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Friday, November 04, 2016

The Emergence of Man

First posted 08-03-12

As a boy, I was impressed with "2001 A Space Odyssey".  The idea that a spark from space vaulted man beyond the other primates seemed plausible. And it got me thinking.

How different ARE we from the other primates?  And when did this difference occur?

These questions lead me to, "The Naked Ape", by Desmond Morris. He defined a few differences, but far more similarities.  So I kept looking.

Over the years I've kept track of the various discoveries looking for the significant differences between us and our cousins.  It's time to document them.

For background, let's start with the first fish and work our way forward:

Scientists Find 'Oldest Human Ancestor'

And a half a billion years later:

Tiny Chinese Archicebus fossil is the oldest primate yet found


Walking and Running

When I was a child, walking erect was the gold standard of humanity.  And it's true, we're better on two feet chasing down game than all others, but only by degree.  Bonobos showed that walking erect is no big deal:

Walking Upright

But that's not running.  About three million years ago a significant change occurred.  Humans became marathon runners and developed some new hunting scripts largely stolen from wolves, which begs the question, who ultimately domesticated whom?

Family Tree of Dogs and Wolves Is Found to Split Earlier Than Thought


Diet

Food has also been an area of study to define differentiation, but which species jumped what line, and when?

Human ancestors changed diet 3.5 million years ago



Tools

Another thing that set us apart was thought to be tool use, but this test also fell as chimps and other species have now demonstrated.

04-14-15 World's oldest stone tools discovered in Kenya 

Tool-making and Meat-eating Began 3.5 Million Years Ago?

Tool-Making 3 Million Years Ago?

Tool-making 1.4 Million Years Ago?

Ancient Stone Tools Hint at the Real Paleo Diet 126,000 to 781,000 Years Ago
700-year-old Stone Tools - Used by Monkeys

The spear which was developed about 500,000 years ago is also a clear example of tool use.  So far we've seen no other species accomplish this trick, though a weapon may become a possible learned behavior for some other primates as other tools have been.  Is it just a matter of time?

When Did Humans Begin Hurling Spears?  - 90,000 Years Ago?

Australian researchers say they’ve found the world’s oldest hatchet

Monkey or Man?

11-04-16 49,000 Year Old Human Settlement in Australia


Culture

In response, the transfer of culture became the new human benchmark, but the ability to transfer new knowledge from one generation to another has also been demonstrated by chimps...

And WHALES

Then there was self-awareness, which was disproved in spite of Darwin's original mirror observations:

Mirror Test

And a nice test of abstract thinking is meta-cognition:

Chimps: Ability to 'Think About Thinking' Not Limited to Humans

And have episodic memory:

Chimpanzees and orangutans remember distant past events

How about 500,000 year-old art?  But which species made it? :

Art on the half-shell

176,000 year old ritual?

Bruniquel Cave


Language?

Next to fall was language.  The chimp Washoe laid that one to rest in the 1960s.  And then there's Koko the gorilla who recognizes 1000 signs vocabulary and 2000 spoken words.  She has an IQ of about 80. Also bonobos have gesture language plus now respond to spoken language with keyboard feedback. It may be simple, but it's language. And even more languages are being discovered:

Prairie dogs' language decoded by scientists



Fire?

The most literally obvious and vivid tool of man has been fire.  The control of fire allowed our gut to decrease in length by about a yard as we began to cook our food and digestion improved.  Human resistance to air pollution also emerged over the last million years, an indication that we lived with fire during that time.

Control of fire wasn't just tool use, it was the most exquisite form of tool use.  The trick was getting close enough to use the flame but not get burned, and then of course, not letting the fire go out.  How many thousands of our ancestors played with fire before we learn to pass on these two tricks?  And was this the brain and thumbs at work?  Fire was the turning point.

We know of no other primate who developed independent use of fire, (thought some Bonobos have now been trained to do so with a lighter, and even use water to put it out).  Man's sustained use of fire is estimated to have begun sometime between 1.5 million and 400,000 years ago:

Who Mastered Fire?

Were Early Humans Cooking Their Food a Million Years Ago?

