools researchers found "have looked just like their stone tools," McPherron said. "In other words, Neanderthals looked at bone as just another raw material to flake into stone tool types like scrapers, notches and hand axes."

"Modern humans, on the other hand, made lots of different kinds of bone tools that took advantage of the properties of bone, to be ground into specific shapes like points, awls and smoothers," McPherron added. "Here, for the first time, we have evidence of Neanderthals doing exactly the same thing. They were taking ribs and shaping them into a tool that looks identical to the modern human tools found 40,000 years ago and to tools still in use today for preparing hides."

"What this means is that Neanderthals did, in fact, recognize that bone could be worked in special ways to create new kinds of tools, and in this way, Neanderthals are not different from later modern humans," McPherron added. "For many researchers, specialized bone tools were thought to be one of the technologies that separate the two groups of humans. This is no longer the case." [Top 10 Things That Make Humans Special]

McPherron cautioned that the researchers are not suggesting that Neanderthals were the first to make bone tools.

"There are sophisticated bone tools that are even older in Africa, for instance," McPherron said. "Neanderthals were, however, the first in Europe to make specialized bone tools."

And these aren't the first Neanderthal bone tools, but instead the first Neanderthal bone tools that weren't just replicas of their stone tools.

Neanderthal invention?

It remains unclear whether Neanderthals learned how to make lissoirs from modern humans or invented them entirely on their own, or even whether modern humans learned how to make this particular kind of bone tool from Neanderthals.

"The date we have of approximately 51,000 years old is earlier than the best evidence we have of modern humans in Europe, but it is still close enough that we have to mention the possibility," McPherron said. "What we need to do now is look in even older sites for these same tools, to see if Neanderthals had been making these tools for much longer."

"I think that as others look for this bone-tool type amongst their small bones, we will find many more," McPherron added. "I suspect that this new aspect of Neanderthal behavior was actually rather widespread."

For now, these findings "are the best evidence we have that Neanderthals were capable of inventing on their own one aspect of what has been called modern human culture," McPherron said.

The scientists detailed their findings online Aug. 12 in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.


1895 is a Year to Remember

The 1800s were some of the most important years in human evolution. While many inventions have changed the world, the 1800s was filled with bright minds and inventors that dreamed big and pushed technology forward.

Thomas Edison invented to incandescent electric lamp, spurring worldwide change.

But the lamp wasn’t just the birth of light as we know it. No, the lamp signified that other great inventions were possible, and it took just 16 years for civilization to go from its first lamp to its first power tool.

C & E Fein, a German company, was the first company to invent a power tool.

And what was the first power tool? A drill.

The company decided to combine a regular manual drill with an electric motor, and the electric drill was born. The drill wasn’t what we see in stores today, but it led to power tools as we know it.

The drill made by C & E was:

  • Very large in size, weighing some 16.5 pounds. The weight made it difficult to drill for long periods of time, but it was a welcomed change from manual work.
  • Slow in speed thanks to the weak DC motor the unit used. Electric was still fairly new, so it makes sense that the drill would be slow, albeit faster than a hand.
  • So large that a person needed to operate the drill using two hands, much like a jack hammer today.

The unit lacked the power needed to drill without a person leaning into the drill via the included chest plate. Added weight pushed onto the plate allowed the user to drill into the material. But as evident from the facts above, it wasn’t the most practical design or concept.

In fact, it would seem almost unusable by today’s standards.

But this design lasted for a long time. It took 20 years before an updated version of the power drill came about. It’s a story that almost seems like a fairytale, but the birth of one of the biggest power tool companies in the world followed.


How They Survived:

There is evidence that H. heidelbergensis was capable of controlling fire by building hearths, or early fireplaces, by 790,000 years ago in the form of fire-altered tools and burnt wood at the site of Gesher Benot Ya-aqov in Israel. Social groups probably often gathered around their hearths sharing food, stay warm, and ward off predators.

H. heidelbergensis probably took advantage of natural shelters but this species was also the first to build simple shelters. Evidence for this comes from the site of Terra Amata, France.

H. heidelbergensis was also the first hunter of large game animals remains of animals such as wild deer, horses, elephants, hippos, and rhinos with butchery marks on their bones have been found together at sites with H. heidelbergensis fossils. Evidence for this also comes from 400,000 year old wooden spears found at the site of Schöningen, Germany, which were found together with stone tools and the remains of more than 10 butchered horses.

One site in Atapuerca, northern Spain, dating to about 400,000 years ago, shows evidence of what may be human ritual. Scientists have found bones of roughly 30 H. heidelbergensis individuals deliberately thrown inside a pit. The pit has been named Sima de los Huesos (‘Pit of Bones’). Alongside the skeletal remains, scientists uncovered a single well-made symmetrical handaxe —illustrating the tool-making ability of H. heidelbergensis.


Chip Clark, Smithsonian Institution Stone core and flake from Lokalalei, Kenya, about 2.3 million years old

Dawn of technology

Early humans in East Africa used hammerstones to strike stone cores and produce sharp flakes. For more than 2 million years, early humans used these tools to cut, pound, crush, and access new foods—including meat from large animals.

How Do We Know This Zebra Was Food?

Human Origins Program, Smithsonian Institution Scanning electron micrograph image of cut marks on fossil bone

Stone tool marks on this zebra bone look like those made during butchery experiments. Scientists have made experimental stone tools and used them to butcher modern animals. There is a strong similarity between the marks their tools made and the marks on fossil animal bones, indicating that early humans used stone tools to butcher animals by at least 2.6 million years ago.

Handaxes came in handy

Beginning 1.7 million years ago

Around this time, toolmakers began to strike huge flakes off stone cores. They shaped the large flakes into handaxes by striking smaller flakes all around the edges. These multipurpose tools dominated early human technology for more than a million years. Ancient handaxes have been found in Africa, Asia, and Europe. Learn more about them and other Early Stone Age tools.

