Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Out of Africa

“Out of Africa: The Human Diaspora in the Neolithic and Paleolithic Ages”

While you are drawing your maps enjoy the first 21 minutes of Stanley Kubrik's 2001: A Space Odyssey

I. Paleolithic Age

A. Descent from gorillas—man’s closest relatives in the animal kingdom are three members of the ape family: the modern gorilla, the chimpanzee, and the bonobo (aka pygmy chimp)

B. Early humans—about 7 million years ago (or 5 to 9 million years ago), a population of apes in Africa broke up into several populations: the gorilla, the two species of chimpanzee, and the group that eventually evolved into humans.

1. Australopithecus africanas—inhabited the earth between 2-3 million years ago; characterized by a larger brain than simian counterparts. Began the use of crude stone tools (which some apes use, as well)

2. Homo habilis—is thought to have lived between 2.5 and 1.6 million years ago. Homo habilis is the least human-like of the early humans, and its cranial capacity was about half that of modern humans.

3. Homo erectus—believed to be the first true human to venture out of Africa; fossils from Homo erectus were discovered in Asia (on the island of Java—aka Java Man), and date from about 1.8 million years ago. Scientists recently have argued that Homo habilis and Homo erectus share a common ancestor (a kind of “missing link”), rather than erectus evolving from habilis

C. Homo sapiens—generally recognized as the earliest man. Still had smaller brains than modern humans, still relied upon the use of crude stone tools, and their migration pattern still relied upon those areas that they could walk to

D. Homo neanderthalensis—the world Neanderthal is commonly used today as a put-down for behavior we find crude or offensive (or to sell us insurance), but Neanderthal man himself actually had a larger brain than modern man. Neanderthal man populated much of Europe and western Asia, and are the first humans we have evidence of caring for their sick and burying their dead.

E. “The Great Leap Forward”

1. East African sites—Homo sapiens begin using standardized stone tools (meaning several tools of similar manufacture and apparently used for similar purposes), as well as the first jewelry (ostrich shell beads) about 50,000 years ago.

2. Near East (the so-called “Fertile Crescent”) experienced similar developments about 40,000 years ago, which implies that these two areas were in contact with one another (an early trade network)

3. Cro-Magnon man—first to begin to use more complex tools, and material other than stone

a. Bones—bone can be shaped into specific types of tools like fish hooks, needles, and awls, which allowed Cro-Magnon man to expand and diversify their diet, and led to the manufacture of clothing, which permitted these people to better withstand colder climates

b. Also manufactured weapons like harpoons, spear throwers, and eventually the bow and arrow, which allowed them to more safely hunt and kill larger, more dangerous animals—and increase their caloric intake, as well. Neanderthals had been susceptible to broken bones, thought to have been caused by having to wrestle down the larger animals.

b. Developed artwork—Cro-Magnon people were among the first to produce works of art; the best known example is Lascaux Cave in southwestern France

c. Cro-Magnon people in Europe seem to have fairly quickly replaced the Neanderthal people living there previously; whether this was by conquest, or by inter-breeding and assimilation scientists cannot say definitively (although recent evidence suggests that it may have been by inter-breeding)

F. Early colonization

1. The Ice Ages—over various millennia, the amount of ice on the earth has waxed and waned (this is one of the arguments used by global warming denialists to argue against human causes for global warming). During periods of glacialization, a great deal of water was locked up as ice, dropping ocean levels significantly, and allowing some early peoples to migrate to areas that previously had been islands (and would return to being islands when that particular ice age ended). It also eventually allowed early humans to cross the Bering Strait, separating Asia from North America, as recently as 10,000 years ago.

b. “Virgin” hunting grounds—these peoples found plentiful game, which the probably quickly hunted into extinction, since their new technology greatly increased the killing capability of humans, and the animals had developed no fear of humans to this point.; at any rate, large numbers of large mammals die off as these new people begin to share the continent with them (does this lead to the creation of the belief that man should live in harmony with nature? Quite possibly).

II. Paleolithic societies

A. Foraging societies—all early Paleolithic societies were foraging societies—that is, hunters/gatherers. Since hunting was very much a hit or miss proposition (and still mostly miss at this point, before the development of accurate spear throwing and the bow and arrow), and most of the diet of these peoples was reliant upon the grains, fruit, roots, and shoots that the gatherers were able to find.

Gender-based societal roles—at this early point, hunting was already a male occupation, while gathering the other food was largely the domain of females; however, because most of the band was reliant upon the food gathered for their day-to-day sustenance, this was not a low status occupation.

1. Gathering was a way not only for women to gain status in the band, but also fostered bonds to feed all the members of the band.

2. Hunting—although the luck of hunters was much more hit and miss, meat from the hunt was still highly sought after; hunting itself was an act of cooperation among all of the hunters, because these groups were most successful in frightening an animal to fun off a cliff or into a snare they laid, rather than relying upon one or two superior hunters to kill of prey.

3. Cooperation between members of the band made their survival possible (“From each according to his abilities, to each according to his needs”).

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