Check out this article arguing that ancient humans reached some islands in the Mediterranean sea as long ago as 450,000 years, by boat, not on foot. If this is true, those humans were not modern homo sapiens but homo erectus, suggesting that hominids became capable sailors hundreds of thousands of years ago. If this is true (and I believe it is) then all theories about human migration need to fully explore the notion humans sailed the coast and among islands, out of sight of land, just as often, if not more often, than undertaking long journeys over land. This makes sense, if you think about it, because during these times there were many periods when great ice sheets covered the land, not to mention all the enormous meat eating predators who were, then, the apex predators – short face bear, dire wolf, cats…..
Here below is an article about a new take on ancient humans and the eating of meat. Essentially it argues that the thesis that ancient humans shifted from plant-based foods to meat around two million years ago is not correct. This finding came not from any new evidence or studies, but from an analysis of already-found sites, their frequency, and basically a reinterpretation of the data. It seems as if the authors a building a case for a reinterpretation of humans as a killing, meat eating species.
This study, much reported of late, follows hard on the heels of a book that came out last year, The Dawn of Everything, by Graeber and Wengrow, claiming that the earliest large societies of humans were in many cases non hierarchical, lacking evidence of temples and other manifestations of class and power distinction. The book is massive, wonderfully written, and basically offers no proof for any of its conjectures, yet it is being lionized everywhere. It seems the authors are trying to argue we humans arose as a peaceful, pacific species. However, the book is admirable in confirming that indigenous peoples carried great wisdom and western industrial societies could learn much from them, and in the past have learned much from them.
It sounds like a thesis is emerging that the earliest humans were not meat eaters, primarily, and that, furthermore, human societies since the beginnings of time have chosen many forms and many of them, early on, were benign, classless, cooperative.
It is interesting that Darwin’s survival of the fittest emerged at almost exactly the same time that European nations were busy colonizing (and had been colonizing) vast swaths of the earth. One might even argue that this thesis was justifying colonial behavior, ie, if indigenous peoples could not resist invaders then this was OK because the “winners” were fitter.
There is other history whereby scientific theses were used to justify ideologically-driven points of view – for example “eugenics” being used to justify the sterilization of people considered retarded as happened in the first decades of the 20th century.
As human evolution theories expanded during the period, say, 1875 – 1960, greater numbers of ancient human-like (or human) types (or “species”) were named and discovered. Then it was found that homo erectus, the first really big brained hominid (mentioned in the attached article about meat eating) had expanded from Africa nearly 2 million years ago (coincident with the start of the ice ages) to spread all over Eurasia and Indonesia. A school of thought arose that held that the different “races” of humans arose each in their turn from erectus all over the world, with specific appearance traits like skin color, yet interbreeding enough so the difference were groups, not species, but after World War 2 this thesis lost favor to another, arguing that all modern humans arose from a single mother in Africa, “Lucy,” born about 200,000 years ago. The multiple origin thesis was declared racist, or feared would be used to support racist ideology, whereas the “Lucy” thesis held everyone was basically the same, and countered any racial tendencies. Today the multiple origin thesis is essentially banned from any discussion whatsoever.
In the years since, other hominid species have been found – Denisovian, Florensis – and genetic analysis had determined that these different types interbred with each other and with Neanderthal and with homo sapiens. It seems that hominids of many different types in the last several hundred thousand years interbred when they could. This means they were all one species.
Some might argue that science has been used as a support mechanism for ideology. Others might argue that scientific theories and social movements may be more interlinked than anyone wants to admit.
Now we seem to be entering a new era, call it “wokeness” with studies and books sifting through available data and coming up with entirely new conclusions which support the current ideological thrust of those who are trying to characterize us and our ancestors as peaceful, vegetarian, benign beings who have somehow gone entirely wrong since….agriculture? Industrialization?
As regards this meat eating study, which again is simply a reinterpretation of existing data, the authors seem to miss many salient points. One, apes and other primates are primarily plant eaters and have huge guts to process the fiber. Two, humans were able to control fire at about the same time brain size expanded and also when teeth became much smaller. Controlled fire allows for the cooking of food, the breaking down of the structure so it is easily digested. The use of fire, and cooking, required smaller teeth and meant that the energy needed to digest all those plants in earlier primates and maybe hominids could now be used to support a much expanded brain. It is all linked together.
My personal thesis is that the earliest humans ate meat when they could find it and seafood and marine food; ie, clams, shellfish, fish, marine mammals. We forget that until 12,000 years ago we humans were not the apex predator. The great animals were – short face bears, dire wolves, saber tooth tigers, lions, huge hyenas. Humans had to hide on islands and protected refugees in the ice to prosper, and many groups were wiped out, again and again. On land, or in the interior, life surely was difficult, and dangerous.
