If the last 6 million years were one year:
January 1 - 6,000,000 years ago: our oldest human ancestor,
Millennium Man, has been living in Africa for 2 million years.
March 1 - 5,000,000 years ago: Australopithecus evolves in Africa,
and Africa begins drying out. The Mediterranean Valley floods.
June 1 - 3,500,000 years ago: Kenyanthropus is living in the Rift
August 1 - 2,500,000 years ago: 3 species of Australopithecus go
extinct, and Homo Habilis evolves. The oldest stone
cutting tools and hammer stones are from this time.
September 1 - 2,000,000 years ago: Homo erectus evolves in
Africa, and Australopithecus disappears. Fire is domesticated.
September 7 - 1,900,000 years ago: Cooking is invented. The
clearing of forests starts.
September 13 - 1,800,000 years ago: Homo Erectus reaches southeast
October 1 - 1,500,000 years ago: stone tools have become larger
and flatter, and so are called hand axes.
October 7 - 1,400,000 years ago: an asteroid strike forms Hudson
Bay. The world plunges into a decade of endless winter.
November 1 - 1,000,000 years ago: the current round of ice ages
begins, each one lasting about 100,000 years.
November 13 - 800,000 years ago: Erectus enters Europe, and
evolves into Heidelbergensis.
December 1 - 5,00,000 years ago: stone tools have become
smaller again and more refined, with serrated edges.
December 13 - 300,000 years ago: Neanderthals evolve in Europe,
and we find the oldest evidence of the ritual disposal of
bones (by Heidelbergensis).
December 19 - 180,000 years ago: Clothing is invented.
December 22 - 150,000 years ago: Homo Sapiens evolves in
Africa, and Erectus there disappears.
December 24 - 120,000 years ago: An interglacial summer begins.
December 25 - 110,000 years ago: the most recent ice age begins.
December 25 - 100,000 years ago: Sapiens leaves Africa along the
coast, and settles Asia. It only takes 700 generations.
December 27 - 75,000 years ago: A volcano named Toba on the
island of Sumatra erupts. Ten years of volcano winter reduce
the population of Sapiens from 100,00 worldwide to about
1000 adults. Sapiens survives in scattered pockets.
December 27 - 70,000 years ago: Sapiens reaches
southeast Asia and the last of the Erectus there die out.
December 28 - 64,000 years ago: Stone-tipped arrows are invented.
December 28 - 60,000 years ago: Sapiens crosses 60 miles of
open ocean to Australia, and go on to South America.
December 28 - 50,000 years ago: Australians are living in what is
December 28 - 50,000 years ago: There's a worldwide drought.
Sapiens leaves Arabia north along the Euphrates and first
meets Neanderthals and later the Asian Erectus. 80% of
the men in Europe have chromosomes dating from this first
wave of Sapiens immigration.
December 29 - 40,000 years ago: There's a technological revolution,
and the first hafted tools are invented: axes, drills, engraving
tools, harpoons and adzes. The atlatl is invented. The ice age begins.
December 29 - 38,000 years ago: the ice age intensifies.
December 30 - 30,000 years ago: we find the oldest lenses, polished
out of rock crystal, from this time. And at this time there was a
relatively sudden increase in the percentage of old people.
December 30 - 28,000 years ago: the last of Neanderthals
and Erectus go extinct.
December 30 - 26,000 years ago: we have the oldest traces of
weaving and ceramics from this time.
December 30 - 25,000 years ago: 20% of the men in Europe have
chromosomes dating from a wave of immigration from the
Middle East at this time. The cold reaches its most extreme.
December 30 - 17,000 years ago: the ice age begins to end,
the melt goes on for 8,000 years, and sea-level rises 400 feet.
December ?? - 15,000 years ago. Dogs are domesticated.
December ?? - 14,000 years ago. The first wave of immigration into
December 31, 7:55 AM - 11,000 years ago: agriculture is invented,
and goats are domesticated.
December 31, 9:23 AM - 10,000 years ago: the first columns are
erected at Stonehenge. Towns thrive in the middle east. The
mammoths go extinct in Europe and Russia.
December 31, 10:51 AM - 9,000 years ago: war begins between the
Indians and Aborigines in Brazil.
December 31, 1:02 PM - 7,500 years ago: the Black Sea floods.
December 31, 1:46 PM - 7,000 years ago: Indians wipe out the
Aborigines in Brazil, though they survive in Tierra del Fuego.
December 31, 1:50 PM - 6,500 years ago: copper is smelted.
December 31, 3:14 PM - 6,000 years ago: civilization is invented
by a guy named Catfish, and the horse is domesticated in Asia.
December 31, 4:41 PM - 5,000 years ago: the story of Gilgamesh
is written down. Stonehenge is thriving. The second wave of
immigration into North America.
December 31, 5:27 PM - 4479 years ago: the Great Pryamid at Giza
December 31, ?:?? PM - 3500 years ago: the Egyptians invent the sail.
December 31, midnight - now. The next ice age is overdue.
When I was a kid, I was fascinated by cavemen. I used to cut the Alley Oop cartoons out of the paper and save them. I was curious about where we (as a race) had come from. As I've gotten older, scientists have come to know a lot more about "caveman times," and it's been fun for me to find out more about what was going on then. It turns out we didn't ride around on dinosaurs. Men didn't drag women around by their hair. We didn't live mostly in caves. Mostly we lived in campsites and tents.
