Beginning of Times
Modern Human Beings
Regional Continuity Model: According to this model, the archaic Homo sapiens (H. heidelbergensis, H. neanderthalensis) gradually evolved at different rates into modern humans. This explains the variation in the first appearance of modern humans in different parts of the world. Wide difference in various races around the world supports this view.
Replacement Model: According to this model, there was complete replacement of all older forms of humans with modern humans. This model advocates the African origin of modern humans. The genetic and anatomical homogeneity of modern humans support this view. The evidence of earliest fossils of modern humans (from Omo in Ethiopia) supports the replacement model.
Ways of Obtaining Food
Early humans would have obtained food through a number of ways, e.g. gathering, hunting, scavenging and fishing.
We get a fair amount of fossil bones, but fossilized remains of plants are relatively rare. If plant remains were accidentally burnt, it results in carbonization. Organic matter is preserved for a long span of time in this form. However, fossilized remains of carbonized seeds from this very early period are yet to be found. So, it is just an assumption that early humans resorted to gathering for food. Scholars have suggested that early hominids scavenged or foraged for meat and marrow from the carcasses of animals. Early hominids probably also used rodents, birds (and their eggs), reptiles and even insects as food.
Hunting probably began later, about 500,000 years ago. Discovery of fish bones from different sites suggest that fish was an important part of food. From about 35,000 years ago, there is evidence of planned hunting from some European sites. Such sites appear to be chosen deliberately; as they were near river. Early humans were aware of herds of migratory animals crossing the river during their autumn and spring migrations. This knowledge helped in large scale killing of animals.
We are on surer ground when we try to reconstruct the evidence for patterns of residence. One way of doing this is by plotting the distribution of artefacts. For example, thousands of flake tools and hand axes have been excavated at Kilombe and Olorgesailie (Kenya). These finds are dated between 700,000 and 500,000 years ago.
Some places had abundant food resources. Such places were visited repeatedly. In such areas, people must have left behind traces of their activities and presence; including artefacts.
Caves and open-air sites began to be used about 400,000 to 125,000 years ago. A 12x4 meter shelter was built against the cave wall in the Lazaret cave in southern France. There were two hearths and evidence of different food sources (fruits, vegetables, seeds, nuts, bird eggs and freshwater fish) inside this cave. The presence of the hearth indicates towards controlled use of fire.
Many other animals also make and use tools. But human beings have mastered the tool making to take it to another level. It is possible that Australopithecus were the earliest to make tools from stone. Tool making improved significantly around 35,000 years ago; with appearance of spear-throwers and the bow and arrow. These tools helped in processing the food for later use. Evidence of sewn clothing comes from about 21,000 years ago. Introduction of the punch blade technique to make small chisel-like tools enabled in making engravings on bone, antler, ivory or wood.
Modes of Communication: Language and Art
There are several views on language development.
- The hominid language involved gestures or hand movements. Spoken language was preceded by vocal but non-verbal communication such as singing or humming. Human speech probably began with call as some primates use to communicate.
- Language may have developed as early as 2 mya. The vocal chords evolved around 200,000 years ago. Vocal chords are more specifically associated with modern humans.
- A third suggestion is that language developed around the same time as art. It happened around 40,000-35,000 years ago. Hundreds of paintings of animals have been discovered in the caves of Lascaux and Chauvet (both in France) and Altamira (Spain). These paintings were made between 30,000 and 12,000 years ago. These include depictions of bison, horses, ibex, deer, mammoths, rhinos, lions, bears, panthers, hyenas and owls. Some scholars have argued that paintings of animals were associated with ritual and magic; to ensure a successful hunt. Another explanation says that these caves were possibly meeting places where people could share techniques and knowledge about hunting.
Hunter Gatherer Societies: Past to Present
Some scholars suggest that understating the life of modern day hunter-gatherer societies can help in understanding how early humans lived. Some other scholars have contrary view. In their opinion, modern day hunters live on the fringes of the society. Many of them also resort to some other economic activities; apart from occasional hunting. So, it would be incorrect to look at the distant past from modern day perspective.