Life, skills and customs of the Ancient Hominids - Artifacts left behind by the ancient hominids can provide hints.
Life, skills and customs of the Ancient Hominids
No one knows for certain how the ancient hominids looked—much less what they ate, how they hunted, how they
treated one another, what they thought, or how they viewed their world and themselves. Artifacts left behind by the
ancient hominids can provide hints.
The earliest examples of stone tools date from 2.3 million years ago. Hominids from this epoch are usually depicted as
very apelike, lacking the dexterity and intelligence to fashion complex tools. Recently, though, evidence has emerged
that contradicts this long-held belief.
The earliest stone tools consist of stones reshaped by the user to form a simple blade. The user hits a larger stone with
a smaller one to knock off pieces, called flakes, in a process known as "flaking." Until the 1990s, few anthropologists
would've considered the idea that the earliest hominids used their intellect to craft more complicated tools, or that their
flaking techniques exhibited planning, analysis, and precision. But the tools unearthed in Kenya during the 1990s
illustrated just these traits. The toolmaker removed as many as 30 flakes from a single stone to achieve the perfect
Examining other examples from the same region showed that the toolmakers worked according to a defined process,
rather than randomly flaking off bits until they happened upon the right shape. Having discovered the ideal angle for
striking the stone, the toolmakers also duplicated the angle each time, resulting in a remarkable similarity between the tools.
These "ape-men" clearly had the forethought and analytical skills to recognize the best angle, reproduce it with multiple
stones, repeat the flaking process until they got it right, and teach their skills to their brethren.
Evidence from Tanzania hints that early hominids did more than scavenge whatever carcasses they stumbled over in
their wanderings. At one site, hominids traveled some distance to find a meal, which they then brought back to their
home territory—as evidenced by the animal bones found there. Hominids must've searched for carcasses, or even
hunted the animals themselves, then transported the carcasses to another location where the flesh was removed using stone tools.
The hominids didn't live where they de-fleshed their carcasses. Instead, they seem to have chosen one site as their
butcher shop, and another for the living quarters.
Other evidence implies ancient hominids had culture and ritual. A number of sites preserve Neanderthals burials—
individuals purposely interred, rather than covered by sediment from flood waters or crushed under falling stones.
At Kebara Cave in Israel and La Chapelle-aux-Saints in France we find simple pits in which Neanderthals buried the
deceased; at Le Moustier in France, we discover a teenage boy buried with care on a bed of flint flakes, his head placed
on one arm; at La Ferrassie in France, we encounter a cemetery where two adults and four children were laid to rest.
Then we have Homo heidelbergensis, an erectus successor who migrated into northern Europe around 600,000 years
At Boxgrove in England, scientists have uncovered a hammer carefully sculpted from the antler of an extinct giant deer.
Fragments of flint on the hammer's surface demonstrate that heidelbergensis used such hammers to shape stone tools.
To create a hammer for repeated uses implies heidelbergensis had the ability to plan ahead, as well as to recognize the
value of making one tool to aid in the manufacture of others. By 400,000 years ago, heidelbergensis had begun to craft
wood spears. They apparently realized which trees offered the hardest wood and therefore made the best weapons.
Controversial evidence from Indonesia suggests ancient hominids sailed the ocean. Stone tools found on the island of
Flores were originally attributed to Homo erectus. Since the discovery of Homo floresiensis, the dwarf hominid,
anthropologists have argued about whether the tools belong to erectus or floresiensis. The only remains of floresiensis
found so far date to between 18,000 and 12,000 years ago. At least one site containing stone tools dates to around
800,000 years ago. Unless older floresiensis bones are found, the dwarf hominids cannot have created the tools.
Homo erectus seems the most likely suspect.
But how did erectus get to Flores 800,000 years ago? Although land bridges connected other archipelagos at the time,
nobody has found evidence of a land bridge joining Flores to mainland Asia. Homo erectus had one way of reaching the
island. They must've sailed there on boats.
The evidence suggests ancient hominids possessed intelligence and sophistication on a par with our own. We should
stop looking at them as apish brutes, and begin to see them for the clever creatures they were.