Humanity 100,000 Years Ago - Life In The Paleolithic
It's so late right now but I am determined to finish this video today. *super cool intro scene* Undoubtedly the biggest difference between our time and and 100,000 years ago was that there were six distinct human species around. I've put species in inverted commas there because modern genetics and and the evidence we have for interbreeding has really complicated our definition of species but it's still the most convenient term to use. Homo sapiens, that's me, that's you that's Kim Jong-Un, we were restricted to two regions at this time. Africa, which as we evolved there is no big surprise, but also the middle east. As evidenced
by various finds but most interestingly for me these are preserved footprints from the Nefud desert in Saudi Arabia. I absolutely love a preserved footprint, a handprint on a wall, there's something so personal so intimate about them. This is roughly, very roughly about 30 to 40,000 years before the big expansion of homo sapiens outside of Africa. I know the middle east is not in Africa but nature does not care about the nice tidy categories that we try to impose on it. Further north in Eurasia lived our old friends the neanderthals. Distant cousins, part-time lovers, at this point in time they extended across a huge swathe of the continent. How far east and how far south exactly they extended though is a big subject of debate.
Two of the most eastern examples we've found so far come from Teshik Tash cave in Uzbekistan and Denisova cave in Russia. As you can see there the territories of neanderthals and homo sapiens likely overlapped in southwest Asia, making it the most likely source of the "hnibz". Homo sapien neanderthal initial boinking zone. I didn't make that up that's the scientific term. "It's science" Further east into asia at this time we had the enigmatic denisovans, they're a much closer relative of neanderthals but their exact range is really hard to pin down. We have for sure only recovered two denisovan remains, one from denisova cave and the other from baishiya karst cave in Tibet. We know from genetics of people in southeast asia that interbreeding
between homo sapiens and denisovans occurred down there but as yet we haven't found a single fossil so there's not that much I can say about these southern denisovans they're currently sort of missing from the fossil record. However, now that we know of the existence of denisovans older fossils that have been given other classifications like homo erectus in places like china are now being reassessed and so I can't say much at the minute but who knows what will come from that research. On the islands of southeast Asia though is where stuff gets really interesting, really funky. Tucked away on the island of java lived an isolated population of homo erectus. These guys were an absolutely crucial step in our evolution. I've made a video on them before, give it a watch, it's an absolute banger. They once extended across Africa into Europe across
Asia but by 100,000 years ago they had either died out or evolved into other hominins tucked away on java though, isolated from the rest of the world a population of them seems to have survived until 108,000 years ago. Absolutely incredible they were they're really a relic of a bygone age. Just over the water from java on the island of flores lived perhaps the most unique hominin that archaeologists have ever discovered homo floresiensis, aka the hobbits, these tiny folk were probably only around one meter tall as adults and it's most likely that they descended from a population of homo erectus that got stuck on flores and suffered from a phenomenon called island dwarfism. They may have survived until as recently as 50,000 years ago which does mean possibly that as homo sapiens were expanding across the world these two groups came into contact. The final species that we know of from this time was found on the island of luzon and so is called homo luzinensis there's not much i can say about them at the minute because it's such a recent find we just know that they were there and who knows they may well turn out to be our missing southern denisovans, we don't know. It's a really early stages of research, but what
is definitely interesting about homo luzenensis though is that luzon has been an island for almost three million years so the fact that there were hominins there is the best and earliest direct evidence we have for hominins traveling across the water so pretty cool stuff. Okay I'm trying to finish this video on time but just as I'm editing it two new apparently distinct groups of hominin have been found, one in israel and the other in china. Dubbed homo longi for the time being. Absolutely fantastic skull, fantastic specimen. Really I should have said
at least six species at the start because a lot of the classifications of these fossils are very highly debated and these two new finds certainly add to that. I don't know how long this process of dividing these different fossils that we find into different groups it's going to last because this time period it really is a period of incredible human diversity and that's easy to forget now in this world where there is just one hominin left, us homo sapiens, but we're really pre-history, deep in pre-history the paleolithic it's an incredibly diverse time and I do have two videos in the works right now specifically on this human admixture, human diversity, the evolution of homo sapiens. Stay tuned for that, but an incredibly diverse time and yeah any anthropologists watching if you could not publish any more discoveries for like a week so I can finish this bloody video, that would be fantastic. Zooming back out at this map we've made please bear in mind that the day-to-day year-on-year ranges of these hominins could have fluctuated wildly climates change, herds move on and our paleolithic ancestors were just trying their best to survive. Before we get into the incredible technological and economical and artistic achievements of the time we have to acknowledge that for a lot of our paleolithic ancestors it was a hard life I, I wouldn't fancy swapping places with them that's for sure.
