Posts Tagged ‘Africa’

12. Homo erectus

6. homo erectus

The control of fire turned the ancestor-australopiths into Homo erectus. Fire use began in one group of ancestor-australopiths, but soon spread throughout all groups, by exchanges of sex partners and group interactions (in a way similar to the dispersion of agriculture later on). The H. erectus population dispersed over Africa and started the first Out of Africa migration into Eurasia.

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Traditionally H. erectus is always imagined as a male. So I was glad to find a reconstruction of a female H. erectus on the blog-site “Kay Nou = Our House”. Thanks, Kay Nou. Her digging stick was nice; but she missed her hide bag. So I gave her one. Unlike in this picture, she was never alone on the savanna, nor elsewhere.

Finds from an earlier period, in the archaeological sites Dmanisi (1,7 million years ago) and Flores (descendants of Java hominids from 1,6 million years ago) show a more primitive hominid, with a more primitive toolbox. So many paleos today believe that it was an earlier hominid, H. habilis or H. rudolfensis that spread Out of Africa into the Far East, developing to H. erectus. A later erectus group returned to Africa as ancestors of the Turkana population. For the humanosopher, this theory of a much earlier Out of Africa migration corroborates the early use of fire, because moving out of the tropics requires fire-use.

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 ancestor-bonobos 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 (neocortical 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 neocortical control gradually emerged over many generations: in line with Steven Mithen[2] I assume that the Neanderthals were indeed already more or less ‘singing Neanderthals’.

Most scholars assume that the AMHs (Anatomical Modern Humans) were the first real speakers to communicate with spoken names, while for them the 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.

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Scratching on ochre from Blombos cave, South Africa.

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.

At the Blombos cave some chunks of ochre were found that were marked with cross-hatched scratches 70,000 years ago: perhaps the first graphic symbols ever. And the research of Richard Klein[4] shows how the AMHs hunted buffaloes with more sophisticated weapons. But still the question remains: why did AMHs develop this new behavior, while the Early Humans did not?

I have my own humanosophic hypothesis here. 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 or even every year. 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 I overplay my hand with this theory about the effect of the new spoken communication. We also might 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 jewellery, found at Blombos cave, are from 75,000 years ago. Christopher Hensilwood, the paleo who found them, 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 90.000 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 30 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 90.000 years ago, is still waiting for a scientific answer (maybe our humanosophic approach can offer better answers here).

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 big 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.

Harpoons of 90.000 years ago, jewelry of 75.000 years ago: AMH-behavior may have flourished around 100.000 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) but also the first AMH-groups arriving in the Far East.


[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] in National Geographic News, April 15, 2004

[8] Christopher S. Henshilwood 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 then the engraved ochre chunks mentioned before. The oldest shell midden, the ‘hallmark’ of AMH-behavior, is also found at Blombos cave … dated 140,000 years old

[9] Remnants of this tradition can still be found in several aboriginal cultures, for example in Siberia; see also the work of Mircea Eliade.

18. On the verge of extinction

 

A key moment in the dispersion of AMHs over the rest of the globe happened 74,000 years ago with the disastrous explosion of the supervolcano Toba, located in northern Sumatra. This was the largest volcanic event on earth in the past two million years. It involved the explosive eruption of at least 2,800 square kilometers of tephra (Greek word for ‘ash’) , causing ash plumes to cover a large part of the world, from the south China Sea to the Arabian Sea. It left behind what still is the world’s largest caldera: Lake Toba.

For comparison: the largest volcano event in historical times was the Tambora eruption on the Indonesian island Sumbawa in 1815. It produced the ‘year without summer’ in 1816. But Toba ejected about 300 times more volcanic ash than the eruption of Tambora and caused six years of climatic deterioration (‘volcanic winter’) which in turn caused the decimation of animal and human life over very large areas.

That most paleo authors do not mention the Toba bottleneck – in the discussion between Richard Klein and his critics Hensilwood and d’Errico e.a. we don’t find any reference to the Toba event – can perhaps be ascribed to the fact that thorough research on this catastrophe is fairly recent.[1] How severe the impact has been on the total human population is still unclear, but geneticists Jore and Harpending[2] propose that all humans alive today are descendants from a very small part of the earlier population: perhaps some 8000 breeding pairs about 70.000 years ago[3]. The impact on the northern hemisphere was more severe than in the south; nevertheless also Neanderthals survived the supposed six years of volcanic winter. The AMHs had even better chances, not only because they lived farther south, but also because of their broader subsistence strategy based on hunting and gathering coastal resources (shellfish, fish, sea lions and rodents, as well as bovids and antelope).

