Have chimps entered the Stone Age?

Over 3 million years ago our distant australopithecine ancestors made tools more complex than anything modern day apes can make, the oldest evidence for stone tools dates back 3.4 My old cut marks on ancient animal bones showing signs of having been butchered with stone tools, the next oldest finds are the Lomekwi tool industry, which I’ve gone over before. The Lomekwi tool industry is much more complex than what even chimps can make, but much more primitive than even the Oldowan tools made by early *Homo*. Whoever the makers of the Lomekwi tools were, they deliberately singled out large rocks, at the expense of smaller ones, and their tools are heavier than any stone age tools discovered since then, the largest one weighing 15 kilos.

This is a video by the small and underrated channel North 02 who goes over the common headline that chimps have entered the stone age, he points out that even fish use rocks as tools, and to say that they’ve only recently entered the stone age is ludicrous, we’ve known that chimps have been making tools for at the very least thousands of years (that in and of itself may be due to chimps observing ancient humans making and using stone tools, rather than any innovation among themselves).

I wrote this synopsis of the video both to flesh it out a little bit (specifically the archaeologically focused segment) and provide an explanation of what the video’s about for people uninterested in watching Youtube videos.

800ky old human proteome unlocked

https://www.nature.com/articles/s41586-020-2153-8

The dental proteome of the 800k year old archaic human Homo antecessor has been decoded using fancy new methods of extracting ancient biomolecules from their hosts.

If you’re not aware, Homo antecessor was a variant of Homo erectus that inhabited Europe for a time span of ultimately 400ky from 1.2 Ma to 800kya, but were ultimately a dead end in terms of evolution. It was thought they may have been the progenitor species of archaic hominin from which modern humans, Neanderthals, Homo heidelbergensis, and Denisovans arose, but it turns out they were a sister taxon not directly ancestral to any of the populations I listed above.

However, it is known that when the ancestors of the Neanderthals and Denisovans (the so-called “Neandersovans”) left Africa, they intermixed with a so-called “super-archaic” that were the remnants of an extremely early human migration out of Africa, some 1.9 Ma.

Make of that what you will.

Ice Age Murder Mystery

Deep in a Romanian cave laid buried a skull for over thirty thousand years….. this skull held testament to a brutal, vicious murder that occurred over 30 thousand years ago. Who this skull belonged to we don’t know, too much time has passed. We don’t even know the context he was buried in….. only that he was murdered, brutally by a left-handed foe. He lived in a pivotal moment in human history, he belonged to a people whom were the first modern humans to settle the European continent, the Aurignacian folk.

His people created works of art that remain unrivaled to this day: flutes, sculptures, paintings….. They were reindeer hunters, first and foremost, dark skinned with brown hair, they were not light skinned like their distant white descendants. It was a time of immense beauty, but also of horrifying weather unlike anything anyone alive in the modern day has seen (at least for now), glaciers covered huge expanses of the globe, and polar bears roamed off the coast of what is now Portugal.

This man’s skull holds testament to the first homicide recorded in the archaeological record. What truly happened on that fateful day over 30 thousand years ago we’ll never know for sure, hell, because his skull was unearthed in the 50’s modern archaeological techniques had yet to be invented, so we lack key context about the site his skull was unearthed from.

We only have his skull, and even the fractures on his skull are enough to tell us even things about his attacker. His attacker was left handed, and was face to face with their victim when they struck him down, with a sort of bat or club as the murder weapon.

I’d venture to say this was a personal dispute amongst people who knew each other intimately… Hunter-gatherer bands are small, comprised primarily of close relatives, everyone in the band is related to each other in some way…. Whatever happened on that fateful day, it was bad enough to cause his attacker to strike down a close friend or relative of his.

His skull is a testament to the inner cruelty of man, an attacker desperate enough to strike down a loved one or close friend, and given how the man was face to face with his attacker when he was struck down, it was evidently some form of confrontation. Unfortunately what truly happened on that day, what caused a person to go far enough and murder a close relation of theirs, will forever remain unknown.

References:

“State of the art forensic techniques reveal evidence of interpersonal violence circa 30,000 years ago” Kranioti et al (2019) Plos One (https://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0216718)

 

Neanderthal extinction revised

https://www.sciencealert.com/how-a-perfect-storm-of-sex-and-population-size-may-have-sealed-the-neanderthals-fate

Instead they were wiped out by demographic factors, namely small population size and inbreeding. Modern humans helped out by essentially serving as a sort of “sexual distraction,” so then when Neanderthals mated with modern humans the gene flow went to modern human populations rather than Neanderthal populations, ie we swamped them and assimilated them with little conflict involved, and thereby accelerated a process that would’ve eventually killed them all of anyways.

The Roots of Humanity

I propose that Australopithecus is to be more accurately considered a chronogenus, similar to how Homo erectus is considered a chronospecies. I mean, Australopithecus already is paraphyletic because it excludes Homo, its descendant genus, and there are human species that display many primitive, australopithecine traits, and many australopithecine species that feature advanced, human traits. So much so in fact that the line between “human” and “protohuman” has been increasingly blurred over the years, to the point we’re having debates over whether something like H. habilis is truly a human or rather an australopithecine proto-human instead.

