Human Revolution

Evidence for what we consider modern culture and behavior—like adorning oneself with clothing and jewelry, making art, and performing rituals—does not actually appear when the first anatomically modern humans emerge around 200 Kya. Biology and behavior are not directly linked in hominin evolution, so evidence for human behavior does not appear until well after modern human anatomy evolved. Although the evolution of human culture and behavior happened gradually, the phenomenon is referred to as the Upper Paleolithic revolution. It is clear that hominins are humans by the time they leave advanced cultural debris behind, but it is hypothetically possible to extend humanness further back in time since human traits accumulated over millions of years (Table 5.2).

Culture is not unique to humans but it certainly is exaggerated in humans and no other animal is dependent upon culture like we are. Culture is usually defined as human behavior and activities that are governed by social customs and rules, and it is perpetuated because it is passed through the generations with tradition and learning. Although chimpanzees do not have language, females in some populations are able to uphold the termite fishing culture because mothers teach their offspring how to forage for the insects. Also, the tradition for chimpanzees to crack open nuts with stones is not universal for the species, paralleling the differences between human cultural traditions.

There are several claims for the earliest art on record but the dates are best for pieces of red ochre from Blombos Cave, South Africa, at about 79 Kya. These small fragments of the soft red mineral are ground down to make a flat surface and intentionally engraved with "X's"—very much like something one might doodle in the margins of this page. There are also pierced shells that would have been used as beads for personal adornment that may date as early as 100 Kya in Algeria, Israel, and South Africa, but the dates are not confirmed.

Art becomes more prolific and achieves museum-quality through time. Some is associated with Neanderthals like simple pendants or grooved and polished bones and teeth. Sites as early as 400 Kya have preserved fragments of red and black pigments which may have been used to decorate bodies or objects. Later, after 50 Kya, it is clear that these pigments were burned and used as paint. Upper Paleolithic humans, however, left behind much more than just pigments, there are flutes, carved animals, carved women, and exquisitely painted cave murals, like at the famous Lascaux and Chauvet caves in France that incorporate senses of design, texture, and color. A great number of statuettes of so-called "Venuses" are found all over Europe and into Asia in the Upper Paleolithic. Carved from stone and ivory, these portable figures are always women and are characterized by their exaggerated anatomical features. They have enormous breasts, protruding abdomens, broad hips, and marked fat deposits on the thighs, hips, and buttocks. Few have details of the face but the Brassempouy Lady, an ivory statuette from France at 25 Kya, is one exception. Some archaeologists consider the statues to be fertility symbols, possibly reflecting a fertility goddess. Perhaps the most recognizable "Venus" is the carved Willendorf woman from Austria at about 23 Kya (Figure 5.4)

The oldest rock paintings in Africa are in Namibia and date to about 27 Kya, but those are only the ones that have been dated rigorously so far. Some of Africa's rock art may date to more than 70 Kya but they are usually overshadowed in the literature by the European cave art because of the better preservation and there are just more occupied caves in Europe in the first place. The relative abundance of art and artifacts in Europe compared to Africa in the Upper Paleolithic is due to preservation biases.

Upper Paleolithic humans left behind evidence of their elaborate body adornment as well. Some of the oldest well-dated jewelry are some

Bone Needle

Bone Awl

Bone Needle

Bone Awl

Bone Spear Throw

Bone Spear Throw

Harpoons u

Harpoons

Venus Figurine

Cave Art

Venus Figurine

Cave Art

Figure 5.4 Modern human technology and art emerged in the Upper Paleolithic and includes tools made of bone, carved figurines, and cave paintings. Handprints, like the one shown, were made by blowing pigment onto the hand like a stencil. Illustration by Jeff Dixon.

ostrich eggshell beads with holes for stringing them together that were discovered in Turkey between 45 and 40 Kya. Around the same time, similar artifacts have been found in Kenya, Lebanon, and Bulgaria. The Chatelperronian culture is known for the use of teeth—often from carnivores like foxes, bears, wolves, and hyenas—in jewelry and body adornment.

There is no clothing preserved from the Upper Paleolithic but molecular phylogenetics of lice hold some clues. Head lice and body lice were once the same species. Head lice feeds on the scalp and body lice feeds on the body but lives in the clothing. The origin of body lice, or the timing of its split from head lice, is estimated to have occurred between 72 and 42 Kya, which means that clothing (the habitat for body lice) was probably adopted during that time. Because African body lice DNA is more variable than that of body lice around the world, it is consistent with the expansion of body lice and its clothed carriers out of Africa.

Language, as discussed above, as well as religion are traits that are traditionally lumped in with the human revolution because they involve symbolic thinking. Evidence for early religion and ritual is mostly only gleaned from burials. It is sometimes possible to tell, with controlled excavation, whether or not a skeleton has been deliberately buried or not. There is a difference in the sediment associated with the body compared to that just above and below it. Also, deliberate burial preserves skeletons much better than if they are left on the surface for scavengers, weather, and environmental processes to scatter or destroy the bones. Deliberate burial need not necessarily be equated with ritual or religion; it could merely be a way of housekeeping. Evidence of intentionality is claimed when a skeleton is found tucked in a fetal position, but critics argue that convenience (a smaller grave) rather than ritual could be responsible.

The intentionality of human burials is not debated. They occur in open air and cave sites and include beads, tools, ocher, charcoal, and other objects. It is possible—and to some it is doubtless—that Neanderthals deliberately buried their dead too. There is evidence supporting Neanderthal burial at sites like Shanidar in Iraq (60 Kya) where flower pollen was excavated from around the remains of the Neanderthal skeleton. The pollen could indicate that Neanderthals performed rituals and possessed some reverence for life and death. Critics argue that the pollen could have accumulated accidentally and is not necessarily the result of ritual or the belief in an afterlife. Also as an aside, judging from the trauma to the Shanidar skeleton, the individual had clearly led a difficult life. A heavy blow to the left side of the skull had most likely left him partially blind and his arm was partly amputated and healed. A sense of prolonged loss may have begun in humans as early as 160 Kya since it is clear from the polished skulls found at the Herto site in Ethiopia that someone had kept them and handled them long past death.

0 0

Post a comment