Human Beings Almost Everywhere 200,000 – 10,000 BCE Big Era Two
Remember Big Era One? Imagine that your friend got stuck at the beginning of Big Era One, but you’ve made it to the end! You feel sorry for her, because you got to see so much. Write her a LETTER telling her what happened in Big Era One. First, can you remember what happened in Big Era One?
What happened in Big Era One? Big Bang!
The Universe popped up 13 billion years ago. (That’s where you are, right?)
Stars and Galaxies popped up from about 12 billion years ago.
Our Sun and Earth popped up about 4.6 billion years ago.
Life popped up on Earth about 3.8 billion years ago.
What else happened in Big Era One?
Complicated life-forms showed up after about 600 million years.
Some organisms got onto the land from about 400 million years ago.
Dinosaurs ruled the earth until about 67 million years ago.
Then our hominid ancestors showed up.
When did we appear? Big Era Two is the first era in which there were human beings, people like you and me (ME?) (Remember, they appeared at the end of Big Era One!) So, what IS so special about humans?
How, when, and where did we become human?
Meet one of our close ancestors, Homo erectus .
Homo erectus was one of the hominid groups that was developing increasingly large brains in both Africa and Asia between about 500,000 and 200,000 years ago.
This is a reconstructed Homo erectus skull, found in northern China. It dates to some time after 1.6 million years ago. Homo erectus 1.8 mil. yrs ago 27k 250k yrs ago Today Big Eras 3-9 10k Brain Development 500k – 200k yrs ago Big Era 1 Big Era 2
Homo erectus was a traveler! Homo erectus began migrating to southerly parts of Eurasia sometime after about 1.8 million years ago. Homo erectus 200k yrs ago Today Big Eras 3-9 10k 1.8 mil. yrs ago 27k Big Era 1 Big Era 2
Homo sapiens (that’s us!) evolved from Homo erectus
By 200,000 years ago, people whose skeletons were like those of Homo sapiens were already living in Africa.
Between that time and about 100,000 years ago, people who were both anatomically and genetically “like us” emerged in eastern and southern Africa.
This is a reconstructed Homo sapiens skull, found in Israel. It has been dated to about 90,000 years ago. Today Big Eras 3-9 10k years ago Big Era 2 Big Era 1 200k yrs ago Human Origins: Homo sapiens in Africa 100k yrs ago S.W. Asia 200k yrs ago Human Origins: Homo sapiens in Africa
Homo sapiens traveled even further than Homo erectus . From their African homeland, Homo sapiens groups migrated to… … Where? See the Map!
Migrations of Homo sapiens Possible coastal routes of human migration Possible landward routes of human migration Migrations in Oceania Human Origins 200,000-250,000 years ago Southwest Asia 100,000 years ago Europe 40,000 years ago Siberia 40,000 years ago Australia as many as 60,000 years ago North America 12,000-30,000 years ago Oceania 1600 B.C.E.-500 C.E. Chile 12,000-13 ,000 years ago
That’s amazing! Why were modern humans able to move into so many different environments? After all, no other large animals had spread so widely! So what was so special about us? 40k yrs ago Europe & Siberia 60k yrs ago Australia 100k yrs ago S.W. Asia 40k yrs ago Europe & Siberia 60k yrs ago Australia 100k yrs ago S.W. Asia 13k yrs ago Americas 200k yrs ago Human Origins Today Big Eras 3-9 10k years ago Big Era 2 Big Era 1
Homo sapiens had language
so they could exchange complex ideas with each other.
and they could store and add to the ideas of previous generations.
Because they swapped ideas, they kept finding
new ways of doing things.
new ways of living.
Language Shared Ideas New Ideas Learning
Language made collective learning possible.
The stores of knowledge and skills humans built up are called “culture.”
No other animal can store and accumulate knowledge and skills in this way.
We call this ability “collective learning.”
It is what human history is about! It is what makes us special!
Storing up and building on new skills and new knowledge is what set our species on the path of continuing cultural changes that led to the world we now live in.
Monte Alban, Oaxaca, Mexico, 200 BCE Great Zimbabwe, Southern Africa, 1300-1500 CE Towers, Kuwait City, Today
At first, changes in technology were very slow.
After about 100,000 years ago, the pace of change began to increase.
Evidence appears from about that time of humans living in east, central, and southern Africa. They were:
How did collective learning change human culture?
Making more advanced and varied tools.
Experimenting with body decoration and abstract symbols.
For example, Blombos Cave
Remains discovered at Blombos Cave are one example of the more complex culture some humans were developing as many as 90,000 years ago. View looking out of Blombos Cave to the Indian Ocean Bone points from the cave Ochre piece with scrape marks. A person may have scraped the ochre to get powder to use to make body paint.
The people who lived in this seaside camp:
Made sharp stone spear points using methods that appeared in Eurasia only 50,000 or more years later.
Made objects from bone, the earliest use of this material known.
Scored bits of bone and ochre with marks that may have had symbolic meaning.
From about 40,000 years ago, archaeological evidence shows faster and faster cultural change and increasing complexity.
Humans began to:
Create both naturalistic
and abstract art.
Make more specialized tools.
Weave and knot fiber.
Build semi-permanent structures.
The engraved horse panel in the Cave of Chauvet-Pont-D’Arc in southern France. The image is about 31,000 years old. Venus of the Kostenki I site in Russia dated to about 23,000 years ago. This stone female head is wearing headgear of woven basketry. Acceleration!
By the time humans appeared, our closest living relatives were probably the hominids known as “Neandertals” (or, “Neanderthals”).
When Homo sapiens groups arrived in western Asia and Europe, Neandertals were already there. By 100,000 years ago Neandertals were living from Spain to Inner Eurasia.
They had a long record of living successfully in both warm and cold environments. But they disappeared from the record about 28,000 years ago.
Were other surviving hominids changing in the same way as Homo sapiens?
Did Homo sapiens meet Neandertals? Approximate geographical range of Neandertals, 100,000-28,000 years ago Approximate geographical range of Homo sapiens by 28,000 years ago
Members of the two species may have met in Southeast Asia.
The last physical traces of Homo erectus , dating to about 28,000 years ago, were discovered in Java. By that time Homo sapiens was already living in that region.
Range of last surviving Homo erectus Did Homo Sapiens meet Homo Erectus ?
Would they have:
Learned from each other?
Eaten each other?
What do you think might have happened when Homo sapiens met Neandertals or Homo erectus ?
Homo sapiens and other species
We’re not sure what might have happened if Homo sapiens met Neandertals or Homo erectus , but we do know that these two hominid species died out.
And so did many other large animals, called megafauna, which once roamed the earth.
What might these extinctions tell us about our own species?
What happened in Big Era Two?
Humans appeared, and they started TALKING!
Therefore, they could share new ideas and build up a store of ideas – what we call “culture.”
They learned to live in many different environments.
And they migrated to all the world’s major landmasses and many of its islands, big and small.
Before you answer that question, let’s review …
So what do you think is so special about Homo sapiens ? What does it mean to be human? Why does human history matter? Stay tuned for Big Era Three!