And it turns out human evolution wasn't slow and steady. It's been episodic. We take a great leap forward, and then we hang out without much change for a long time. Then another leap forward. The law of evolution is not that the strongest or smartest survive, but the most adaptable.
Speciation can take place because a group gets cut off from the rest of their kind. For example, the reason there are two species of Chimpanzee is because the forest they live in shrank. A river that used to have it's headwaters inside the forest formed a barrier the chimps couldn't pass, and so over 2 million years the groups diverged into two species.
New species can also arise within a group. Birds with bigger beaks, better suited for cracking seeds, can gradually specialize out of a population until they're a new species.
Ten million years ago there were 60 species of apes. Africa was completely covered with rain forest. About 8 million years ago Africa started to dry out, and the forest began to be replaced by grassland. Only the apes that could cling to the diminishing pockets of forest could make it, or those who could adapt to the grassland.
By 6 million years ago Africa was drier than it had been, but still much wetter than it is now. There was no Sahara Desert. Where it now is, there was grassland. There was no Mediterranean Sea, as tectonic forces had pinched off the Straits of Gibraltar, and the water had dried up. The Mediterranean had been through this cycle of flooding and drying up a number of times before this. Where the Sea is now there was the Mediterranean Valley. The valley floor was forest and grassland, and beyond the valley there was grassland that stretched all the way to what is now China.
The animals in Africa were pretty much the same as they are now, except that in addition to ordinary lions and tigers, there were also saber-toothed cats. And there were no elephants. Instead, there was an animal that looked a lot like an elephant, called a donotherium. It was grey, and had a trunk and small ears and tusks that pointed downwards. And it was three times the size of modern elephants.
The oldest human fossils we've found are 8 million years old. The species is called Sahelanthropus tchadensis. At that time, we were the size of chimpanzees, but we already had the modern skeleton and relatively modern faces. We weren't smarter than our chimpanzee cousins, but we were better than them at walking, running, swimming and at throwing things. From our teeth, it's thought that we ate mainly fruit and vegetables, with occasional meals of meat, usually small animals caught on the grassland. We were already tool users, as was our common ancestor with the chimpanzees. (Popular Science, March 2001, p. 27) Digging sticks and hammers may have been the first tools, and clubs and thrown rocks may have been the first weapons.
What was human society like this long ago? Looking at our closest cousins can give us an idea. When we look at the Chimpanzee and the Bonobo, we see two very different lifestyles. In Chimp society, males dominate females. They beat them, and they fight each other over access to sex, which is scarce. In Bonobo society, females bond with each other and cooperate to control access to sex, so there's no violence, and there's lots of sex. Scientists think the important factor was that food was readily available in Bonobo country, and scarce in Chimp country. When food's scarce, the males get to the food sources first and eat everything. The females, carrying their children, have to split up and scavenge. So they don't spend enough time together to bond and cooperate and control the males.
Because of how much larger males were than females, it's speculated that early humans were more like Chimps than Bonobos. Humans today are more like Chimps, but there was a time in our history when we were more like Bonobos. But that would be getting ahead of the story....
One day, 5 million years ago, the water began to pour over the cliffs of Gibraltar, in a cataract that would make Niagara Falls look small by comparison. And the Mediterranean valley flooded, in a gigantic cataclysm. And yet, spectacular as it was, this was hardly the greatest flood the human race has ever seen. That was yet to come.
AT THE TIME OF AUSTRALOPITHECUS
About five million years ago, the earth entered a cooling period, and Africa slowly dried out. As the grasslands expanded southward and the forests shrank, our ancestors thrived.
By 5 million years ago we shared the world with a number of other species of hominids. One was called Australopithecus. Where in Africa they began is unknown, but they thrived for 3 million years. Women were about 3 and a half feet tall, and men were about 4 and a half feet tall. The skeleton was pretty much what we have now: upright gait, big toe in line with the other toes, shorter arms than chimpanzees. Their faces were less upright than ours, their brow ridges were more prominent, and they had no chins. They probably had hair all over our bodies, and the skin under the hair was probably black.
We looked much like them except that our faces were more upright. Women didn't have breasts yet. Our brains were a lot smaller, the same size as chimpanzee brains, a third the size of what we have now. But by now we were a little bit smarter than Millennium Man. Housekeeping functions had been compressed and shifted to the rear to open up more frontal cortex for problem-solving. We had rudimentary language and tool use, a little more than chimpanzees have now.
By 3.5 million years ago, Australopithecus had done so well that they had differentiated into five species. One of them, the Robust Australopithecus, was a vegetarian. They lived in the forest and had a lifestyle much like gorillas today. They had big jaws and husky builds, with sloping ribcages because they had big guts. They lasted for a million years.
The Gracile Australopithecus were omnivorous and lived out on the grassland. They had smaller jaws, and lighter builds. They hunted small game by throwing stones, and they were scavengers, which is one place being able to run well came in handy. We lived out there in direct competition with them. The quicker you could get to a kill the vultures were circling over, the more meat was left. However, there wasn't generally a lot left. And either the Australopithecines or us did something incredible: they or we invented a tool we still use: the hammer. No matter how late they got to the kill, there were always bones with marrow and skulls with brains left. All that had to done was break open the casings, using sticks or rocks or other bones as clubs.