It feels, a bit, as if there is a desire and urge to somehow classify we humans as somehow evolved from a peaceful, pacific species, to thus deny danger and death and suffering and tragedy.
The urge to survive is one of the strongest forces within humans. It seems that this urge is overcome, or overridden, only when a parent’s child or close relative is in imminent danger, in which case one sacrifices oneself for another, or in combat when a soldier sacrifices himself to save his friends. Except for a blood relation or combat, though, it seems the urge to survive triumphs over all else. A few years ago someone became trapped on a cliff and cut off his own arm to escape- to survive.
In the face of a deadly pandemic most people have chosen to follow whatever steps they can to survive – isolate, wear masks, and, when finally available, become vaccinated.Yet in the case of this Covid pandemic, millions of people are choosing not to take such steps, and now, with this Delta variant, tens of thousands are dying because they have refused to take the vaccine.
This counter view, that vaccines are bad, that wearing masks is weak, is held by millions, with little change despite the very clear evidence masks and vaccines either prevent catching the virus or minimize medical consequences if people do become infected. The evidence is overwhelming that deaths caused by this virus are enormously lower if people are vaccinated. Yet, still, millions refuse to take the vaccine.
The reactions to Covid are surely tribal. Most tribes of people – groups of aligned views and interests – follow the suggestions of medical experts, believing that people who must study for eight to twelve years know more about this disease than they do. There is, however, a large and intense anti-mask and anti-vaccine group, or tribe, that, despite the clear and obvious risks, nevertheless choose to welcome their exposure to that risk. This seems to be a matter of tribal belonging, identifying with this tribe, being a member. It is almost as if the need to be tribal, surely wired into we humans for group protection in the ancient past, is stronger than the urge to survive. This seems to be the case with Covid, as it was with the Jim Jones cult years ago in South America.
While appearing, initially, illogical, it may be there is a survival mechanism at place here, in that in the distant past those who held the strongest tribal ties were able to prevail over those others without such ties. In other words, maybe in the distant past there was a selection element in favor of tribal identity overpowering even the survival urge.
It seems, whether true or not in the past, this is the case today.
The article below continues a series of findings and speculations that humans arrived in the Americas long before the end of the last ice age. For decades the prevailing view was that humans made it to the Americas by crossing the exposed Bering land bridge and then racing south to the rest of the Americas when the ice began to melt 14,000 years ago. However, recent discoveries have pushed those dates back.
The oldest human remains found to date anywhere in the Americas are perhaps 14,000 years old, in a Mexican cave. The oldest clear evidence of human hunting anywhere in the Americas was discovered in Sequim Washington, at the foothills of the Olympic mountains – a spear point was discovered in a mastodon skeleton shoulder bone. This was dated to 13,800 years ago, and can be seen today in a little museum in the center of Sequim with the mastodon skeleton. However, within the last year fossilized human footprints were found in New Mexico that were 23,000 years old – the height of the great ice time. Additional sites are suggesting humans arrived in the Americas at least 33,000 years ago.
Dogma held that ancient humans could only travel over land. Only relatively recently has the field of human origins accepted that perhaps ancient humans were capable seafarers, able to transit long distances over the ocean, island to island or along the coast. There was evidence found in Timor of deep-sea fishing for tuna 40,000 years ago – a fish found far from land. As long as 80,000 years ago humans crossed to Australia over a strait 60 miles wide, requiring sailors to be able to navigate the open ocean out of sight of land.
For most of human history – nearly 2 million years – sea levels were lower than today, mainly because during those 2 million years we have suffered an ice age every 100,000 years which has lasted 80,000 to 90,000 years, and during which time the weather was colder worldwide and sea levels lower, often much lower. The Bering land bridge has been exposed and then buried many times during this period.
Also, for most of human history, we shared the planet with huge mammals, the so-called megafauna. The wooly mammoth and mastodon may be the most familiar, but it was the predators – dire wolves, saber tooth cats, huge hyenas, and short face bears – that are of concern here. These were meat eaters, huge, and the apex predator – not humans. The short face bear, for example, stood 12 feet high and could reach 15 feet. How high is 15 feet? If you go to a Costco gas area, the roof stretching over the pump stations is 15 feet high. Next time you’re there, take a look and then imagine a bear, weighing up to a ton, standing and reaching that high. Short face bears only ate meat, and could run 40 miles an hour.
