The chapter introduces students to the origins of human beings and to the story of human evolution. The chapter makes a contrast between early and modern human beings. We also highlight the early encounters with hunter-gatherers in Africa.
Fossils: The remains or impressions of a very old plant, animal or human which have turned into stone. These are often embedded in rock and are thus preserved for millions of years.
Species: Species is a group of organisms that can breed to produce fertile offspring. Members of one species cannot mate with those of other species.
What Are Fossils? How can the age of a fossil be determined?
Fossils of extinct human species provide evidence for human evolution. It is possible to determine the age of fossils either directly through chemical analysis or indirectly by dating the sediments in which they are buried.
A timeline of human evolution can be determined by dating fossils.
Around 200 years ago, many scholars were hesitant to accept that fossils, such as stone tools and paintings, were actually connected to early forms of human life.
The Story Of Human Evolution
What are Primates?
A subgroup of mammals or considered as a subset of mammals. These include monkeys, apes, and humans. In addition to their body hair and ability to maintain a constant body temperature, they also have mammary glands, a relatively long gestation period after birth, and a wide variety of teeth types.
History & Background
Around 24 million years ago, primates began to appear in Asia and Africa. A group of apes arose among primates, named 'hominoids'. The first hominid was discovered around 5.6 million years ago.
● Hominoids: A primate of a group that includes humans, their fossil ancestors, and the anthropoid apes.
● Hominids: The primate family Hominidae includes humans and their fossil ancestors, as well as some great apes. It is the group of African apes that is most closely related to hominids.
The earliest hominid fossils, Australopithecines, were discovered in East Africa around 5.6 million years ago.
(The oldest fossils discovered outside of Africa are only 1.8 million years old.)
What are the differences between Hominids and Hominoids?
There are various differences between the Hominids & the Hominoids:
● The hominids had bigger brains, smaller jaws and teeth while the former has a smaller brain, heavier jaws, and bigger teeth.
● The Hominoids were quadrupeds with flexible forelimbs, while the Hominids were bipeds with upright posture.
● Hominid footprints found in Laetoli, Tanzania. Also, the evolution of bipedalism can be seen through the fossil limb bones from Hadar, Ethiopia.
What is Australopithecus?
In Latin, austral means "southern," and in Greek, pinkos means "ape." This early human form was named after an ape because it had a small brain compared to Homo, large back teeth, and limited hand dexterity.
They couldn't walk straight because they lived in trees.
These early human skeletons are divided into groups. Their bone structure is often used to tell them apart. The size of early human skulls and jaws can help identify them.
The Climate and vegetation changes wiped out early Australopithecus.
Earliest Representatives of 'Genus Homo'
The Latin word "Homo" means a 'man', but there are several shreds of evidence that show the presence of women as well.
Several types of Homo have been identified by scientists. They gave them names based on the different & defining characteristics they found.
The fossils were divided into three groups:
● Homo habilis (toolmaker)
● Homo erectus (upright man)
● Homo sapiens (human) (the wise or thinking man).
Homo habilis fossils have been discovered in Ethiopia's Omo and Tanzania's Olduvai Gorge.
Homo erectus fossils have been discovered in Africa and Asia, including Kenya's Koobi Fora and West Turkana, and Java's Modjokerto and Sangiran. Because the finds in Asia are older than those in Africa, it's likely that hominids migrated between 2 and 1.5 million years ago from East Africa to southern and northern Africa, southern and north-eastern Asia, and possibly Europe.
These species have been around for over a million years.
The Earliest Fossils in Europe
What are Heidelbergensis and Neanderthalensis?
The names of fossils were sometimes derived from the locations where the first fossils of a particular type were discovered.
● Homo heidelbergensis was a name given to fossils discovered in Heidelberg, Germany, while Homo neanderthalensis was given to those discovered in the Neander Valley. They are both considered the earliest fossils found in Europe.
Both of these individuals are members of the archaic (or ancestor) homo sapiens species. Fossils of Homo heidelbergensis (0.8-0.1 mya) have been discovered in Africa, Asia, and Europe.
The Neanderthals inhabited Europe and western and central Asia between 130,000 and 35,000 years ago. They vanished from western Europe approximately 35,000 years ago.
How do Homo sapiens distinguish themselves from the Australopithecus?
Homo sapiens has a larger brain, more protruding jaws, and fewer teeth than Australopithecus.
Increased brain size is associated with increased intelligence and memory. Jaw and tooth changes were almost certainly caused by dietary differences.
Modern Human Beings
The earliest forms of evidence have been discovered in various regions of Africa. For centuries, the origins of modern humans have been a source of contention.
Two opposing perspectives have been advanced:
● one in favour of regional continuity (with multiple origin regions) and the other in favour of replacement (with a single origin in Africa).
