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goingtothedo

"Rise of Man" Theory

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hmm - the link to the article doesn't seem to work. Any way to stop the link from getting truncated like that?

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Sounds pretty inconclusive. No reason why Homo erectus should not have built shelters and even lived in them in groups - forming a kind of village, temporary or otherwise.

 

I suspect they were not permanent, though. Homo erectus was a hunter gatherer, and that way of life does not lend itself to staying in one place. Local game animals get too wary. Edible plants get dug up and eaten. Hunter gatherers tend to have to keep moving.

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(thanks, the link worked ^_^)

 

I'd have to agree with SkepticLance. Like people in the article said, there are many reasons why bones and tools and buildings would accumulate in one place that would not include permanent year round settlement. It could have been a place they visited yearly, during a season when fishing was particularly good, or maybe even a place they went to bury their dead.

 

I'd like to see the argon dating information. A researcher in the article said none of the artifacts were dated except typologically, so what exactly did Ziegert date with potassium argon?

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(thanks, the link worked ^_^)

 

I'd have to agree with SkepticLance. Like people in the article said, there are many reasons why bones and tools and buildings would accumulate in one place that would not include permanent year round settlement. It could have been a place they visited yearly, during a season when fishing was particularly good, or maybe even a place they went to bury their dead.

 

I'd like to see the argon dating information. A researcher in the article said none of the artifacts were dated except typologically, so what exactly did Ziegert date with potassium argon?

 

Ash I'd imagine. You don't really use Potassium-Argon on artifacts, its more of a way of dating pyroclasts.

 

That article makes the bad leap of saying that "semi-permanent settlement = giving up hunter-gathering = Neolithic Revolution". There are plenty of food collecting cultures that have villages and the like. All this article says is that there is sketchy evidence that Homo erectus might have stayed in one place long enough to build shelters and accrue large bone assemblages occasionally. Not that big of a deal really. The revolution 10,000 years ago wasn't building shelters it was agriculture. Show me evidence that Homo erectus was growing millet and I'll be excited.

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Thanks folks. I rather thought these would be the kind of responses it would bring.

 

Can anyone tell me a bit more about the potassium-argon dating method? Is it a radoactive dating technique?

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Potassium/Argon.

 

The isotope Potassium 40 degrades to Argon 40. This is happening continuously at a known rate. The Argon 40 present in a rock is entirely from this process.

 

The interesting thing, which permits dating, is that Argon is a gas. This means that if the rock turns liquid, such as in volcanic lava, all the Argon bubbles out and escapes. When the rock turns solid again, only Potassium 40 is present and no Argon 40. However, the Potassium 40 degrades at a known rate, and the Argon 40 starts to build up. Since the rock is now solid, the gas cannot escape, and stays in the rock.

 

If we take a sample of rock, and measure the amounts of the two isotopes, we get a ratio. The existing tables tell us from the ratio how long it has been since the rock was liquid.

 

If a rock sample is found between two layers of solidified lava, we can use the K40/Ar40 dating process to determine when the upper and lower rocks were liquid. The sample in between must have been deposited between the two times.

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It is arguing that human settlement into communities instead of a hunter gatherer existence took place much earlier than originally thought; about 400,000 years earlier.

 

Any opinions on this out there?

 

Actually, this doesn't contradict that H. erectus was a hunter-gatherer. Instead, the article simply states that conditions were so fertile there that they could hunt/gather the year round and not have to move. I think there are similar situations in New Guinea and the Philippines.

 

I don't see how it changes much, really. What is being talked about is a group of 40-50 at the most at the site. This is about the same size as postulated for the extended family/tribe in standard thinking. Even moving around, the tribe is still together all the time, as it would be if settled in one place. So all the social interactions that shaped our evolution are present whether moving or settled.

 

It looks like a storm in a teacup to me.

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All this article says is that there is sketchy evidence that Homo erectus might have stayed in one place long enough to build shelters and accrue large bone assemblages occasionally. Not that big of a deal really. The revolution 10,000 years ago wasn't building shelters it was agriculture. Show me evidence that Homo erectus was growing millet and I'll be excited.

 

Yeah, that's my take. People seem to be making the leap "settlement" = agriculture. I figure H. erectus was smart enough to build primitive shelter. After all, he is supposed to have been smart enough to build boats!

4. R Kunzig, Erectus afloat. Discover 20: 80, Jann. 1999. Data indicate that H. erectus used boats to get to Indonesia 800,000 years ago.

