We’re Only Human – WIF Anthropology

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Moments That

Shaped Modern

Human Life

The evolution of our species has been… eventful, to say the least. While some form of semi-bipedal hominids and apes have existed for millions of years, our march toward modern civilization began relatively recently. In a short period of time, our species has gone through many monumental changes that gradually gave shape to everything we see around us today.

While some of these crucial historical moments are intuitive and well known, others aren’t that obvious. Almost all of them, though, are only apparent in hindsight…

9. The Possibility of Life On Other Planets

That we are alone in the Great Expanse is a frightening thought. After all, if Earthlings are the most advanced beings in the Universe… well that just cannot be, can it? Still, it is a distinct possibility and if that is the case, we won’t be meeting any aliens anytime soon.

BUT, and is a BIG but, most of us have the sneaking suspicion that our government know more than they are letting on. What aren’t they telling us about Area 51? And then there are those Air Force pilots that report seeing (UFO) Flying Objects that speed away faster than you can say, “Did you see that?”.

No one really knows (that we know of) for sure that there is intelligent life on other planets or that we have been visited by them. That very possibility gives us hope that someone smarter than us is out there somewhere… Got to be someone smarter!

8. When We Stood Up On Two Feet

If we get down to the basics, there aren’t many differences between our closest, four-legged ancestors: the intelligent apes. Apart from minor differences and some chance mutations, we may never have never been able to stray too far from that lineage. Then, some forward-thinking ape – or a group of them – around two to four million years ago decided that standing up was a way better way to live, and we’ve not looked back since.

The decision to stand up on two feet instead of four may seem to be insignificant and intuitive to most, though if you think about it, it’s an unprecedented trait in the tree of life. Humans are the only creatures that have ever evolved to walk on two feet, even if its immediate evolutionary advantages aren’t clear to science. Regardless, bipedalism freed our hands to be able to make more complicated tools, setting the stage for everything to come, making it one of the most important steps in the evolution of early humans.

7. The Domestication Of The Horse

We have a long history of domesticating animals for our needs. From sheep to cows to our best friends, the dogs, the animal kingdom is full of examples of animals that we have tamed and modified, and that have played important roles in the rise of our civilization.

One domesticated species, however, has been so important for humanity that we’ve written entire books and historical journals on the topic: the horse. First domesticated some time around 3000 BC in the Central Asian steppes, the horse initially served as a good source of meat and fur, much like other livestock animals at the time. Soon, however, people realized that it could be used for movement across large distances like no other animal we’ve ever been able to tame. They may not have realized it at the time, but that realization would become one of humanity’s most pivotal. The histories of all the earliest and biggest Eurasian civilizations perfectly coincide with the history of horse domestication in their respective regions. The horse finally allowed us to step out of our limited range and inhabit far off regions.

Not just that, but it also played an important role in the militaries of almost all major armies until the invention of gunpowder. Horse cavalry was often the most powerful unit in major ancient and medieval armies, often deciding the course of a battle entirely on its own.

6. The Rise Of Homo Sapiens

Even if most of us may not realize this, humans weren’t always the only hominid species on the planet. We’re only one of the many different branches of humans to evolve out of intelligent apes, some of whom we may not yet even know about. Moreover, it wasn’t always obvious that we’d be the last ones standing, either. In fact, the exact circumstances that led us to emerge as the ultimate victors of the early hominid race aren’t that clear. Neanderthals, for example, were much stronger than our homo sapiens ancestors, and may even have been capable of designing tools as advanced as us.

Despite the mystery surrounding our early days, it’s clear that the evolutionary domination of homo sapiens over other hominid species was one of our most crucial early steps. It eliminated the only challenge to our hegemony on the planet – other humans – and directly paved the way for all of the biggest moments in our history since.

5. The Age Of Revolutions

While most of this list deals with evolutionary and technological developments, the story of humanity is incomplete without its political and cultural milestones. Where bigger brains and opposable thumbs gave us the physical tools to win the Darwinian race, our decisions with organizing our society, economy and politics have been equally influential in shaping up our civilization.

In that respect, the events in Europe in the 17th and 18th centuries are perhaps some of the most important in our social history. For the most part, the majority of humanity has lived in rigidly structured, hierarchical societies controlled by a handful of people with power.

That changed in the 17th century beginning with the French Revolution, and eventually spread to the rest of Europe and the world. The Industrial Revolution – an important moment in its own right – led to people demanding better rights and living conditions, culminating in the massive revolts seen across European workplaces in the late 17th and 18th centuries, including the colonies.