Handaxe Makers Cope with Catastrophe

James Di Loreto, & Donald H. Hurlbert, Smithsonian Institution Handaxe from Bose, China, about 803,000 years old.

Smithsonian scientists and their Chinese colleagues found these handaxes in the same sediment layer with tektites, small rocks that formed during a meteor impact 803,000 years ago.

Since the handaxes and tektites were in the same layer, both are the same age. Early humans must have moved into the area right after the impact. They may have made the handaxes from rocks that were exposed when forests burned.

A huge meteor impact occurred in the atmosphere near China 803,000 years ago and the shock caused earth rocks to melt and explode, forming tektites. Widespread forest fires followed. Shortly after, humans moved into the barren landscape and scavenged for resources.

What’s cooking?

Control of fire provided a new tool with several uses—including cooking, which led to a fundamental change in the early human diet. Cooking released nutrients in foods and made them easier to digest. It also rid some plants of poisons.

The earliest hearths are at least 790,000 years old. Some researchers think cooking may reach back more than 1.5 million years.

Chip Clark, Smithsonian Institution Wooden thrusting spear, Schöningen, Germany, about 400,000 years old.

Hunting Large Animals

By at least 500,000 years ago, early humans were making wooden spears and using them to kill large animals.

Early humans butchered large animals as long as 2.6 million years ago. But they may have scavenged the kills from lions and other predators. The early humans who made this spear were hunting large animals, probably on a regular basis.

Reducing the risk

Hunting large animals was a risky business. Long spears like this one were thrust into an animal, enabling our ancestors to hunt from a somewhat safer distance than was possible with earlier weapons. Three wooden spears like the 400,000-year-old one illustrated here were found at Schöningen, Germany, along with stone tools and the butchered remains of more than 10 horses.

Oldest evidence of hunting

James Di Loreto, & Donald H. Hurlbert, Smithsonian Institution Horse shoulder blade or scapula from Boxgrove, England, about 500,000 years old

The semicircular wound on this fragment of a horse shoulder blade was made by a weapon such as a spear, indicating it was killed by early humans. Other horse bones from the same site have butchery marks from stone tools.

Explosion of technology

Eventually new kinds of tools replaced stone handaxes. Some were small or made of several parts. Some were made of bone, ivory, or antler. Over the past 100,000 years, as modern humans spread around the world, the pace of technological change accelerated—leading to today’s extraordinary diversity of specialized tools.

Chip Clark, Smithsonian Institution Bone needles from Xiaogushan, Liaoning Province, China, about 30,000–23,000 years old

Making clothing

Awls and perforators were probably invented in Africa and carried to colder climates, where they were used to pierce holes in clothing. Later, humans used bone and ivory needles to sew warm, closely fitted garments.

Carving and shaping

Burins are specialized stone flakes with sharp, chisel-like tips. Humans used them to work bone, antler, ivory, and wood and to carve designs and images on the surfaces of these materials.

Fishing

More than 70,000 years ago, humans in Central Africa used some of the earliest barbed points to spear huge prehistoric catfish weighing as much as 68 kg (150 lbs.), enough to feed 80 people for two days. Later, humans used harpoons to hunt large, fast marine mammals.

Hunting fast and dangerous prey

Spear-throwers provided leverage for hurling spears and darts greater distances with more speed and accuracy and with less chance of injury from prey. Stone or bone points, attached to spears or darts, enabled humans to exploit fast-moving prey like birds and large, dangerous prey like mammoths.

Karen Carr Studios Humans began making pottery for storage purposes

Storing things

Early humans may have made bags from skin long ago. By around 26,000 years ago, they were weaving plant fibers to make cords and perhaps baskets. About 20,000 years ago, in China, they began making pottery.

Chimps Make Tools, Too

Chimpanzees in Guinea used this stone anvil and hammerstone to crack open oil palm nuts, an energy-rich food. Nut cracking is one of the most sophisticated examples of chimpanzee tool use.(Specimen courtesy of Professor Tetsuro Matsuzawa, Kyoto University Primate Research Institute, Kyoto, Japan)

Chip Clark, Smithsonian Institution Chimpanzee stone anvil, hammerstone with palm nuts, ant-dipping tool, and spear

Researchers in Senegal observed a chimpanzee sharpen this stick and use it to spear bush babies sleeping inside tree hollows—the first time chimpanzees were observed using tools to hunt. (Specimen courtesy of Dr. Jill Pruetz, Iowa State University, Iowa)

Chimpanzees in Guinea use specially prepared sticks like this to “fish” for ants, a high-protein food. They make holes in the side of a nest, insert the stick, and pull it out—covered with ants. (Specimen courtesy of Dr. Kathelijne Koops and Dr. William McGrew, Cambridge University, England)

Benefits and Costs of Eating Meat

Karen Carr Illustrations of the benefits and costs of eating meat.

Benefits

- Meat is a concentrated source of calories, protein, fat, and nutrients.

- Unlike many plants, most meat does not naturally contain toxic chemicals so it was a relatively safe food for early humans.

- Meat is more quickly digested than plants and does not require large guts, saving energy for the brain and other organs.

Costs

- Hunting and scavenging large animals is risky and less predictable than gathering plants.

- Dangerous animals competed with early humans to obtain meat.

- Meat spoils quickly and can contain tapeworms and other parasites.

How can you tell if a rock is actually an early stone tool? Watch this video to find out.


The Days and Nights of Knowledge

1500 years ago, people generally believed that the earth was flat and rectangular. However, as early as the 6th century BC Greek philosopher Pythagoras theorized that the earth must be a sphere and in the 3rd century BC the Greek mathematician and astronomer Eratosthenes had deduced that the earth was round and computed its circumference.

Oddly enough, peoples further back in time had greater scientific knowledge than the European nations of Byzantine and Medieval times. Until the second part of the 19th century, scholars in Europe thought that the Earth was just a few thousand years old. Yet ancient Brahmin books estimated the Day of Brahma, the life span of our universe, to be 4,320 million years - not very far off from modern calculations. Modern science emerged from the medieval darkness during the renaissance. By studying classical sources humanity re-discovered old-truths that had been known by the Babylonians, Ionians, Egyptians, Hindus, or Greeks for many centuries.

