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My family and other animals
To be included in our family and classed as a Hominid, as opposed an ape, you have to have small canine teeth and exhibit evidence of bipedalism (walk on 2 feet). The first instances of this really occurred about 4.4 million years ago in Africa with. ……
Australopithecus Afarensis (3.9-3.0 million years ago)
This creature we believe was running around Ethiopia about 3.5 million years ago and although not the earliest hominid will probably give us a good picture of what the earliest ones where like. To look at, they were like a modern chimp only they stood truly upright as opposed to the bandy legs stance associated with a modern day chimp. They were herbivores dinning mainly on soft fruits and leaves. They lived in small communities just like modern chimps in wooded / savannah type environments of Africa. Although able to walk upright it is feasible that they also relied on the trees for safety when threatened, which they often were. They shared their landscape with some rather unpleasant neighbours; big cats such as Dinofelis. would often prey on these creatures and a number of grisly finds such as skulls with Dinofelis teeth holes in them, back up this theory.
As the family evolved a number of other Australopithicuses appeared all over Africa, However rather then examine them all we will jump forward in time to look at….
Homo Habilis (1.9-1.6 million years ago)
Habilis was the first to use stone tools. Hence the name Homo habilis meaning handy man. This is significant in that we believe that these tools would have allowed Habilis to crack open bones to get to the nutritious marrow inside. Such an energy rich food source would have been able to fuel brain expansion as a larger brain is very expensive in terms of food required to run it. The bone structure of Habilis’s hand would also seem to indicate they had the manual dexterity required to manipulate these tools. This technology doesn’t imply they had become predators, but more than likely they scavenged meat from carcasses they came across. Scavenging would become increasingly important, as at this time the trees in Africa where receding giving way to much large expanses of grassland, hence the soft fruit and leaves that earlier hominids relied upon was becoming less abundant. They still had a distinctly chimpanzee look and where roughly the same size as one.
Jumping forward in time again we find the body shape slowly progressing towards a more human like frame. This happened mainly as an adaptation to the heat of living in the open savannah, but it also knock on effects which we will look at in …
Homo Ergaster (1.8 MYA- 1.5MYA)
Ergaster , now looking distinctly human from the neck down, had lost his body hair in order to develop sweat glands and grew tall and slim to avoid the sun. This caused problems. With the females being tall and thin she had problems with giving birth to a large developed baby. Therefore she gave birth a small under developed baby that depended on its mother for a long period of time. Thus in turn the females relied on males more heavily to find food. We now have a very basic family unit. These developments along with and every increasing brain made Ergaster very effective, so effective that they spread out of Africa all over sub topical Asia refining the basic lumps of stone used by Habilis into definite bladed stones in order to increase the effectiveness of their butchering of carcasses they came across.next stop on the evulotionary express is….
heidelbergensis was basically very much like you and me, body size almost the same, brain size 93% of ours. He was the first of our family to successfully reach Europe, and in order to do so developed some significant skills along the way. First of these would probably be the move from a scavenged meat intake to active hunting. A heidelbergensis hunter was probably quite an efficient spear thrower and carefully weighted wooden spears have been found to confirm this. They would have been able to hunt the large animals from a distance with this technology taking away a significant part of the danger, especially when you are facing creatures such as megaloceros. (giant deer) that stood over 2 metres high at the shoulder and had antlers the likes of which just have to be seen to be believed. It is worth remembering once you have killed a 625kg beast your going to attract carnivores from all around so you’ve got to be able to either defend your kill or move it quick. This would have needed great organisation across the whole tribe, and to support this we see the emergence of a throat structure that could possibly make crude vocal sounds.
Next up are the Neanderthals. Often depicted as dumb, lumbering and animalistic in nature, nothing could be further from the truth. Their bodies were somewhat short and stockier than previous hominids and judging by the skeletal remains they where probably quite muscular. These adaptations reduced overall body surface area, which is desirable when facing the cold conditions that they had to live through. They spread throughout the whole of Europe and the nearby regions of Asia. We believe that they lived in small close-knit family groups that did not range far from their home unlike previous more nomadic species, *. They had advanced technology, which consisted of a diverse range of small-flaked edges and blades of different sizes and shapes used for different tasks. Including scraping animal hides. This would be very important if you are going to survive an Ice age winter. They also attached stone blades to wooden handles for better spears and knives. A decent armoury would be essential to them as they where primarily hunters and their main prey would have been extremely large and dangerous animals such as Bison or mammoth. . They lived a dangerous lifestyle, which can be shown by the repeated breaks and healings on their skeletons. Analysis of the wear and tear on Neanderthal bones shows and striking resemblance to that of Rodeo riders, implying they got up close and personal with the animals they shared their environment with. However because these broken bones have healed, it shows that the family group looked after the sick and injured. It was clear that the social relationships where and important part of the Neanderthals daily life and when one member of the clan died it had a deep impact on the rest of them. Some evidence of ritual mourning is found in a burial of a young Neanderthal who had been laid out in a foetal position, then had rose petals sprinkled over her. A touching ceremony that does not equate with the brutish image of Neanderthal we used to hold.
Towards the end of the Neanderthals time they would have shared the landscape with Homo sapiens, and some put forward that this accelerated their disappearance. This is another of paleo-anthropology’s current hot topics
The Homo sapiens are the most recent stage of human evolution, and if you want to know what they look like then look in a mirror. You and I are Sapiens. We appear first in Africa about 150,000 years. But how the modern human population got all over the world is a matter of great debate *.. Sapiens are the first to truly specialise their tools such as barbed tipped bone points for spearing fish, and bone needles for sewing together clothes making them much more efficient. It is during the time (approx 40,000 years ago) we see Sapiens we see the first instances of cave art such as those at Lascaux caves. Much speculation has gone into these beautiful images but no conclusive proof of there meaning has ever been offered. One often quoted idea is that the represent a form of blessing for an up and coming hunt, but this would appear not to be the case as most of the animals depicted on the cave walls are very rarely found on the menu of hunters. Others put forward the idea that these pictures are interpretations of Shamanistic rituals. Indeed when some images of cave paintings where shown to members of a reclusive tribe of African bushmen the resident medicine man was able to identify a lot of the stylised images with his own rituals. This is not to suggest that the bushmen where anything other than fully modern humans. Indeed if they had been had an education like yours or mine the likely hood would be that they would now be accountants or computer programmers. Objects of art with possible religious significance also first appear during the reign of the Homo Sapiens. From about 27,000 years ago “Venus” figures are found in areas of Sapiens habitation, These are female forms with exaggerated Breasts and buttocks, which some have suggested may have links to a Earth mother style of religion. At 10,000 the first evidence of agriculture is found and it seems to happen fairly simultaneously across the Sapiens world.
From there on in it is only a further 3000 years until we have established the first great city (called Ur in what is now Iraq). 7000 years after that we have invented nuclear bombs, devastated the rainforests polluted the rivers whilst watching huge numbers of our own species starved to death. As Douglas Adams observed “Makes you wonder if it was really worth coming down form the trees in the first place”