More on early humans

4 Sep 2011

At there is a report on a study from an American university by archaeologist John Shea which claims early humans were variants of Homo sapiens rather than different species. The evidence in the ground shows a wide variability in human tool making strategies from the earliest times onwards. He argues there is no such things as modern humans, as such, just different kinds of behaviour. The study appear in Current Anthropology (Feb 2011) so it is a bit stale but its an interesting idea as it is a mattero faith that humans evolved in progressive stages of ability so that Homo erectus was in some way inferior to Homo neanderthalis and he in turn was inferior to Homo sapiens sapiens (modern humans). This idea probably has its roots in Darwinian evolution but it is also akin to Socialist political theory rather than actual biological facts. The idea therefore has an inbuilt bias with a political origin, a feature permeating anthropology in other ways. Why that should be so is possibly connected to when (the time) when anthropology was popularised, coinciding perhaps with the rise of that particular political idiom. John Shea may have otherwise unknown reasons for bracketing all human groups in one mixing bowl but it is now considered possible that Homo erectus expanded around the coasts and along rivers by the use of boats or rafts, even island hopping. Homo erectus is also known to have lived in villages - presumably in huts. Neanderthals, your archetypal cave man living on a diet of mammoths and other large mammals, is now known to be false. They may have used mammoth bones as houses simply because there were so many bones lying around and they were seen as a resource to be exploited. Not only that their diet consisted of mainly small mammals, leaves, roots and berries, a varied intake much like modern humans. Likewise, they probably went about their daily business picking leaves as they walked, much like apes do - especially when they came across plants they were partial to, taking advantage of windfalls such as berries, fruit and nuts. Making a case for an evolutionary and slow road to human development, culminating in modern humans, simply by cataloguing stone tools and an assumed route of development, ignores the possibility of catastrophes. In such cases large drops in human population may have exacerbated variations and led to reversals, caused physical traits in regions to emerge, and so on. Catastrophism fits the evolutionary model quite perfectly - but is the uniformitarian model so accommodating?