Imago Mundi Babylonian map, the oldest known world map, 6th century BC Babylonia. ( Public Domain )

Medieval cities of France, Germany, and England were usually built by accident (without any planning.) The streets were narrow, irregular, and had no way to manage sewage. Because of the unsanitary conditions epidemics and plagues devastated these towns.

But around 2500 BC, the cities of Mohenjo Daro and Harappa, in today’s Pakistan, were as carefully planned as Paris or Washington. An efficient water supply, drainage, and rubbish chutes were provided. Besides public swimming pools, many homes also had private bathrooms. Until the end of the last century this was a luxury in Europe and America.

Panoramic view of the stupa mound and great bath at Mohenjo Daro. (Saqib Qayyum/ CC BY SA 3.0 )

Before the latter part of the 16th century, Europeans had neither spoons nor forks on their tables –they used only knives and their fingers. Yet the people of Central America had these one thousand years before the appearance of Cortes. In fact, ancient Egyptians used spoons even earlier – in 3000 BC.

Modern science has only rediscovered and perfected old ideas, it has demonstrated that the world was much older, vaster, and globalized than was thought only a few generations before.


Comments

artsofthetimes (author) on December 21, 2011:

Thank you so much Jenubouka, i appreciate your nice comments.

Wishing you a merry Christmas and a wonderful new year.

jenubouka on December 13, 2011:

I love the simplicity of the drawings, and yet they also offer a complexity at the same time with their lines and the restricted mediums at hand.

It is inspiring to view these and think about our ancestor&aposs way of life, what they enjoyed, and how they expressed themselves.

Thank you, okay, now this is my favorite piece, (for now)

artsofthetimes (author) on December 12, 2011:

That is so interesting WH I wonder how old those would be. Must go and read up on that. Thanks for sharing the information.

WesternHistory from California on December 11, 2011:

Thanks for an interesting hub. In the American west there are quite a few sites where Native Americans created petroglyphs in caves and on the sides of cliffs. Two good sites in New Mexico are the Petroglyph National Monument on the west side of Albuquerque and at Bandelier National Monument northwest of Santa Fe and just a few miles south of Los Alamos.


Scientists are uncovering more and more ancient hominids all the time &mdash here meaning bipeds including humans, our direct ancestors and closest relatives. They strive to find the earliest one, to help answer that most fundamental question in human evolution &mdash what adaptations made us human, and in what order did they happen?

The most bitterly debated question in the discipline of human evolution is likely over where modern humans evolved. The out-of-Africa hypothesis maintains that modern humans evolved relatively recently in Africa and then spread around the world, replacing existing populations of archaic humans. The multiregional hypothesis contends that modern humans evolved over a broad area from archaic humans, with populations in different regions mating with their neighbors to share traits, resulting in the evolution of modern humans. The out-of-Africa hypothesis currently holds the lead, but proponents of the multiregional hypothesis remain strong in their views.


2d. First Technologies: Fire and Tools


This is a modern representation of what a Neanderthal toolmaker might have looked like at work.

People of the Stone Age did not have the luxury of turning on the TV and watching Tim "Rock" Taylor host "Tool Time" or Bob Vilastone giving home-building tips in "This Old Cave." Nor could they dial 911 when a fire threatened them. Rather, they had to invent tools and harness the power of fire. But it was their experiments in tool-making that ultimately led to TV, cell phones, and computers.

Living in the computer-driven Information Age, we don't necessarily think of fire or tools as technologies. But by definition technology refers to the "practical application of knowledge in a certain area." Learning how to tame and use fire proved an invaluable technological advance in human development.

Learning how to sharpen a flint, attach a flint to a piece of wood to create a spear, then understanding how to use flint on other pieces of wood to create digging tools were all technological leaps.

Playing With Fire

Uncontrolled fire terrified our ancestors and still has the power to terrify today. Forest fires, or houses being burnt to the ground are still vexing problems. However, take time to think of all of the practical uses of fire or its subsequent substitutes. Where would we be today without it? What was its importance to early people?

There is heavy debate as to exactly when humans first controlled the use of fire. If early humans controlled it, how did they start a fire? We do not have firm answers, but they may have used pieces of flint stones banged together to created sparks. They may have rubbed two sticks together generating enough heat to start a blaze. Conditions of these sticks had to be ideal for a fire.

The earliest humans were terrified of fire just as animals were. Yet, they had the intelligence to recognize that they could use fire for a variety of purposes. Fire provided warmth and light and kept wild animals away at night. Fire was useful in hunting. Hunters with torches could drive a herd of animals over the edge of a cliff.

What's Cooking?

People also learned that they could cook food with fire and preserve meat with smoke. Cooking made food taste better and easier to swallow. This was important for those without teeth!

The early humans of 2 million years ago did not have fire-making skills, so they waited until they found something burning from a natural cause to get fire. A nightly campfire became a routine. What was once comfort and safety, was now also a social occasion. People would collect around the fire each night to share stories of the day's hunt and activities, to laugh and to relax.

The earliest evidence found in Swartkrans, South Africa and at Chesowanja, Kenya Terra and Amata, France suggests that fire was first used in stone hearths about 1.5 million years ago.

Tooling Around


Some of the preferred materials to make tools and weapons included obsidian, flint, quartzite, and jasper because they could easily be shaped.

Archaeologists have found Stone Age tools 25,000-50,000 year-old all over the world. The most common are daggers and spear points for hunting, hand axes and choppers for cutting up meat and scrapers for cleaning animal hides. Other tools were used to dig roots, peel bark and remove the skins of animals. Later, splinters of bones were used as needles and fishhooks. A very important tool for early man was flakes struck from flint. They could cut deeply into big game for butchering.