This period laid the foundation for the largely liberal, democratic and developed part of the world today, where the majority of the population is free from the threat of hunger or conflict. The revolutions such as the French Revolution, American Revolution, and the 1848 wave of Revolutions in western Europe triggered the the rearrangement of the society, economy, and political structure away from Feudalism and in the favor of the individual, giving way to all of our modern ideas of human rights, liberty, freedom of faith and so on.

4. Islamic Golden Age

While Europe was the birthplace of some of the biggest social and political changes of the early modern era, the scientific revolution had already happened centuries before in a completely different region of the world.

The Golden Age of Islam – from seventh to the 13th century – was when we took the biggest leap forward in our scientific understanding of the world. Some of the earliest versions of most modern fields of science – such as medicine, flight, chemistry, astronomy, etc. – first developed in that region, thanks to scholars from around the world who were encouraged by the caliph and other local rulers. The period was so influential that, throughout that era, Arabic was the global language of science. That fact is evident in the vestiges of Arabic still found in much of our modern scientific lexicon; for example, algebra, alchemy, algorithm, and so on.

Unfortunately, all of that came to an abrupt end with the Mongol siege of Baghdad. Its library – the biggest in the world at the time – was burned to the ground. Regardless, the knowledge we gained from that period set the stage for some of our biggest scientific achievements since, such as the European age of exploration, industrial age, and steam engine.

3. The Great Leap Forward

For most people, it would probably come as a surprise that for the most part of our history, absolutely nothing was happening. Of course, there was that existential struggle with the other humans we mentioned above, though other than deciding the existential, yes/no fate of humanity, it didn’t do anything nuanced for the human race. For millions of years, homo sapiens and other human species had almost no major scientific breakthroughs. That was, however, until something happened around 60,000 years ago, when everything changed.

Archaeologists still find clear evidence of a massive leap in tool making technology, societal structure, language, art, and many other fields around that time, and have called it the Great Leap Forward. It’s possible that it may have been thanks to a language based mutation in our brains at the time, though for all we know for sure, it could have been something random, too. What we do know, however, is that the Great Leap Forward is a clear line separating us from the relatively primitive early men, and the species set to conquer the moon in the distant future.

2. Writing

While many people would consider the development of language to be a pretty important development in our history – and it absolutely is – it’s difficult to decide on a singular definition of ‘language’. Many ancient cultures communicated with systems of language that would be barely recognizable to us, but fulfilled all the criteria of what a language is supposed to be. People have been using some form of language to talk to each other for as long as we can remember.

Writing, however, can be considered to be a clear marker, as we can precisely tell when and where it first originated. It independently arose – at different points in history – in the Near East, China and Mesoamerica. All writing systems of today trace their roots to those first languages, as well as most cultures.

Writing gave a boost to human progress like nothing else, allowing us – for the first time in our history – to reliably record, manipulate, store and disseminate information. For example, generals could now write down the details of their battles, allowing future commanders to use that information in their own battles. Rulers could reliably send out their edicts without the risk of manipulation, and so on. Writing provided us with a way to use information like never before, and formed the basis for all of history’s most influential civilizations.

1. The Agricultural Revolution

While many historians and archaeologists take the view that the decision to settle down into farming societies – as opposed to hunter gatherer bands – was an obvious next step in human evolution. The early farmers would have had to undergo many massive changes in their everyday lives – like in diet, housing, societal structure, etc. – to stick to their new lifestyle. It wasn’t a clearly beneficial deal, and more and more experts are starting to question why we did it at all.

Its evolutionary benefits notwithstanding, the agricultural revolution was still a pivotal moment in human history. Because of farming, we could finally live longer, grow our population, and – most importantly – free a large part of the population from food production.

Experts in other fields – like artists, bureaucrats, philosophers, military generals – made a way to even bigger, more successful civilizations, directly influencing how societies are structured even today.


We’re Only Human

WIF Anthropology

Cavemen and Other Homo Sapiens – WIF Into Distant History

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10 Interesting Theories

About Cavemen

Homo sapiens first emerged 200,000 years ago in Africa and over the next 180,000 years, humans migrated to every continent on Earth, with the exception of Antarctica. After the advent of agriculture about 10,000 years ago, civilization developed about 6,000 years ago in what is modern-day Iraq and Egypt. Not a whole lot is known about humans before civilization started, simply because writing hadn’t been invented, so what we do know is essentially a combination of speculation and educated guesses. These are 10 of the most interesting of these theories about what life was like for humans before the dawn of civilization.

10. The Relationship Between Homo Sapiens and Neanderthals

neanderthal-human

Homo sapiens is a species of Hominina, and while there were others, we’re the only ones that have survived. However, other Hominina lived alongside us at one point in history. So exactly how friendly did our Homo sapiens ancestors get with other species of Hominina? Well, it turns out that they were quite friendly. Evidence seems to show that Homo sapiens and Homo neanderthalensis, or Neanderthals, who evolved about 400,000 years ago, interbred with each other.