 

So, if they find data that H. erectus discovered and practiced agriculture 400,000 years ago, then I will be excited.

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Interesting about erectus boating to Indonesia. I looked on google and found two references to this. One reference looked highly suspicious, and my anti-virus told me - "do not touch." The other is less complete, but confirms the facts.

 

http://www.highbeam.com/doc/1G1-53501818.html

 

I have thought for a long time that our pre-human ancestors were smarter and more technological than we normally give them credit for. Some years ago, I read of crudely chipped stone tools being found with fossil Australopithecus about 2.5 million years old.

 

Could be that Homo erectus was a pretty smart cookie.

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Interesting about erectus boating to Indonesia. I looked on google and found two references to this. One reference looked highly suspicious, and my anti-virus told me - "do not touch." The other is less complete, but confirms the facts.

 

http://www.highbeam.com/doc/1G1-53501818.html

 

Uh, that's the same article I posted, but on the web. :D If you were looking for "independent" confirmation, you didn't find it.

 

Some years ago, I read of crudely chipped stone tools being found with fossil Australopithecus about 2.5 million years old.

 

That I would like to see. So far, all the data I've seen says that H. habilis was the first hominid to make stone tools.

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I followed up with a google search for Australopithecus and tool use. I found two references. The first denied Australopithecus used stone tools, instead claiming that chipped stone tools found with Australopithecus fossils were actually made later by Homo erectus.

 

The other reference claimed to have studied animal bones found with Australopithecus fossils and found wear marks consistent with them being used to dig out termites.

 

Either way, Australopithecus apparently used tools, but may not have fabricated them.

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I followed up with a google search for Australopithecus and tool use. I found two references. The first denied Australopithecus used stone tools, instead claiming that chipped stone tools found with Australopithecus fossils were actually made later by Homo erectus.

 

The other reference claimed to have studied animal bones found with Australopithecus fossils and found wear marks consistent with them being used to dig out termites.

 

Either way, Australopithecus apparently used tools, but may not have fabricated them.

 

Yeah, the second paper indicates tool use comparable to what chimps do today, but not manufacture. I'll let the anthropologists fight it out over those chipped stone tools. Making permanent stone tools is a big step in hominid evolution. Originally, that is why Leakey put Habilis in Homo. The brain size of H. habilis is not that much larger than A. africanus or afarensis. But the stone tools justified Homo, in Leakey's and others' opinions. So there is going to be resistance in accepting stone tools in a species not homo. Have to see how it turns out. I'll accept what they decide in the end.

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Do you remember the 'Walking with Cavemen' television series? They had this ridiculous bit about Australopithecus afarensis. The one metre high upright ape apparently lived in the African plains. As such, it would be prone to predation by big cats. The TV series said that it resisted this predation through social grouping. Togetherness to drive off the sabre tooth giant cats. Yeah right!

 

I immediately visualised a bunch of, say 100 Australopithecus being stalked by a Smilodon. The big cat would simply walk up to the bunch - grab an individual - and return again every time it was hungry. Within a few months the apes would be gone.

 

However, if we alter the picture a wee bit, everything changes. Imagine that our ancestors instead are carrying long wooden branches, with points on the end. Smilodon walks up and is confronted by a porcupine of sharp spears. The Australopithecus wielding these spears stab viciously at the cat, and drive it off. Survival through the use of tools and weapons.

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Do you remember the 'Walking with Cavemen' television series? They had this ridiculous bit about Australopithecus afarensis. The one metre high upright ape apparently lived in the African plains. As such, it would be prone to predation by big cats. The TV series said that it resisted this predation through social grouping. Togetherness to drive off the sabre tooth giant cats. Yeah right!

 

I immediately visualised a bunch of, say 100 Australopithecus being stalked by a Smilodon. The big cat would simply walk up to the bunch - grab an individual - and return again every time it was hungry. Within a few months the apes would be gone.

 

However, if we alter the picture a wee bit, everything changes. Imagine that our ancestors instead are carrying long wooden branches, with points on the end. Smilodon walks up and is confronted by a porcupine of sharp spears. The Australopithecus wielding these spears stab viciously at the cat, and drive it off. Survival through the use of tools and weapons.

 

Uhm... if being in large groups doesn't help with predation unless you're wielding pikes, why do herders do it? Or monkeys? Or chimpanzees? Walking with Cavemen certainly got a number of things wrong, for one thing it had Australopithecus living in the African plains, but I don't think that omitting primitive anti-cavalry tactics was one of them.

