Idle Not Innovative? New Study Says Laziness Led to the Extinction of Homo erectus
The path of least resistence may not be the best to take. New archaeological research from The Australian National University (ANU) has found that Homo erectus, a species of primitive humans, went extinct in part because they were 'lazy'.
Homo erectus first appeared on the Homo family tree 2 million years ago but they went extinct about 50,000 to 100,000 years ago. An archaeological excavation of ancient human populations in the Arabian Peninsula during the Early Stone Age may provide at least part of the reason why. Archaeologists there found that Homo erectus used 'least-effort strategies' for tool making and collecting resources.
This is Dr. Ceri Shipton on site at Saffaqah in central Saudi Arabia. (ANU)
This 'laziness' paired with an inability to adapt to a changing climate likely played a role in the species going extinct, according to lead researcher Dr Ceri Shipton of the ANU School of Culture, History and Language.
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"They really don't seem to have been pushing themselves," Dr Shipton said.
"I don't get the sense they were explorers looking over the horizon. They didn't have that same sense of wonder that we have."
Dr Shipton said this was evident in the way the species made their stone tools and collected resources.
Homo erectus stone tools found at the site. (Shipton et al.)
"To make their stone tools they would use whatever rocks they could find lying around their camp, which were mostly of comparatively low quality to what later stone tool makers used," he said.
"At the site we looked at there was a big rocky outcrop of quality stone just a short distance away up a small hill. But rather than walk up the hill they would just use whatever bits had rolled down and were lying at the bottom. When we looked at the rocky outcrop there were no signs of any activity, no artefacts and no quarrying of the stone. They knew it was there, but because they had enough adequate resources they seem to have thought, 'why bother?'."
Lead author Ceri Shipton said, “When we looked at the rocky outcrop there were no signs of any activity, no artefacts and no quarrying of the stone. They knew it was there, but because they had enough adequate resources they seem to have thought, 'why bother?'.” (Shipton et al.)
This is in contrast to the stone tool makers of later periods, including early Homo sapiens and Neanderthals, who were climbing mountains to find good quality stone and transporting it over long distances.
Dr Shipton said a failure to progress technologically, as their environment dried out into a desert, also contributed to the population's demise.
"Not only were they lazy, but they were also very conservative," Dr Shipton said.
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"The sediment samples showed the environment around them was changing, but they were doing the exact same things with their tools. There was no progression at all, and their tools are never very far from these now dry river beds. I think in the end the environment just got too dry for them."
Shipton said, “The sediment samples showed the environment around them was changing, but they were doing the exact same things with their tools.” (Shipton et al.)
The excavation and survey work was undertaken in 2014 at the site of Saffaqah near Dawadmi in central Saudi Arabia.
Top Image: This restoration is based on evidence from the Daka Member, Ethiopia. The photo in the background is from a gallery forest on the Kebena River, a tributary of the modern Awash River. The squatting posture is based on femoral anteversion frequent in Homo erectus. The hand ax is African latest early or early middle Acheulean. The cranial shape is based on BOU-VP-2-66, the Daka Calvaria. Source: Henry Gilbert and Kathy Schick/CC BY SA 3.0
The article, originally titled, ‘Laziness helped lead to extinction of Homo erectus’ was originally published on Science Daily. It has been edited for style and length.
Source: Australian National University. "Laziness helped lead to extinction of Homo erectus." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 10 August 2018.
Ceri Shipton, James Blinkhorn, Paul S. Breeze, Patrick Cuthbertson, Nick Drake, Huw S. Groucutt, Richard P. Jennings, Ash Parton, Eleanor M. L. Scerri, Abdullah Alsharekh, Michael D. Petraglia. Acheulean technology and landscape use at Dawadmi, central Arabia. PLOS ONE, 2018; 13 (7): e0200497 DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0200497