When archaeologists dig into the past they discover certain world-wide common phenomena. An example is evidence that man did not settle down into an agricultural way of life until shortly after the last great ice-age deglaciation, circa 10,000 BC. Of course, we do not know how the glacial ages may have disrupted ancient communities, or destroyed their evidence. We do not know if the remains of agricultural settlements sparsely scattered around the globe may have deteriorated to the point they would not be visible to the modern spade. We do not know if such communities may be completely missed by the searching human eye.
Evidence for earlier grain production was unearthed near Wadi Kubbaniya near Aswan in southern Egypt. Fred Wendorf and Romuald Schild presented evidence from radiocarbon dating that grain cultivation was practiced around 17,500 BC. The grain samples were found in the context of charcoal from a hearth. (Late Palaeolithic Cereal Exploitation, Polish Academy of Science.) See Origin and Early Development of Food-Producing Culture in North-Eastern Africa, Lech Krzyzaniak and Michal Kobushiewicz, Editors, Proceedings of the International Conference, Poznan, Poland, 1984.
Heavily used grinding stones were also found but plant remains found at that site could not be processed by grinding stones, leaving the conclusion that the stones must have been used for grain production. Similar grinding stones were found in human settlement sites up and down along the Nile dating in the period from 14,000 BC to 12,000 BC. Farther north near Isna grinding stones and lustrous edged flint pieces (sickles) were found dating around 12,500 BC. The Kubbaniya discoveries merely extended the evidence back another 3,000 years. Furthermore some of the grain samples were for einkorn wheat, which does not grow in Egypt today. It requires a cooler climate and more moisture than does emmer wheat. Therefore, the sample could not have come from a later settlement when temperatures had increased and moisture had decreased.
Dissatisfied with such early date the researchers asked for new measurements through the linear accelerator radiocarbon counter at the University of Arizona. This confirmed the charcoal dates but extended them somewhat farther back, to 19,000 BC. However, now the grain samples showed widely dispersed dating, from 1200 AD (+/- 500 yrs) to 2800 BC. Clearly something was wrong with the data. The grains had been mounted in the accelerator using glue that was later determined to contaminate the samples. Hence the excavators could no longer hold to the conclusion of such early grain production, in spite of the requirements of climate that could only have existed before the last great ice age meltdown.
We carry many superficial notions in our intellectual attitudes. Much of this foolishness came out of attempts in the nineteenth century to explain early archeological finds. The Neanderthal is a notorious example. We believed he was a brute semi-human who existed from hundreds of thousands years ago, and then disappeared about thirty thousand years ago when modern Homo Sapiens (man the wise) appeared. But recent discoveries are drastically altering these images.
(We are distinguished from other animals and from earlier hominid species by a bipedal stance and gait, brain capacity averaging about 1,350 cubic cm (82 cubic inches), high forehead, small teeth and jaw, defined chin, construction and use of tools, and ability to make use of symbols such as language and writing. We do not really know the evolutionary steps that led to this distinction in the fossil record.)
A review editorial in the January, 1998 issue of Scientific American cited evidence to show that the popular model of the origins of mankind out of Africa was just not true. Much genetic evidence now exists that very ancient human groups lived in Asia, as well as Africa, and that one could not be made ancestral to the other.
University of Oxford geneticist Rosalind M. Harding studies variation in the betaglobin gene, certain mutations of which cause sickle-cell anemia and other blood diseases. Harding found that one major betaglobin gene lineage, thought to have arisen more than 200,000 years ago, is widely distributed in Asia but rare in Africa, suggesting that archaic populations in Asia contributed to the modern gene pool. And studies of the Y chromosome by Michael F. Hammer, a geneticist at the University of Arizona, indicate that prehistoric population dynamics were much more complicated than simple replacement. His results reflect migrations both out of and back into Africa.
In Science News for the week of Apr. 1, 2000, Vol. 157, No. 14, Bruce Bower reported on the conflicting evidence for human origins and ancestry now developing among DNA researchers. Earlier researchers had jumped to conclusions, probably motivated by a desire to establish priority in claim, a modern scholarly trend to establish headlines rather than produce sound conclusions from solid research.
Scientific American for August, 1999 ran a report asking the question: Is Out of Africa Going Out of the Door?