Cro-Magnons, who lived approximately 25,000 years ago, introduced tools such as the bow and arrow, fishhooks, fish spears and harpoons that were constructed from bones and antlers of animals. Logs were hollowed out to create canoes. Crossing rivers and deep-water fishing became possible.

Farm System

Advances in tool-making technology led to advances in agriculture. And farming revolutionized the world and set prehistoric humans on a course toward modernity. Inventions such as the plow helped in the planting of seeds. No longer did humans have to depend on the luck of the hunt. Their food supply became much more certain. Permanent settlements were soon to follow. Animals were raised for food as well as to do work. Goats, for instance, were sources of milk and meat. Dogs were used to aid in hunting wild animals.

Modern, civilized societies began to emerge around the globe. Human life as we know it started to flourish.


Contents

The binomial name Homo sapiens was coined by Linnaeus, 1758. [9] The Latin noun homō (genitive hominis) means "human being", while the participle sapiēns means "discerning, wise, sensible".

The species was initially thought to have emerged from a predecessor within the genus Homo around 300,000 to 200,000 years ago. [note 2] A problem with the morphological classification of "anatomically modern" was that it would not have included certain extant populations. For this reason, a lineage-based (cladistic) definition of H. sapiens has been suggested, in which H. sapiens would by definition refer to the modern human lineage following the split from the Neanderthal lineage. Such a cladistic definition would extend the age of H. sapiens to over 500,000 years. [note 3]

Estimates for the split between the Homo sapiens line and combined Neanderthal/Denisovan line range from between 503,000 and 565,000 years ago [14] between 550,000 and 765,000 years ago [15] and (based on rates of dental evolution) possibly more than 800,000 years ago. [16]

Extant human populations have historically been divided into subspecies, but since around the 1980s all extant groups have tended to be subsumed into a single species, H. sapiens, avoiding division into subspecies altogether. [note 4]

Some sources show Neanderthals (H. neanderthalensis) as a subspecies (H. sapiens neanderthalensis). [20] [21] Similarly, the discovered specimens of the H. rhodesiensis species have been classified by some as a subspecies (H. sapiens rhodesiensis), although it remains more common to treat these last two as separate species within the genus Homo rather than as subspecies within H. sapiens. [22]

All humans are considered to be a part of the subspecies H. sapiens sapiens, [23] a designation which has been a matter of debate since a species is usually not given a subspecies category unless there is evidence of multiple distinct subspecies. [23]

Derivation from H. erectus

The divergence of the lineage leading to H. sapiens out of archaic human varieties derived from H. erectus, is estimated as having taken place over 500,000 years ago. [7] [4] Earlier studies estimated the oldest splits among modern populations to date around 160–100,000 years ago (in 2011 and 2012) on the basis of short-sequence fragments and to 300–250,000 years ago after rescaling (in 2012). However, the oldest split among modern human populations (such as the Khoisan split from other populations) was more recently calculated by a 2017 study to date between 350,000 and 260,000 years ago, [24] [25] and the earliest known H. sapiens fossils also date to about that period, including the Jebel Irhoud remains from Morocco (ca. 300,000 or 350–280,000 years ago), [26] the Florisbad Skull from South Africa (ca. 259,000 years ago), and the Omo remains from Ethiopia (ca. 195,000 years ago). [27] [28] [29] [30]

An mtDNA study in 2019 proposed an origin of modern humans in Botswana (and a Khoisan split) of around 200,000 years. [31] However, this proposal has been widely criticized by scholars, [32] [33] [34] with the recent evidence overall (genetic, fossil, and archaeological) supporting an origin for H. sapiens approximately 100,000 years earlier and in a broader region of Africa than the study proposes. [34]

In September 2019, scientists proposed that the earliest H. sapiens (and last common human ancestor to modern humans) arose between 350,000 and 260,000 years ago through a merging of populations in East and South Africa. [35] [3]

An alternative suggestion defines H. sapiens cladistically as including the lineage of modern humans since the split from the lineage of Neanderthals, roughly 500,000 to 800,000 years ago.

The time of divergence between archaic H. sapiens and ancestors of Neanderthals and Denisovans caused by a genetic bottleneck of the latter was dated at 744,000 years ago, combined with repeated early admixture events and Denisovans diverging from Neanderthals 300 generations after their split from H. sapiens, as calculated by Rogers et al. (2017). [36]

The derivation of a comparatively homogeneous single species of H. sapiens from more diverse varieties of archaic humans (all of which were descended from the early dispersal of H. erectus some 1.8 million years ago) was debated in terms of two competing models during the 1980s: "recent African origin" postulated the emergence of H. sapiens from a single source population in Africa, which expanded and led to the extinction of all other human varieties, while the "multiregional evolution" model postulated the survival of regional forms of archaic humans, gradually converging into the modern human varieties by the mechanism of clinal variation, via genetic drift, gene flow and selection throughout the Pleistocene. [37]

Since the 2000s, the availability of data from archaeogenetics and population genetics has led to the emergence of a much more detailed picture, intermediate between the two competing scenarios outlined above: The recent Out-of-Africa expansion accounts for the predominant part of modern human ancestry, while there were also significant admixture events with regional archaic humans. [38] [39]

Since the 1970s, the Omo remains, dated to some 195,000 years ago, have often been taken as the conventional cut-off point for the emergence of "anatomically modern humans". Since the 2000s, the discovery of older remains with comparable characteristics, and the discovery of ongoing hybridization between "modern" and "archaic" populations after the time of the Omo remains, have opened up a renewed debate on the age of H. sapiens in journalistic publications. [40] [41] [42] [43] [44] H. s. idaltu, dated to 160,000 years ago, has been postulated as an extinct subspecies of H. sapiens in 2003. [45] [23] H. neanderthalensis, which became extinct about 40,000 years ago, was also at one point considered to be a subspecies, H. s. neanderthalensis. [23]

H. heidelbergensis, dated 600,000 to 300,000 years ago, has long been thought to be a likely candidate for the last common ancestor of the Neanderthal and modern human lineages. However, genetic evidence from the Sima de los Huesos fossils published in 2016 seems to suggest that H. heidelbergensis in its entirety should be included in the Neanderthal lineage, as "pre-Neanderthal" or "early Neanderthal", while the divergence time between the Neanderthal and modern lineages has been pushed back to before the emergence of H. heidelbergensis, to close to 800,000 years ago, the approximate time of disappearance of H. antecessor. [46] [47]

Early Homo sapiens

The term Middle Paleolithic is intended to cover the time between the first emergence of H. sapiens (roughly 300,000 years ago) and the period held by some to mark the emergence of full behavioral modernity (roughly by 50,000 years ago, corresponding to the start of the Upper Paleolithic).

