Posts Tagged ‘Early man


How Did Homo erectus Differ as a Species 800,000 ya?

He seeks out Lucy out of duty to his band

He seeks out Lucy out of duty to his band

Once Homo erectus left Africa and began his journey to the disparate biomes and habitats of the planet, he evolved from the phenotype that populated Africa 1.8 mya. His behavior adapted to  new climates and that begat variations in tool use, food consumed and cultural norms. His group size, home base characteristics, survival techniques started to vary across the planet.

More than that, Homo erectus‘ (variously called Homo erectus, Homo ergaster and Homo antecessor depending upon where they lived) physical characteristics evolved to suit the environ, be it what we consider ancient China, Java, Dmanisi Georgia, Israel or Gran Dolina Spain. I’m sure man’s genotype remained within what would be considered Homo erectus, but culturally and physically, the bands differed greatly.

Let me take a step back for a moment. There is a difference of opinion as to when mankind’s ‘culture’ began. I spent quite a bit of time researching the definition of ‘culture’ as well as its roots without finding a definitive answer. Therefore, I’ll call the lifestyle elements that are based on environmental conditions like geology, geography, climate, ecosystems ‘culture’. From reading the research of the experts, I’ve come to believe our forebears developed ‘culture’ the moment they used their powers of reasoning to adapt their actions to their surroundings.

Why do I care about all this? Primarily, I am curious about my ancestors. Homo erectus is the first species of the genus Homo to portray the wanderlust so important to modern man’s occupation of every corner of the planet. Nothing seemed to stop him. He adapted, invented and survived. This is eerily familiar to modern man.

To better understand how these long-gone individuals lived their lives, I set out to tell their story a decade ago. What were their daily activities? How did Homo erectus survive the unforgiving hand of nature? What led to inventions like fire, clothing and Acheulian tool making (the latter arrived hundreds of thousands of years apart depending upon whether erectus lived in China or Israel. Why?)  To make sense of these questions, I invented characters and dropped them into settings with crises I reasoned they likely would have faced in their world. This gave me the required elements of a paleo-historic novel.

Continue reading ‘How Did Homo erectus Differ as a Species 800,000 ya?’


Great Quotes About the Evolution of Man

credit: San Diego Museum of Man

Lucy: Her Story of Survival

I’m writing a novel about paleo-historic man. As such, I’ve spent an inordinately long period of time researching early man. Here are some of the best quotes I’ve run across on the

evolution of our species:

  • Future changes of any note will be in our minds, and what we do with them.  –Phillip Tobias
  • “But I’m not dancing alone,” he said. “I am dancing with the forest, dancing with the moon.” Then, with the utmost unconcern, he ignored me and continued his dance of love and life. The Forest People: A Study of the Pygmies of the Congo — Colin Turnbull
  • Impossible is relative –Dr. Michio Kaku
  • Man still bears in his bodily frame the indelible stamp of his lowly origin. –Charles Darwin
  • When primeval man first used flint stones for any purpose, he would have accidentally splintered them, and would then have used the sharp fragments. From this step it would be a small one to break the flints on purpose and not a very wide step to fashion them rudely. –Charles Darwin, The Descent of Man
  • Fossils are like truth. They are not where you look for them, but where you find them. –GHR Von Koenigswald
  • I learnt from Flo how to be mother. Flo was patient, tolerant. She was supportive. She was always there. She was playful. She enjoyed having her babies, as good mothers do.  –Jane Goodall, referring to a mother chimp she’d studied for years.
  • Chimps are unbelievably like us – in biological, non-verbal ways. They can be loving and compassionate and yet they have a dark side… 98 per cent of our DNA is the same. The difference is that we have developed language – we can teach about things that aren’t there, plan for the future, discuss, share ideas… –Jane Goodall
  • (Man’s) greatness does not consist in being different from the animals that share the earth with him, but in being…conscious of things of which his environment has no inkling. –GHR Von Koenigswald
  • A society grows great when old men plant trees whose shade they know they shall never sit in.  – Greek Proverb
  • Words require little energy to produce; they are ‘cheap tokens’ and can be used with little or no risk or cost to deceive, just as easily as to inform.  Body language is much more reliable for most animal purposes. — Derek Bickerton
  • Continue reading ‘Great Quotes About the Evolution of Man’