Humans and Neanderthals share a common ancestor and they are our closest evolutionary ancestors. It is believed Neanderthals moved out of Africa about 300,000 years ago, about 100,000 years before humans evolved. They settled in the areas that are now Western Europe all the way to Siberia. Then, humans started migrating out of Africa and 45,000 humans migrated to Europe and for the first time, the two species of Hominina came across each other. It is believed by some researchers that it was during this time that humans and Neanderthals mated with each other. In fact, people who descended from Europeans, Asians, and other non-Africans have genomes that are two percent Neanderthal. It is believed that the genes helped with battling infections and dealing with ultraviolet rays. Researchers have also speculated that it is possible that Neanderthals passed along genes that helped humans deal with the cold. Evidence also seems to indicate that the genes that were passed along to human-Neanderthal hybrids were harmful and the hybrids didn’t survive past many generations.

9. Pets

pets-humans

What’s amazing is the similarities that we share with our ancestors that lived tens of thousands of years ago, and one way that we are really alike is that they kept dogs as pets. There is evidence that 33,000 years ago, humans had domesticated some dogs, but then an ice age happened about 26,000 years ago and none of the domesticated dogs survived. Instead, all pet dogs now have a common ancestor from about 17,000 to 14,000 years ago.

In Northern Jordan, there is a graveyard that is 16,500 years old with people buried alongside dogs. Amazingly, dogs weren’t the only pets of prehistoric humans. In one of the graves, they found a man buried with a fox; possibly meaning that humans and foxes were friends at one point.

8. Wolves and Humans Drove Neanderthals to Extinction?

extinction-human

One of the biggest mysteries of prehistoric times is why did the Neanderthals go extinct 40,000 years ago? One of the leading theories is that climate change altered their ecosystem and killed off the animals they would have eaten. Another theory is that humans were better suited at hunting than the Neanderthals. Evidence that it was competition simply comes down to the fact that about 45,000 years ago humans made their way to Europe, and 5,000 years later, all the Neanderthals were gone. A twist on the second theory from a leading American anthropologist was that wolves and humans drove them to extinction.

In Europe, at the time, there would have been three top competitors for animals – humans, Neanderthals, and wolves. As we talked about in the prior entry, prehistoric humans had domesticated dogs, and they were bred from wolves. According to the theory, the humans’ alliance with the wolves would have given humans a number of advantages. Dogs would have chased away rival carnivores, like lions and leopards, which would have stolen meat humans would have eaten. The dogs would have also been used for tracking and when they found the prey, they could have hounded it until it tired, making it easier for humans to kill the animal. This would have made hunting both easier and safer for humans, which would allowed our numbers to flourish and would have caused the Neanderthal population to dwindle and die off.

7. Penises

penis-human

When you hear about a guy who tattoos or pierces his penis, you may cringe and think that you’ve really lost touch with the modern world. But in reality, the men who choose to do that may just be following in the footsteps of their ancient ancestors. It turns out that 12,000 years ago, in the areas that are known as France and Spain, they found phallic art that seems to show that men pierced, tattooed, and even scarredtheir manhood.

Researchers believe that it was probably for social or ritualistic reasons, but no one is exactly sure what the tattoos and scars mean. Many of them are geometric shapes, mostly triangles and circles, and the symbols match images in nearby cave paintings. So the markings could be significant to the tribe, or it could be decorative like many modern tattoos.

6. Wiped Out the Elephants?

elephant-human

At one point in Earth’s history, elephants and mammoths were relatively plentiful. There were at least 12 species and they were found in Eurasia, African and the Americas. Today, there are only two sub-species of elephants left and they are only found in south Asia and sub-Saharan Africa. There are two theories as to what killed the elephants and mammoths. The first is the climate change that happened about 10,000 years ago. The second theory is that humans drove them to extinction. To test the theory, two researchers looked at 41 archaeological sites on the five continents where elephants and mammoths lived. They found that once humans moved into an area, elephants and mammoth started to disappear from fossil records, meaning it is quite possible that anywhere humans went, they decimated the populations of elephants and mammoths.

5. Diets

paleo-human

One of the biggest fad diets of the past few years is the Paleo diet. The idea of the diet is to eat like our prehistoric ancestors. This includes eating lean meats and seafood, fruits, vegetables, nuts and seeds. It is also best to avoid dairy, grains, processed foods and sugar, legumes, starches, and alcohol.