The idea that humans wandered across the landscape anywhere on earth, or between melting ice sheets to reach the rest of the Americas, seems totally inconsistent with their ability to survive attacks from these animals during the tens, even hundreds, of thousands of years these predators were ascendant. More likely, it seems, our ancestors back in those times were few, scattered, and always choosing places to live and hunt as secure as possible from attack, suggesting that they lived on islands off the mainland, or in glacial refuges guarded by thick ice. It also seems logical that humans back then would choose to live along the coast, taking seafood for food – fish, shellfish, clams – and able to stay away from the great predators by choosing islands for safety.
We may never know, of course, mainly because all those coastal sites were located on a shore now buried beneath as much as 200 feet of water, and all evidence of their settlement, anywhere on earth, is vanished, gone, buried, forever.
Here is a speculation – humans learned to use canoes and skin covered boats and other craft long, long ago, maybe even before we became “modern” 70,000 to 100,000 years go (whatever that may mean) and we followed every coast, living off the sea and sheltered as best we could from the great predators, from our earliest existence and memory. Humans reached the Americas along the coast, not over land. This could have happened whenever the Bering land bridge was exposed – 14,000 years ago, 30,000 years ago, 80,000 years ago or, even, 130,000 years ago at the end of the ice age before this last one from which we emerged 12,000 years ago. (Interestingly, during the warm interglacial between that ice age – the Eemian – and the latest ice age, for a period of 10,000 years, it was warmer than it is today and sea levels were 20-50 feet higher than today.) We don’t know.
The absence of evidence does not mean there is no evidence, it simply means evidence may not have yet been found. Yes, there are no human remains found in the Americas older than 14,000 years, but does this mean no humans were here before then? Maybe. However, logic suggest that humans first travelled using water and the coasts, relying on seafood, staying as far as they could from the great predators who ruled the upland. Logic suggests early humans lived in small groups and frequently were wiped out by those animals or other great disasters, like glacial floods, earthquakes, volcanoes. All the evidence for the earliest human living spaces lies buried beneath the rising seas. And this is how things were until, this last time the earth warmed, the great predators were finally overcome either by human hunters or climate change or disease.
I wonder if we as a species are dumbing down. Before farming (ie, dense settlements, crowds, and a need for administration) human bones we have recovered shows that skeletons were stronger and brains bigger. In fact the very recent discovery of that skull in northern China, maybe 150,000 years old, has a brain bigger than modern man’s. My guess is we had bigger brains because we needed to remember everything in order to carry forth learning and culture. We did this with stories, I am sure, stories as a way to encode memory for years, then for generations.
Then with farming, and the development of a priestly class, writing developed, first used to catalogue the administration of commerce and materials, and to document religious structure and belief. Until very very recently – as in, the last say 500 years – only a tiny percentage of we humans could read and write; needed to read and write,. Then, about 400 years ago, education in the literary arts became more widespread, and now, in the 21st century, nearly everyone can read at some level.
So for the last say four or five centuries humans began to store their memories and their data with writing and scrolls and books in levels great enough to see the broad development of libraries. Libraries, and palace records, documented what had been learned and exported all this information to ink and paper such that humans did not, any longer, have to carry everything around in their head. At the same time, of course, culture and civilization became increasingly complex, requiring great specialization in the professions and in learning itself – further requiring the use of paper and ink to hold records, instructions, historical accounts.
With the wide use of reading and writing the tremendous importance of verbal and oral histories, and teachings, began to diminish. What had been held in a person’s large brain was now stored somewhere else. This meant that the brain no longer needed to remember so much. And maybe this is why the average brain of we humans today is smaller than the brains of our ancestors who had to survive in a world filled with terrible animals, great ice, and huge swings in climate.
Now we have entered a third phase in this process, in the last half century – the development of the computer, the ability to store incredible amounts of information on chips and drives. This was something in the early years but still required the printing of thousands of pages to reveal the stored data. However, in the last 20 years the “cloud” and the Internet has created a paradigm shift – now everything is stored in the “cloud” and there are applications and programs that enable anyone on earth, using a cell phone or computer, to ask any question and receive an answer. This is called “googling.” You see it all the time, someone asks a question and someone else peers at their phone and a half minute later gives an answer, because they googled the cloud and the cloud spat back an answer.
So these days humans no longer have to remember everything with stories, as our bigger brained ancestors had to, or know enough to read a card catalogue to find data in a library – no. These days all someone has to do is be able to read and click in a question, and the “cloud” gives the answer.
If human brains shrank with the advent of writing, the first form of remote storage, won’t brains shrink even more, and faster, with this “cloud?” Why exercise your brain, train it to learn and hold information, contain it and sort it, when an external thing does it for you? All those stresses and pressures creating neurons and pathways will fall idle.