Many of the early modern human finds, like those of Jebel Irhoud, Omo, Herto, Florisbad, Skhul, Red Deer Cave people, and Peștera cu Oase exhibit a mix of archaic and modern traits. [48] [49] [26] Skhul V, for example, has prominent brow ridges and a projecting face. However, the brain case is quite rounded and distinct from that of the Neanderthals and is similar to the brain case of modern humans. It is uncertain whether the robust traits of some of the early modern humans like Skhul V reflects mixed ancestry or retention of older traits. [50] [51]

The "gracile" or lightly built skeleton of anatomically modern humans has been connected to a change in behavior, including increased cooperation and "resource transport". [52] [53]

There is evidence that the characteristic human brain development, especially the prefrontal cortex, was due to "an exceptional acceleration of metabolome evolution . paralleled by a drastic reduction in muscle strength. The observed rapid metabolic changes in brain and muscle, together with the unique human cognitive skills and low muscle performance, might reflect parallel mechanisms in human evolution." [54] The Schöningen spears and their correlation of finds are evidence that complex technological skills already existed 300,000 years ago, and are the first obvious proof of an active (big game) hunt. H. heidelbergensis already had intellectual and cognitive skills like anticipatory planning, thinking and acting that so far have only been attributed to modern man. [55] [56]

The ongoing admixture events within anatomically modern human populations make it difficult to estimate the age of the matrilinear and patrilinear most recent common ancestors of modern populations (Mitochondrial Eve and Y-chromosomal Adam). Estimates of the age of Y-chromosomal Adam have been pushed back significantly with the discovery of an ancient Y-chromosomal lineage in 2013, to likely beyond 300,000 years ago. [note 5] There have, however, been no reports of the survival of Y-chromosomal or mitochondrial DNA clearly deriving from archaic humans (which would push back the age of the most recent patrilinear or matrilinear ancestor beyond 500,000 years). [58] [59] [60]

Fossil teeth found at Qesem Cave (Israel) and dated to between 400,000 and 200,000 years ago have been compared to the dental material from the younger (120,000–80,000 years ago) Skhul and Qafzeh hominins. [note 6]

Dispersal of early H. sapiens begins soon after its emergence, as evidenced by the North African Jebel Irhoud finds (dated to around 315,000 years ago). [26] [29] There is indirect evidence for H. sapiens presence in West Asia around 270,000 years ago. [62]

The Florisbad Skull from Florisbad, South Africa, dated to about 259,000 years ago, has also been classified as representing early H. sapiens. [27] [28] [30] [3]

In September 2019, scientists proposed that the earliest H. sapiens (and last common human ancestor to modern humans) arose between 350,000 and 260,000 years ago through a merging of populations in East and South Africa. [35] [3]

Among extant populations, the Khoi-San (or "Capoid") hunters-gatherers of Southern Africa may represent the human population with the earliest possible divergence within the group Homo sapiens sapiens. Their separation time has been estimated in a 2017 study to be between 350 and 260,000 years ago, compatible with the estimated age of early H. sapiens. The study states that the deep split-time estimation of 350 to 260 thousand years ago is consistent with the archaeological estimate for the onset of the Middle Stone Age across sub-Saharan Africa and coincides with archaic H. sapiens in southern Africa represented by, for example, the Florisbad skull dating to 259 (± 35) thousand years ago. [5]

H. s. idaltu, found at Middle Awash in Ethiopia, lived about 160,000 years ago, [63] and H. sapiens lived at Omo Kibish in Ethiopia about 195,000 years ago. [64] Two fossils from Guomde, Kenya, dated to at least (and likely more than) 180,000 years ago [27] and (more precisely) to 300–270,000 years ago, [3] have been tentatively assigned to H. sapiens and similarities have been noted between them and the Omo Kibbish remains. [27] Fossil evidence for modern human presence in West Asia is ascertained for 177,000 years ago, [65] and disputed fossil evidence suggests expansion as far as East Asia by 120,000 years ago. [66] [67]

In July 2019, anthropologists reported the discovery of 210,000 year old remains of a H. sapiens and 170,000 year old remains of a H. neanderthalensis in Apidima Cave, Peloponnese, Greece, more than 150,000 years older than previous H. sapiens finds in Europe. [68] [69] [70]

A significant dispersal event, within Africa and to West Asia, is associated with the African megadroughts during MIS 5, beginning 130,000 years ago. [71] A 2011 study located the origin of basal population of contemporary human populations at 130,000 years ago, with the Khoi-San representing an "ancestral population cluster" located in southwestern Africa (near the coastal border of Namibia and Angola). [72]

While early modern human expansion in Sub-Saharan Africa before 130 kya persisted, early expansion to North Africa and Asia appears to have mostly disappeared by the end of MIS5 (75,000 years ago), and is known only from fossil evidence and from archaic admixture. Eurasia was re-populated by early modern humans in the so-called "recent out-of-Africa migration" post-dating MIS5, beginning around 70,000-50,000 years ago. [74] [75] [76] [77] In this expansion, bearers of mt-DNA haplogroup L3 left East Africa, likely reaching Arabia via the Bab-el-Mandeb, and in the Great Coastal Migration spread to South Asia, Maritime South Asia and Oceania between 65,000 and 50,000 years ago, [78] [79] [80] [81] while Europe, East and North Asia were reached by about 45,000 years ago. Some evidence suggests that an early wave humans may have reached the Americas by about 40–25,000 years ago. [ citation needed ]