In Jwalapuram in India, archaeologists dug through the several metres-thick Toba ash layer (see photo). First, above the Toba tuff, they found many stone artefacts from about 74,000 years ago, made from limestone, chert, chalcedony and quartzite, with blades and bladelets representing a Late Pleistocene assemblage also assigned to the Middle Paleolithic. Digging deeper, below the thick Toba tuff layer, they found many more stone tools that could be dated at about 77,000 years ago, of limestone, quarzite, and chert: scrapers, blades and a burin also identifyable as Indian Middle Paleolithic. This lithic assemblage clusters together with the lithic technology of sub-Saharan Africa, and indicates that the AMHs belonged to the first migration wave out of Africa. We will talk about this in the next paragraph.

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The Toba ash deposit layers, as excavated at Jwalapuram in Southern India. The ash layers reach from just above the bottom of the pit to halfway up the ladder. Only the bottom layer dates from immediately after the eruption: the higher layers originate from aeolian transport and slope-wash during annual monsoons into this low location.

According to the excavators, before the explosion this place was a ‘paradise’ on the shore of a lake. Then it got buried under two-to-five metres of volcanic ash. The next six years, with the atmosphere still full of ash particles, were a volcanic winter. During the next thousand years, the climate still was extreme cold: a glacial maximum[4]. But perhaps after some decennia of annual monsoons, big parts of the area became sufficiently overgrown to harbourgrass eaters again. So archaic AMHs must have lived in this area, and after the Toba explosion survivors reappeared as soon as grass vegetation and grazing animals reappeared.

The Jwalapuran excavation is not the only site showing evidence of the Out of Africa (OoA)-migration of the AMHs, both before and after the Toba explosion. Another recent excavation site is Jebel Faya[5], where 125,000 year old hand axes are found, showing a pattern of flaking seen only in early Africa. Indicating an out-of-Africa migration 20.000 earlier than thought before. Indeed, 130,000 years ago, there was a window of climate change. The Arabian Peninsula was more habitable than today.


[1] in an article in October 1993 Ann Gibbons, a staff journalist for Science, first suggested that a bottleneck in human evolution about 50,000 years ago could be linked to the Toba eruption. Rampino and Self backed up this idea in a letter to the journal later that year. The bottleneck theory was further developed by Ambrose in 1998 and Rampino & Ambrose in 2000, who invoked the Toba eruption to explain a severe culling of the human population. (Wikipedia)

[2] Population Bottleneck from Macmillan Science Library: Genetics. Copyright © 2001-2006

[3] Wikipedia “Toba catastrophe theory”

[4] OIS 3 – 63,000 to 45,000 years ago (warm)
OIS 4 – 73,000 to 63,000 years ago (cold)
OIS 5 – 130,000 to 74,000 years ago (warm)

[5] Anthropology Net 27 Jan 2011: Hans-Peter Uerpmann of the University of Tubingen and his team excavating the Jebel Faya site in the United Arab Emirates

19. Migration waves and genetic diversity

 

The first OoA-migration was around 2 millions of years ago, by H. ergaster groups. Researchers name this OoA-I, and the later one from around 100,000 years ago by the AMH groups is called OoA-II. Within the latter, we see two migration waves: OoA-IIa (between 115,000-74,000 years ago) and OoA-IIb (65,000 years ago, after the Toba bottleneck).

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The AMHs in East Africa developed from a more long and slender, ‘nilotic’[1] Middle-Stone-Age population type some 200,000 years ago. They first dispersed over the African continent,[2] replacing the Early Human populations, who disappeared. 130.000 years ago, a small group left the continent and began dispersing all over the world.

Map of early human migrations according to mitochondrial population genetics. Each character represents a different haplo group. All Out-of-Africa groups descend from the African L3M group.

OoA-IIa took place in a warm period when the Sahara barrier was green. So perhaps the first AMHs left Africa along the Nile. As mentioned above, AMH hand axes are found on the Arabian Peninsula dated 125.000 years ago. Paleos have found fossil AMH remains dated 120,000 years old in the Mount Carmel caves Skhul and Qafzeh (Israël). Their stone assemblages did not differ from those made by the Neanderthals who had survived the severe cold period after the Toba catastrophe in the same caves, which during that period were abandoned by the AMHs. The paleos see the latter as ‘archaic AMHs’, because they do not yet show the more modern life style of the Blombos populations in the Southern tip of Africa.

