Earliest humans not so different from us, research suggests

Feb 14, 2011
"Stone points dating to at least 104,000 years ago from Omo Kibish, Ethiopia. These points, shaped by pressure-flaking and likely used as projectile points are more than 65,000 years older than the oldest similar artifacts from the European Upper Paleolithic Period. The Omo Kibish toolmakers showed equal skill at making similar points out of very different kinds of stone. (Photo courtesy of John Shea, Stony Brook University)

(PhysOrg.com) -- That human evolution follows a progressive trajectory is one of the most deeply-entrenched assumptions about our species. This assumption is often expressed in popular media by showing cavemen speaking in grunts and monosyllables (the GEICO Cavemen being a notable exception). But is this assumption correct? Were the earliest humans significantly different from us?

In a paper published in the latest issue of , archaeologist John Shea (Stony Brook University) shows they were not.

The problem, Shea argues, is that archaeologists have been focusing on the wrong measurement of early . Archaeologists have been searching for evidence of "behavioral modernity", a quality supposedly unique to Homo sapiens, when they ought to have been investigating "behavioral variability," a quantitative dimension to the behavior of all living things.

research began in Europe, and the European Upper Paleolithic has long been the standard against which the behavior of earlier and non-European humans is compared. During the Upper Paleolithic (45,000-12,000 years ago), Homo sapiens fossils first appear in Europe together with complex stone tool technology, carved bone tools, complex projectile weapons, advanced techniques for using fire, cave art, beads and other personal adornments. Similar behaviors are either universal or very nearly so among recent humans, and thus, archaeologists cite evidence for these behaviors as proof of human behavioral modernity.

Yet, the oldest Homo sapiens fossils occur between 100,000-200,000 years ago in Africa and southern Asia and in contexts lacking clear and consistent evidence for such behavioral modernity. For decades anthropologists contrasted these earlier "archaic" African and Asian humans with their "behaviorally-modern" Upper Paleolithic counterparts, explaining the differences between them in terms of a single "Human Revolution" that fundamentally changed human biology and behavior. disagree about the causes, timing, pace, and characteristics of this revolution, but there is a consensus that the behavior of the earliest Homo sapiens was significantly that that of more-recent "modern" humans.

Shea tested the hypothesis that there were differences in behavioral variability between earlier and later Homo sapiens using stone tool evidence dating to between 250,000- 6000 years ago in eastern Africa. This region features the longest continuous archaeological record of Homo sapiens behavior. A systematic comparison of variability in stone tool making strategies over the last quarter-million years shows no single behavioral revolution in our species' evolutionary history. Instead, the evidence shows wide variability in Homo sapiens toolmaking strategies from the earliest times onwards. Particular changes in stone tool technology can be explained in terms of the varying costs and benefits of different toolmaking strategies, such as greater needs for cutting edge or more efficiently-transportable and functionally-versatile tools. One does not need to invoke a "human revolution" to account for these changes, they are explicable in terms of well-understood principles of behavioral ecology.

This study has important implications for archaeological research on human origins. Shea argues that comparing the behavior of our most ancient ancestors to Upper Paleolithic Europeans holistically and ranking them in terms of their "behavioral modernity" is a waste of time. There are no such things as modern humans, Shea argues, just Homo sapiens populations with a wide range of behavioral variability. Whether this range is significantly different from that of earlier and other hominin species remains to be discovered. However, the best way to advance our understanding of human behavior is by researching the sources of behavioral variability in particular adaptive strategies.

Explore further: Bronze Age wine cellar found

More information: John Shea, "Homo sapiens is as Homo sapiens was: Behavioral variability vs. 'behavioral modernity' in Paleolithic archaeology." Current Anthropology 54:1 (February 2011).

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User comments : 28

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dogbert
2.9 / 5 (18) Feb 14, 2011
Wow. An archaeologist who finds that human beings were human beings from the beginning of the archaeological record of human beings.

Good work.
zslewis91
3.2 / 5 (9) Feb 14, 2011
dogbert....dogshit.
kaasinees
2.1 / 5 (11) Feb 14, 2011
Haha dogbert i would rate you a 10 if i could.
FrankHerbert
1 / 5 (52) Feb 14, 2011
kevinrts, when was the flood?
trekgeek1
2 / 5 (4) Feb 14, 2011
The whole problem is what dogbert alluded to. You need to decide when exactly humans appeared. If you arbitrarily draw the line farther back, they are less similar compared to drawing the line only 100,000 years ago.
Egleton
1.8 / 5 (5) Feb 14, 2011
The article is nonsense.
No-one is as clever as me.
kevinrtrs
1 / 5 (14) Feb 15, 2011
@FrankHerbert: The flood was shortly before the dispersion of people from the tower of Babel! So if you can figure that out, you'll know when the flood occurred ;-)

Given the confusion caused by the different languages its not surprising people were dispersed from the area right across the globe. Possibly to prevent too much fighting amongst them?

