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Last Updated: Tuesday, September 05, 2001
One of the cousins of the pre-homid A. Afransis ("Lucy") was a hominid.
- Homo Habilis ('tool making man' is the usual translation although it literally means Handy Man) has a larger (more than 300 cubic centimeters) brain space than the apes, has enlarged vertical ear canals, straight bones in the foot, and pelvic and knee structures consistent with modern humans.
The fossil evidence was sketchy for Homo Habilis until 1974 when ironically Richard Leakey found a very complete skeleton of one (#1470 in their field notebook). It was ironic because his father had named the species Homo Habilis, and most other paleotologists did not accept the label as the evidence was so little. His son found the evidence that convinced most everyone else. And his father died shortly afterward.
The physical evidence from the sites makes it clear that this hominid was a meat eater (no fire yet). The clear advantage to meat eating is that it gives a lot more energy without the need for much nutritional knowledge. And more energy always mean more fecundity, which leads to increases in populations which means security. This equation is only true when populations are small. The huge modern populations are too large for the planetary resources to handle easily.
It is unclear how many tools were made, or how many stones and sharpened sticks were used without making many changes to them. When there is no evidence it is assumed that there was little stone working done, and only limited ability to shape trees. But there is not many compared to the next hominid.
If you read the page on Biological evolution, you will know that one variation radiates which leads to many different variate combinations over time. The fossil record after 1,000,000 years ago is much greater and yet they are the same species with similiar variations. There is no clear reason why this is so but it is so for now.
The other three hominids (including us - the humans):
- Homo Erectus ("standing up" man),
Many skeletons of this species has been found. They were given names of the places they were found: Java Man, Peking Man, Heidelberg Man.
And stone tools of all sorts in great quantities were found with these skeletons. Choppers, scrapers, blades, axes, but not spear points.
The tools found at Auchelian sites are very much more complex than those of the Oldwonan sites dated some 400,000 earlier. Making stone tools require some intelligence as we know it. It requires knowledge of the material and stress properties of the rocks used, and the best shape to start making the tool from. Banging two rocks together will not make a tool although it may be called music. And these were the people who we know (because of the evidence found with the skeletons) had fire about 700,000 years ago. However unlike later hominids there is no evidence that they knew how to make fire, but likely just kept one going that had first come from a fire in a forest started by lightning.
Their brain skulls were about another 300 cubic centimeters larger than Homo Habilis.
The main body difference they had was a heavy brow ridge which overhung their eyes, but their heads did not slope back as much as the earlier hominid.
Although they might not yet have larnyxes far enough down to speak modern languages there is lots of sounds that can be made in the mouth cavity alone if some control of the air flow is possible. Take the click and gulp languages and the whistle language of some French mountain people. With the clearly organized living style some communication was needed and with all communal communities plenty of opportunities to vocalize to each other.
The most recent dating of these skeletons is about 300,000 ago.
- Homo Sapiens Neanderthalis (Neanderthal thinking man)
There is a lack of evidence of anything between Homo Erectus and this new hominid. However we only have skeletons for this race from about 140,000 years ago to 30,000 years ago.
These hominids have a brain cavity some 7 percent LARGER than Homo Sapiens Sapiens (us). If brain size is correlated with intelligence then these were more intelligent than us. However there is no evidence of that.
What there is evidence of is that Neanderthals could build tools very well, including spear and arrow points (so it is likely they had spears and bows as well).
It is also evident that some buried their dead with red ochre powder sprinkled on them, and with ornaments. In Germany in a cave called Drachenloch (Dragon Lair) where, among Neandethal skeletons, is a stone cairn which held seven bear skulls and stacks of leg bones. Each bear skull faced the mouth of the cave. It is possible (though not certain) that this was an arrangment that had mythical meaning for these people.
Today among the Urgartic people still living as they did thousands of years ago (including the Ainus of nrothern Japan) bears are held captive in caves and then ceremonially killed at the end of winter. It is believed that the spirit of the bear then joins with the spirit of the forest god to ensure good hunting for the following year.
For no known reason these Neanderthals died out, but disease, and massacre by Homo Sapiens Sapiens (using deceit no doubt) are high on the suspect list.
- Homo Sapiens Sapiens (That is us, 'thinking thinking man'. If we think so much how come tabloids do so well.)
Skeletons of us have been found as far back as 90,000 years ago, so far. The first were found in caves of Cro-Magnon in France, and were dated 25,000 to 30,000 years old. There is no slope to their foreheads, nor any very prominent brow ridges.
They were stone tool makers of great skill, like the Neanderthals. Both of these hominids may have rediscovered the technique the later Homo Erectus used, and certainly improved it.
By 10,000 years ago they were often farming land and living in villages at the center of the fields.
These are the people who migrated some 55,000 years ago to Australia and which are now called the Aboriginals.
These are the people who are us. There is no reason not to think that they made myths like we do. Although the meaning of the myths may not understood by us now we at least understand inside what the mental process was as it is ours. For example Socrates and other Greeks contemporary with him could not understood their mythological any longer (see A. Birney's "Caves of the Sun" for an explanation of what they did mean),
and most modern day religions have different understandings of theirs than their founders did.
