1.17 Anatomical Modern Humans (AMHs)

As said before, sign language is an extension of body language. Not just the hands and fingers play their role, but also the arms, facial expressions, and posture and movements of the body as a whole. In early humans’ emotional and dramatic performances, this body language function merged into a kind of dancing which over time became more and more ritualized. One of the essential features of dancing has always been the repetitive movements, which (just like walking, jogging or playing sentry-go) release endorphins. As such, it serves as one of our uncertainty-allaying mechanisms.

As for singing, I already mentioned how our ANBOs probably were very communicative animals, screeching emotionally all day long just like present-day bonobos. From the beginning, vocal sounds accompanied their gestured communication. Besides the screeches that were beyond conscious control (being driven from the limbic system) there probably evolved a more intentional application of conscious (cortical driven) sounds like [puffs] and [clicks] and [mmms], to support the communicating of still primarily gestured names for things. Such non-vocal sounds proved useful in the dark, too[1].

In the dancing-singing of the Creation Story, the cortical control gradually emerged over many generations: in line with Steven Mithen[2] we assume that the Neanderthals were indeed ‘singing Neanderthals’ and as a humanosophers we assume that their earlier Early People were already ‘singing’. Be it that we in ‘singing Neanderthals’ and ‘Early People’ we imagine women in the first place.

More scholars assume that the AMHs (Anatomical Modern Humans) were the first real speakers to communicate with spoken names, and that for the AMHs gestures were reduced to an accompanying role. In a relative short time during the great migrations, these AMH descendants of the African early humans replaced earlier humans wherever they showed up. These Anatomical Modern Humans are our nearest ancestors: every human today is an AMH.

Now what made these first AMHs so special? A genetic mutation, says Richard Klein of Stanford University.[3] Other paleos do not agree, but they do not offer a satisfying answer on the question either. Sure is that (apart from anatomical differences) the AMHs in Africa were culturally quite different from all earlier humans. Unlike their predecessors, they used bone, antler and ivory to make fish hooks and harpoons. For the first time in human history, they also relied on sea food: their camp sites were characterized by shell middens.

Scratchings on ochre from Blombos cave

 

At the South African Blombos cave some chunks of ochre were found that were marked with cross-hatched scratches 70,000 years ago. Researchers view this as art or even a primitive form of script, but we believe that these scratches were made to ease the scraping of ochre powder from the chunk (one can see earlier scratches under the fresh scratches). Most of the chunks are without scratches; it can be the particular property of one woman do it in this way. For communicative engravings limestone slabs would be far more adequate.

Anyway, the research of Richard Klein[4] shows how the AMHs hunted buffaloes with more sophisticated weapons.

Still the question remains: why did AMHs develop this new behavior, while the Early Humans did not? We have our own humanosophic hypothesis.

Communicating with only one’s mouth and without further body language makes lying more easy. When trying to lie with sign language, you have to keep too much nerves of your body under control (and the person you are trying to deceive, will already be closely watching your body language). The others will see more easily that you are lying. Even in today’s sign language for the deaf, lying is much more difficult than in spoken language[5]. But when you communicate primarily by sounds, you can lie with a poker face.

Of course the AMHs didn’t lie every day. But the fact that they could so when needed, may have made them a tiny little bit more self-confident and individualistic. This growing inner confidence made them a little more flexible, a little less restricted to rigid traditions. In the early human mindset, thus far mainly formed by traditions and rituals, tradition and truth were two closely related concepts. Once people became aware they were able to lie (to deviate from truth) this may have made them, by inference, more aware of the possibility to deviate from tradition as well. Eventually this made them more inventive. Unlike their conservative[6] Neanderthal counterparts, the AMHs began to manufacture new kinds of hunting weapons (such as fish harpoons and fish hooks) from other material than the traditional stone: bone, antler and ivory. These helped them to open a new food niche which until then was not being used by other early humans: the water world.

Maybe we overplay our hands with this theory about the effect of the new spoken communication. One may also simply ascribe the transition from Early Human to AMH to the fact that the AMH ancestors in the glacial period of extreme dryness were forced to search for alternative food sources – which they found at the coast, in lakes and in rivers. Therefore they became coastline dwellers, adapting to feeding on shells and other water animals. The oldest harpoons, found at Katanda, date from 90,000 years ago; the beads, used as jewelry, found at Blombos cave, are from 75,000 years ago.

Christopher Hensilwood says: “There’s more and more evidence that they could fish and hunt large mammals, and that they were making fine bone tools. When our ancestors left Africa, they were already modern, already thinking and behaving in many senses the way we do today.”[7]

However, this still leaves the question open why these Early Humans were able to make these ‘modern’ changes, and why this did not happen earlier than some 70.000 years ago.

