and these composite wood-and-stone tools replaced the hand axes. What stopped the Middle Stone Age people from leaving Africa as their predecessors had done? It seems the descendants of these predecessors may have been hemming them in. Even by 100,000 years ago, the human lineage in Africa was still using the same tool kit as the Neanderthals in Europe and as Homo erectus in Asia. They evidently enjoyed no competitive advantage over the Neanderthals.
During a warmer period in the ice age that lasted from 125,000 to 90,000 years ago, people came close to escaping from Africa. They extended their range to the region that is now Israel, at the border of Africa and Asia. But during the cold period that prevailed from 80,000 to 70,000 years ago, the Neanderthals expanded their range southward to western Asia and seem to have destroyed the emigrants.26
The humans who lived during the African Middle Stone Age, which lasted from 250,000 to 50,000 years ago, had a way of life that was more sophisticated than their ergaster forebears but only slightly so. They obtained their stone locally, not through trade, suggesting they had small home ranges or very simple social networks. They hardly ever made things of bone, ivory or shell. They were not very good hunters and couldn't even fish. Their populations were small, as judged by the archaeologists' standard people-meter, the tortoise test. (People catch large tortoises first, then smaller ones. Tortoises are so slow to replace themselves that the size of a human settlement can be judged by whether the tortoise bones are large, indicating a sparse human population, or small, meaning rather more mouths to feed.)27
Like the Neanderthals, the Middle Stone Age people seem to have buried their dead, but very simply, and to have collected pigment making minerals, though for an unknown purpose. They left no clear evidence for art or decoration.
This pattern of behavior altered scarcely at all as one millennium followed another. Strangely, the human form was changing much more. In Africa, people began to attain the skull size and skeleton of contemporary humans some 200,000 ago. The oldest known specimens, from a site near
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