02 September 2009
Prometheus Was A Homo Erectus
Artist's impression of a homo erectus
The technologies associated with the popular stereotype of the stone age cave man actually pre-date both modern humans, the subspecies to which all humans living today belong. This technology also predates Neanderthals, the immediately preceding subspecies or species of humans (the modern trend as a result of genetic evidence is to view Neanderthals as a separate species), whom there is increasing evidence did not have any significant children together with modern humans. Modern humans evolved from Neanderthals in Africa around 160,000 years ago and left Africa around 100,000 years ago. Neanderthals evolved in Africa and left Africa about 200,000 years.
The human ancestor species homo erectus left Africa around 1,900,000 years ago and subsequently went extinct. Homo erectus was the first hominid species to use most of the primitive technologies we popularly associate with cave men.
Homo erectus tamed fire as early as 790,000 years ago (a discovery that Greek legend attributed to the god Prometheus). There is evidence that homo erecutus used double edged shaped stone hand axes in East Africa as long as 1,700,000 years ago. Stone hand axes from 1.2 million years and 800,000 years ago have been found in Israel, and from 800,000 years ago in southern China (in a find made in 2000).
The oldest evidence of stone hand axes in Europe was about 500,000 years ago until now. A recent discovery in Spain found a stone hand ax dated to about 900,000 years ago; another specimen was dated to 760,000 year ago. Critics of the dating of the find think an age of 600,000 years ago makes more sense. Single edged stone tools as old as 1,300,000 years ago have been found in Spain.
The new evidence supports the possibility that double edged shaped stone hand axes were developed in Africa and that the technology then spread worldwide. More importantly, in my view, the widespread consensus is the basic technologies like stone tools and fire pre-date the species homo sapien.
Relation To Other Early Human Ancestors
Neanderthals and modern humans (and possibly homo erectus as well) co-existed in the early years of modern human existence, but Neanderthals went extinct sometime in the range of 40,000 to 12,000 years ago.
Many scholars view all pre-Neanderthal hominid specimens outside Africa as subtypes of homo erectus, rather than as separate species; thus the modern view is that one or more waves of homo erectus left Africa and spread across Eurasia, followed by one or more waves of Neanderthals, followed by one or more waves of modern humans. Other scholars argue that the specimens lumped together as homo erectus in this post and by many scholars include as many as seven species.
Homo erectus (or the last of the group of species lumped in with them in the view of some scholars) went extinct in most places about 250,000 to 100,000 years ago. This range of dates, of course, leaves their overlap with Neanderthals and/or modern humans unclear. An outlier example of a possible homo erectus is the small and isolated population of homo floresiensis, a.k.a. hobbits, in Indonesia, whom many scholars view as a dwarf species successor to, or subspecies of, homo erectus. Other scholars, unpersausively from what I have seen of the scientific debate, see homo florensiensis as a population of modern humans with congenital abnormalities. Homo floresiensis was a contemporary of modern humans on the island of Flores in Indonesia for tens of thousands of years.
Homo habilis, the human ancestor species that immediately preceded homo erectus and flourished from about 2.5 million to 1.6 million years ago, at least in East Africa, before going extinct. Homo habilis either did not leave Africa at all, or did not venture very from from it, and did not use the full range of technologies that we associate popularly with "cave men" although homo habilis did have some primitive stone tools.
Artist's impression of homo habilis