Evidence for the overwhelming contribution of this "recent" (L3-derived) expansion to all non-African populations was established based on mitochondrial DNA, combined with evidence based on physical anthropology of archaic specimens, during the 1990s and 2000s, [note 7] [83] and has also been supported by Y DNA and autosomal DNA. [77] The assumption of complete replacement has been revised in the 2010s with the discovery of admixture events (introgression) of populations of H. sapiens with populations of archaic humans over the period of between roughly 100,000 and 30,000 years ago, both in Eurasia and in Sub-Saharan Africa. Neanderthal admixture, in the range of 1-4%, is found in all modern populations outside of Africa, including in Europeans, Asians, Papua New Guineans, Australian Aboriginals, Native Americans, and other non-Africans. [84] [38] This suggests that interbreeding between Neanderthals and anatomically modern humans took place after the recent "out of Africa" migration, likely between 60,000 and 40,000 years ago. [85] [86] [87] Recent admixture analyses have added to the complexity, finding that Eastern Neanderthals derive up to 2% of their ancestry from anatomically modern humans who left Africa some 100 kya. [88] The extent of Neanderthal admixture (and introgression of genes acquired by admixture) varies significantly between contemporary racial groups, being absent in Africans, intermediate in Europeans and highest in East Asians. Certain genes related to UV-light adaptation introgressed from Neanderthals have been found to have been selected for in East Asians specifically from 45,000 years ago until around 5,000 years ago. [89] The extent of archaic admixture is of the order of about 1% to 4% in Europeans and East Asians, and highest among Melanesians (the last also having Denisova hominin admixture at 4% to 6% in addition to neanderthal admixture). [38] [50] Cumulatively, about 20% of the Neanderthal genome is estimated to remain present spread in contemporary populations. [90]

In September 2019, scientists reported the computerized determination, based on 260 CT scans, of a virtual skull shape of the last common human ancestor to modern humans/H. sapiens, representative of the earliest modern humans, and suggested that modern humans arose between 350,000 and 260,000 years ago through a merging of populations in East and South Africa while North-African fossils may represent a population which introgressed into Neandertals during the LMP. [35] [3]

Generally, modern humans are more lightly built (or more "gracile") than the more "robust" archaic humans. Nevertheless, contemporary humans exhibit high variability in many physiological traits, and may exhibit remarkable "robustness". There are still a number of physiological details which can be taken as reliably differentiating the physiology of Neanderthals vs. anatomically modern humans.

Anatomical modernity

The term "anatomically modern humans" (AMH) is used with varying scope depending on context, to distinguish "anatomically modern" Homo sapiens from archaic humans such as Neanderthals and Middle and Lower Paleolithic hominins with transitional features intermediate between H. erectus, Neanderthals and early AMH called archaic Homo sapiens. [91] In a convention popular in the 1990s, Neanderthals were classified as a subspecies of H. sapiens, as H. s. neanderthalensis, while AMH (or European early modern humans, EEMH) was taken to refer to "Cro-Magnon" or H. s. sapiens. Under this nomenclature (Neanderthals considered H. sapiens), the term "anatomically modern Homo sapiens" (AMHS) has also been used to refer to EEMH ("Cro-Magnons"). [92] It has since become more common to designate Neanderthals as a separate species, H. neanderthalensis, so that AMH in the European context refers to H. sapiens, but the question is by no means resolved. [note 8]

In this more narrow definition of H. sapiens, the subspecies Homo sapiens idaltu, discovered in 2003, also falls under the umbrella of "anatomically modern". [94] The recognition of H. sapiens idaltu as a valid subspecies of the anatomically modern human lineage would justify the description of contemporary humans with the subspecies name Homo sapiens sapiens. [95] However, biological anthropologist Chris Stringer does not consider idaltu distinct enough within H. sapiens to warrant its own subspecies designation. [96] [27]

A further division of AMH into "early" or "robust" vs. "post-glacial" or "gracile" subtypes has since been used for convenience. The emergence of "gracile AMH" is taken to reflect a process towards a smaller and more fine-boned skeleton beginning around 50,000–30,000 years ago. [97]

Braincase anatomy

The cranium lacks a pronounced occipital bun in the neck, a bulge that anchored considerable neck muscles in Neanderthals. Modern humans, even the earlier ones, generally have a larger fore-brain than the archaic people, so that the brain sits above rather than behind the eyes. This will usually (though not always) give a higher forehead, and reduced brow ridge. Early modern people and some living people do however have quite pronounced brow ridges, but they differ from those of archaic forms by having both a supraorbital foramen or notch, forming a groove through the ridge above each eye. [98] This splits the ridge into a central part and two distal parts. In current humans, often only the central section of the ridge is preserved (if it is preserved at all). This contrasts with archaic humans, where the brow ridge is pronounced and unbroken. [99]

Modern humans commonly have a steep, even vertical forehead whereas their predecessors had foreheads that sloped strongly backwards. [100] According to Desmond Morris, the vertical forehead in humans plays an important role in human communication through eyebrow movements and forehead skin wrinkling. [101]

Brain size in both Neanderthals and AMH is significantly larger on average (but overlapping in range) than brain size in H. erectus. Neanderthal and AMH brain sizes are in the same range, but there are differences in the relative sizes of individual brain areas, with significantly larger visual systems in Neanderthals than in AMH. [102] [note 9]

Jaw anatomy

Compared to archaic people, anatomically modern humans have smaller, differently shaped teeth. [105] [106] This results in a smaller, more receded dentary, making the rest of the jaw-line stand out, giving an often quite prominent chin. The central part of the mandible forming the chin carries a triangularly shaped area forming the apex of the chin called the mental trigon, not found in archaic humans. [107] Particularly in living populations, the use of fire and tools requires fewer jaw muscles, giving slender, more gracile jaws. Compared to archaic people, modern humans have smaller, lower faces.