When Sapiens Sapiens became artisans, mythmakers, is really unknown. I refer readers to Richard Leakey's book "The Origins of Humankind" for the details.
The problem is this: there is no physical evidence that we humans did anything creative until about 35,000 years ago, when cave paintings and sculptures of various types were made. The Neanderthals clearly had some practices that look to us like rituals, but we don't know for sure.
Did Homo Erectus evolved into Neaderthalis who in turn evolved into Sapien Sapien? A lot of caution is needed in answering this question. There is only three pieces of evidence people have now to try and decipher what these hominids were like: molecular biology evidence of modern humans and apes; fossil evidence of their skeletons and their artifacts which gives clues as to their lifestyle. The assumptions are these: they more they look like us on the outside the more the must have been like us inside ("If it walks like a duck..." rule). The artifacts suggest to us something of there thinking abilities, which is the second way we try to simulate their inner thinking. Because of the human trait of belief inertia, once a scientist has a belief about how these people lived and thought, they take all the physical evidence and interpret it that way.
An excellent example of this belief inertia is how most paleontologists including say Raymond Dart believed that all of the hominids were meat eaters (and for later versions of hominids there is good evidence of it). The paleo-anthropologists as a group felt that if hominids were meat eaters they were hunters. And a myth was born. "Noble hunters, who bravery led the human race into acquiring and perfecting speech (for better hunting), weopens and tools for skinning and using the animal products of kills, and so on and so on.
Very careful work in the late 1970's and 1980's totally exploded the myth. Any meat eaten was scavanged. That is these human-like people at most chased off vultures and hyenas, or butchered as much of an animal they found dead as quickly as possible before predators showed up. This is a very different picture from people hunting. This is not to say that over time people did not also hunt. However anyone who observes wild carnivores know they scavange first, and only hunt out of necessity. If humans are intelligent why would they do anything different. Scavanging takes a lot less energy and the work to butcher and share takes a lot of energy anyway.
The main problem, in spite of all the 'recent' (200,000-35,000 years ago) fossils of hominids is that there is only really three dates corresponding to major fossil finds: about 1.8 million years, 100,000 and 30,000 years ago. It hard to be sure of any evolutionary hypothesis when only 3 points can be used to fit the curve. Also the belief inertia gets in the way of most people looking at the evidence without having it, in their mind, support their belief. The evolution of one species of hominid to another in many parts of the world all occuring over time is called the Multiregional Evolution (Note 1). The fossils (called Peking Man) if their facial structure is recreated show Oriental (technically 'mongoloid') features. This would be totally convincing except some of the skeletons in other parts of the world at the same time show the same features. In other words, the 'mongoloid' features is a genetic variation that can happen anywhere at any time to the species. Interbreeding of the trait will make it very prominent but its existance does not prove Multiregional Evolution.
So if there that much debate needed to decide on physical characteristics, think of how difficult it would be to arrive at reasonable answers as to when mythology was created (Note2) and used by these people. They could have drawn in mud, sand, made artistic things out of reeds and other things which would have rotted out of existance by now. Somewhere in the last three hundred thousand years we and our cousins the Neanderthals likely created mythology, probably not once but likely many times, and through language and culture kept promolgating it forward in time through offspring.
Primate Fossil Record
FAQ about Hominids also at for Q & A's
Hominid CrossWord Puzzle
Richard Leakey Primate Site
Note 1:The main alternative hypothesis to the Multiregional Evolution one is the "Out of Africa" Evolution hypothesis, where the original Sapien Sapien population originated in Africa and migrated everywhere else. Remember how sparse the fossil record actually is, even for late hominids (where for example Leakey mentions there are 20 full skeletons), the dating of Sapien Sapien skeletons from Africa to the rest of the world is oldest in Africa, and progressively more recent the further away from Africa you get, which is consistent with one species offspring migrating over time away from their original homeland.
Note 2:When could hominids communicate like we humans do? And when did they? How about consciousness like we humans have? Only in the last 20 years since the 1980's have there been any tangible evidence brought forward to start an answer on those questions. Many of the cave artists in France 35,000 years ago, and some in Africa as well could draw with perspective, an artistic ability not seen again until the Renaissance 600 years ago. 35,000 years is a long time to rediscover the artistic technique of perspective. Briefly here is the evidence for language and consciousness:
Note 3:Here is a more recent summary of Neanderthal studies,
- By taking rubber negative casts of the inside of fossil skulls it is possible to see the shape of the outside of their brains, since their brain tissue made an impression on the (soft early on in life) inner skull. The conclusions are clear:
- A. Afarensis ("Lucy") had a brain like modern and her contemporous apes. She walked upright, but the front of her brain had less volume than the back of her brain just like apes.
- All the Homo species (even Habilis) had humanoid brains: forebrain tissue larger than the tissue at the back of the skull.