The oldest shaped stone tools we have are 2.5 million years old, simple cutting tools and hammer stones. But Australopithecus had been using bones and unshaped stones as hammers long before. Tool use goes way back.
Since you don't need as long an intestine for a mixed meat-and-vegetable diet as you do for a plant diet, the Gracile's intestines were shorter, and their bellies were smaller. They were the first Australopithecines to have waists. Still, only 20% of their diet was meat. They mostly ate grains and roots that the women gathered while the men were out hunting around.
The drying of Africa was hard on Australopithecus. By 3 million years ago, all but one species of Australopithecus were gone. The only species of Australopithecus to survive was the Gracile. Gorillas and 2 species of chimpanzees also survived, deep in the shrinking rainforest.
The same drying created the Sahara and the Arabian Desert, but beyond them grassland still stretched all the way to China. 2.5 million years ago, the North Pole froze for the first time.
Another species arose about this time, called Kenyanthropus platyops. They look like Australopithecus, but with a flatter face. It may be that they are in our ancestral line.
I suspect there is a deep love for grasslands in the human race, an ancient yearning, that goes all the way back to these times, almost like a racial memory. Our parks imitate grasslands, as do the estates of the rich. In the Bible, Adam and Eve lived in the Garden of Eden. Eden is an ancient word for grassland, which is what southern Iraq was in those days. (It's a desert now because early farmers exhausted the soil, and irrigation turned the soil salty.) We seem to feel at home in a grassland.
When white settlers came to Oregon, they found a landscape of grasslands, with clusters of oak trees on the hills. They assumed this was the natural landscape, but they were wrong. The natural landscape was old-growth forest, but the Indians burned the land clear every year, leaving only the oaks. If you're an aborigine, there's very little to eat in a forest, but there's a lot more to eat on a grassland: grass seed, mice and rabbits, for example. The oaks were for the acorns. The population of Indians in Oregon was far more than could have been supported by hunting and gathering in a natural landscape.
One theory as to how big brains originally helped us is that it was a way to handle the heat of the grasslands. Part of why porpoises have large brains is to handle oxygen deprivation from diving, by having redundant systems. It's thought that our brain size may originally have been to have redundant systems and keep us going longer out there in the hot sun.
2 and a half million years ago Homo Habilis evolved, probably from Sahelanthropus tchadensis. They were the first to make stone tools. Crude flakes are found from this time onward.
By 2 million years ago, Habilis had evolved into Homo Rudolfensis and then into Homo Ergaster: taller, and with a brain that had doubled in size.
By 1.5 million years ago stone tools had become larger and flatter, and are called hand axes.
1.4 million years ago a meteor slammed into the earth and created the Hudson Bay. People around the world would have had a hard time surviving the endless winter for a decade afterward, and then the long winters and cold summers for a long time after that.
At the same time, Ergaster evolved into Homo Erectus. Male Homo Erectus stood 6 feet 3 inches tall, on the average, taller than the average modern European man, who stands 5 feet 9 inches. Their skins were black, and they were hairier than we are. And they were the first hominids to have whites in their eyes.
Erectus lived in groups of up to 100, larger than any Australopithecus groups had ever been. These were the first villages, though they were nomadic rather than stationary. We know that Erectus had language, because we can see from the print of the brain on the inside of fossil skills that the brain area associated with language is developed. We also know that the opening at the base of the skull that the spine goes through was smaller than it is in modern people. Scientists think this means Erectus had less fine control than we do of our bodies, so it was perhaps hard to talk. They may have communicated mostly in sign language. The modern inability of people to talk without gesturing may be a remnant of that ancient gestural language. Research reported in the Oregonian (9-3-00, p. L11) has shown that hearing children who use sign language as infants understand more words, score higher on intelligence tests and engage in more sophisticated play than those who don't.
With the appearance of Homo Erectus, human inventiveness took a great leap forward, and there were a number of major breakthroughs. Tool-making increased dramatically. And a major event in human history occurred when fire was tamed. Fire was domesticated about 1.9 million years ago, probably by women. Early uses were for warmth and to burn bedding to kill the lice and fleas. And the practice of burning forests to create grasslands began.
And cooking was invented almost immediately, that is to say, about a hundred thousand years later. Again, the discovery was probably made by women. The first cooking pot was a sagging piece of leather suspended over a fire by a frame of sticks. The discovery was that as long as there's liquid in the leather, it doesn't burn. This was such a significant invention that there was an abrupt change in the human race. People's jaws and teeth shrank. And females became larger in proportion to males.
This indicates that the balance of power shifted. Human society became female-dominated, and more like Bonobo society. The result was a lot less violence and a lot more sex. Humans remained matriarchal until.... but that would be getting ahead of the story.
And cooking was such an important invention that it made it possible for Erectus to move out of Africa, around 1.7 million years ago. They spread into the Middle East and Asia. In Asia they evolved into a new species. They didn't have tents or clothing yet, so they conquered the world naked. Their brain size is less than half of ours, and their only stone tools were simple choppers produced from local materials.