Body skeleton structure

The body skeletons of even the earliest and most robustly built modern humans were less robust than those of Neanderthals (and from what little we know from Denisovans), having essentially modern proportions. Particularly regarding the long bones of the limbs, the distal bones (the radius/ulna and tibia/fibula) are nearly the same size or slightly shorter than the proximal bones (the humerus and femur). In ancient people, particularly Neanderthals, the distal bones were shorter, usually thought to be an adaptation to cold climate. [108] The same adaptation is found in some modern people living in the polar regions. [109]

Height ranges overlap between Neanderthals and AMH, with Neanderthal averages cited as 164 to 168 cm (65 to 66 in) and 152 to 156 cm (60 to 61 in) for males and females, respectively. [note 10] By comparison, contemporary national averages range between 158 to 184 cm (62 to 72 in) in males and 147 to 172 cm (58 to 68 in) in females. Neanderthal ranges approximate the height distribution measured among Malay people, for one. [note 11]

Following the peopling of Africa some 130,000 years ago, and the recent Out-of-Africa expansion some 70,000 to 50,000 years ago, some sub-populations of H. sapiens have been essentially isolated for tens of thousands of years prior to the early modern Age of Discovery. Combined with archaic admixture this has resulted in significant genetic variation, which in some instances has been shown to be the result of directional selection taking place over the past 15,000 years, i.e. significantly later than possible archaic admixture events. [112]

Some climatic adaptations, such as high-altitude adaptation in humans, are thought to have been acquired by archaic admixture. Introgression of genetic variants acquired by Neanderthal admixture have different distributions in European and East Asians, reflecting differences in recent selective pressures. A 2014 study reported that Neanderthal-derived variants found in East Asian populations showed clustering in functional groups related to immune and haematopoietic pathways, while European populations showed clustering in functional groups related to the lipid catabolic process. [note 12] A 2017 study found correlation of Neanderthal admixture in phenotypic traits in modern European populations. [114]

Physiological or phenotypical changes have been traced to Upper Paleolithic mutations, such as the East Asian variant of the EDAR gene, dated to c. 35,000 years ago. [note 13]

Recent divergence of Eurasian lineages was sped up significantly during the Last Glacial Maximum (LGM), the Mesolithic and the Neolithic, due to increased selection pressures and due to founder effects associated with migration. [117] Alleles predictive of light skin have been found in Neanderthals, [118] but the alleles for light skin in Europeans and East Asians, associated with KITLG and ASIP, are (as of 2012 [update] ) thought to have not been acquired by archaic admixture but recent mutations since the LGM. [117] Phenotypes associated with the "white" or "Caucasian" populations of Western Eurasian stock emerge during the LGM, from about 19,000 years ago. Average cranial capacity in modern human populations varies in the range of 1,200 to 1,450 cm 3 (adult male averages). Larger cranial volume is associated with climatic region, the largest averages being found in populations of Siberia and the Arctic. [note 14] [120] Both Neanderthal and EEMH had somewhat larger cranial volumes on average than modern Europeans, suggesting the relaxation of selection pressures for larger brain volume after the end of the LGM. [119]

Examples for still later adaptations related to agriculture and animal domestication including East Asian types of ADH1B associated with rice domestication, [121] or lactase persistence, [122] [123] are due to recent selection pressures.

An even more recent adaptation has been proposed for the Austronesian Sama-Bajau, developed under selection pressures associated with subsisting on freediving over the past thousand years or so. [124] [125]

Behavioral modernity, involving the development of language, figurative art and early forms of religion (etc.) is taken to have arisen before 40,000 years ago, marking the beginning of the Upper Paleolithic (in African contexts also known as the Later Stone Age). [126]

There is considerable debate regarding whether the earliest anatomically modern humans behaved similarly to recent or existing humans. Behavioral modernity is taken to include fully developed language (requiring the capacity for abstract thought), artistic expression, early forms of religious behavior, [127] increased cooperation and the formation of early settlements, and the production of articulated tools from lithic cores, bone or antler. The term Upper Paleolithic is intended to cover the period since the rapid expansion of modern humans throughout Eurasia, which coincides with the first appearance of Paleolithic art such as cave paintings and the development of technological innovation such as the spear-thrower. The Upper Paleolithic begins around 50,000 to 40,000 years ago, and also coincides with the disappearance of archaic humans such as the Neanderthals.

The term "behavioral modernity" is somewhat disputed. It is most often used for the set of characteristics marking the Upper Paleolithic, but some scholars use "behavioral modernity" for the emergence of H. sapiens around 200,000 years ago, [128] while others use the term for the rapid developments occurring around 50,000 years ago. [129] [130] [131] It has been proposed that the emergence of behavioral modernity was a gradual process. [132] [133] [134] [135] [136]