Their extra nutritional niche: mollusks, fish and other water animals, enabled them to feed larger groups. The groups of the Early Humans numbered around 25 people; those of the AMHs could number around 100 people. In a small group, new ideas may find not enough support and die away, while in a larger group new ideas may easily find at least some followers. Furthermore: as a consequence of better nutrition, the number of AMH-groups also increased, which in turn caused more inter-group exchange of goods and ideas over larger areas. Hensilwood[8] points out the increase in population of modern humans, and how this easily explains both the new, modern behavior that lead to the ‘Out of Africa’-migrations, and the “creative explosion” that took place around 45,000 years ago in Europe. But the question why these Early Humans managed to achieve this, and why it did not happen earlier than some 70.000 years ago, is still waiting for a scientific answer.

Vocal communicating – just by larynx and mouth – must have had a strange effect on an Early Human: making her a tiny little bit more individualistic, a tiny little bit more independent from traditional thinking. Yes, I see this as a female attainment again; for the still-gesturing men this may have been a female foolishness, too weird and unreliable to use it in their ritual prayers to the Big Ancestor before hunting. Women had a leading share in the daily danced-singing of the Creation Story, but also in the allaying and charming and medicating of illness. I think the first shamans were mostly women.[9] So initially, the sophisticating of traditional sign language with ever more meaningful vocalizations may have been primarily a female concern.

AMH-behavior: the conquest of the water world with fish harpoons and fish hooks, and the explosive growth of their group size (number of huts) and the numbers of their groups, may have flourished around 120.000 years ago. Also the consequences from this behavior: increasing population and perhaps some population stress, resulting in the first Out of Africa II movement.

This first emigration wave (we could name it OoAII-A) not only let his traces in Skhul and Qafzeh (dated around 100.000 years ago if not earlier) but also the first AMH-groups arriving in Australia some 70.000 years ago. The AMHs bred like rabbits.

  1. The dark … for the Early Humans we have to consider their very sharp vision; even the slightest light was enough for them to see in the dark
  2. Steven Mithen Singing Neanderthals (2006) proposes the term Hmmmm for the pre-linguistic system of communication used by Early Humans: an acronym for Holistic (non-compositional), Manipulative (utterances are commands or suggestions, not descriptive statements), Multi-modal (acoustic as well as gestural and mimetic), Musical, end Mimetic.
  3. A friendly but rather negative review of his (and science writer Blake Edgar’s) book The Dawn of Human Culture (2002), including his theory that spoken language was the result of a genetic mutation, immediately followed by a cultural ‘big bang’, has been written by Derek Bickerton in Scientific American Sept. 2002, “A Bare-Bones Account of Human Evolution”. The review ends: “The likeliest conclusion is that language as we know it arose most probably through some fusion of preexisting capacities, around the time our species originated more than 100,000 years ago. Precisely how this happened remains one of the great unsolved scientific problems. Unfortunately, Klein and Edgar don’t bring its solution any nearer.”
  4. He discovered that the Early Humans from the Klasies River caves concentrated on eland—large antelopes—instead of the more dangerous buffaloes, although buffaloes probably outnumbered eland in the local environment. In more recent sites, by contrast, buffalo bones dominate those of eland. “Something happened after 50,000 years ago that allowed people to hunt buffaloes.” (Klein, R. G. & Cruz-Uribe, K. (1984) The Analysis of Animal Bones from Archaeological Sites (Univ. of Chicago Press, Chicago).
  5. We remember the reactions of American deaf people on a speech of Ronald Reagan: they saw he was lying.
  6. We were in the excavation site Veldwezelt-Hezerwater (Belgium): two Neanderthal campsites, one from 130.000 ya and another from 34.000 ya. On the question: is there difference in stone technology? was the answer: not at all!
  7. National Geographic News, April 15, 2004
  8. Christopher S. Hensilwood is a Research Professor at the Institute for Human Evolution, University of the Witwatersrand. With Francesco d’Errico e.a. he excavated the Blombos cave (near Cape Town, SA) and found ornament shell beads from 75,000 years old. So 5000 years older than the engraved ochre chunks mentioned before.
  9. Remnants of this tradition can still be found in several aboriginal cultures, for example in Siberia; see also the work of Mircea Eliade.

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Used abbreviations

GHs: gatherers/hunters (the phase from 2 million years ago to 10.000 years ago)

AGRs: agriculturers (the phase from 10.000 years ago till now)

NT(s)Neanderthal people

MSA(s): Middle Stone Age people (African NTs)

AMH(s): Anatomical Modern Humans (H sapiens people), like we are

(m)ya: (million) years ago

ANBOs: Ancestor Bonobos (ape-men), our earliest human ancestors

Paleos: all scientists that are important for our story.

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