Human origins

White folks have ancestors too! Mine go back millions of years. No, they weren’t monkeys – they were slime moulds. More recently, they left footprints in Africa, then some of them walked out.

Mary Leakey, the leading paleo-archeologist of the twentieth century, was famous for her work at the Olduvai Gorge in Tanzania, Africa, where she and her husband Louis found an ancient pre-human skull.

(left to right): Mary Douglas Nicol Leakey (19...

Mary Douglas Nicol Leakey (1913-1996) and her husband Louis Seymour Bazett Leakey (1903-1972)

The work was initially attributed primarily to Louis, but after his death it became apparent that Mary was the real scientist, setting the standards for excavation and documentation. She went on to discover fossilised footprints at Laetoli, settling once and for all the dispute about whether increased brain size or upright gait came first. The footprints are thought to have been made by a group of three Australopithicines, human ancestors.

English: Homo erectus, Museum of Natural Histo...

Homo erectus, Museum of Natural History, Ann Arbor, Michigan, November 2007. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

According to Wikipedia, Turkana Boy and other fossil evidence such as Acheulean stone tools prompt the majority of scientists to conclude that Homo ergaster and Homo erectus – unlike their more primitive ancestors – became efficient hunters. The social structure would probably have become more complex with a larger brain volume; the Broca’s area of the brain allows speech and is noted by a slight slant on the cranium.

 The near-complete skeleton of Turkana Boy is shown above.

However, there are different views on the origin of language:

  • 1.9 million years ago (Homo habilis had a large Broca’s area able to be seen in the cranium of KNM ER 1813), possible signs of the earliest ability for speech.
  • 1.5 million years ago, on the arrival of several distinct more human-like hominins spread throughout AfricaEurope, and Asia (i.e., Homo erectus).
  • 600,000 and 150,000 years ago when archaic Homo sapiens dominated regions in the Pleistocene epoch (several members during this period are considered fully modern Homo sapiens).
  • 50,000 years ago (fully modern Homo sapiens had already spread through the Old World and slowly into the New World 20,000 BCE. Some believe language coincided solely with modern humans once culture was established by groups such as Cro-Magnon man in Europe. It is still a matter of debate whether Neanderthals had a modern form of language.
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