Blog #10 – Five facts you may have missed about early humans - they were impressive!

So you think you know where we’ve come from. So you think that modern humans in their civilized worlds are the top of the heap. Here are five things that you missed about early humans and how impressive they were!

1)   There have been a many species that walked on two legs, made tools and buried their dead. Neanderthals had brains roughly the same size as ours.

Figure 1. Comparison of a Neanderthal skull (left) with that of a Homo sapiens (Credit: Nathan Holton). Photo credit: https://www.newscientist.com/article/dn15042-why-did-neanderthals-have-such-big-noses/

Figure 1. Comparison of a Neanderthal skull (left) with that of a Homo sapiens (Credit: Nathan Holton). Photo credit: https://www.newscientist.com/article/dn15042-why-did-neanderthals-have-such-big-noses/

2)   Not all life before agriculture was short and hard. Blombos Cave in South Africa has provided evidence of the beginning of our cultural evolution around 100,000 years ago. They enjoyed cushy lives with lots of food and free time for artistic expression.

Figure 2. Blombos Cave ochre processing toolkit included this shell of Haliotis midae with pigment in it. (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Blombos_Cave)

Figure 2. Blombos Cave ochre processing toolkit included this shell of Haliotis midae with pigment in it. (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Blombos_Cave)

3)   Thinking that evolution placed modern humans on the fast track to success? Try this fact on for size. Modern humans, Homo sapiens sapiens, have resulted from the interbreeding of Homo sapiens, Neanderthals (Homo neanderthalensis) and Denisovans (Homo sapiens ssp. Denisova) around 40,000 years ago. This interbreeding has been critical to our survival.

Figure 3. The Evolution and geographic spread of Denisovans as compared with other groups. (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Denisovan)

Figure 3. The Evolution and geographic spread of Denisovans as compared with other groups. (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Denisovan)

4)   About 12,000 years ago something happened to the earth that changed everything.  The last Ice Age glaciers receded, large mammals like the sabre tooth tiger in the Americas and the wooly rhinoceros in Eurasia went extinct. At least one other human-like species, Homo floresiensis, were strong enough to survive until this time. The World-wide damage could have resulted from a solar plasma ejection or an impact event  - and it is likely to occur again.

Figure 4. Species that went extinct 12,000 years ago. From left to right, sabre tooth tiger, wooly rhinoceros image from cave paintings and Homo florenciensis on the right compared to modern human size.

Figure 4. Species that went extinct 12,000 years ago. From left to right, sabre tooth tiger, wooly rhinoceros image from cave paintings and Homo florenciensis on the right compared to modern human size.

5)   And do you think that farms and cities are necessary for humans to excel? Hunter-gatherers created the oldest dated megalithic structure around 12,000 years ago in modern day Turkey at Göbekli Tepe – 7,000 years before Old Kingdom Egypt or Stonehenge.

Figure 5. Göbekli Tepe archaeological site in Turkey showing megalithic stones place in circular arrangements. Note the size of the pillars in the middle of the photo compared to the people on the edge of the site to the left of center (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Göbekli_Tepe).

Figure 5. Göbekli Tepe archaeological site in Turkey showing megalithic stones place in circular arrangements. Note the size of the pillars in the middle of the photo compared to the people on the edge of the site to the left of center (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Göbekli_Tepe).