Did You Know: Early Man Was Pretty Smart

mankind“…Homo erectus of 700,000 years ago had a geometrically accurate sense of proportion and could impose this on stone in the external world. In effect, without paper or ruler, mathematical transformations were being performed.” Mental Abilities of Early Man: A L0ok at Some Hard Evidence John A. J. Gowlett 1984, Academic Press, London

Jacqui Murray is the author of the popular Building a Midshipman, the story of her daughter’s journey from high school to United States Naval Academy. She is webmaster for six blogs, an Amazon Vine Voice book reviewer, a columnist for and TeachHUB, Editorial Review Board member for Journal for Computing Teachers, Cisco guest blog,Technology in Education featured blogger, IMS tech expert, and a bi-monthly contributor to Today’s Author. In her free time, she is the editor of a K-8 technology curriculum, K-8 keyboard curriculum, K-8 Digital Citizenship curriculum, and creator of technology training books for how to integrate technology in education. Currently, she’s editing a thriller that should be out to publishers next summer. Contact Jacqui at her writing office or her tech lab, Ask a Tech Teacher.

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Book Review: Timewalkers

Timewalkers: The Prehistory of Global ColonizationTimewalkers: The Prehistory of Global Colonization

by Clive Gamble

View all my reviews

It’s a difficult question. Why did earliest man leave Africa and migrate to new areas. Mostly, animals evolve suited to their environment and they don’t stray far. They may have several areas they frequent, but they return to each, not leave them entirely.We had already accommodated ourselves to ravel more than 12 kilometers for raw materials, which is less than modern hunter-gatherers, but more than other primates. Continue reading ‘Book Review: Timewalkers’


Book Review: The Forest People

The Forest People (Touchstone Book)The Forest People

by Colin Turnbull

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I just finished a wonderful book, Colin Turnbull’s The Forest People. Turnbull lived ‘a while’ (pygmies don’t measure time with a watch or a calendar) with African pygmies to understand their life, culture, and beliefs. As he relays events of his visit, he doesn’t lecture, or present the material as an ethnography. It’s more like a biography of a tribe. As such, I get to wander through their lives, see what they do, how they do it, what’s important to them, without any judgment or conclusions other than my own. Continue reading ‘Book Review: The Forest People’


Tool Use and Chimpanzees

Tool use used to be what separated man from monkey. Then it was using a tool to make a tool. Now, that all has changed.

Continue reading ‘Tool Use and Chimpanzees’


Tool Use and Man

I had to post this. It’s not that the impact of tool use on the brain surprises me, it’s the extent:

Tool use alters brain’s map of body

Posted by Elie Dolgin

Researchers claim to have the first direct evidence of a century-old idea that using tools changes the way the human brain perceives the size and configuration of our body parts, according to a study published in the June 23 issue of Current Biology.

Holding the tool at an elongated
arm’s length

Image: Lucilla Cardinali

“To be accurate in doing an action with a tool, you need to make the tool become a part of your body,” the study’s first author Lucilla Cardinali of the French National Institute for Health and Medical Research (INSERM) in Bron and Claude Bernard University in Lyon told The Scientist. “Your brain needs to take into account that the action is performed with something added to your body part.”

In 1911, British neurologists Henry Head and Gordon Holmes introduced the theory that body image is mutable. Our brains are constantly processing visual and tactile feedback about the position of our bodies to work out where our limbs are at any given moment, they argued. The brain sifts through all this information to create a unified representation of body position and shape called the “body schema.” Although the concept has been widely accepted in the hundred years since it was first proposed, and many researchers have demonstrated adjustments to how we sense our body’s position in space after using a tool, no one had ever shown empirically that the body’s self-framing itself can be directly manipulated.

