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Painting ‘The Stone Age.’

Why are Humans Threatened by the Achievements of Our Hominid Ancestors?

The ancestors of modern humans (Homo sapiens) were not the grunting, drooling, primitive, brutes that you see depicted in cartoons or movies. Decades of research and countless studies have shown that humanity should get over itself and recognize that we are not the only species to have accomplished complex and advanced tasks.

One example comes in the form of stone-tipped spears which date back 280,000 years (predating the earliest accepted fossil of a Homo sapien by 85,000 years). The artifacts come from the Gademotta Stone Age site in Ethiopia. When the study was published in PLoS ONE, Discovery News wondered if “a predecessor species to ours was extremely crafty and clever, making sophisticated tools long before Homo sapiens emerged?” and “Could a Steve Jobs-like innovator… have come up with this useful tool and production process?”

A chopper: one of the earliest examples of stone industry. From Melka Kunture, Ethiopia. 1.7 million years B.P.

A chopper: one of the earliest examples of stone industry. From Melka Kunture, Ethiopia. 1.7 million years B.P. ( Didier Descouens/ CC BY SA 4.0 )

The first question simply takes some common sense to answer – it has already been confirmed by various researchers over the years. Moreover, studies have suggested it was so-called “primitive” or “subhuman” individuals known today as Neanderthals who taught humans how to use tools .

Neanderthals were not as primitive as some would like to think.

Neanderthals were not as primitive as some would like to think. ( Erich Ferdinand/ CC BY 2.0 )

Science has shown repeatedly that several animal species can make and use objects as tools – why would we expect less from our hominid ancestors? For example, bonobo apes know how to make flint tools that serve to open logs, chimpanzees can create spear-like weapons out of branches for hunting and use stones as hammers and anvils, and orang-utans make tools from branches and leaves to accomplish tasks that involve scratching or scraping, wiping and sponging, swatting, hooking, scooping, prying, hammering, covering, and cushioning. Thus, our hominid ancestors should have logically held some of these capacities for innovation and creativity as well.

A chimp using a stick as a tool.

A chimp using a stick as a tool. ( CC BY NC ND 2.0 )

Why are we so against this idea as a species? Do people feel threatened by the achievements of our ancestors? Does lowering the status of groups such as Neanderthals help us feel special? Before clinging too tightly to the pedestal we’ve placed ourselves upon, it’s worth considering that the future may show humanity that we too are so-called ‘evolutionary failures’.

After an initial flatlining, this plot appears to show consistent enlargement of hominid brains over the last 2 million years. Note that these brain volumes are averaged across a number of independent lineages within the genus Homo and likely represent the preferential success of larger-brained species.

After an initial flatlining, this plot appears to show consistent enlargement of hominid brains over the last 2 million years. Note that these brain volumes are averaged across a number of independent lineages within the genus Homo and likely represent the preferential success of larger-brained species. ( Bolhuis, J., Tattersall, I., Chomsky, N., Berwick, R./ CC BY 4.0 )

Top Image: Painting ‘The Stone Age.’ Source: CC BY SA 4.0

By April Holloway

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