We know that stone tools were already in use by 3.3 Ma, and that we were already losing our body hair by 3.2 Ma (which surprise surprise indicates persistence hunting), and that australopithecine social structures would’ve been more similar to modern humans than chimps (australopithecines gave birth the hard, human way, rather than the easy chimp way), including that the males took part in raising the young, and that australopithecine couples were at the very least serially monogamous. We don’t know how complex they were, or how much more similar to modern human socials structures they were than to chimps, since so much time has passed between then and now, but we know at the very least the beginnings of everything thought of as “human,” from bipedality to marriage to technology (rather than simple tool use), had its roots in the australopithecines.

Of course, that’s not to mention the extremely early migrations out of Africa that lead to the H. floresiensis lineage, since recent phylogenetic analyses indicates the Hobbits of Flores were even more basal than H. habilis was, and the findings of stone tools in China dated to over two million years ago, and how the primitive species H. naledi was found to have lived as recently as 200kya, we now know the story of human evolution is a *lot* more complex than we once thought, indeed it’s apt, if somewhat crude, to call it what it is: a *clusterfuck*.

The invention of fire

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4874402/

The above is a useful overview of what we know about the first invention of fire by early humans and its effects on mankind’s evolution. The earliest definitive use for fire use is around a million and a half years old, but phylogenetic analysis puts the invention of fire further back to around two million years ago, this is corroborated by the anatomical characteristics of species like Homo erectus, with reduced jaws and teeth that in some cases were the size of the teeth of modern people, as well as more reduced musculature compared to the non-human great apes and a far bigger brain in relation to body size than australopithecines, our ancestors, and great apes, with cranial capacity reaching up to 1100 cm.

The earliest evidence for habitual fire use dates to around 500,000 years ago, and we have indirect evidence that we were making glue from around this time too, see the article for more details on that. There’s some evidence both Neanderthals and early modern humans practiced fire stick farming from at least 120,000 years ago, and there’s evidence of leather working from around this time, for those who don’t know leather requires fire to make, and there’s also evidence for hand drills from around 400,000 years ago as well, instead of simply using the friction from rubbing two sticks together in an hearth on top of some kindling to ignite a fire, which is presumably the first method we devised for actually making fire.

We likely had the ability to control fire before we invented methods to ignite it, this would require knowledge of slow-burning materials to maintain fires for long periods of time, animal dung does the trick.

Evidence for complex projectiles in Middle Paleolithic Ethiopia

https://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0216716

Abstract: Complex projectiles—propulsion via mechanical aid—are considered an important technological innovation, with possible relevance for the successful Out-of-Africa dispersal of our species. Conclusive evidence for the beginning of this technology, however, is lacking from the early Late Pleistocene (ca. 130 to 70 thousand years ago; ka). Given the extremely limited applicability of relatively robust methods for validating stone-tipped projectile use, such as through fracture propagation velocity, converging lines of circumstantial evidence remain the best way to examine early complex projectiles. We assess here suggestions for an early Late Pleistocene origin of complex projectiles in Africa. Results from both previous and present independent approaches suggest a trajectory in which complex projectiles were likely adopted during the early Late Pleistocene in eastern Africa. At Aduma (Middle Awash, Ethiopia), morphometric, hafting, and impact damage patterns in several lithic point assemblages suggest a shift from simple spear technologies (thrusting and/or hand-cast) to complex projectiles. Broadly dated to 80–100 ka, lithic points from later phases of the Aduma succession represent a particularly strong candidate for projectile armatures most comparable to ethnographically known spearthrower darts, lending support for previous suggestions and warranting further investigations.
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Notes: This is interesting, very interesting, because it pushes back the date of the invention of the atlatl back to the Middle Paleolithic, long before modern humans spread out of Africa, and also long before the earliest evidence for the atlatl in the archaeological record, which AFAIK is from Aurignacian Europe, it’s also telling because Native Americans lacked the atlatl until the advent of the Archaic period, so either the ancestors of the Native Americans lost the atlatl sometime prior to the peopling of the Americas or the atlatl wasn’t as common as previously believed. The Tasmanians also lacked the spearthrower or atlatl, despite ultimately coming from the same population that left Africa as the rest of us did, while the Australians *did* possess the spearthrower, called the *woomera* there, although it was of recent (Holocene) derivation.

New species of human discovered in the Philippines

https://www.bbc.com/news/science-environment-47873072

Very interesting, and this species demonstrates many similarities to Homo floresiensis, including sharing many basal traits with australopithecines and early members of the genus Homo. One wonders how it got there given even at the time Homo luzoniensis lived Luzon was still separated from the Asian mainland by miles of ocean.

The fact that *two* species of primitive human were found in the region at the same time suggests human evolution in the region was far more complicated than previously thought, but this is in line with the discovery of stone tools in China dating back to over two million years old.