In Science News for March 14, 1998 Bower reviewed other evidence that early man apparently used some type of seaworthy craft to reach the Indonesian island of Flores at least 800,000 years ago. One Flores site, called Mata Menge, yielded 14 stone tools in a 1994 excavation. The artifacts lay in sediment that contained the bones of several ancient animals also found in Southeast Asia, such as large, elephant-like creatures, crocodiles, and giant rats. Investigators believe the site could only have been reached by boat. But archaeologist Stanley H. Ambrose of the University of Illinois in Urbana says that the Earth's crust has frequently shifted in this region, raising the possibility that a land bridge once connected the Southeast Asian mainland to Flores. If so, the site may have been occupied prior to such dramatic geological upheaval.
Other evidence shows that early man may have made shorter ocean trips from Java. Some investigators place this hominid as early as 1.8 million years ago (Science News, 3/5/94, p. 150). Other researchers now suspect that early man crossed the Mediterranean Sea beginning around one million years ago (Science News: 1/4/97, p. 12).
The Feb. 27, 1997 issue of Nature reported excavations in the depths of a coal mine near Schöningen, Germany that discovered the world's oldest known hunting weapons, a trio of wooden spears fashioned with admirable skill by apparently dedicated meat eaters. Investigators, led by Hartmut Thieme of the Institute for the Preservation of Historical Monuments in Hannover, Germany, found the spears — which range in length from 6 to 7 feet — lying among stone implements and animal bones. They had been fashioned with tapered shafts to make throwing more accurate.
Many theorists had maintained that big-game hunting emerged about 100,000 years ago, at most. The only specimens comparable to the Schöningen material were a 125,000-year-old wooden shaft found inside an elephant skeleton at another German site in 1948. But a 400,000-year-old stone tip — perhaps part of a spear — unearthed in England in 1911 pushed the date back much farther. The Schöningen evidence further demolished the earlier theories.
Other animal bones at the Schöningen site, most of them from horses, have incisions and fractures typically produced during butchery. The latter material probably dates to 400,000 years ago, based on its position in a soil layer sandwiched between deposits of previously identified ice ages.
In a cover story in Science News for August 1, 1998, Jeffrey Brainard stated that we should give Neanderthals their due. Increasing evidence shows such similarities with modern humans that we should shift the image of the caveman brute. Recent research has begun to cast a more complimentary light on our older cousins. This emerging view depicts Neanderthals as having a capacity for creative, flexible behavior somewhat like that of modern people.
Studies published in a supplement to the June, 1998 Current Anthropology offer further support for polishing the Neanderthal's image. Researchers from France and Portugal report that Neanderthals occupying a French cave developed their own, relatively sophisticated ornaments and tools, distinct from those of their modern looking human neighbors. Two other studies challenge the view that Neanderthals could not hunt effectively and had to survive by scavenging the leftovers of animal predators.
In a brief article in Science News for September 15, 2001 Bruce Bower again reports that new evidence indicates ancient Neanderthals provided care for their injured and sick. A nearly toothless jawbone found last year in France, which represents an early form of the Neanderthals, speaks volumes about ancient man providing life-saving care for the injured and infirm. The partial jaw, dated at between about 170,000 and 190,000 years ago, contains extensive bone damage and loss. It belonged to an adult who survived for at least 6 months while being virtually unable to chew food, concludes archaeologist Serge Lebel of the University of Quebec in Montreal. Earlier excavations have yielded evidence of Neanderthal care-giving at several European and western Asian sites dating to around 50,000 years ago. For example, extensive arthritic damage on a Neanderthal skeleton found at Shanidar in Iraq indicates that this individual was sustained by the help of others.
A recent analysis of what may be the world's oldest known musical instrument, a flutelike piece of bone found at a Neanderthal hunting camp in the foothills of the Slovenian Alps suggests that more than 43,000 years ago the hills may have been alive with the sound of music.
The "flute" was discovered in 1995 by paleontologist Ivan Turk, who was leading excavations of the Divje Babe I cave in northwestern Slovenia. Found near an ancient hearth, the fragment of cave bear thigh bone preserves two complete holes and perhaps remnants of two others. The holes in this bone, between 43,000 and 82,000 years old, are "really well rounded and just about the right separation for humans to put their fingers on," according to team member Bonnie Blackwell, a Queens College geologist.
