chapter  3
33 Pages

Archaic Humans: Homo ergaster, Homo erectus, and Homo heidelbergensis: 1.9 Million to 150,000 Years Ago

This chapter describes what little we know about the human story after the appearance of the first true humans, commonly known to scientists as Homo ergaster. We cover an immensely long period of time from about 2 million years ago (mya) up to the advent of the first truly modern humans, Homo sapiens, in tropical Africa about 200,000 years ago. During this time span, Homo ergaster diversified ultimately into at least three different human lineages-Homo erectus in eastern Asia, Homo neanderthalis, the celebrated Neanderthals, in Europe, and Homo sapiens in Africa. The first diversification came with the emergence of Homo erectus about a million years ago. The Neanderthals and Homo sapiens shared a common ancestor as late as 600,000 to 500,000 years ago, a human form named Homo heidelbergensis, which originated in Africa and spread from there to Europe. All of these humans shared intensely conservative behavior. Their technologies and lifeways changed remarkably little over hundreds of thousands of years. They were thin on the ground. We are merely guessing that 250,000 years ago, the world’s population probably numbered no more than a few hundred thousand people. Archaic humans like these may have been adept hunters, but they were opportunistic ones, who lacked much of the cognitive abilities of planning and communication typical of modern humans. Their dwellings were at best rudimentary; the same kinds of stone tools sufficed without significant change for millennia. Apparently they made little use of antler, bone or wood, created little or no art, and at most rudimentary spiritual beliefs. Fully modern human behavior only developed with the emergence of fully modern humans with all the intellectual potential we possess well after 200,000 years ago, a development described in Chapter 4.