When the Kennewick Man was discovered in Washington State a great argument ensued. Native tribes demanded that the bones remain with them, as an honored ancestor of 9,000 years ago. Others – non-Natives – argued the Kennewick Man carried “Western” traits (whatever the heck that means) and might have origins from Europe. A battle ensued. Along the way, of course, DNA analysis and genetic testing has evolved rapidly, such that today there are complete genomes of ancient peoples available from both the Old and New World. Recently, as the article below describes in fascinating detail, Kennewick Man has been confirmed as a true Native American ancestor, and his remains returned. It is still the strong belief, supported by evidence, that Native American peoples came from Eurasia, mainly Siberia, some 15,000 to 24,000 years ago. We have already forgotten that just two decades ago the STRONG belief was that nobody was in the Americas until the “Clovis” people appeared 12,000 years ago. As every year passes, dramatic rethinking is being forced by new finds:
Ancient people reached the Americas at least 20,000 years ago, and maybe much earlier;
Ancient peoples understood maritime seafaring and wandered widely, but during a time when sea levels were much lower such that all their sites are now covered;
Ancient patterns of trade and resource exchange were complex and widespread, often covering thousands of miles;
All during human development the climate has changed, some times rapidly, in enormous swings, equally as dramatic then as the current concerns about global warming have people panicking today;
There is now a begrudging acceptance that humans living in the time of the great animals were, for thousands of years, NOT the top predator, but barely able to linger in out of the way protected sites.
I built this theory that during the last ice age, thousands of years, even tens of thousands of years before the accepted time of crossing the land bridge ( less than 15,000 years ago), people might have been in the Americas, living along the coast, sheltering on islands in glacial refugia away from the great carnivorous animals and near fish and marine mammals for food. Because, then, people must have been few in number, and because even in our earliest days humans knew it was healthiest to find mates not directly related to family members, I think it is fair to guess that bands of raiders went out and sought to steal people from other groups. This behavior has often been documented even in recent memory, as for example knowledge that First Peoples from way north in British Columbia sailed their great canoes south to the Strait of Juan de Fuca to capture women and slaves from Puget Sound tribes living along the shores of the strait.
Evidence exists that ancient people were tremendous seafarers, surely able to leave the sight of land for fish, for travel, and while a coastline in an ice age might have long sections bounded by cliffs of ice, I speculate travel was possible, and frequent. The structure of the ice age world revealed in the Strong Heart Series is, of course, fiction, but as true as I could make it based on the research I did. It seemed to me then, and still does, it would be a lot easier to have other people capture and steal mates from inland neighbors if you could offer something of tremendous value in exchange. In my stories, I imagined that these ancient People walked south across the Great River for razor stone – they crossed the Columbia for the obsidian available in Oregon – and then they headed toward the Bering land bridge with this razor stone to trade for wives at a meeting place somewhere midway along that land bridge.
Of course this idea contradicts accepted theory on every level – my tales took place not 12,000 years ago nearly 70,000 years ago – I suggest people could navigate their great canoes 2,000 miles along an exposed coast and survive, I argue that because of the great animals humans barely survived in out of the way and hard to reach refuges, protected by ice, by water; that humans lived and even thrived all this time along the strip of shore now buried hundreds of feet beneath a rising ocean.
This tale came to me in 2012, or the first draft did, and I thought, then, God has a sense of humor, a wicked one, and as sure as I am writing this today, at some time in the near future something will be found confirming that humans have been in the Americas far longer than 15,000, or even 20,000 or 40,000 years. It better be a damn good find because everyone with careers built the current thesis will fight to the death to protect that thesis, as even now some still fight to protect the 12,000 year “Clovis” thesis, which was debunked by the finding of a spear point in a mastodon bone in Sequim, Washington that is 13,800 years old – the oldest evidence of hunting, I think, anywhere in the Americas.
But, that razor stone, and the idea a people collected that stone for use in trade for wives with other people living far, FAR away, beyond the land bridge, was not when my story first appeared ridiculous to me, and now may be even more reasonable based on the report that obsidian – razor stone – only available in Oregon, has now been found under Lake Huron, at least 9,000 years old. The age of this find fits within current dogma about the end of the ice age, but also shows that people, even back just as the ice was melting, traded materials over thousands of miles.
