Friday, August 16, 2013

Four Hundred Thousand Year Old Villages

In my unpublished manuscript, Paradigms Shift, I made the conjecture that humanity made the transition from the hunting band social structure which is well represented among a number of animals to the village grade structure of less than two hundred members through access to a rich immobile feedstock.  The obvious locale for this was the tropical seashore and the protection of a coral reef.

In more recent times we have the Indians of the North West who built huge urban complexes while relying totally on gathering food from the sea without any metal at all.  Once we understand the natural fecundity, it is the obvious location to evolve the extended family systems and social intelligence needed to operate large villages.

From such beginnings it becomes inevitable that this structure will migrate inland and absorb band cultures such as the Neanderthals through sheer weight of numbers and the outright tactical advantage  of large numbers working together.  Any such social evolution would absorb all other primate populations working the same niche through forced intermarriage.

This is direct evidence that homo erectus preferred to live in easily constructed small huts and did so even if it was not too convenient out on the steppe.

One other extremely important detail.  The sea coast was the first natural resource for maximizing human populations.  Our problem is that with the Pleistocene nonconformity  around 12900 years ago, the entirety of the preceding 500,000 to 1,000,000 years of accumulated human coastal evidence was sunk and mostly destroyed under at least three hundred feet of water.

Early humans living in villages 400,000 years ago?

Monday, June 25, 2007

Our conventional understanding of human history is that modern humans — Homo sapiens — first began living in communities about 10,000 years ago, settling into a settled life of agriculture, and moving away from hunting, gathering and roving.

 Now a German researcher has proposed a theory that completely upsets the paradigm, namely, that some 400,000 years ago Homo erectus lived in stone huts in North and East Africa and used stone tools for fishing and butchery.

Helmut Ziegert, of the Institute of Archaeology at Hamburg University, has found blades, scrapers, hand axes that indicate small communities of 40 or 50 people, with nearby, abundant water resources to exploit for continual harvests.

The bold new theory, published in the archaeology journal Minerva, has supporters and detractors:

Sean Kingsley, an archaeologist and the managing editor of Minerva, said: “This research is nothing less than a quantum leap in our understanding of Man’s intellectual and social history. For archaeology it’s as radical as finding life on Mars.

“As a veteran of over 81 archaeological surveys and excavations . . . Ziegert is nothing if not scientifically cautious, which makes the current revelation all the more exciting.”

But others were far from convinced. Paul Pettitt, senior lecturer in palaeolithic archaeology at the University of Sheffield, said: “Are they truly the remains of huts and not a natural phenomenon? Do they really date 400,000 years or are they much more recent? The site formation, age and implications are all questionable.”

He said that Homo erectus was a highly mobile hunter, that human remains can accumulate for a number of reasons and that the evidence to be published by Minerva does not indicate a year-round settlement.

Homo erectus was a successful species that first appeared about 1.8 million years ago and quickly populated Africa, Asia and Europe. We last shared a common ancestor about 1 millions years ago.

It’s possible that the Ice Ages at about that time split Homo erectus into at least two lines. The African population, paleoanthropologists say, may have eventually evolved into to modern Homo sapiens, while the European branch evolved into Neanderthals.

I’m skeptical of the find because the support for the theory is coming only from the paper’s author, and the journal that published it. It’s also audacious.

But at the same time the study of the early history of man is one of constant upheaval. The fossil record is imperfect, and only in the last two decades or so has DNA evidence come along to firm up much of our knowledge in the area.

One thing has remained constant, however. The more we learn about early humans, the more they surprise us with their abilities. So too it may be with Homo erectus.

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