We can follow the migrations by looking at archaeological remains. We can also reconstruct them by looking at the dispersal of different types of musical traditions

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humans, because in the rest of the world the genetic diversity is much smaller. Tishkoff[4] also suggests that the group which migrated out of Africa came from northern East Africa. "The diversity of groups in Ethiopia and Somalia is intermediate between that of the rest of Africa and the rest of the world," according to Tishkoff: "perhaps this group was isolated from the rest of the African continent before they migrated into the Middle East and Europe." As said, this first OoA-group doesn’t show the life style of the southern AMHs of Blombos cave and other sites. So this archaic group may have been driven northwards along the Nile by the population pressure of more modern AMHs from the south. Because their first appearance outside Africa is on the Arabic Peninsula, near the Strait of Hormuz (Jeben Faya, 128,000 years ago) and they appear in the Levant 8000 years later, it is also possible that they left Africa by crossing the Strait of Bab en Mandab. Or should we suppose two emigration groups of archaic AMHs? Because their stone technology is a little different.

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Most of the ‘archaic AMHs’ (OoA-IIa) moved ‘beachcombing’ to the East. In this relatively warm period, lush vegetation on the Arabic Peninsula made it habitable for grazing animals and their human predators. Recently, African-looking hand axes have been found in Jebel Faya (UAE)[5] . From there, migration to India may have taken place, where we find them

Semang woman, descendant of OoAIIa-people

“spearing dinner and filleting meat” 76,000 years ago in Jwalapuram.[6] At the moment of the Toba catastrophe, most of them had already passed that area, beachcombing farther eastward. Their descendants populated Sundaland and eventually reached the Sahul continent (New Guinea, Australia, Tasmania). Today we still find descendants of these early AMHs in the jungle of Malaysia: the Semang (see photo). The Malaysians name them Orang Asli, and in the Philippines they are named Negritos.

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In their homeland Africa, the AMHs recovered soon after the Toba disaster. Since that time, they developed the modern life style we already mentioned: indicated by fish spears and other tools from bone, ivory and antler, shell beads, engravings on ochre lumps. And perhaps they used spoken language. About 65,000 years ago, their coastal population became large enough to start the OoA-IIb migration wave. This time, they crossed the red Sea at the Strait of Bab el Mandab. Presumably in several waves (see the second map below).

The OoAIIb-migration (post-‘Toba’)

By 45,000 years ago, or possibly earlier, they had settled in Indonesia, New Guinea and Australia.

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Today’s Australian Aboriginals are descended from the first humans to travel far from their African origins. (From: “Aboriginal genome analysis”, Nature. 477, 28 Sept. ’11)

The modern humans entered Europe, inhabited until then by Neanderthals only, around 40,000 years ago. The Neanderthals, who were Early Humans, now were confronted with a totally different kind of humans: noisy, numerous, armed with farther reaching spears and living from fish. People who didn’t react on your gestured communication. So as a Neanderthal, you could better avoid confrontations and retreat into an area without fish. By 35,000 years ago, the AMHs had populated most of the Old World and forced the Neanderthals into mountain strongholds in Croatia, the Iberian Peninsula, the Crimea and elsewhere. The Neanderthal groups became isolated from each other, suffered ever more from inbreeding and would become extinct 25,000 years ago.

Finally, around 15,000 years ago, humans crossed from Asia to North America and from there to South America. The white regions on the map is territory that was never been tread by humans before.


[1] Nilotes are often described as gracile in build, being slimmer and of greater stature than the average human, and having long limbs with very long distal segments (forearms, calves). This characteristic is thought to be a climatic adaptation to allow their bodies to shed heat more efficiently.

[2] "We found an enormous amount of diversity within and between the African populations, and we found much less diversity in non-African populations," Tishkoff told attendees today (Jan. 22) at the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science in Anaheim. "Only a small subset of the diversity in Africa is found in Europe and the Middle East, and an even narrower set is found in American Indians." (Science Daily, Jan 25, 1999)

[3] Journal of World Prehistory March 2003 “Language, Symbolism and Music – An Alternative Multidisciplinary Perspective” from Francesco d’Errico et al.

[4] Penn State University

[5] by Hans Uerpmann of the University of Tübingen and his team, in 2010

[6] according to Petraglia and his colleagues

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