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For How Long Have We Been Human?

 
 
Reply Thu 13 Sep, 2012 10:34 am
For How Long Have We Been Human?
September 13, 2012
by Barbara J. King - NPR

A piece of red ochre with a deliberately engraved design is pictured here at Cape Town's Iziko/South African Museum in 2002. The piece was discovered in Blombos Cave near Stilbaai, about 300 kilometers from Cape Town.

This year I greeted my new Biological Anthropology students with a chalked timeline of some human-evolution highlights:

6-7 million years ago: Start of the human lineage, following a split with the lineage containing chimpanzees and gorillas

2.6 mya: Onset of large-scale making and use of stone tool technology

2.5 mya: First human ancestors in our own genus, Homo

200,000 years ago: First modern humans, Homo sapiens

30,000: Cave paintings and rock paintings begin to emerge on multiple continents

Around 12,000: Onset of agriculture and human settlements. Up until this period, all human groups lived by hunting and gathering. (This transition was neither linear nor simple.)

Does one date, midway in the pack, snag the eye? 200,000 years ago, Homo sapiens emerged.

That's us.

But can we really affix a date to becoming human? Here's a question too complex for first-day-of-class lists. I've written elsewhere that I love my field because doing anthropology so often starts with agitated questions. "For how long have we been human?" surely counts as one of those.


The 200,000 date refers to the earliest known anatomically modern humans, skeletons found at places like Omo and Herto in Ethiopia. They represent people with slender body types, high foreheads, and reduced brow ridges compared to Neanderthals or earlier human ancestors.

But no one would argue that becoming human is about anatomy.

And who's to say that Neanderthals, though a different species, weren't human? They looked different from us — more robust, with thicker and strong bones and a different shape skull. But they made sophisticated tools and, at least in some places, thought symbolically and buried their dead. Neanderthals co-existed with us, and as we're just finding out, so did the Denisovan people living in Siberia tens of thousands of years ago.

So when did modern behavior emerge? Talk about fraught questions!

Last year, archaeologist Christopher Henshilwood and his team described what they term a paint factory at Blombos Cave, a Homo sapiens site perched on a cliff overlooking South Africa's Indian Ocean. There, people used tools to grind ocher into powder, and applied charcoal and oil from seal bones to mix up red and yellow paint. There's a short video clip included here that offers good visual access to the artifacts.

We don't know how the paints were used: no painted walls or objects have been found. Perhaps people painted their bodies?

In any case, it's the date of this paint factory that is jaw-dropping: 100,000 years ago. For a long time anthropologists didn't expect to find this sort of pointer to complex human symbolic and creative activity so long ago or, it has to be said, in Africa. (The home of modern human behavior had been thought to be Europe.)

Were the people living at Blombos carrying out modern human behaviors? Christopher Henshilwood thinks the answer to that question is a resounding "yes."

Right now (even as scientists search for older evidence elsewhere), it seems that there may have been a newly creative and inventive period in Europe around 40,000 years ago. That's where and when, it was announced this summer, we find new manifestations of humanity, including musical instruments such as flutes of bird bones and mammoth ivory found in Germany.

One thing my students will learn this semester is that straightforward questions about humans and our past rarely have straightforward answers. That's precisely what makes asking the questions in the first place so worthwhile, and fabulously enjoyable.

http://www.npr.org/blogs/13.7/2012/09/11/160934187/for-how-long-have-we-been-human
 
dalehileman
 
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Reply Thu 13 Sep, 2012 10:53 am
@BumbleBeeBoogie,
Bee I've often reflected on the same and Ms King is to be congratulated for her curiosity, erudition and eloquence

Quote:
So when did modern behavior emerge?

I think all the sorts of changes she contemplates were so slow to develop and so various in detail as to baffle the most inquisitive observer

And Bee, this isn't a criticism but a matter of curiosity. Evidently you copy-pasted the entire article, a most common practice hereabout. But why not just the link
BumbleBeeBoogie
 
  2  
Reply Thu 13 Sep, 2012 11:26 am
@dalehileman,
And Bee, this isn't a criticism but a matter of curiosity. Evidently you copy-pasted the entire article, a most common practice hereabout. But why not just the link

I post the complete article because it may not be available in a day or two to find it. I also think sometimes just the title will not attract a reader.

BBB

dalehileman
 
  1  
Reply Thu 13 Sep, 2012 11:36 am
@BumbleBeeBoogie,
Quote:
I post the complete article because it may not be available in a day or two to find it.
Aha good reason Bee

Quote:
I also think sometimes just the title will not attract a reader.
Understand I'm from an era when bytes and bits were far more expensive

However another approach when feasible is to use just the link but include comment that might invite participation
Joe Nation
 
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Reply Thu 13 Sep, 2012 01:45 pm
@dalehileman,
Dale: Don't mess with success.

