Australopithecines Paleolithic Period The australopithecines originated about 4 million years ago in eastern Africa. Though still very ape-like in appearance and behavior, those hominids are known collectively as australopithecines. Australopithecine fossils found in 1924 and in the late 1930s had so many similarities, as well as differences, that scientists disagreed whether they were all, in fact, australopithecines. Since then, scholars have come to agree on several species, two major ones being Australopithecus africanus and Australopithecus robustus. Australopithecines had small brains, did not use tools, and the structure of their throats and vocal chords were too primitive to allow for speech. They ate foods that could be gathered, like nuts, seeds, berries, fruit, insects, eggs, and scavenged meat left over by other animals. Australopithecines lived together in small family groups.
Homo habilis Paleolithic Period Homo habilis is a mystery. Archaeologists are still putting together the puzzle pieces. Homo habilis got their name because of the stone tools that were found along with their remains. These tools were choppers and scrapers. Homo habilis lived during the first quarter of the Paleolithic period, roughly two million years ago. Homo habilis stood about five feet tall and walked on two legs. They had larger teeth than modern humans and a larger brain than earlier hominids (australopithecines). They may have been capable of some limited speech. It seems probable that these prehistoric people made their homes in trees. For survival, Homo habilis gathered food and may have done some hunting or scavenging. Remains of Homo habilis have been found in southern and eastern Africa, specifically Ethiopia and Tanzania.
Homo erectus Paleolithic Period Homo erectus, or “upright man”, first appeared between 2 and 1.5 million years ago in Africa, Asia, and Europe. This species died out about 300,000 years ago. Homo erectus lived on the ground in bands of anywhere from 20 to 60 related members and there is evidence of a cave dwelling near Beijing, China. These nomads used the food supply in one area before moving on. They knew of migration patterns of animals and where and when to find certain plants. Scientists believe that women gathered nuts, fruits, and seeds and provided an estimated 70% of the food while the men hunted or scavenged for animals. The hunters seemed to use stampedes to kill the animals by forcing them into a valley or over cliffs. The ability to speech made hunting easier. Homo erectus commonly hunted elephants, deer, and horses. Their stone tools used consisted of spear points and hand axes. Homo erectus was unable to start fire but they did harness it when found. Physically, Homo erectus was strong with a sloping forehead, deep ridges over the eyes, and a small chin. Homo erectus had a larger brain than earlier hominids and also larger teeth than modern humans. The life expectancy was about 25 years. One challenge that Homo erectus faced was changing weather patterns. During the Ice Age Homo erectus had to move to warmer climates.
Homo sapiens neanderthalensis Mesolithic Period Homo sapiens neanderthalensis, more commonly known as Neanderthals, date back to about 230,000 years ago. They got their name from where their remains were first found, in the Neander Valley in Germany. Neanderthals appear to have originated in Africa and also inhabited Europe, the Middle East, and Asia until about 30,000 years ago when they disappeared for no apparent reason. Neanderthals had sloping foreheads, heavy eye ridges, and heavy jaws. Their brain was either the same size as modern humans or larger. Their bodies we re short (about 5’5”) and solid with short limbs. Since they inhabited colder climates they had to wear clothes made from animal skins and live in caves. The Neanderthals made the caves as comfortable as possible. They blocked the opening of the cave with rocks, dug drainage ditches, and used fire for warmth. The fire was also used to cook the food they hunted and gathered. While hunting, Neanderthals jabbed and thrusted with their spears. Their tools consisted of hammers, awls, knives, and hand axes. Neanderthals were the first known to bury their dead and seemed to believe in life after death. Grave gifts such as weapons, broken animal bones, flowers, and food were buried along with their dead. Another find lending belief to religious or spiritual belief was the carefully arrangement of bear heads in a cave pit. This could have been one way to ensure success in the hunt.
Homo sapiens sapiens Mesolithic Period Homo sapiens sapiens arose 40,000 years ago in eastern Africa or Southwest Asia. The first of these people, also called Cro-Magnon after the area of France where their remains were first found, look almost exactly like modern humans. They inhabited all continents except for Antarctica and were the first to migrate across the land bridge to the Americas. Cro-Magnon and Neanderthals existed at the same time. There are theories that perhaps the Neanderthals were hunted out by the Cro-Magnon people or that Cro-Magnon were simply more advanced and adapted more easily to changes in the environment. Cro-Magnons knew how to make fire and had 100s of different types of tools. Their tools were made out of stone, bone, and ivory. Cro-Magnons were hunters and gatherers and made many advances in weaponry. They invented the bow and arrow, fishhooks, and put barbs on spears. This tool making technology was the first technological revolution and assisted in hunting bigger animals. They also started to domesticate animals. Cro-Magnon man built houses, adapted to live along the coast, dwelled in caves, and wore fitted clothes. Archaeologists have found evidence of art as well. Jewelry, figurines, and paintings have been found. A very famous cave painting by Cro-Magnons was found in Lascaux, France. This mural of animals is about 40 feet long. Prehistoric cave paintings seldom depict humans.
Homo sapiens sapiensNeolithic Period Neolithic people refer to the people who lived during the Neolithic Age. This time period, the New Stone Age, is named for the more advanced way of making tools by using sandstone to sharpen edges. New tools included the chisel and drill. The Neolithic Age also saw a change in how people got their food. There was a shift from hunting and gathering for survival to food production. This is called the Neolithic or Agricultural Revolution. People began producing their own food by domesticating animals and plants. Pigs, cattle, horses, and sheep were a few of the animals that were domesticated. Wheat, barley, millet, and rice were planted. Once people began to grow their own food they also began to settle and did not wander as nomads. Individual communities and villages were started and the population grew from the original smaller bands to about 200 people each. The village people also were not always related to each other. This coincided with the start of more formal government. Villages grew to larger agricultural settlements. One of the first was Jericho, which is located in present day Israel. Jericho dates back to about 10,000 BCE and had roughly 2500 inhabitants. One of the largest known Neolithic agricultural settlements of the time period was Catal Huyuk, in present day Turkey, which grew to about 6000 people. There is also evidence of religious beliefs among the Neolithic people. Shrines have been found with pictures of gods and goddesses.