I think there has been a lack of imagination about how ancient humans lived and survived. In addition to missing, until recently, the awareness that throughout human history humans have persisted through enormous climatic changes (one ice age after another), we have also imagined how ancient humans lived by comparing them to the few remaining hunter gatherer societies remaining on earth. By the time human studies and anthropology and archeology came into being as specific fields of study (no earlier than 1850 and really not until around 1900) most hunter gatherer groups had been decimated by disease, encroachment, and crowding. When I was in graduate school in 1970 some papers appeared contradicting the belief that ancient human groups spent all their time foraging for food, or hunting, frequently starving, always desperate and stressed. Studies of the Kalahari Bushmen in Africa, near the Kalahari desert in Botswana, demonstrated that in fact they lived pretty well – hunting one or two days a week, gathering foods a few days a week, and spending a lot of time socializing and telling stories. Researchers were also astonished to find that, once infant and childhood deaths were accounted for, adults lived to the same age as modern humans. So the belief was either that ancient tribes struggled always, or, perhaps, actually lived a nearly suburban life.
While it may well be that ancient tribal groups lived very much as the few remaining hunter gatherers today live, what seems to be missing is that the major difference between now and then is that back then the great animals were thriving – mammoths, mastodons, and great sloths could be found nearly everywhere, as could their predators. And what predators they were – great lions larger than modern lions, huge saber tooth cats, dire wolves standing four feet at the shoulder and weighing 200 pounds, and short face bears, carnivorous bears weighing a ton, able to run 40 miles an hour, and reaching as high as 15 feet.There were big hyenas and other carrion eaters, too. In fact, attached below, a mass grave of Neanderthals was just found destroyed by what are believed to be a pack of hyenas, yet even this article misses the main point.
Where I think the lack of imagination lies is understanding how ancient humans must have responded to these animals. Humans are small, weak, and slow, though their endurance over long distances is perhaps the best of any animal on earth, and there is even one theory stating that ancients hunted big game not by attacking that game but by running it down, harrying it again and again until it collapsed with exhaustion. Whenever a human wandered the plains or forest, he or she wandered in territory used by the great predators. Yes, groups gathered together with burning firebrands might have been able to take on a pack of dire wolves, but just as surely the wolves would have had their day. Humans had to find places that were safe from these predators, and safe for long periods of time, because years were needed to raise a child to adulthood, to grow and learn what was needed for survival – at least 13-15 years, probably longer. Every time a group moved, they were vulnerable to attack. If they chose to remain in one place, say a big cave, they needed to range far and wide for game and foods, also vulnerable to attack. Life was always risky, and dangerous, and harsh, and the most dangerous elements were the great predators.
This suggests to me that early humans, all the way up to the end of this last ice age and the beginning of agriculture, must have chosen to find places to live that were, to the degree possible, isolated from easy attack yet near sufficient food for survival. The only such places I can imagine would be along the shore, the seashore or a great lake, on a nearby island, separate from the mainland but with the mainland accessible for hunts, and close, too, to marine resources such as shellfish and fish. On the mainland, such a secure place would be a cave, something with a relatively narrow entrance that could be guarded with fire and spears, but the most secure places would be nearshore islands with marine resources and access to nearby mainland game.
What does this suggest? First, that it is likely that those groups of humans living inland might often have been destroyed, again and again, over thousands of years. Second, that any groups living along the seashore on nearby islands had a better chance of long term survival, but we will never know because the places they lived, the seashore and islands, have long been buried by the rising seas as there last ice melted. And, third, and to me most important, when those groups along the shore felt the need to find new resources, they followed that shore, island to island, over the centuries, and this suggests that the first long human migrations were along coasts, not the interior.
If this is the case, and I believe it is, then throughout human history, over the many times land bridges appeared with the coming of the ice, it is highly likely that humans traversed those land bridges, including the one between Eurasia and the Americas. And, if humans lived along the shore on islands, then from their very beginnings they used boats, initially hollowed out trees to make canoes, to follow that shore wherever it led.
The first real humans, it seems, were Homo Erectus, erect man, who survived nearly two million years, maybe until nearly the present, eventually either merging with later humans or dying out (I think merging is much more likely). Slightly smaller than we humans today, with a smaller brain case, Erectus used fire and has been found in Africa, Europe, Asia, and Indonesia. Some believe Erectus used canoes. Later species, or subgroups, of humans, with larger brains, also used fire and boats. But during all this time, those two million years, in addition to over 20 ice ages coming and going, until the last 10,000 to 12,000 years those humans all shared the earth with the great predators. These great and terrible animals must have been the defining control on humans, the factor that kept the human groups small, distant, often unsuccessful. Only with the end of this last ice advance, as sea levels rose and agriculture emerged, and as the great animals became extinct, did humans overrun all the earth. But, for over 99 percent of our history, if this thesis is correct, humans were restricted to those isolated places that could be considered safe – islands, maybe even glacial refuges among the sheets off ice.