Still, isn't the difference between us and other primates simply a matter of DEGREE in thinking and manipulating our environment?  Scripts and tools are certainly learned and used effectively by other species.  But our fore-brains allowed for abstraction, delayed gratification and far more complex simulations as demonstrated by the wide range of different human behaviors.  So is our main difference from other primates the complexity of behaviors created by individualism and hyper-specialization?


Out of Africa

Whatever makes us different was probably well established by 60,000 (or 100,000?) years ago, as that's when humans became successful enough to spread from Africa to the rest of the world.  Was it a combination of language, hunting methods, tools, spears, and fire?  Or was it some kind of proto-agriculture for which we've yet to find evidence?

Blombos Cave contained scratches on ocher objects from 75,000 to 100,000 years ago.

Or 100,000 Years Ago?


Music, Art and Property?

Border Cave takes some level of symbolic culture and the ownership of property back to 44,000 years.  The Venus of Fels Cave in Germany is clearly art from 35,000 years ago.

Border Cave

Could "owning things" be that line between us and chimps?  This is one of the ideas put forth in Sex at Dawn.  Maybe Christopher Ryan is on to something.  Will this mystery lead us back to ourselves?  In any case, ten to fifty thousand years ago was an exciting time for man.



Archaeologists Unearth 35,000 Year Old Musical Instrument

World's Oldest Portrait - Symbolic Abstraction 26,000 Years Ago

Not all hunter-gatherers moved around.  How could they have carried all these pots?

What 15,000 Years Of Cooking Fish Tells Us About Humanity


Agriculture?

The key to real civilization seems to be the domestication of plants and animals - agriculture.  It's often described in terms of specialization and our ability to withhold gratification until the resource matures (wheat, cows or eggs into chickens).

This may be the key to domestication 14,000 years ago:

We Didn't Domesticate Dogs.  They Domesticated Us.

How hunting with wolves helped humans outsmart the Neanderthals.

Another line blurred:

Baboons Kidnap and Raise Feral Dogs as Pets

Even the line of first settlements are moving backward and becoming blurred.  In school I was taught civilization started about 5,000 years ago.  Then it was 7,000 years.  Then 10,000.  And now:



The Wheel

02-19-16 The wheel is certainly a definitive test of humanity.  Well, at least so far:






Shelter?

Except for digging holes, and a few other minor exceptions, no other species builds shelter:

Oldest house in Britain discovered to be 11,500 years old
Stone Building in Russia



12,000 Year-Old Gobekli Tepe

Gobekli Tepe Update 04-04-15

(Wiki says Gobekli Tepe is only dated to 9559 projecting to 11,000 years old) That's still some impressive stone work which must have taken a few thousand years to develop.  20,000 years seems like a more safe number for now.  We just need to find more sites and map progress, but we're definitely blurring back into our ancestors.  When exactly did we become "human"?

As a side note, dogs have been with us for about 14,000 years according to bone evidence.

And here is an even broader overview taking evolution into our culture - a lot of good ideas here:
This next post strays a bit far from the origins of man, but contains so many useful observation about humanity:

State of the Species - Charles C. Mann

Maybe the missing mechanism is EPIgenitics working with genetics. It's an example of how evolution can go well beyond sexual preference:

Scientists claim that homosexuality is not genetic — but it arises in the womb

Here is a fun idea about how the n-grams of our cultural evolution is reflected in our language:

Evolution of the most common English words and phrases over the centuries  12-12-12

World's Oldest Wooden Water Wells Discovered From About 5000 Years Ago  12-24-12

Is a long childhood the key difference?  Maybe:

Why Are We the Last Apes Standing?

Believe it or not, this was published long after I published this post (which like primates is still evolving). Mark Changizi seems to agree that we differ only by degree ("quantitatively so, not qualitatively"). Interesting post.  I need to get his books on my list:

Bursting the Bubble of Human Intelligence  04-09-13

It seems this puzzle is filling in literally day by day.  Stay tuned for more updates.

It appears we must guard against cultural imperialism in our acquisition of knowledge. And does human behavior vary to try all possible combinations in the same way a species replicates to fill the physical range of it's environment?

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