“This is the first time it has been shown in humans that the use of tools can change the pattern of movement because the body schema has changed,” said Angelo Maravita, a cognitive neuroscientist at the University of Milan-Bicocca in Italy who was not involved in the study.

Cardinali, a graduate student with INSERM’s Alessandro Farnè, gave people a mechanical grabber that extended their reach and found that people with the arm-elongating tool took longer to grasp and point to an object after the gizmo was taken away compared to before they held the tool. They then showed that this delayed reaction time is a normal response of people with naturally longer arms, thus indicating that tool users judge their arms to be longer than they truly are. The researchers also asked blindfolded participants to touch specific landmarks on their arm — the elbow, wrist and middle fingertip — and showed that people perceived these spots as further along the limb after having played with the gadget arm. “It’s really suggestive of the fact that your arm is coded as longer,” said Maravita.

All these subtle and dynamic mental move-arounds occur at a subconscious level to help us function with our workaday widgets, the authors say. “[Tool users] don’t think, ‘Oh my god, my arm is longer,'” said Cardinali. “They act as if the arm was longer.” In fact, Cardinali added, the long arm of the mind is something we experience every day — for example, when you grasp a toothbrush. “You don’t need to look at yourself in the mirror,” she said. “You are able to do this without bumping into your teeth or hurting yourself, and you don’t need to pay attention because the toothbrush is incorporated” into the body’s perception of the arm.

Michael Arbib, a University of Southern California neurobiologist and computer scientist who did not contribute to the research findings, said that the study “has an interesting result, but it doesn’t justify their claim.” He argued that the slowness experienced by tool users could arise because they had just completed an awkward task that involved not just a greater reach but also different angles of rotation of the arm muscles. After ditching the tool, “it’s a less confident motion,” Arbib said, “and the less confident you are the slower you go.”

Cardinali, however, said that the movement was fairly straightforward. Participants were pros at it right off the bat without any learning involved, she said. Maravita noted that the study subjects were quite precise and that only the key parameters linked to arm size changed after tool use. “I think it’s quite a robust result,” he said.

Arbib also said that the authors’ “bold claim” was unfounded because they might have mistaken cause for effect. For example, in the arm touching experiment, tool users could have pointed to a modified space rather than an altered body representation if they mentally positioned themselves relative to the extended tool and then worked backwards, instead of directly perceiving an elongated body part. These two interpretations are “functionally equivalent,” Arbib said, and so the authors’ findings might only confirm the previous results of the last hundred years. Cardinali disagreed. She argued against a mental frameshift in space because the arm pointing test was performed with bent arms — a posture that had never been encountered before. Thus, tool users could not be orienting themselves relative to any physical object in space, she said.

Continue reading ‘Tool Use and Man’

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Discover the sizzle in science. It's not that stuff that's always for the smart kids. It's the need to know. The passion for understanding. The absolute belief that for every problem, there is a solution. The creative mind seeking truth in a world of mystery. The quest for the Holy Grail.

That's science.

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Books I’m Reading

Great Science Books

Assembling California
Born On A Blue Day: Inside the Extraordinary Mind of an Autistic Savant
The Forest People
Geology Underfoot in Southern California
The Land's Wild Music: Encounters with Barry Lopez, Peter Matthiessen, Terry Tempest William, and James Galvin
My Life with the Chimpanzees
Naked Earth: The New Geophysics
Our Inner Ape: A Leading Primatologist Explains Why We Are Who We Are
The Runaway Brain: The Evolution of Human Uniqueness
Sand Rivers
The Singing Neanderthals: The Origins of Music, Language, Mind, and Body
The Tree Where Man Was Born
The Wildlife of Southern Africa: A Field Guide to the Animal and Plants of the Region
The Worlds of a Maasai Warrior: An Autobiography

Jacqui's favorite books »
Share book reviews and ratings with Jacqui, and even join a book club on Goodreads.