It's mainly due to this dispersion that people LOST knowledge - some lost metal tool making skills possessed only by others, whilst some lost agriculture etc. As a result people most probably had to relearn these skills and whilst doing so had to live in caves and the like.

So this particular research finding - although very theoretical, supports this idea coming from Genesis - that people were all the same and already possessed the same human characteristics as we do today.
By the way there's only one skin colour - it's only the pigmentation levels that differ. Hence "race" has a questionable meaning.
Bog_Mire
5 / 5 (8) Feb 15, 2011
Kev doesn't need to give the date, just like your kids don't have to supply a reason for the tooth fairy's generosity. He is a Nimrod. Babel = Hebrew for confusion, so Kev is talkin about a tower of confusion. Apt. He is very confused. He is on a science site, spouting more fantasies than Lewis Carroll:"Why, sometimes I've believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast."
Bog_Mire
4.6 / 5 (5) Feb 15, 2011
And Kev, what happened to all the kangaroos, echidnas, wombats, koala bears, and tons of non-swimming stuff that didn't get an invitation onto the Ark before the flood wiped em out? How come Kev. Please tell us how it is so.
Birger
4.7 / 5 (7) Feb 15, 2011
Hahaha, young-Earth creationists and "Noah's Floodists", without them satire would be poorer!
orsr
5 / 5 (3) Feb 15, 2011
Makes sence. People did not swing from tree to tree eating bananas on Monday and then cook giant sloths hunted down with stone spears on Tuesday.
It took people long time to come up with better survival strategies until the neolithic revolution.
Ethelred
5 / 5 (7) Feb 15, 2011
Wow. An archaeologist who finds that human beings were human beings from the beginning of the archaeological record of human beings.
Wow dogbert lying about science. Who could have possibly expected it.

Pretty much everyone.

There are no such things as modern humans, Shea argues, just Homo sapiens populations with a wide range of behavioral variability.
Homo Sapiens are not the first humans. Homo Erectus was around much longer than we have been and Homo Neanderthalensis was pretty different from us.

Ethelred
Ethelred
5 / 5 (6) Feb 15, 2011
The flood was shortly before the dispersion of people from the tower of Babel! So if you can figure that out, you'll know when the flood occurred ;-)
So when was that Kevin. You seem the expert so you should have an answer.

So when was the Flood Kevin, or the Tower of Babel. Either will do as you so kindly pointed out while evading the question.

Perhaps it is the total lack of evidence for either Babel, the Flood or Adam that is the reason you won't answer.
It's mainly due to this dispersion that people LOST knowledge
Actually if it had happened any loss of knowledge would have been due to having their brains scrambled via the destruction of their old language. But it didn't happen.
As a result people most probably had to relearn these skills and whilst doing so had to live in caves and the like.
Which would mean that no one would have remembered the non-existent Flood.
So this particular research finding - although very theoretical
Its crap actually.

More
Ethelred
5 / 5 (6) Feb 15, 2011
, supports this idea coming from Genesis - that people were all the same and already possessed the same human characteristics as we do today.
And so is that.

By the way there's only one skin colour - it's only the pigmentation levels that differ. Hence "race" has a questionable meaning.
There is more to race the skin color. Tooth size for instance. Australian Aborigines have ENORMOUS teeth and they have had them for tens of thousand of years. Funny how that never changed but should have if they had been wiped out and replaced by Noah's ancestors.

Ethelred
mrcircumspect
3 / 5 (2) Feb 15, 2011
ethelred: I am not supporter of the creationistic tales, but if you examine it, there are flood / destruction myths in every ethnos in the world.
panorama
4.5 / 5 (2) Feb 15, 2011
ethelred: I am not supporter of the creationistic tales, but if you examine it, there are flood / destruction myths in every ethnos in the world.


True, there are a lot of myths in the world. Does that strengthen or weaken the "Noah" story? I would say weaken because "if you examine it" a lot of these stories seem to be retelling of other cultures myths.
Ethelred
5 / 5 (7) Feb 15, 2011
but if you examine it, there are flood / destruction myths in every ethnos in the world.
There are floods in every part of the world. Not A SINGLE flood, a bunch of local floods. Many of the flood stories collected by those fond of Creationism are NOT local stories but new stories based what they have heard from Christians.

There are also a lot of fire stories.