- All the skull impressions show that Homo species had at least the surface marks of the speech tissue in humans, and that like humans their left brain was slightly larger than the right. This is very clear from Homo Erectus which is 1.2 million years old. As the anthropologist Dean Falk wrote, "If [they had the equipment and] were using and refining language I would like to know what they were doing with all this [extra brain tissue]." Good point.
- The Chomskites (proponents for Noam Chomsky's linguistic model of language aquisition) have the belief that humans are the only one who have language AT ALL. The prior hominids did not, and no animal of any sort could have language. In this belief they are the establishment media repeating a message (without proof) the humans are not animals, that animals are inferior, and by inference (at best) humans are superior. They are like some of the authors of Genesis in the Torah, and Plato and many many other human writers who do not wish to concede that we are connected with the animals, that we slaughter to survive ourselves. However there is now powerful alternate medias giving a different message which is well bolstered with evidence. See Donald Griffin's "Animal Minds".
- Steve Pinker, linguist at MIT has published in 1994 "The Language Instinct" which shows massive and carefully considered evidence which shows the prejudice and ignorance of those who want animals to have no language ability. The evidence shows otherwise.
- The establishment, the Chomskites, lean heavily on the evidence that nothing very complicated came about in terms of art (painting, sculpture, and clothes making) until about 40,000 years ago. However in my experience a sudden appearance and rapid evolution of technique clearly indicates that progress has been made all along and suddenly the latency explodes into demonstrable skills. Also the evidence for complex tasks such as qualitative and quantitatively better tool making techniques starting about 800,000 years ago, the large home sites of hominids than with apes and the burial rituals (140,000 years ago) first found with Neanderthals points to a lot of development just not a lot getting into a form that was preserved to our day, or which we have found yet.
- Finally, studies of chimpanzees and baboons show that a lot of time (and brain energy) is spent on 'social chess' where alliances and rivalries are played out in an endless way. As the hominids brain are larger they too would spend more time on these social 'games', and not use it to evolve immediately into a more stable and secure lifestyle. Also, like all other animals, most humans do not use the talents they have unless they have to. One researcher who had observed chimpanzees in the wild for decades commented on the psychological studies that showed chimpanzees solving complex deductive and inferent problems: "I have never observed chimpanzees in the wild these abilities in the wild, and yet it is clear they have it."
I recall watching a video of an octupus who had not been trained to open a jar with a screw on lid, watch another octupus (who had been trained) open such a jar. On being given a closed jar, the new octupus immediately used the same technique to open the jar. Such complex imitation is intelligence as we humans know it.
1.The hypothesis, valid over decades, i.e. that the technological change from the Middle Palaeolithic to the
Upper Palaeolithic was brought about by transformation of man down the ages from the Neanderthal to the
anatomically modern humans, is no longer tenable. Neanderthals contributed in no small
way to the technological changes and were representative of the onset of the upper palaeolithic age before the existence
of the first anatomically modern humans in Europe. A gradual transition where different independent cultural units were
involved, can be seen in various regions of Central and Eastern Europe. This cultural dynamism already began with
late Neanderthal from 50.000 B.P. whose cognitive capacity can be regarded as being of the same value as anatomically
2.The model is no longer valid - that Neanderthals had refuge on the fringes of the area of expansion as, for example, in
the South of Iberian Peninsula. For the first time ever the workshop presented sensational radio carbon data
from Vindija in Croatia. In Vindija the remains of a late Neanderthal were dated as being from 29.000 - 28.000
B.P. The cronologically latest find now comes from the centre of the area of expansion. This confirms most convincingly that
Neanderthals and anatomically modern humans are closely linked.
3.On the other hand, the anthropological and palaeogenetic data reveals significant differences
between the two types of man. A second mtDNA analysis of the Neanderthals type specimen,
confirms the first analysis from 1997.
The discussion on the interpretation of the visible genetic differences showed that a distinction between
Neanderthals and anatomically modern humans into two separate based on this data, is no loger
possible, but rather the mtDNA examinations only make a substantial genetic contribution of Neanderthals to the
modern gene pool of the Europeans more improbable. However according to data so far on the population-genetic
side one cannot exclude such a contribution having been made but without being visible in modern genetic material.
4.All the scientists concerned agreed that anatomically modern humans first appeared on the scene in Europe probably
about 30.000 B.P. At present it is not possible to say where he first appeared. Just from this period of 40.000 - 30.000
B.P. accurately dated human finds of anatomically modern humans are rare.
5.It was the unanimous opinion of all the scientists at the workshop that extensive models and simple
formulae for the explanation of the cultural and biological processes which occured between 50.000 and
30.000 B.P. can provide no contribution. Only by detailed regional studies will there be any
change of developing explanatory models. Our starting point at the workshop was that we should follow
up more closely in future the very rapid changes between warm and cold climatic oscillations.
The climatic data reveals that the environmental conditions during the last Ice Age in the period of investigation were
more favourable than had hitherto been assumed. Yet the very quick climatic changes - within just a few generations - at
the fringe of the human area of expansion, such as in Southern Poland or the Rhineland, led repeatedly to
short-term population movements over a limited area, which probably had a part to play in the mosaic-like distribution of
From the year 2001 Neanderthal conference.
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