Pre-history: Early Homonid Species


Figure 1.--This diorama depicts the appearance and life style of the stone equipped hunter, 'Homo erectus'. The family is depicted living in Sangiran (an archaeological excavation site on the island of Java) about 900,000 years ago. In 1934 the anthropologist Gustav Heinrich Ralph von Koenigswald started to examine the area around Sangiran (1934). He worked there for several years. He found fosils of a species he named 'Pithecanthropus erectus' better known as Java Man. They were some of the earliest remins of early man ever found. The species has now been reclassified as 'Homo erectus'. This means that Homonid migrations out of Africa began before the devlopment of modern man. Most anthropologists, however, believe that modern humans are related to a later migratory wave out of Africa. Source: National Museum of Indonesia, Jakarta,

There is no precise date for the beginning of the Paleolithic period, but about 2 million years ago is a good rough estimate. It approximately marks the point at which homonids began to become human. Anthropolgists have found many early ape species in Africa. Most are evolutioinary dead ends. A few are in the lineage of modern man, but that line is not yet understood with percision. There were many species of Australopithecus. This is the homonoid genus that diverged from ape-like species. Archaeologists and palaeontologists generally believe that australopiths played a key role in human evolution. One of the australopith species is believed to have evolved into the Homo genus in Africa around 2 million years ago. Homo erectus was probably the first hominid to ldevelop a hunter-gatherer society--the life style of humans for most of our history. Most anthropologists identify H. erectus as the first homonid to look much like modern humans and to develop social relationships more like modern humans than the more ape-like Australopithecus species that preceeded it. The Homo specis tended to have increased cranial capacity which generally coincides with the increasingly sophisticated tools some times found with the fossils. Another important species was H. ergaster. Scientists are not entirely sure about the relationship between H. erectus and H. egaster These early fosil remains are extrenely rare and thus it is dificuklt to know for sure if they are really different species. Scientists are, however, making important strides in fitting together the relationship of these different species. A sucessor species, was also found in Africa about 1.8 million years ago, but spread all over the Old World. Erectus had a larger brain reflected in more sophisticated tools. He may also have discovered the use of fire. A key early Homo species was Homo habilis--the tool maker. The neolithic species can be dated with the appearance of H. habalis. This of course demonstrates the importance of tools is the making of modern man. H. habilis, like all the ape species in the human evolutionary line, lived in Africa. Homo sapiens or modern man originated in Africa about 0.4 million years ago. These people also spread throughout the Old World and eventually reaching the New World. One notable characteristic of H. sapiens is aack of genetic diversity, far less than most other species. It is believed that this reflects a kind of genetic bottle neck in which obnly a small number of humans survived. Some believe that this genetic bottle neck was caused by the eruption of the Toba mega-volcano and resulting in a mini-ice age about 75.000 years ago.

Primates

There is no precise date for the beginning of the Paleolithic period, but about 2 million years ago is a good rough estimate. It approximately marks the point at which homonids began to become human. Anthropolgists have found many early ape species in Africa. Most are evolutioinary dead ends. A few are in the lineage of modern man, but that line is not yet understood with percision.

Australopithecus (4 million years ago)

Australopithecus is a genus of early homonids that is now extinct. This is the homonoid genus that diverged from earlier ape-like species. Australopithecus means 'southern ape'. There were many species of Australopithecus. The precise number is indispute, in part because some proposed species may be simply specimens of known species which viverged from the mean. Australopithecus afarensis is a long-lived and relatively well studies species. Remains from more than 300 individuals have been found. This is a rather klarge number for early hpomonids. They have been found in East Africa (Ethiopia, Kenya, Tanzania) and dated to 3.85-2.95 million years ago. The finds in East Africa are largely due to the Great Rift Valleg which pased north to south through these countries. A. afarensis is known to have survived for more than 900,000 years, which is over four times greater than modern humans (Homo sapiens. And the relatively large number of findings may mean that it was a prolific species. The species is perhaps best known for Lucy. A. afarensis was very similar to chimpanzees, even more so than humans. The children grew very rapidly after birth and thus reached adulthood at an earlier age than modern humans. This meant A. afarensis had a shorter period of growing up and maturation than modern humans. This meant that the young received less parental guidance and socialization. A. afarensis was esentially a bridge between apes and humans, the missing link that was so often sought after Darwin published his concept of evolution. The various Australopithecus species had a mixture of ape and human characteristics. They tended to have apelike faces, a flat nose, a projecting lower jaw. The braincase was much smaller than that of modern man. This was an estimated 500 cubic centimeters which would be about 1/3 the size of a modern human brain. Australopithecus had long, strong arms with curved fingers. This would be the characteristics needed for climbing trees which provides insights into behavior and habitat. They had small canine teeth which was more like humans than apes. They also had a body that stood on two legs and commonly regularly walked upright. These adaptations meant that they coukd live in a wide range of environments. They could live both in trees and on the fround. This was surely aa factor that enabled them to survive for about a million years over which timr climate and environments changed. Archaeologists and palaeontologists generally believe that Australopiths played a key role in human evolution. One of the australopith species is believed to have evolved into the Homo genus in Africa around 2 million years ago. A. africanus was initially regarded as ancestral to the genus Homo and some anthropologists identified Homo erectus as directly related. Anthopolgists have since found genus Homo fossils that are older than A. africanus, complicating the evolutioinary story.

Homonid Species (2 million years ago)

Homo erectus was probably the first homonid to develop a hunter-gatherer society--the life style practiced by humans for most of our history. It is unclear, however, to what extent he was a hunter as opposed to a scavenger. Hunting probably did not become primary until the neolithic era and the ability to make sophisticated tools, especially weapons. Without weapons, homonoid species would be very limited as to what they could hunt and kill. Most anthropologists identify H. erectus as the first homonid to look much like modern humans and to develop social relationships more like modern humans than the more ape-like Australopithecus species that preceeded it. The Homo species tended to have increased cranial capacity which generally coincides with the increasingly sophisticated tools some times found with the fossils. Another important species was H. ergaster. These early fosil remains are extrenely rare and thus it is dificult to know for sure if they are really different species. Scientists are, however, making important strides in fitting together the relationship of these different species. A sucessor species, Homo erectus was also found in Africa about 1.8 million years ago, but spread all over the Old World. Erectus had a larger brain reflected in more sophisticated tools. He may also have discovered the use of fire. A key early Homo species was Homo habilis--the tool maker. The neolithic species can be dated with the appearance of H. habalis. This of course demonstrates the importance of tools is the making of modern man. H. habilis, like all the ape species in the human evolutionary line, lived in Africa. Homo sapiens or modern man originated in Africa about 0.4 million years ago. These people also spread throughout the Old World and eventually reaching the New World. One notable characteristic of H. sapiens is a lack of genetic diversity, far less than most other species. It is believed that this reflects a kind of genetic bottle neck in which only a small number of humans survived. Some believe that this genetic bottle neck was caused by the eruption of the Toba mega-volcano and resulting in a mini-ice age about 75.000 years ago.







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Created: 5:27 PM 4/3/2012
Last updated: 4:34 AM 11/22/2015