Now we don't have thousands upon thousands of human remains from this time period but in a study of 200 neanderthal remains ,17 percent of them had cranial injuries and these injuries are similar to what modern rodeo riders often get suggesting that these neanderthals got these injuries from going toe to toe with the absolutely massive wild beasts of the ice age. We don't have any evidence of archery at this time, good convincing evidence of archery doesn't appear until around 60,000 years ago in South Africa. So if you were a neanderthal, you were either throwing your spear at your prey or you were having to go up close and personal and stab it yourself. When we weren't being hurt by our prey we were becoming prey ourselves in a recent excavation of a cave just outside Rome, nine neanderthal remains were found the oldest dating to around 100,000 years ago. Now it's very early days in the excavation of this
site but archaeologists currently believe that these neanderthals were dragged there by hyenas. Before you even went out and hunted your first animal though you could have starved to death. Studies of neanderthal teeth have suggested that they frequently went through periods of nutritional stress in their childhood, so life was hard back then it was really hard. Getting eaten by a hyena is a certified bummer no doubt about it. Homo sapiens neanderthals and denisovans were all creating stone tools using what we call the levallois technique. Rather than finding a stone and just chipping away at it until it's the shape you want, humans would prepare the core. They would remove flakes from the
outside of the core to produce the desired shape roughly and then with a big bash on the bottom, the flake that you had broken off would be the spear point that you wanted. This was not a new technology for the time humans had been doing it for several hundred thousand years by this point, but it does show that they were thinking about using their resources efficiently. Using this technique one core could produce multiple blades and points so it was kind of the model t ford of their time. This is mass production paleolithic style. Even though this levallois technique might not have been new, we do seemingly see the emergence of some new technologies at this time. Over in Dar es Sultan, Morocco, archaeologists have found this 90,000 year old knife made from a mammal's rib and over in Katanda in the Democratic Republic of Congo, archaeologists have found this absolutely beautiful bone harpoon. Around this time we start to see the emergence of these really specialized and sophisticated bone tools. They're a great indication that our cognitive abilities
were improving, that we were able to create really specialized tools for specialized jobs. Up north in Eurasia neanderthals weren't slacking off either. It's been well documented now that they were using pine and birch resin to create glues to attach spear points to their shaft.
Similarly in South Africa it seems that humans were heat treating silcrete rocks, that they used to create tools, in order to create better thinner flakes, more consistent flakes, more suitable for use as projectiles. This is just a taste of what people were up to ,there's a lot more that could be said about the technology of this middle paleolithic. But I think these examples really highlight the ingenuity of our ancestors, not only were they creating really specialized tools but they were physically altering the properties of the raw material available to them. They were literally scientists, there's no other way to say it, this is literally science. There's a lot said about the paleolithic diet these days and it's it's alleged health benefits. "Today were traveling back in time" "the paleo diet" "paleo" paleo" but not one video or book that I've ever seen has ever acknowledged the fact that tiny homo floresiensis might have been hunting dwarf elephants. In the same cave that
the homo floresiensis fossils were found archaeologists also noted large accumulation of dwarf elephant bones. A reasonable hypothesis therefore is that they were brought into that cave by homo floresiensis. Hobbits hunting dwarf elephants is probably the most interesting thing to have ever happened in the history of the world, and I don't want to watch another video about the paleolithic diet that doesn't mention that. You're you're skipping the most interesting thing. Obviously the hunting of animals was really important for all paleolithic people but we may have overstated its importance in the past. Let me give you an example,.