What I am asking, and Kevin clearly knows it, is when HIS story is supposed to have happened. I know the usual Biblical answer and I know the severe problems it has with reality. Apparently Kevin also knows it but instead of accepting it and changing his mind he would rather hold his breath until his face turns blue and pretend the the brain damage will make the awful truth go away.

The truth is the was no such flood. No Tower of Babel. No six days of creation. No man created on the sixth day after animals nor man created before the animals as in Genesis two. Those are just stories.

Ethelred
Johannes414
2.3 / 5 (9) Feb 15, 2011
Once again clear evidence that the Biblical account is much more reliable than those evolution fairy tales.
kaasinees
1 / 5 (1) Feb 15, 2011
is kevin a jehova witness?
mrcircumspect
2.3 / 5 (3) Feb 15, 2011
Ethelred: You are mistaken when you say that various cultures flood / destruction myths are influenced by post-modern religious efforts. The god-destruction mythos pre-dates by centuries if not millenia any influence or conversion efforts -- be it by Islam, Judaism, Christianity.
TrustTheONE
5 / 5 (1) Feb 15, 2011
you all need to watch the battlestar galactica series. It all began out there! Frak Cylons!
Tachyon8491
1.8 / 5 (5) Feb 15, 2011
From proconsul through Australopithecus, Homo Erectus, Habilis, Neanderthalensis and a few other minor strains to Sapiens, is an anagenetic and also cladogenetic evolutionary track - the fact that cranial volume varied, peaking up to 1400 cc and has come down again in average Sapiens, is an indication of conservation of neuronal computational and metabolic-rate resource contrasted with CNS latency in the face of environmental adaptation. The idea that there is no slowly transitioning threshold between ancient (archeoanthropological precursor) phases and modern humans, is a reductionistic nonsense of the first calibre.
Anyway, everyone knows that, as James Ussher after much research generated in his two-volume "Annals of the World", all phase boundaries of evolution are reduced to one miraculously instantaneous mature ontological moment exactly in 4004 B.C. We just don't know which month it was.

FV
Terrible_Bohr
5 / 5 (1) Feb 15, 2011
I always thought it was amusing that Ussher was the _Primate_of All Ireland.
Ethelred
4 / 5 (4) Feb 16, 2011
Once again clear evidence that the Biblical account is much more reliable than those evolution fairy tales.
I saw VERY clear evidence that the Bible is wrong. NOTHING that was against evolution. Just a silly claim about technology. And a world with human around tens of thousands of years before Adam.

Ethelred
Ethelred
4 / 5 (4) Feb 16, 2011
Ethelred: You are mistaken when you say that various cultures flood / destruction myths are influenced by post-modern religious efforts.
No. I am exactly correct. Greece for instance has TWO myths. The ORIGINAL myth which is not related to the Bible and a much later one that is clearly based on the Biblical version. Greece is inhabited by people that originally came from Anatolia and it is not surprising that they, like Sumeria, have a really serious flood tale as they could very easily have picked it up from the same source as the Sumerians.

The god-destruction mythos pre-dates by centuries if not millenia any influence or conversion efforts -- be it by Islam, Judaism, Christianity.
Would you care to give ANY evidence to support that for the New World. Destruction myths are INHERENT in living in a world with disasters. So I don't see any point to your disagreeing with me on saying that.

More
Ethelred
5 / 5 (4) Feb 16, 2011
IF you are carefully avoiding saying the YOU think there are Flood stories very similar to the Biblical one that are not based on the Bible you are simply wrong. If you are simply stating the obvious that people have myths about destruction then whats the point? I know people have myths about destruction. They don't have the Biblical flood unless they got it from the same source as the Biblical source. And that Flood simply isn't real as told in the Bible.

Ethelred
Skeptic_Heretic
5 / 5 (2) Feb 20, 2011
ethelred: I am not supporter of the creationistic tales, but if you examine it, there are flood / destruction myths in every ethnos in the world.

And that would be due to the massive global sea level rise that swallowed previously inhabited lands like Dogerland in Northern Europe, The Black Sea region in Eurasia, The Mediterranean Sea, the Aegian Sea, etc when the ice dam on the Laurentide ice sheet gave way. It was not a catastrophic global flood that killed all life, but if you're a superstitous cave man who sees the ocean rising by meters each year, you'd think a god had something to do with it.

FYI, this was about 7-9000 BC according to the geological record. Predating writing, but not early civilization. It would most certainly manifest as myth within the cultures of humanity, much as the story of Troy, historically forgotten, was considered myth until located. The trojan myth says the walls were built by gods, but we know the walls of Troy weren't built by gods.
kaasinees
2 / 5 (4) Feb 21, 2011
So you'r saying that kevin is lagging 10k years behind of us?