So, did our ancient ancestors really eat that way? Well, sort of. The modern Paleo diet is an oversimplified version of what humans in the Paleolithic era ate. First off, different people living in different areas would have eaten different meat due to what was available. For example, humans that settled in the desert wouldn’t have access to fish and people living in cold climates wouldn’t be able to grow fresh fruit and vegetables. In lieu of fruits and vegetables, they would have eaten different parts of animals to get the important nutrients they needed to survive.

Also, the Paleo diet suggests that you don’t drink alcohol. Well, there is evidence that 9,000 years ago, in what is modern day China, prehistoric people made alcohol fromfermented fruit. The mead had about a 10 percent alcohol level. Other than that, it is believed that in what’s known today as Turkey, archaeologists found evidence of a beer brewing station that was used over 11,000 years ago. While it would have beenmuch different than the beer we drink today, we are betting that it still tastes better than Milwaukee’s Best.

4. Cannibalism?

cannibal-human

Whether prehistoric people were cannibals or not is a highly debated topic amongst experts on prehistoric people. There are certainly reasons why they would eat other people. It would keep enemies in line and it was a food source. Plus, they didn’t know about the harmful effects of cannibalism. Also, not eating other people is ingrained in current society as a social taboo, but was prehistoric man’s social laws as strong as our own?

Well, there is some physical evidence that suggests our great ancestors may have eaten some of our other great ancestors. In Gough Cave, England, researchers found human bones from about 12,000 years ago and they had gnaw marks on them that are very similar to the marks modern humans leave when they chew on bones. So while it may sound disgusting, we want to point out that these British prehistoric people were lucky if they dined on human flesh because it is probably better than some British food that came after it.

3. Amazing Artists

cave-human

One of the most interesting artifacts left behind by prehistoric people are cave paintings. There are cave paintings found on every continent except Antarctica, and some of them are believed to be nearly 40,000 years old. In many of the paintings, there are depictions of animals and people hunting them. What’s interesting is that on average, the cave painters were better at depicting the anatomy of animals than artists in the 19th and 20th centuries. When four legged animals run, they have a specific way they move their legs called the “foot-fall formula.” When they run, the pattern is left hind leg, left foreleg, right foreleg, and right hind leg. This formula wasn’t discovered until 1880. Yet, pre-historic humans seemed to know this because out of 39 cave paintings that were examined, 53.2 percent of them had the animals walking correctly. Compare those numbers to 272 paintings and statues made before 1880, where the artists only got it right 16.5 percent of the time. When examining 686 pictures and statues created after 1887, the artists still only got it right 42.1 percent of the time.

2. Women Were Cave Painters

women-human

As we just mentioned, the cave painters had some amazing knowledge about animals and it was translated well into their drawings. Besides drawing anatomy correctly, they also used scale and color well. Many people who don’t have artistic training would struggle to draw something as well as prehistoric cave painters. This has led researchers to speculate that an individual probably worked full time as a painter. But, having someone paint full time would have been an odd choice for a group of hunters. Ideally, they would want every able bodied male out for the hunt, for two reasons. First, making a kill was important because it meant the difference between eating and starving, and secondly, hunting was a dangerous activity and there is safety in numbers. This has led anthropologists to believe that cave painters were womenbecause a woman could focus a lot of her time on painting and it wouldn’t take any members away from the hunting group. Evidence to back this up is early hand stencils found in caves. Prehistoric people would place their hands on the wall or the ceiling and then blow or spray a pigment onto it, leaving a stencil, and many of the handprints seem to be more consistent with women’s hands.

Researchers have speculated that paintings seemed to be important to prehistoric people because it is believed that the paintings were either to record notable hunts or was a form of “hunting magic.” This means that they painted the images with the hopes that it would aid them in real life hunts.

1. The Toba Catastrophe

toba-human

In our known universe, we are the dominant species. At this moment in time, we have over 7.4 billion people living on Earth and that number is growing every single day. Amazingly, it almost didn’t turn out that way because over 70,000 years ago human beings were nearly wiped out.

At that time, humans were all still living in Africa. Across the Indian ocean in Indonesia,Toba, a supervolcano, erupted. It was the biggest known volcanic explosion in history by quite a large margin, and it spewed 650 miles of vaporized rock into the air. The amount of dust that entered the atmosphere dimmed the sunlight that reached the Earth for six years and this had drastic effects on the environment. Ash was scattered everywhere, rains were disrupted, which effected the water streams that people and wildlife would have drank from. All of this would have decreased the amount of fruit, trees, and the amount of animals humans would have hunted. Many humans at this point would have starved to death. The situation got so dire that there were only about 1,000 breeding pairs of humans, which means there was maybe 5,000 to 10,000 total humans on the planet. But, of course, we luckily bounced back, and as of right now, a lack of population is definitely one of the least of our worries.

Cavemen and Other Homo Sapiens

WIF History-001

– WIF Into Distant History

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