BBB posts the article.
We get to read it without having to open any further pages.

Less effort, not more.

Suit yourself, let BBB do her thing.

~~
Now, do you have anything to say about the actual OP?

Joe(I haven't a clue when I became human.)Nation


dalehileman
 
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Reply Thu 13 Sep, 2012 01:56 pm
@Joe Nation,
Quote:
Dale: Don't mess with success.
Not so much messing but questioning
Was a time somewhere if the baby came out feet first they'd kill it, and I suppose them who did it considered themselves successful

Quote:
BBB posts the article.
We get to read it without having to open any further pages.
Yes we do

Quote:
Less effort, not more.
Yet the original has color illustrations with captions etc, something we wouldn't suppose 'til we find the link at the end

Quote:
Suit yourself,
Almost always

Quote:
let BBB do her thing.
Wouldn't think of interfering

~~
Quote:
Now, do you have anything to say about the actual OP?
See my post #...692 above
0 Replies
 
rosborne979
 
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Reply Thu 13 Sep, 2012 03:04 pm
@BumbleBeeBoogie,
BumbleBeeBoogie wrote:
For How Long Have We Been Human?
I suppose the article already pointed this out, but we need to figure out what is is to "be human" before we can figure out how long we've been that way.

If "being human" is an arbitrary goal of common behavior which we stive for but haven't achieved, then we may not be "human" yet, and we may never be.
0 Replies
 
Joe Nation
 
  3  
Reply Fri 14 Sep, 2012 09:34 am
It was mid-summer, one hundred twenty two thousand three hundred and fourteen years ago.
On a Thursday.
About four in the afternoon.
Three guys returned from a hunting trip all excited with what they had.
The women met them at the entrance of the cave.

"You're not bringing that muddy bloody thing in here!
We've been cleaning all day.
Take it down to the river, wash it all up and yourselves while you're at it.
P-U!!
We'll start a fire.
Don't forget to make a sharp tool to cut it up with"


The men headed down the hill to the riverbed.
One of them turned to another and said:
"What the hell just happened?"


Joe(and so humanity was born, sort of.)Nation



BumbleBeeBoogie
 
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Reply Fri 14 Sep, 2012 10:02 am
@Joe Nation,
http://www.google.com/imgres?hl=en&sa=X&biw=800&bih=436&tbm=isch&prmd=imvns&tbnid=r3L6knxtNWkd5M:&imgrefurl=http://www.information-facts.com/politics/lol-is-used-when-the-person-isnt-really-laughing-out-loud&docid=Pj3tVxqGr-tnBM&imgurl=http://www.information-facts.com/wp-content/uploads/LaughOutLoud1.jpg&w=1600&h=741&ei=61RTUOn5OYSvygGEjIHADg&zoom=1&iact=hc&vpx=175&vpy=153&dur=6133&hovh=153&hovw=330&tx=114&ty=172&sig=110801962225853157207&page=1&tbnh=58&tbnw=125&start=0&ndsp=10&ved=1t:429,r:6,s:0,i:161
Joe Nation
 
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Reply Fri 14 Sep, 2012 10:42 am
@BumbleBeeBoogie,
Glad you liked that.

Joe(What do you mean I have to go Gathering with you? I hate Gathering.)Nation
0 Replies
 
Abishai100
 
  1  
Reply Tue 29 Oct, 2013 03:28 pm
@BumbleBeeBoogie,
Can we study this question backwards?

The dominant approach is to use archaeology (etc.), but what if we use modern cultural anthropological approaches to understanding human evolution processes? Such studies could aid in our investigation of real-time behavioral analysis.

For example, relatively modern anthropological processes have given rise to a cultural medley in Fez, Morocco (Africa) and New Orleans, Louisiana (North America).

Fez offers a cultural mix of peoples from Muslim, African, and French backgrounds, while New Orleans offers a cultural mix of peoples from French, Native-American, African, and Haitian backgrounds.

How does a comparison between Fez and New Orleans reveal the human processes that give rise to species divergences, convergences, and behavioral integration? How did early man evolve across multiple types of Earth terrains?
0 Replies
 
Lustig Andrei
 
  1  
Reply Tue 29 Oct, 2013 04:03 pm
@BumbleBeeBoogie,
Thanx for posting that,BBB. It's something I've thought about quite a lot -- at what point does it become meaningful to call a primate 'human'? I haven't made up my mind on that yet. Apparently neither has Dr. King.
0 Replies
 
 

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