It's thought that wooden weapons and tools preceded stone tools in a kind of "wood age." The oldest stone tools precede Erectus by half a million years, so our ancestors or Gracile had begun tool making. But with Erectus stone tool-making became more sophisticated. We find stone flakes used as knives and scrapers from that time onward. But Erectus was incredibly conservative. Their hand ax hardly changed in a million years.
Another tool Erectus invented was a bone tool resembling a long thin stick, used to dig termites out of their mounds. Lots of these are found from their early days onward. Evidently we had a taste for termites.
A million years ago, Erectus faced another environmental challenge. A series of ice ages began, lasting 90,000 years at a time, with interglacial summers of about 10,000 years. (We live currently in one of those summers, one that began about 11,000 years ago, so we're overdue for an ice age. When the summer began, so much ice melted that sea level rose three to four hundred feet. When the Great Freeze begins, it will go back down.)
Africa dried out, and the great savannahs that we know today replaced forest. By 800,000 years ago, Erectus had evolved into Homo Heidelbergensis, and they had entered Europe. Oddly enough, they came by way of the Straits of Gibraltar and Spain rather than the Middle East. Their skins when they arrived were probably black. But they turned white fairly quickly, since white skins help those in northern climates get Vitamin D from sunshine.
By 500,00 years ago the stone tools of Erectus had been refined into smaller and more sophisticated tools than the old hand axes: scrapers and knives with serrated edges.
300,00 years ago, a group of Heidelbergensis took a great leap forward: they evolved into the Neanderthals, who lived in Europe with a stable culture for 250,000 years.
There's no reason to think Neanderthals were less intelligent than modern people, but they were intelligent in a different way. They were incredibly conservative. They made the same stone tools by the same techniques for 250,000 years, and they didn't make tools of bone or horn. They had six stone tool types: axes, scrapers, knives, and three I don't know about yet. They didn't have the atlatl or beads until they met Sapiens, from whom they also learned art and better stone-working techniques and hafting of tools. Their brains were slightly larger than ours are today, although their skulls were a different shape: long and low, with heavy brow ridges. Neanderthals had their eyes higher in their skulls, where the lower half of our forehead is. This made room for big noses and mouths. So they looked funny to us: long big faces, with hardly any forehead. And they were all built like musclemen. They were two to three times as strong as Sapiens. Their bones were thicker and rounder and stronger than ours. Their forearms and calves were shorter by about four inches than ours. Unlike us, the forearm and upper arm weren't the same length. Which means that they weren't as good as Sapiens at running or throwing, but they were astonishingly strong.
Neanderthals had territories. Groups lived in central locations, and didn't work stone from farther away than 30 miles from home. So evidently they didn't have trade. They lived in groups of from 8 to 25, small clans. They had to have gotten mates from other bands, or they would have died out, so there was some interclan communication. They were probably patriarchal, even though the men were gone a lot, hunting. Women were hardly ever buried, whereas men were. Men usually had grave goods buried with them, and often red ochre smeared on their bodies, whereas the few women who were buried had none. Grave practices are usually correlated with social status, so the women were evidently second class citizens.
The oldest evidence of the ritual disposal of bones is a Neanderthal site 300,000 years old, a place in France called the Pit of Bones, technically by Homo Heidelbergensis. Neanderthals often buried their dead in the floors of their caves.
They lived in largely in caves, and they hunted wild cows almost exclusively, their traditional and ancestral prey. They didn't hunt reindeer or catch salmon, even when those went right by their caves every year. We can tell from the injuries in the bones that the men lived the sort of life rodeo cowboys do. Their spears weren't designed to be thrown, so hunting was up close and personal. We can tell from the isotope ratios in their bones that 90% of their diet was meat. They ate about three times as much per day as we do, which suggests their metabolisms were high. They didn't get cold easily, or tire easily.
We can tell from the caves they lived in that the women had one fire, which burned at low heat all the time, used for warmth and cooking, presumably. And the men had a fire some distance away that only burned for a few days every week or two, and then was a big fire that burned at high heat. Perhaps they came in from the hunt and partied. The men wanted the things you can't have on a hunt: warmth, big fires and the freedom to make noise.
Half of Neanderthal children died before the age of 11. Part of the reason may be lack of sanitation: Neanderthals shit right in their caves, and they left bones around that attracted rats. Although they did burn their bedding periodically to get rid of fleas. Part of the reason their children died young may have been hunger: dental defects suggest that starvation was frequent. Part of the reason was evidently infanticide. Many baby skeletons are found, some in the garbage pile. Modern hunter gatherers often use infanticide as birth control, so it's reasonable to think that's what Neanderthal's did. 80% of adult Neanderthals died before the age of 40. Nevertheless, it's calculated that if the Neanderthals survival rate had been only 2% higher, they would still be with us.
If Neanderthal society had been matriarchal, they would have survived. Women wouldn't use infanticide as birth control.
The Neanderthals peaked about 50,000 years ago, and there were about 100,000 on the earth at that time. They were densest in what is now SW France.