RSS Fact and Fiction about Early Man

  • The Old Way: A Story of the First People October 4, 2017
    author: Elizabeth Marshall Thomas name: Jacqui average rating: 4.20 book published: 2006 rating: 5 read at: 2017/10/04 date added: 2017/10/04 shelves: history, early-man review: […]
    Elizabeth Marshall Thomas
  • Ki'ti's Story, 75,000 BC December 11, 2016
    author: Bonnye Matthews name: Jacqui average rating: 4.33 book published: 2012 rating: 5 read at: 2016/12/11 date added: 2016/12/11 shelves: early-man review: […]
    Bonnye Matthews
  • Meeting Prehistoric Man October 4, 2014
    author: GHR von Koenigswald name: Jacqui average rating: 4.00 book published: 1492 rating: 5 read at: 2014/10/04 date added: 2014/10/04 shelves: early-man review: Meeting Prehistoric Man by GHR Von Koenigswald is a journey throughout the world in discovery of early man as paleoanthropologists understood him during VonKoenigswald's time, circa 1950' […]
    GHR von Koenigswald
  • Letters from the Field, 1925-1975 September 13, 2014
    author: Margaret Mead name: Jacqui average rating: 4.10 book published: 1977 rating: 5 read at: 2014/09/13 date added: 2014/09/13 shelves: early-man review: If you didn't read my last week's post, you may wonder why I am so excited about Margaret Mead's eye-opening book, Letters From the Field. Even if you read me last week, you may wonder--I […]
    Margaret Mead
  • The Unfolding of Language: An Evolutionary Tour of Mankind's Greatest Invention January 12, 2014
    author: Guy Deutscher name: Jacqui average rating: 4.17 book published: 2005 rating: 3 read at: date added: 2014/01/12 shelves: early-man, research review: Dr. Deutscher has done a scholarly, thorough discussion on the roots of language, but I believe he started too late in time. I'm of the persuasion that language involves more than the spoken word. I […]
    Guy Deutscher
  • She Who remembers November 3, 2013
    author: Linda Lay Shuler name: Jacqui average rating: 4.09 book published: 1988 rating: 4 read at: date added: 2013/11/03 shelves: early-man review: […]
    Linda Lay Shuler
  • The Runaway Brain: The Evolution Of Human Uniqueness July 25, 2011
    author: Christopher Wills name: Jacqui average rating: 4.15 book published: 1993 rating: 5 read at: date added: 2011/07/24 shelves: science, early-man review: In my lifelong effort to understand what makes us human, I long ago arrived at the lynchpin to that discussion: our brain. Even though bipedalism preceded big brains, and we couldn't be who we are […]
    Christopher Wills
  • The Origin Of Humankind July 25, 2011
    author: Richard E. Leakey name: Jacqui average rating: 3.96 book published: 1981 rating: 5 read at: date added: 2011/07/24 shelves: early-man, history review: If you're interested in man's roots, there are several authors you must read: Birute Galdikas Dian Fosse Donald Johanson GHR Von Koenigsman Glen Isaacs Jared Diamond Ian Tattersell Lev Vygots […]
    Richard E. Leakey
  • Lucy: the beginnings of humankind July 24, 2011
    author: Donald C. Johanson name: Jacqui average rating: 4.11 book published: 1981 rating: 5 read at: date added: 2011/07/24 shelves: early-man, science review: I read this book when I was writing a paleo-historic drama of the life of earliest man. My characters were Homo habilines, but they cohabited Africa with Australopithecines, so to understand the co-st […]
    Donald C. Johanson
  • Through a Window: My Thirty Years with the Chimpanzees of Gombe July 24, 2011
    author: Jane Goodall name: Jacqui average rating: 4.25 book published: 1990 rating: 5 read at: date added: 2011/07/24 shelves: early-man, science review: I have read every book that Jane Goodall wrote. She has an easy-going writing style that shares scientific principals easily with the layman. Probably because when she started, she was little more than a no […]
    Jane Goodall
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