Cultural Anthropology

How Early Humans Adapted to their Environment

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Some of the earliest remains such as bones, tools, butchery marks on animal bones that were left by earlier humans, and other types of evidence have giving anthropologist an idea about how early humans lived, functioned as a group and adapted to their environments.

It is believed that the earliest humans have derived from the Miocene hominoids which originated in Africa roughly around 23 to 14 million years ago. Archaeological research and discoveries have estimated that the behavioral aspects of early humans began roughly around 2.5 to 2.0 million years ago. The earliest artifact sites are from Gona and Buri which are located in the northeastern part of Ethiopia and from Hadar and the middle awash areas to the south of Ethiopia. Cultural development not only included tool making, but it is also believed that during this time there was social and economic development and what is considered the beginning of the material culture.

Excavations at Olduvai have given us a better understanding of our earlier ancestors. The Olduvai site contains three separate areas in which these people functioned. The first area is referred to as the butchering area and contained several sites in which animal remains were found and has been dated to roughly around 1.7 to 1.2 million years ago. It is unclear as to whether these animals were hunted and killed by these people or if these animals were already dead before these people took them back to the butchering areas. It is believed that not only did they scrap the meat from the bones, but perhaps even extracted the bone marrow. Another area that was discovered in Olduvai is the Quarry areas. These areas show many small stone fragments which appear to come from only one type of stone. This area dates to about 1.6 to 1.7 million years ago and is believed to be where these people came to make their stone tools. The last area is called the multipurpose sites and several of these areas have been found. Many believe that these areas were used for sleeping, eating and for other activities.

It is believed that some of the early humans journeyed out of Africa in search of more game because of the environmental changes which were causing the tropical forests to shrink and cause the extinction of local animals and because of their hunger for animal protein. It is also believed that because of their stone tool technologies they were able to explore and seek out new areas. Some journeyed throughout parts of Europe while others journeyed through parts of Asia and the Near Eastern areas, including parts of India, Pakistan and Turkey. Scientific discoveries such as the study of mitochondrial DNA have indicated that the earliest humans evolved in Africa with the first migration out of Africa roughly around 80,000 years ago.

It is not until the Upper Paleolithic period roughly around 40,000 to 55,000 years ago were we see the first modern human beings. This was an age of technological innovation with the invention of new and specialized tools, new materials such as bone, ivory, antlers, stone and wood; and where they ritually buried their dead with body ornaments, beaded clothing, necklaces and bracelets. It is believed that these people now lived in caves and even in small tents. The first modern humans were found in the Cro-Magnan caves in the southwest part of France. Artifacts such as spear throwers, harpoons and even bow and arrows found at this site suggest that these people hunted all sizes of game, including big game. Also found at this site were many sophisticated stone tools, Venus figurines and cave art. It is also believed that they were aware of medicine properties of plants. With the climates temperature slowing rising caused the disappearing of animals and plants, which then affected the early humans and forced them to other means of obtaining food; which included the domestication of plants and animals to grinding hard seeds and roots. Because of the domestication of plants and animals it created a permanent settlement for these people, and with this new technology came a more complex social organization.

Cites Worked

Jurmain, Introduction to Physical Anthropology 9th Edition, 2003 Thomson & Wadsworth

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