Oddly enough, our ancestors don't come from the Homo Erectus in Asia or the Neanderthals in Europe. We come from the Heidelbergensis left behind in Africa. About 200,000 years ago, Homo Sapiens appeared. The Heidelbergensis we evolved from soon disappeared.
One of the ways both we and the Neanderthals were different from Erectus is that we developed more slowly. Erectus children reached adulthood in 11 or 12 years, as chimps and apes do, whereas both we and Neanderthals take 18 to 20 years. This can be seen in the rings of enamel left in the teeth somewhat like the rings in a tree. (Oregonian, 12-19-01, p C3) Erectus were the first human ancestors to have teenagers. And so they were the first human ancestors to have Walkabout and trade.
About 120,000 years ago there was an interglacial summer. The ice age ended, and Africa got wetter, as did the whole world. The improvement in conditions allowed the population of Sapiens to grow. It had remained stable at a total of a few thousand since we appeared, but now it began to increase.
About 100,000 years ago the earth was in an interesting situation. The interglacial summer was ending, and there were three species of humans on the planet. In Europe there were Neanderthals, and in the Middle and Far East there was a population of Homo Erectus, and Africa had been taken over by Sapiens. Sapiens mostly lived close to the ocean (which, as a matter of fact, is still true today), and their population was perhaps 50,000.
Genetic studies with human lice show that they began associating with us 72,000 years ago, plus or minus 42,000 years. (Discover Magazine, December 2003) So clothing was invented somewhere between 114,000 and 30,000 years ago. That's such a large time span that about all we can say is that clothing was invented by Sapiens.
About 80,000 years ago, the first Sapiens left Africa. Using the ocean as a food source was our original lifestyle. We lived on the coast, fishing and gathering shellfish and seaweed. We used stone tools, and had bone awls, so we probably made shoes, clothing (including rain hats and rain capes made from reeds) and tents. We drilled holes in shells to make necklaces, and used ocher to color precious things, such as the bones of our dead. This suggests we exposed our dead first before coloring the bones and burying them. We crossed the strait between Africa and Arabia by hopping from island to island, and settled in the Arabian marshland. And then we followed the coast-- leapfrogging each other, generation by generation-- all the way to southeast Asia. We arrived 70,000 years ago, and the last of the Erectus died out soon after. We found Erectus using bamboo, and learned to make bamboo rope, baskets, fishtraps, bridges across ravines, and rafts.
We can tell from gene studies that around this time Sapiens was nearly wiped out. 75,000 years ago a volcano on the island of Sumatra erupted. It was 4,000 times as powerful as Mt. St. Helens. It produced ten years of volcanic winter that decimated humanity, plunging them from a worldwide population of perhaps 100,000 down to about 1,000 adults. Humans only survived in scattered pockets. To this day, humans are more genetically similar than older species. Either of the species of chimpanzee, for example, which are 3 million years old and haven't been through such a bottleneck, has more genetic diversity than we do.
By 60,000 years ago, the population of Homo sapiens had recovered from the bottleneck. 60,000 years ago, Sapiens crossed the 60 miles to Australia on bamboo rafts. They couldn't see land over the curve of the earth, but they would have seen the smoke from forest fires. We think their skins were black, because remnants of this original population are left in the Dravidians of India and the aborigines of Australia.
By 50,000 years ago the Australians had crossed to South America, and pretty much filled it. They came by boat. The oldest painting of a boat in the world is on the wall of a rock shelter in northern Australia, and it's of an ocean-going boat, a canoe with a high prow to part the waves. Though not dated exactly, it's known that this drawing is from a time before people had spear throwers.
50,000 years ago, Australians were living in rock shelters in what is now Brazil. They lived there peacefully, hunting giant armadillos. They survive in the southernmost part of South America until modern times, preserving stoneage ceremonies.
Many of the paintings on the rock shelter walls are of spirits dancing. The men had a secret tradition of transforming themselves with masks and body paint to appear as spirits at dances and ceremonies. The children and women believed in the spirits. What boys found out at initiation was who the spirits are. The men said they did all this because there was a time long ago when women ruled.
50,000 years ago there was a drought, and grassland increased yet again in Africa at the expense of forest, and (as usual) Homo Sapiens thrived. A group of Homo Sapiens left Arabia at this time, and settled east of the Caspian Sea. Their descendants later spread west into Europe and east into China and on into America.
Their skins were probably black, but at some point when the population was small, before they spread through Europe and Asia, their skins turned white, in order to soak up sunlight to make Vitamin D. Unusual characteristics can become general when a population goes through a bottleneck. These people eventually became the ancient Aryans and Celts.
The drought in Europe caused the forests on the highlands to change into grasslands and moors. The only forests left were in the protected valleys, and the Neanderthal followed their ancestral prey (the wild cow) into the valleys.
About 40,000 years ago, during the time we were settling Europe, there was a revolution of invention, and in the next 5000 years there was more change than in the preceding million. Women invented the needle (refining it from the awl), and men invented the spear-thrower, engraving tools, boring tools, stone-tipped spears and harpoons, the hafting of axes, hafted chisels, and the bow and stone-tipped arrow. The idea of notching sticks to count things was invented. And art began. The first drawings on cave walls were of womens' genitals.
