Early African Homo Sapiens Were First Technologically Advanced People
December 6, 2012

Early African Homo Sapiens Were First Technologically Advanced People

April Flowers for redOrbit.com - Your Universe Online

Africa, and especially South Africa, is one-step closer to being confirmed as the primary center for the early development of human behavior. Scientists have searched for the origin of modern human behavior and technological advancement among our early African ancestors for a long time.

Wits University archaeologist Christopher Henshilwood, along with a team of international researchers, has published the first detailed summary of the Still Bay techno-traditions time period — 75,000 to 70,000 years ago — and the Howiesons Poort techno-tradition — 65,000 to 60,000 years ago.

The findings of this study, entitled "Late Pleistocene Techno-traditions in Southern Africa: A Review of the Still Bay and Howiesons Poort, c. 75 ka," were recently published online in the Journal of World Prehistory.

"These periods were significant in the development of Homo sapiens behavior in southern Africa," Henshilwood says in a statement.

Many significant innovations were developed during these periods, including the first abstract art (engraved ochre and engraved ostrich eggshell); the first jewellery (shell beads); the first bone tools; the earliest use of the pressure flaking technique, that was used in combination with heating to make stone spear points and the first probable use of stone tipped arrows launched by bow.

"All of these innovations, plus many others we are just discovering, clearly show that Homo sapiens in southern Africa at that time were cognitively modern and behaving in many ways like ourselves. It is a good reason to be proud of our earliest, common ancestors who lived and evolved in South Africa and who later spread out into the rest of the world after about 60 000 years," says Henshilwood.

The question of what drove our ancestors to develop these innovations is addressed in the new study. Henshilwood claims the answers to these questions are partly found in demography — the study of living populations - and climate change. Particularly, he says, in changing sea levels, which were major drivers of innovation and variability in material culture.

This study is the most recent from the team's groundbreaking research on African archaeology. Their findings have revolutionized the idea that modern human behavior originated in Europe after about 40,000 years ago. Instead, there is increasing evidence that behavioral and technological modernity originated in Africa more than 70,000 years ago. There is also evidence suggesting that the earliest origin of all Homo sapiens lies in Africa with a special focus in southern Africa.

"In just the past decade our knowledge of Homo sapiens behavior in the Middle Stone Age, and in particular of the Still Bay and Howiesons Poort, has expanded considerably. With the benefit of hindsight we may ironically conclude that the origins of 'Neanthropic Man', the epitome of behavioral modernity in Europe, lay after all in Africa," Henshilwood says.

Henshilwood has more than 40 publications since 2001 that demonstrate that southern Africa was a primary center for early human behavior as mediated by symbols. He founded the African Heritage Research Institute in South Africa under the auspices of former president Nelson Mandela in 1999 to promote archaeological research on the origins of Homo sapiens in the region.