Monday, December 21, 2009

Homo Erectus, Kitchens, and Human (Pre)History

"Human Ancestors Were Homemakers"
Culture, LiveScience (December 17, 2009)

"In a stone-age version of 'Iron Chef,' early humans were dividing their living spaces into kitchens and work areas much earlier than previously thought, a new study found.

"So rather than cooking and eating in the same area where they snoozed, early humans demarcated such living quarters.

"Archaeologists discovered evidence of this coordinated living at a hominid site at Gesher Benot Ya‘aqov, Israel from about 800,000 years ago. Scientists aren't sure exactly who lived there, but it predates the appearance of modern humans, so it was likely a human ancestor such as Homo erectus.

"Yet this advanced organizational skill was thought to be a marker of modern human intelligence. Before now, the only concrete proof for divided living spaces dated back to only 100,000 years ago.

" 'Seeing this at such an early site was surprising,' said archaeozoologist Rivka Rabinovich of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. 'This means there was some ability or some need or requirement of organization.'..."

Based on the Nariokotome Boy, a homo erectus who died about 1,600,000 years ago around the age of 11. Early teens were around five feet three inches (168 cm) tall. And might have been around six feet tall (83 cm) as adults. And, again for adults, with space in their heads for a 909 cc. brain. We work with a brain that's about 1350 cc, on average. ( In terms of height, Homo erectus isn't all far from what's normal now, in some parts of the world, for contemporary humans. That's an artist's rendering of someone from that period, on the right. I'll grant that even with a haircut and new clothes, he'd stick out in most crowds these days.

But - human? Pretty much like me, basically? I don't see why I shouldn't think so. Their brains were between half and two thirds as massive as ours, on average, but that archeological dig shows that they may have thought more-or-less the same way we do.

That artist's impression doesn't look 'human?' I'm not so sure. You're not likely to see that expression in people's photos today, outside supermarket tabloids, but think of him saying something like, "you want three rocks? You carry one!"

Or, "whaddaya mean, they only come in green or gray?!"

Things Happened Earlier

I've noticed how the earliest - anything - for humanity has been getting pushed back every decade or so.

Then, there's this quote:

"...If the transition from H. erectus to our own species was gradual and occurred over a wide area geographically, these intermediate forms are what we would expect to find. However, many scientists point to the statistical unlikelihood of such an evolutionary development occurring 'in parallel' over wide areas."
("Homo sapiens: Earliest forms of our own species" Washington State University)

I'm inclined to think that 'in parallel' evolution isn't all that likely, either. But I'm also inclined to think that people move around.

About forty years ago, Thor Heyerdahl was demonstrating that you didn't need ocean liners or airliners to travel around. It's more convenient, of course, and rather faster than sail-driven rafts: particularly in the case of airliners.

But, using technology available to Phoenicians, Polynesians, and others, Thor Heyerdahl traveled across oceans. The Kon-Tiki is probably his most famous project.

The point is: people were able to get around before the Industrial Age. And, I think there's reason to believe they did, even when it took longer than it did in the 19th and 20th centuries.

Ever hear of the Silk Road?

Is it really that wild a stretch of the imagination to think that, over a million years or so, people in Africa and Eurasia walked back and forth, as circumstances demanded, changing a little in appearance over the generations?

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