Sapiens had enough population surplus to begin expanding into Europe and the Far East, and so they encountered the Neanderthals and Erectus. Their encounters with the Neanderthal were largely peaceful, as indicated by how much Sapiens culture Neanderthal soaked up. They learned a lot from these new guys.
Homo Sapiens, used to life on the grassland, spread through Europe unopposed. The arriving Sapiens were nomadic, living in tents on the grassland, following seasonal prey like the reindeer and salmon. "Fish, shellfish and waterfowl were a significant part of the modern human's diet, even those who lived inland" (Oregonian, 5-30-01, p. B1.) They had trade, and worked stone from hundreds of miles away.
The Neanderthals were territorial, and stayed in the forests, and they didn't have trade. Europe was in an ice age. The northern part was tundra, and the southern part was forest, with grassland between. Sapiens promptly started burning down the forests to convert them into grassland, as aboriginal Sapiens do everywhere. The Neanderthals were gradually wiped out. What did them in (ironically enough) was how well adapted they were to their environment, and how slow they were to change, and using birth control (infanticide) to keep their population in balance with their territories. 37,000 years ago the ice age intensified, and the tundra expanded south, lessening both the amounts of grassland and forest. There was increased competition, and in the long run, the one with better adaptability, fertility and infant survival rate would win. Homo Sapiens outlasted Neanderthal because we didn't practice infanticide. Whenever the population got too big to be supported by a particular area, part of the band moved on.
By 35,000 years ago Homo Sapiens had largely replaced Neanderthals in France, and by 28,000 years ago in Portugal. The skeleton of a four-year-old child who was a hybrid was found in Portugal from 25,000 years ago, so there were still a few left then. Sapiens didn't interbreed with Neanderthal or Erectus because the children were sterile. They gradually supplanted the other species in both Europe and Asia.
Sapiens had superior inventiveness and technology, there's no question about it. They had invented stone tipped spears and spear-throwers and better stone blades (which the Neanderthals copied), backpacks, rain gear made of reeds, and probably better language skills and better cooperation in hunting and fighting. And they had trade routes to maintain communication world-wide. Traders were young guys with packs on their backs who walked great distances. Any good inventions spread quickly. Sapiens was the first species to make art, starting around 60,000 years ago. Neanderthals copied the practice of wearing necklaces, but they didn't have drills, so their beads have grooves at one end to tie a sinew around rather than holes in them the way Sapiens' beads do.
And Sapiens had a better infant survival rate. Part of that may have been a more varied diet. They may have been better scroungers. We can tell from the isotope ratios in the bones that 30% of their diet was fish, even the people who lived inland, and we can tell that they ate small animals like rabbits. A study of bones in rubbish heaps from 27,000 years ago found that 43% of the animals in their trash were rabbits. And we know they weren't big game hunters like the Neanderthals because of the patterns of breaks in their bones.
About 30,000 years ago, Sapiens showed a dramatic increase in the number of old people. Among Australopithecines, 1 in 10 who made it to adulthood lived to twice the age of sexual maturity. With Erectus it increased to 1 in 5. Among Neanderthals it was 4 in 10. And then around 30,000 years ago, Sapiens began having 2 old adults around for every young adult. The result was that culture got more complex, as there were more old people to pass it on.
By about 26,000 years ago, the last of the Neanderthals were gone, and Erectus in Asia was extinct soon after. Erectus had been around for 2 million years. For the first time there was only one species of human on the planet.
The oldest traces of ceramics and weaving come from 26,000 years ago, though they may have been invented much earlier.
Dogs were domesticated about 15,000 years ago, either in Japan or eastern China. The grey wolves all dogs are descended from probably hung around human encampments long before this, stealing scraps. (Oregonian, 11-22-02, p A21). About 14,000 years ago the first wave of migration into North America crossed the Bering land bridge. They hadn't crossed before because the area was roamed by packs of giant hyenas, with up to fifty in a pack. Once people had dogs, they could deal with the hyenas. All this was while the ice age was still going on, and ocean levels were 300 to 400 feet lower. Four different clans of Mongoloid people from Japan came into an unspoiled part of the world, four different times, and (oddly enough) one clan of Europeans, who came along the edge of the Atlantic ice sheet. Waves of extinction of large animals followed-- mastodons, mammoths, saber-toothed lions, ground sloths bigger than elephants-- as they spread south into Central and South America. It took 2000 years and 80 generations to spread from Alaska to South America. 9,000 years ago they encountered the Australians living in Brazil. For 2,000 years the aboriginal cave paintings show warfare and executions, and then the aborigines are gone. They only survive into modern times in Tierra del Fuego.
A second wave of immigration into North America began about 5,000 years ago, coming from China. The second wave formed the Eskimos, Aleuts and Navajo. All the other Indians are mixtures of the two waves, except for the Indians of the east coast, whose genetic heritage comes mostly from Europe.
17,000 years ago the ice age began to end, and sea-level began to rise, and it didn't stop rising till 9,000 years ago. The melt went on for 8,000 years, with three global superfloods during that time. During one of them the sea-level rose 100 feet, virtually overnight. This was the greatest flood the human race has ever seen. When the transition ended, sea-level had risen 400 feet.