Neanderthals from Belgium were eating wooly rhino and wild sheep, very meat heavy diet, leading the absolutely stereotypical paleolithic lifestyle. However neanderthals down in El Sidron cave in Spain seemingly a little meat and had a diet that revolved a lot around nuts and, mushrooms, maybe even moss. So the picture is a lot more complicated than just "neanderthal equals meat eater" for sure that was the case a lot of the time but their diets varied according to the regions that they lived in and the resources available to them. Down in Africa at
this time there's a lot of debate about whether we see evidence for a broad spectrum economy. That's the archaeological term for taking full advantage of the resources in your area not just hunting the biggest game available to you. Fish and sea mammals start to make more of an appearance on the menu. Down in Mozambique archaeologists have found a grinding stones with wild seeds impressed into them and in South Africa people were roasting starchy vegetables and tortoises in their hearths. Throwing a tortoise on the fire is probably
the closest thing a person in the paleolithic could have gotten to fast food. The development of broad spectrum economies was a really significant moment in human history even though it seems so trivial to us now, it would ultimately lead to the development of agriculture but we don't see agriculture fully emerge until around 12,000 years ago, after the climate had become a lot warmer and a lot more stable. Not because of Atlantis, looking at you marvel. Still one hundred thousand years ago homo sapiens, they were doing okay they were developing the tools and the economies and the flexibility that would eventually allow us to take the whole world by storm. Now one hundred thousand years ago isn't exactly the earliest evidence we have for symbolic expression but it certainly seems to have increased around this time again as with the bone tools suggesting something really concretely had switched in our brains. Homo sapiens,
neanderthals, denisovans we were all making art. For us homo sapiens there was one material which really dominates the archaeological record more than any other and that's ochre. One hundred thousand years ago someone in blombos cave either dropped or deposited or abandoned this ochre processing toolkit. It's very simple really it's a, it's a shell, it's some ochre of course, there's a grinding stone and in amongst the ochre archaeologists found traces of the spongy bones that we find in our bodies. Although i'm not suggesting it was human bones. I don't know that we know that. But the addition of these spongy bones was probably due to their fat content. Maybe
their fat within the bone marrow was used as a binding agent for the ochre? We don't know that's just the the hypothesis of the archaeologists that found it but it's pretty reasonable I think, pretty reasonable. Just these four things they're so humble but they're so significant. Being able to think creatively and express yourself in abstract ways, it really is what makes us human. "I want to get you to try being creative" Ochre would go on to be the predominant material that humans use to create those really absolutely stunning uh prehistoric handprints, but the earliest one of those we've dated so far is from around 40,000 years ago. So long after the time period we're talking about. The only piece of art or symbolic expression that we can reasonably attribute to denisovans are these bones from Henan in China. What they mean, we don't know. Did they mean anything? We don't know.
But nevertheless a denisovan did them and it shows that something was bubbling away in their brains. For Neanderthals though we have a lot of evidence for symbolic expression. Specifically from 100,000 years ago in Krapina in Croatia, neanderthals might have made jewelry out of these eight eagle talons and one toe bone. It seems from the wear marks on them that they were strung together. Now we don't know whether they were worn as a necklace, or a bracelet, or a rattle, or something else that we haven't thought of. In true Damien Hirst style these same groups of neanderthals were peeling the flesh from each other's skulls. That could have been
simple cannibalism, just to not starve to death, but there's not really that much nutritional benefit in eating someone's forehead it's not a very meaty part of the body. It's not unreasonable to think that this was some form of symbolic act, some form of secondary burial ritual maybe. Roughly 115,000 years ago in what is now Qafzeh in Israel, a young woman and a young child died. We don't really know anything about them. Of course evidence suggests that they lived the typical lifestyle of paleolithic hunters and gatherers. But we don't know what language they spoke. We don't know what their laugh sounded like. We don't
know what their favorite food was. But I think we can say something about them with certainty, I think we know that they were loved. When they died, the community around them, their friends, their family. They took time out of their day to dig a shallow pit and place them both carefully
inside. These people meant something. In their moment of death, they were cared for. There's no better illustration of the humanity of our paleolithic ancestors. That's it. That's the end of the video. I'm going to bed. See Ya