When Bob Fink, a musicologist in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, saw a photograph in a newspaper report announcing the discovery last year, the spacing of the holes caught his eye. The distance between the second and third holes was twice that between the third and fourth holes. This indicated to Fink that the flute could produce whole tones and half tones, the fundamental elements of the diatonic, or do-re-mi, scale. The notes are "inescapably diatonic," Fink writes in his analysis. Based on the widespread use of this scale throughout many cultures over time, the odds are, says Fink, that the complete flute would have produced the entire scale. He thus suspects that the flute had at least six holes and was some 37 centimeters long.
As Ofer Bar-Yosef and Bernard Vandermeersch wrote in the April, 1993 issue of Scientific American:
Between 40,000 and 45,000 years ago the material culture of western Eurasia changed more than it had during the previous million years. This efflorescence of technological and artistic creativity signifies the emergence of the first culture that observers today would recognize as distinctly human, marked as it was by unceasing invention and variety. During that brief period of 5,000 or so years, the stone tool kit, unchanged in its essential form for ages, suddenly began to differentiate wildly from century to century and from region to region.
But they also note that excavations on Mount Carmel show that modern-shaped Homo Sapiens preceded Neanderthals in that locale and followed a similar pattern of life for 60,000 years.
A double burial from Qafzeh Cave attests to a religious sensibility some 100,000 years ago. The infant was laid at the foot of a young woman, perhaps its mother. These people look quite modern, but their culture resembled that of the more robust Levantine Neanderthals. In Europe some 60,000 years later, modern-looking people and Neanderthals bore different cultures.
The question of how the human types designated Cro-Magnons relate to other forms of Homo Sapiens is still unclear. Most anthropologists now believe that Cro-Magnons and Neanderthals are closer to one another than was once believed. Many anthropologists now locate the origin of the Cro-Magnon in western Asia, as typified by the remains found at the Jebel Qafzeh and Skhu sites in Israel.
Perhaps as complex as the question of origin is that of the duration of Cro-Magnons. The evidence suggests that they flourished during the Upper Paleolithic, (35,000 to 10,000 BC). At least some Cro-Magnon characteristics are found as late as the Mesolithic (8000 to 5000 BC)and in Neolithic in Europe, (5000 to 2000 BC). At the same time remains have been found for individuals within Cro-Magnon sites who were quite different, often brachycephalic (broad-headed), rather than the dolichocephalic (long-headed) Cro-Magnoids. This confusing evidence shows that different human types coexisted.
This period of the Upper Paleolithic saw the last great ice age advance and retreat. Man made his greatest cultural progress during this period. The hand axes and flake tools of earlier times were replaced by diversified and specialized tools with advanced flint techniques. Many important inventions appeared, such as needles and thread, skin clothing, hafted stone and bone tools, the harpoon, the spear thrower, and special fishing equipment. Bone, ivory, and antler were used extensively. The earliest man-made dwellings are found, consisting of sunken pit houses. This time also saw the beginning of the basic techniques of drawing, modeling, sculpture, and painting, as well as the earliest manifestations of dancing, music, the use of masks, ceremonies, and the organization of society into patterns, including collective hunting, that were fairly complex. Evidence exists for fertility rites, private property, and social stratification. During this period primitive types of early man disappeared, and the remains of modern Homo Sapiens alone are found.
The period was distinctive in laying the foundations and forging the social environment for present-day man.
This is the period of the coming of the sons of Adam.
Modern archaeological excavations up and down Egypt and surrounding deserts have shown human occupation going back as far as seven hundred thousand years. (Oxford History of Ancient Egypt, Ian Shaw, editor, Oxford University Press, 2000.) Evidence for occupation of the Nile valley itself goes back at least three hundred thousand years. (The Prehistory of Egypt, Beatrix Midant-Reynes, translated by Ian Shaw, Blackwell Publishers, Oxford, 2000.) The stone age artifacts are typical of such evidence from other parts of the world. The evolution of human occupation of very ancient Egypt seems to follow the usual pattern, down to recent times. Some notable activities included the mining of chert in extensive quarries between 30 and 35 thousand years ago, suggesting an organized society that could trade across wide geographic regions. These dates would correspond to the famous cave paintings of Europe, and record of moon cycles on bone and stone. See the evidence compiled by Alexander Marshack, The Roots of Civilization, McGraw-Hill, New York, 1972.
Among more recent human groups in Egypt are those labeled Fakhurian (19 - 17,000 BC), as well as the Kubbaniyan. Other groups with identifiable agricultural features come down to the end of the last ice age when dramatic changes took place in the Nile valley, circa 10,000 BC.
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