The Replacement And Regional Continuity Models
What is a 'Regional Continuity Model'?
According to the regional continuity model, archaic Homo sapiens evolved at a different rate in different regions, resulting in regional variations in the first appearance of modern humans.
According to proponents of this theory, these differences are the result of genetic differentiation between pre-existing 'Homo Erectus' and 'Homo Heidelbergensis' populations that occupied the same areas.
What is a 'Replacement Model'?
The replacement model depicts all older forms of humans being completely replaced by modern humans everywhere. E.g: The evidence of modern humans' genetic and anatomical homogeneity.
Modern humans share a great deal in common because they are descended from a single population that originated in Africa.
The replacement model is also supported by evidence from the earliest fossils of modern humans (from Omo, Ethiopia).
According to the scholars, the physical differences seen today among modern humans are the result of adaptation (over thousands of years) by populations that migrated to the areas where they eventually settled.
Early Ways of Obtaining Food
What were the ways by which early people obtained food?
There were a variety of ways by which early humans obtained food, these include gathering, hunting, scavenging, and fishing.
There is little direct evidence that plant foods such as seeds, nuts, berries, fruits, and tubers would be collected during the gathering.
Carbonisation: The other way to learn about the consumption of plants is to study the plant remains of those that are burnt. The burning of plants also resulted in Carbonisation. However, archaeologists have yet to discover much evidence of carbonised seeds from this time period.
Hunting began much later, approximately 500,000 years ago.
● According to new evidence, early hominids may have scavenged or foraged for meat and marrow from the carcasses of animals that died naturally or were killed by other predators.
● Early hominids may have consumed small mammals such as rodents, birds (and their eggs), reptiles, and even insects (such as termites).
Boxgrove in southern England (500,000 years ago) and Schoningen in Germany contain the earliest unequivocal evidence of deliberate, planned hunting and butchery of large mammals (400,000 years ago)
● Around 35,000 years ago, some European sites reveal evidence of planned hunting. Early humans appear to have purposefully chosen certain locations, such as Dolni Vestonice, which was adjacent to a river.
● The selection of such locations demonstrates that people were aware of both the movement of these animals and the means of quickly slaughtering large numbers of them.
Early Human From Trees, To Caves And Open-Air Sites
Tens of thousands of flake tools and hand axes have been discovered at Kilombe and Olorgesailie (Kenya). It is believed to have been created between 700,000 and 500,000 years ago. Several locations with an abundance of food resources were revisited.
● In such areas, people are likely to leave traces of their activities and presence, including artefacts. The deposited artefacts would appear as patches on the landscape.
● Less frequented areas would have fewer artefacts strewn about the surface. Additionally, it's worth noting that hominids, other primates, and carnivores may have shared habitats.
● Caves and open-air sites were first used between 400,000 and 125,000 years ago. Europe's archaeological sites attest to this.
Lazaret's Cave Shelter
A 12x4-metre shelter was built against the cave wall in southern France's Lazaret cave. Inside, there were two hearths and evidence of a variety of food sources, including fruits, vegetables, seeds, nuts, bird eggs, and freshwater fish (trout, perch and carp).
(Terra Amata on the southern French coast, flimsy shelters with wood and grass roofs were constructed for short-term, seasonal visits)
Between 1.4 and 1 million years ago, baked clay and burnt bone, as well as stone tools, were discovered in Chesowanja, Kenya, and Swartkrans, South Africa.
Why were the Hearths used ?
● Hearths demonstrates that fire was used in a controlled manner. (It provided warmth and light inside caves, as well as the ability to cook.)
● The use of heat facilitated tool flaking. Additionally, a fire could be used to scare away dangerous animals.
Tool Making, Language & Art
What are the various aspects of Human Tool Making?
Humans are not the only ones who use and make tools. Birds have been observed making objects to aid in feeding, hygiene, and social interactions, and some chimps use tools they have created while foraging for food.
There are some aspects of human tool making that apes aren't aware of:
Certain anatomical and neurological (nervous system-related) adaptations have led to the skilled use of hands, most likely as a result of the importance of tools in human lives.
Complex organisational skills and greater memory posed as an advantage over apes in the tool making.
Stone tools were first made and used in Ethiopia and Kenya, according to archaeological evidence.
Australopithecus was the first to create stone tools.
Tools: It is not evident enough that these tools were made by women or men or both.
Women, in particular, may have created and used tools to obtain food for themselves and to keep their children alive after they were weaned. Improvements in animal-killing techniques can be seen in the appearance of new tools such as spear throwers and the bow and arrow around 35,000 years ago.
Sewing Needles: The meat was most likely processed by removing the bones, then drying, smoking, and storing it. As a result, food could be stored for later use. Other changes included the trapping of fur-bearing animals (for the purpose of using the fur for clothing) and the invention of sewing needles.