STONE AGE LIFE
So what was life like in the stone age, the 1.8 million years between the time that women domesticated fire and the time they invented agriculture? People lived in clans, and in campsites rather than caves. Nobody was cut off, due to trade. Young men with carrying sacks or packs on their backs were the traders. Insects were a big part of our diet, especially termites, and the traders also brought fish. Men mostly trapped for rabbits.
Women ran things. Society was matriarchal, and the oldest woman ruled the clan. The men didn't do a lot of the work around camp, because the women wouldn't let them. They didn't do a good enough job. Men's Mysteries included Trapping and Hunting and dances that involved painting your bodies and wearing masks and taking various hallucinogens. Women's Mysteries included Fire and Cooking and Healing and Beer. Women may have discovered beer even before fire. All you need to do is put some grain and water in a hollow gourd for a few days.
When men get drunk, their testosterone level decreases about 10%. When women get drunk, their testosterone level increases 300-400%. Testosterone mediates libido in both sexes. When women get drunk, they get horny, and at the same time their inhibitions against doing something about it go way down. Women who are drunk are about 15-20 % hornier than men who are drunk.
The fact that men and women have such a different reaction to alcohol means that alcohol has been part of our culture for long enough to experience evolutionary pressure. We've had beer and wine for so long that men and women have evolved to react differently. Men have evolved to get a little less horny and angry, whereas the women who reacted to alcohol with sexual desire and lowered inhibitions left more children behind.
So a lot of the sex that stone age clans had involved getting drunk first. When the men got home from hunting, there was a big party, and any other time the women got out the beer. During the parties, the women had sex with everybody. What remains to us in these times of those ancient orgies is the Heiros Gamos, an ancient goddess fertility rite where people have sex in the middle of a ring of observers.
When women live together in groups, their menstrual cycles synchronize. So every woman in the clan had her period the same week. The men usually dealt with this by going hunting. The rest of the time they checked the traplines everyday and lay around camp, chipping arrowheads, doing man things, thinking grand thoughts.
The primary rite of passage for a boy to become a man was for him to go on Walkabout. Some of them would go thousands of miles away from home. Every spring there was a fresh crop of young men going from camp to camp, having sex with all the women who wanted to. This has been going on for so long that women are evolved to prefer sex with strangers. And men have evolved to have their strongest sex drive at 18.
Because that's true, we know that women generally got pregnant from the men on walkabout more often than from the men in the clan. Perhaps women had observed that when old men have kids there are lots of birth defects. They had several forms of birth control. One is that women only get pregnant by a man if they have an orgasm from one minute before him to 2 minutes after, so a woman can time her orgasm to avoid pregnancy, or not have one. Another was an herb called silphium, a kind of giant fennel, that was an excellent method of herbal birth control. It had no side effects. It was used everywhere up until the Roman Empire, when it went extinct due to poor management. All that remains to us is the shape of the seed pod. That shape appears on 7,000 year old coins, and has been associated for thousands of years with sex. Today we give valentines in the "heart" shape.
The reason our ancestors replaced the Neanderthals is that they were using birth control and we weren't. Sometime after the last Neanderthal disappeared 25,000 years ago, women discovered and started using silphium.
Men would stay on walkabout until women wouldn't have sex with them anymore, and then they'd settle down in their own clan. These young men were our traders. Walkabout is the reason we've always had trade, and why even the remotest clans never lost touch. Even in the stone age, human groups kept in touch all over the world. To be a trader meant you were someone like the Iceman, discovered in a glacier in Switzerland.
Women like sex with lots of men, and when they ruled, there was no marriage. For one thing, the more men a woman has sex with, the more men look kindly on her children. Women in New Guinea, for example, talk longingly about the days before jealousy began, and a woman could go off into the forest during a festival and have sex with fifty men, one after anther. "It was good," a woman being interviewed commented wistfully.
Somewhere along the way, women invented pottery and basketry, and then about 11,000 years ago (about the time the last ice age was ending), they invented agriculture, in what is now Syria. About the same time, they domesticated animals. The goat was the first.
Agriculture caused a huge change in the culture of the human race. One change is that the life expectancy went down. It became possible to be sedentary.
But the bigger change was that up till then, society had always been matriarchal. Now agriculture created surplus food. Men didn't have to hunt, and once they were hanging around the home base all the time, they began to take over. It's taken a long time, and has only been complete in the last 2000 years. Most of the human race has been patriarchal since. Women had a great record. They led the human race for 8 million years, and we thrived the whole time. Men have led for 11,000 years now, and the world is in a downward spiral. Nature is being destroyed at a rate that makes human survival doubtful. Obviously, women need to take back leadership of the human race, and the sooner the better.
With the invention of agriculture, for the first time, people are thought to have paired in long-lasting couples. That is to say, men enslaved women. And so, male sexual selection became a different kind of force in our development. (Discover, Nov 99, p. 27) Before it had been the selection of 18 year olds. Now older men had influence. And sexual selection is far more powerful that evolution in shaping bodies. The peacock's tail is a testament to that. Sexual selection has removed most of our body hair and given women breasts. It's also meant there's a steady pressure for the race to become smarter.
At this point, the world had a population of about a million people, scattered over the continents. Within 2000 years agriculture had spread all over the world, and in the next 3000 years humans did more damage to the planet than they'd done in the preceding 5 million. More of the ancient forests fell, as they were burned to make pastures and fields.