 

We're not even talking about pointed sticks. However big or important the leap from wood to stone was, it is the only one we can evaluate from an archaeological standpoint.

 

As for assigning stone tools only to Homo, realize that Australopithecus (Paranthropus) robustus and boisei are both found in association with both Homo species and stone tools. It is simply assumption that attributes the tools to Homo and not to the robust Australopithicines. We really can't know.

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Do you remember the 'Walking with Cavemen' television series? They had this ridiculous bit about Australopithecus afarensis. The one metre high upright ape apparently lived in the African plains. As such, it would be prone to predation by big cats. The TV series said that it resisted this predation through social grouping. Togetherness to drive off the sabre tooth giant cats. Yeah right!
]

 

CDarwin has a more realistic picture when he refersto monkeys and chimpanzees. Both drive off predators today by yelling, screeching, posturing, and even throwing stones. Predators, by necessity, must be "cowards". It can't risk a fight each and every time it hunts because, if it is injured in a fight, then it can't hunt again. It starves. So predators can be driven off by a group without the use of tools.

 

Now, this doesn't say that A. afrarensis couldn't also have used branches as tools to help in the intimidation of predators. It's just saying that it's not a requirement that they did so.

 

As for assigning stone tools only to Homo, realize that Australopithecus (Paranthropus) robustus and boisei are both found in association with both Homo species and stone tools. It is simply assumption that attributes the tools to Homo and not to the robust Australopithicines. We really can't know.

 

1. It's historical tradition to associate stone tools with Homo. As I said, H. habilis is not very physically different from A. afarensis (and there are transitional fossils linking the two species), but Leakey put habilis in a the Homo genus because of the stone tools. So yes, you can view this as somewhat arbitrary and anthropocentric.

 

2. Can you give me the citations for P. robustus and boisei being associated with stone tools? I haven't seen that.

 

Weren't the brains of the genus Paranthropus smaller than H. habilis? Also, isn't it pretty well established by teeth and musculature that they were obligate hervibores?

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CDarwin said :

 

Uhm... if being in large groups doesn't help with predation unless you're wielding pikes, why do herders do it? Or monkeys? Or chimpanzees?

 

I saw on a TV documentary the reaction of a tribe of baboons to a single leopard. In spite of having lethal canine teeth, the baboons turned and ran. Australopithecus was much more poorly equipped with natural weaponry than baboons, and had to face much more lethal predators than leopards. There is no way they could have survived by making loud noises and throwing stones.

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I saw on a TV documentary the reaction of a tribe of baboons to a single leopard. In spite of having lethal canine teeth, the baboons turned and ran. Australopithecus was much more poorly equipped with natural weaponry than baboons, and had to face much more lethal predators than leopards. There is no way they could have survived by making loud noises and throwing stones.

 

How big was the troup of baboons? Was there anything worth protecting where they were? Just because you are capable of making a stand and putting up a fight doesn't mean you always have to risk it. Maybe their numbers were too small, maybe it was easier to just get up and leave that particular patch of rock. You can't take one instance found on film and apply it to all situations.

 

Besides, there are mutliple advantages of being in a big group besides directly fighting off predators. One of the main advantages is vigilance. More members means more eyes looking out to see predators - so that as soon as one comes in to view, the alarm will sound and everyone can escape well before the predator can sneak closer for an attack. And that definitely increases survival rate, making group living quite favorable. Yet another advantage that still involves running away is confusion. It's hard for a single predator, like a leopard, to pick out and follow one target if several dozen baboons are running around like maniacs every which way. By the time the smoke clears, everyone is gone.

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Obviously I cannot draw firm scientific conclusions on the basis of something seen on TV. However, I think the point is made. Australopithecus was one metre tall, had inoffensive teeth, and a relatively fragile body. To suggest that a tribe of them could fend off attack by big cats (and Smilodon was very big) without some form of weapon is not really very likely.

 

There is no direct way of knowing what weapons they would use, short of finding them with fossils. If they were of wood, or of unmodified stone, bone or antler, we would not get a clue in the fossil record. Personally, I think the idea of a wooden branch with a sharp point is the most likely, since a whole lot of them wielded by the able bodied members of the tribe would have the most effect, but I could be wrong.

 

The descendents of Australopithecus are possibly Homo erectus and its relatives, and there is some evidence to suggest they were the first to make shaped stone tools. I do not think it is too big a leap of the imagination to suggest the Australopithecines might have made good use of tools of a different, and less sophisticated type.

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2. Can you give me the citations for P. robustus and boisei being associated with stone tools? I haven't seen that.