Sewn clothing was first discovered approximately 21,000 years ago. It was now possible to engrave on bone, antler, ivory, or wood thanks to the introduction of the punch blade technique for making small chisel-like tools.
Mode Of Communication: Language And Art
There are several views on language development:
The hominid language involved gestures or hand movements
spoken language was preceded by vocal but non-verbal communication such as singing or humming
Human speech probably began with calls like the ones that have been observed among primates.
Humans may have possessed a small number of speech sounds in the initial stage. Gradually, these may have developed into language.
When did spoken language emerge?
The Homo habilis brains possessed certain characteristics that enabled them to communicate. As a result, language may have evolved as early as two million years ago. The vocal tract's development was also significant.
Modern humans are more inextricably linked to this development. A third theory postulates that language evolved concurrently with art, approximately 40,000-35,000 years ago.
Development of Art
Due to the fact that both are modes of communication, the development of spoken language has been inextricably linked to the development of art.
Hundreds of animal paintings dating from 30,000 to 12,000 years ago have been discovered in the caves of Lascaux and Chauvet in France, as well as Altamira in Spain.
Bison, horses, ibex, deer, mammoths, rhinos, lions, bears, panthers, hyenas, and owls were Among the depicted animals.
Why were paintings considered as a ritual?
Due to the importance of hunting, animal paintings were associated with ritual and magic.
Painting could have been a ritual to ensure a successful hunt. Another theory is that these caves were once used as meeting places for small groups of people or for group activities.
Paintings and engravings were used to transmit information between generations, allowing these groups to share their hunting techniques and knowledge.
Early Encounters With Hunter-Gatherers In Africa
Who were !Kung People?
They are a group of San people who live primarily on the western rim of the Kalahari desert, in Ovamboland (northern Namibia and southern Angola), and in Botswana.
An African pastoralist's account states that:
There were strange footprints in the sand. According to the accounts the people were terrified of us and would run away whenever we approached. Their villages were also found but the people happened to be deserted as they were scared of the strangers.
Hunter-Gatherer Societies From The Present To The Past
According to some archaeologists, the 2 million-year-old hominid sites along the shores of Lake Turkana may have served as early human dry-season camps, based on archaeological evidence from the Hadza and Kung! on the other hand.
San Kung scholars believe that ethnographic data cannot be used to understand past societies due to their dissimilarity.
Economic Activities: Contemporary hunter-gatherer societies engage in a range of economic activities in addition to hunting and gathering.
These activities include exchanging and trading minor forest products and working as paid labourers in nearby farmers' fields.
These societies are completely marginalised in every way – geographically, politically, and socially. Their conditions of existence are radically different from those of early humans. Another issue is that contemporary hunter-gatherer societies are highly diverse.
Numerous issues, including the relative importance of hunting and gathering, group sizes, and movement between locations, are contradictory.
There is little agreement on the division of labour in food procurement.
Women gather and men hunt in the majority of societies today; however, there are societies where both men and women hunt, gather, and make tools.
Women's significant contribution to food production in these societies cannot be overstated. It is possible that this factor contributes to men and women having a relatively equal role in modern hunter-gatherer societies; however, drawing such conclusions from the past is difficult.
Who were the Hadza?
The Hadza are a northern Tanzanian hunter-gatherer people. With around 1300 members, they are one of Africa's last hunter-gatherer tribes. The Eyasi Valley and nearby hills are their native land.
Eastern Hadza country is known for its diets rich in wild foods. Animals abound and were probably more prevalent at the turn of the twentieth century.
Other animals found in the area include the porcupine (a native species), the hare (also a native species), and the tortoise (which is native to the area). Except for the elephant, all of these animals are hunted and consumed by the Hadza.
Nowhere else on Earth where hunters and gatherers live or have lived in recent history could such a large amount of meat be consumed on a regular basis without jeopardising the game's future.
There were the abundance of vegetable food – roots, berries, baobab fruit, and so on , even in the years of drought. Vegetable food availability varies by season, but there is never a shortage.
The honey and grubs of wild bees are consumed; supplies vary seasonally and annually. Water sources are plentiful during the wet season, but are scarce during the dry season.
According to Hadza, camps are typically located within a kilometre of a watercourse. The Hadza never constructed camps on open grasslands. Camps are always set among trees or rocks, ideally both.
The eastern Hadza make no claim to land or natural resources. Anyone may live wherever they wish in Hadza country, hunt, gather roots, berries, and honey, and draw water.
Despite the abundance of game in their area, the Hadza subsist primarily on wild plants. Around 80% of their diet consists of vegetables, with the remainder consisting of meat and honey.
Camps were small and scattered during the wet season, whereas during the dry season, camps were large and concentrated near water sources. Food is never scarce, even during droughts.'