Out of the increased supply of food from agriculture grew megalithic culture in Europe, complete with the invention of houses, and villages that didn't move, and henges, and herds. There had been villages since Homo erectus, but they moved two or more times a year, depending where the food-gathering was good. Agriculture made it possible to live in the same place year round. And the earliest villages have monumental sculpture.
10,000 years ago a settlement in Turkey named Catal Asikli showed the transitional lifestyle. The men still spent most of their time hunting and trapping. The women did everything else. The town had an outer wall, though there are no signs of weapons or war. On the other hand, there's no reason to think there wasn't slavery. Slavery has been part of the human race for as long as it's been possible to abduct and hold a member of another clan or tribe against their will.
9000 years ago another village in Turkey named Catal Hoyuk had grown to be a town of 10,000. The town had no streets. Houses were built on each other in a random pile. Rubbish was dumped in the random spaces left between houses. The houses had no doors or windows. They were entered through a hole in the roof, the same hole the smoke went out. Rooms were replastered once a year, and then painted with beautiful murals. The social system was still matriarchal, and worshipped a mother goddess. The men in the murals are almost all depicted hunting.
An ancient village named Skara Brae on the west coast of Orkney Island, north of Scotland, might suggest what even earlier villages were like, even though it itself is not as old. It was way out on the edge of the spread of culture. It's 5000 years old, the best preserved neolithic village in Europe. 50 or 60 people lived in a dozen houses, half dug into the ground, roofed with poles and thatch or sod. It's thought that it was inhabited mostly by teenagers, since people didn't live long in those days. Doors had been invented, so people entered from alleys or streets between the houses. The "streets" of the village were three feet wide, and roofed over, and so low you had to bend over at the waist. Some were decorated. The "houses" were one or two domed rooms opening off the streets. Each house had a hearth for cooking, and the smoke went out a hole in the roof. Each house had a built-in tank in the floor for keeping bait alive, so hooks could be baited where it was warm. Some rooms had built-in drains, and even indoor toilets and a sewage system.
There were two other vital parts for the megalithic village besides the village itself. Both were places of ceremony. One was the exposure ground, a circle where bodies were left to be cleaned down to the bones by scavengers. That circle might be a trench or a circle of stones, and later evolved into circles of posts or standing stones: the henge.
The other vital part was the tomb, where the bones of the ancestors were kept. It was usually a mound, where ceremonies took place. The longer the clan had been there, the bigger the mound got. Built into the side of the mound was the burial vault, and often a room or two for ceremonies.
Stonehenge was begun about 10,000 years ago, although the great stone work wasn't started till 5000 years ago, when activity there was peaking. In megalithic society, men moving large stones great distances was a big thing. Maybe it was how the women kept the men from occupying their time with war. Megalithic society was still largely matriarchal, with the Goddess as the most supreme being. Lesser dieties could be male, like the Green Man who made shoots come up out of the ground every spring, and the Horned Man who made animals fertile. I suspect the ancient legends of Atlantis are legends of megalithic times, and it was thought of as an island because most long-distance travel was mostly by boat in those days. Also, some of the main megalithic trading centers were on islands. Trade was important in megalithic culture, as it has always been to our species. We're smoozers and bamboozlers by nature.
7,500 years ago the Black Sea flooded. It had been a fresh-water lake a third the size it is now, and a natural barrier gave way and let the Mediterranean in. The water turned salt, and got 300 feet deeper. The shoreline advanced at a mile and a half a day. It's thought that the Biblical story of the flood, and the legend of Gilgamesh, are tales from this time.
6,500 years ago people around the Mediterranean discovered you could melt copper out of certain funny-colored stones. Later they discovered you could melt iron out of hematite.
And then, around 6000 years ago, some guy named Catfish invented civilization. He was the first to get villages to form an alliance into a larger state, so he declared himself the first pharaoh in what is now Egypt. The idea caught on and quickly spread to what is now Iraq, India and China.
The rest, as they say, is history.
The next leap forward in human evolution may begin when we spread out into the solar system, if we don't destroy ourselves first. Pockets of humanity may get isolated on a moon or in the asteroid belt long enough to form new species.
The new species may supplant the one they came from, or we may routinely have more than one species of human in the galaxy. So far, our direct ancestors have out-competed, outlasted or committed outright genocide against other hominids 7 times: 4 species of Australopithecus in Africa, Erectus in Africa, Neanderthals in Europe and Erectus in Asia. The next species to evolve may make it 8 as it replaces us, or they may let us live. Based on the past, one would guess their brains will be half again as large as ours, and they'll be a good deal smarter. They'll probably let us live, but we'll die out because we can't interbreed with them.
Discover Magazine, Nov 99, p. 27
Oregonian, 6-13-00, p. A5, Paul Recer, Neanderthal man's menu didn't veer much toward the salad bar.
Discover special in 2000 called The Human Story.
TLC special in 2000 called The Dawn of Man.
TLC special, The Human Story, October 2000.
Oregonian, 7-8-01, p. A1, Guy Gugliotta, LA Times-Washington Post Service, America's melting pot may go back 15,000 years
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