The Precursors of Modern Human Beings
• The story of human evolution is very long and complicated because there are many unanswered questions and new findings often lead to modification or change in previous data and concepts.
• About 36 mya (million years ago), a category of mammals, primate, emerged in Asia and Africa.
• About 24 mya, hominids (this included apes), a subgroup among primates emerged.
• And, much later, about 5.6 mya, we find evidence of first hominids.
• Hominoids have a smaller brain than hominids. They are quadrupeds, walking on all four limbs, but with flexible forelimbs.
• Hominids, by contrast, have an upright posture and bipedal locomotion (walking on two feet).
• Two lines of evidence suggest an African origin for hominids. First, it is group of African apes that are most closely related to hominids. Second, earliest hominid fossils, which belong to genus Australopithecus, have been found in East Africa and date back to about 5.6 million years ago (mya).
• Hominids belong to a family called Hominidae, which includes all forms of human beings.
• Hominids are further subdivided into branches, called genus, of which Australopithecus and Homo are important.
• Around 2.5 mya, with onset of a phase of glaciation (or an Ice Age), when large parts of earth were covered with snow, there were major changes in climate and vegetation. Later, due to reduction in temperatures and rainfall, area of grasslands expanded, it led to gradual extinction of early forms of Australopithecus (adapted to forests) and replacement by species that were better adapted to drier conditions.
• Among these were earliest representative of genus Homo.
• Homo is a Latin word that means ‘man’ (although there were women as well).
• Scientists distinguished them differently as Homo habilis (the tool maker), Homo erectus (the upright man) and Homo sapiens (the wise or thinking man).
• The earliest fossils of Homo habilis have been discovered at Omo in Ethiopis and at Olduvai Gorge in Tanzania.
• The earliest fossils of Homo erectus have been found both in Africa and Asia: Koobi Fora and West Turkana, Kenya, Modjokerto and Sangiran, Java.
• The earliest fossils from Europe are of Homo heidelbergensis and Homo neanderthalensis.
Modern Human Beings
• The replacement model visualises complete replacement everywhere of all older forms of humans with modern humans.
• Early humans would have obtained food through several ways, such as gathering, hunting, scavenging and fishing.
• Hunting probably began later – about 500,000 years ago.
• Between 400,000 & 125,000 years ago, caves & open-air sites began to be used.
• The earliest evidence for making and use of stone tools comes from sites in Ethiopia and Kenya.
• There are several views on language development: (1) that hominid language involved gestures or hand movements; (2) that spoken language was preceded by a vocal but non-verbal communication such as singing or humming; (3) that human speech probably began with calls like ones that have been observed among primates.
• The act of painting could have been a ritual to ensure a successful hunt.
• Farming and pastoralism led to introduction of many other changes such as making of pots which were used to store grains and other products to cook food.
• The wheel, important for both pot making and transportation, came into use.
When Where Who
|5-1 mya||Sub-Saharan Africa||Australopithecus, early Homo, Homo erectus|
|1 mya-40000 years ago||Africa, Asia & Europe in mid-latitudes||Homo erectus, archaic Homo sapiens, Neanderthals, Homo sapiens sapiens (modern humans)|
|45000 years ago||Australia||Modern humans|
|40000 years ago to present||Europe in high-latitudes and Asia-Pacific islands North and South America in deserts, rain forests||Late Neanderthals, modern humans|