Examples of behavioural modernity

The equivalent of the Eurasian Upper Paleolithic in African archaeology is known as the Later Stone Age, also beginning roughly 40,000 years ago. While most clear evidence for behavioral modernity uncovered from the later 19th century was from Europe, such as the Venus figurines and other artefacts from the Aurignacian, more recent archaeological research has shown that all essential elements of the kind of material culture typical of contemporary San hunter-gatherers in Southern Africa was also present by at least 40,000 years ago, including digging sticks of similar materials used today, ostrich egg shell beads, bone arrow heads with individual maker's marks etched and embedded with red ochre, and poison applicators. [138] There is also a suggestion that "pressure flaking best explains the morphology of lithic artifacts recovered from the c. 75-ka Middle Stone Age levels at Blombos Cave, South Africa. The technique was used during the final shaping of Still Bay bifacial points made on heat‐treated silcrete." [139] Both pressure flaking and heat treatment of materials were previously thought to have occurred much later in prehistory, and both indicate a behaviourally modern sophistication in the use of natural materials. Further reports of research on cave sites along the southern African coast indicate that "the debate as to when cultural and cognitive characteristics typical of modern humans first appeared" may be coming to an end, as "advanced technologies with elaborate chains of production" which "often demand high-fidelity transmission and thus language" have been found at the South African Pinnacle Point Site 5–6. These have been dated to approximately 71,000 years ago. The researchers suggest that their research "shows that microlithic technology originated early in South Africa by 71 kya, evolved over a vast time span (c. 11,000 years), and was typically coupled to complex heat treatment that persisted for nearly 100,000 years. Advanced technologies in Africa were early and enduring a small sample of excavated sites in Africa is the best explanation for any perceived 'flickering' pattern." [140] These results suggest that Late Stone Age foragers in Sub-Saharan Africa had developed modern cognition and behaviour by at least 50,000 years ago. [141] The change in behavior has been speculated to have been a consequence of an earlier climatic change to much drier and colder conditions between 135,000 and 75,000 years ago. [142] This might have led to human groups who were seeking refuge from the inland droughts, expanded along the coastal marshes rich in shellfish and other resources. Since sea levels were low due to so much water tied up in glaciers, such marshlands would have occurred all along the southern coasts of Eurasia. The use of rafts and boats may well have facilitated exploration of offshore islands and travel along the coast, and eventually permitted expansion to New Guinea and then to Australia. [143]

In addition, a variety of other evidence of abstract imagery, widened subsistence strategies, and other "modern" behaviors has been discovered in Africa, especially South, North, and East Africa, predating 50,000 years ago (with some predating 100,000 years ago). The Blombos Cave site in South Africa, for example, is famous for rectangular slabs of ochre engraved with geometric designs. Using multiple dating techniques, the site was confirmed to be around 77,000 and 100–75,000 years old. [144] [145] Ostrich egg shell containers engraved with geometric designs dating to 60,000 years ago were found at Diepkloof, South Africa. [146] Beads and other personal ornamentation have been found from Morocco which might be as much as 130,000 years old as well, the Cave of Hearths in South Africa has yielded a number of beads dating from significantly prior to 50,000 years ago, [147] and shell beads dating to about 75,000 years ago have been found at Blombos Cave, South Africa. [148] [149] [150] Specialized projectile weapons as well have been found at various sites in Middle Stone Age Africa, including bone and stone arrowheads at South African sites such as Sibudu Cave (along with an early bone needle also found at Sibudu) dating approximately 72,000-60,000 years ago [151] [152] [153] [154] [155] some of which may have been tipped with poisons, [156] and bone harpoons at the Central African site of Katanda dating ca. 90,000 years ago. [157] Evidence also exists for the systematic heat treating of silcrete stone to increased its flake-ability for the purpose of toolmaking, beginning approximately 164,000 years ago at the South African site of Pinnacle Point and becoming common there for the creation of microlithic tools at about 72,000 years ago. [158] [140]

In 2008, an ochre processing workshop likely for the production of paints was uncovered dating to ca. 100,000 years ago at Blombos Cave, South Africa. Analysis shows that a liquefied pigment-rich mixture was produced and stored in the two abalone shells, and that ochre, bone, charcoal, grindstones and hammer-stones also formed a composite part of the toolkits. Evidence for the complexity of the task includes procuring and combining raw materials from various sources (implying they had a mental template of the process they would follow), possibly using pyrotechnology to facilitate fat extraction from bone, using a probable recipe to produce the compound, and the use of shell containers for mixing and storage for later use. [159] [160] [161] Modern behaviors, such as the making of shell beads, bone tools and arrows, and the use of ochre pigment, are evident at a Kenyan site by 78,000-67,000 years ago. [162] Evidence of early stone-tipped projectile weapons (a characteristic tool of Homo sapiens), the stone tips of javelins or throwing spears, were discovered in 2013 at the Ethiopian site of Gademotta, and date to around 279,000 years ago. [163]

Expanding subsistence strategies beyond big-game hunting and the consequential diversity in tool types has been noted as signs of behavioral modernity. A number of South African sites have shown an early reliance on aquatic resources from fish to shellfish. Pinnacle Point, in particular, shows exploitation of marine resources as early as 120,000 years ago, perhaps in response to more arid conditions inland. [164] Establishing a reliance on predictable shellfish deposits, for example, could reduce mobility and facilitate complex social systems and symbolic behavior. Blombos Cave and Site 440 in Sudan both show evidence of fishing as well. Taphonomic change in fish skeletons from Blombos Cave have been interpreted as capture of live fish, clearly an intentional human behavior. [147]

Humans in North Africa (Nazlet Sabaha, Egypt) are known to have dabbled in chert mining, as early as ≈100,000 years ago, for the construction of stone tools. [165] [166]

Evidence was found in 2018, dating to about 320,000 years ago at the site of Olorgesailie in Kenya, of the early emergence of modern behaviors including: the trade and long-distance transportation of resources (such as obsidian), the use of pigments, and the possible making of projectile points. The authors of three 2018 studies on the site observe that the evidence of these behaviors is roughly contemporary with the earliest known Homo sapiens fossil remains from Africa (such as at Jebel Irhoud and Florisbad), and they suggest that complex and modern behaviors began in Africa around the time of the emergence of Homo sapiens. [167] [168] [169]

In 2019, further evidence of Middle Stone Age complex projectile weapons in Africa was found at Aduma, Ethiopia, dated 100,000-80,000 years ago, in the form of points considered likely to belong to darts delivered by spear throwers. [170]

Homo sapiens technological and cultural progress appears to have been very much faster in recent millennia than in Homo sapiens early periods. The pace of development may indeed have accelerated, due to massively larger population (so more humans extant to think of innovations), more communication and sharing of ideas among human populations, and the accumulation of thinking tools. However it may also be that the pace of advance always looks relatively faster to humans in the time they live, because previous advances are unrecognised 'givens'. [171] [172]


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