Paranthropus are found at the same sites as Homo habilis and ergaster at Turkana and Swartkraans. The tools are all over the place.

 

The Wikipedia article talks about that a bit. So does Don Johanson's From Lucy to Language in it's article on OH 5, Australopithcus boisei. I could probably find some more things, but I'm not necessarily questioning the assumption. I'm just saying it is an assumption.

 

Weren't the brains of the genus Paranthropus smaller than H. habilis?

 

Indeed, but not remarkably. About 50-100 cubic centimeters. Of course, you have to take into account scaling, Paranthropus was much heavier, but also remember that direct links between mean brain volume and intelligence still remain allusive. Neanderthals had a brain 200 cc larger on average than that of modern humans.

 

Also, isn't it pretty well established by teeth and musculature that they were obligate hervibores?

 

That doesn't mean much. All tool use by modern chimpanzees is in preparing plant material, and most tools used by traditional human cultures are for the same purpose. The link between tool use and meat eating has been much exaggerated in the popular imagination. It probably didn't happen like 2001: A Space Odyssey.

 

I think Man the Hunted goes into that pretty well. The Hunting Apes may too.

 

Australopithecus was one metre tall,

 

Actually, only the smaller females were. Males were about 1.5 metres.

 

To suggest that a tribe of them could fend off attack by big cats (and Smilodon was very big) without some form of weapon is not really very likely.

 

That's good then, because Smilodon didn't live in Africa. :P Again, I have to point to all the other primates. Why don't they need weapons beyond the occasional unmodified stick and stone?

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To CDarwin

The reason other primates do not need weapons is that they habitually retreat when attacked, mainly into trees, but sometimes up onto rocks. It appears unlikely that Australopithecus could do this, since it was somewhat de-adapted for tree climbing, and more adapted to plains walking.

 

A minor correction. You said that all tool use by chimps is in preparing plant food. Not so. Some tools are used to extract termites, and female chimps in the wild have been observed using short sticks with sharp points as a kind of spear to hunt monkeys.

 

http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/science/nature/6387611.stm

 

Quote :

 

Chimpanzees in Senegal have been observed making and using wooden spears to hunt other primates, according to a study in the journal Current Biology.

Researchers documented 22 cases of chimps fashioning tools to jab at smaller primates sheltering in cavities of hollow branches or tree trunks.

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The reason other primates do not need weapons is that they habitually retreat when attacked, mainly into trees, but sometimes up onto rocks. It appears unlikely that Australopithecus could do this, since it was somewhat de-adapted for tree climbing, and more adapted to plains walking.

 

Not really. Australopithecus would have lived in a partially wooded 'edge' environment between plain and forest. It would always have a tree to retreat to, and retained limb proportions and curved fingers needed to be proficient in the trees. There's quite a bit of work out there on how arboreal Australopithecus really was, but I think most would agree it could and would have sought refuge in trees.

 

Furthermore, primates don't always flee when attacked, they are often known to gang up on predators and beat them back. It depends on the situation. A big male baboon can do some damage to a lion. The social structure of terrestrial primates reflects this anti-predator strategy, actually. There is always a male around to throw to the lions so to speak. Patas monkeys take this to an extreme degree. The males are almost twice the size of females and adapted to rapid running (they're the fastest of all primates). The male will serve as a decoy if the troop is attacked.

 

Male Australopithecus are also considerably larger than the females. This could easily be seen as an adaptation to a social structure where big males are expected to fight off predators, at least long enough to let the reproductively more valuable females escape.

 

A minor correction. You said that all tool use by chimps is in preparing plant food. Not so. Some tools are used to extract termites, and female chimps in the wild have been observed using short sticks with sharp points as a kind of spear to hunt monkeys.

 

Hmm... I seem to have forgotten about that. My apologizes. A correction of your correction, however, they were Galagos not monkeys, it's a kind of prosimian. :P Chimps do hunt monkeys, but they do it the old fashion way by spearing them in the back of the neck with their canines.

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CDarwin said :

 

Male Australopithecus are also considerably larger than the females. This could easily be seen as an adaptation to a social structure where big males are expected to fight off predators, at least long enough to let the reproductively more valuable females escape.

 

Good point. Could I not, though, take this a wee bit further? If large males are the fighters and defenders of the tribe, would it not make sense to suggest some sort of basic weaponry? Perhaps equivalent to the sharp hunting sticks of female chimps, only longer. They did not have the big canine teeth of baboons, or other natural weapons. After all, we know their descendents shaped stones.

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