2.b.3 – Which culture had the first hominids?

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January 21, 2010 — Riccardo Sabellotti - Giacinto Sabellotti


Which culture had the first hominids?

 A complex social structure usually corresponds to some forms of complex communication and these in turn stimulate the development of capacity for imitation and intelligence. Also in equal number, a small human community appears more complex, socially speaking, than a flock of monkeys: indeed, it is formed by several separate families, the leader of the pack does not coincide anymore with the head of the family; males and females form fixed pairs and cooperate in parental care during the long childhood of their children; dominant males, both while maintaining a certain rivalry, regularly cooperate with each other in various activities such as hunting or work. During the evolution of hominids, occurred then a genuine social revolution.
The oldest fossil remains of hominids indicate that their development could have separated from that of apes after a radical climate change in the Rift Valley in Africa; from a forest of tropical type, a savannah was formed and, despite the presence in that area of some large lakes, which attenuated the problem of drought, a food change and therefore a change in behavior was inevitable, and the presence of lakes in a region relatively poor of water could also have led families of hominids to concentrate around them, but this forced cohabitation may have caused a lesser availability of food and originated a subsequent reduction in the size of families and a cooperation among them to better exploit the available resources, starting with the group hunting. By observing their teeth, we can deduce that they were omnivores and then managed to eat everything, while the discovery of splintered stone tools, dating back to their age, confirms the hypothesis of their attitude to the use of instruments; anyway, we know nothing about their hunting techniques or their social structure; we can, as above, only make fantastic assumptions, but at present not verifiable.
The use of simple stone tools is also attributed to the homo habilis, whose oldest remains date back to almost two million years ago and who represents one of the first hominids of the kind homo. From the shape of the skull, we can deduce that his brain was greater than that of australopithecus and that, perhaps, he already had some brain areas dedicated to language. If we accept the idea that intelligence and language are linked to cooperation and to a complex social structure, it is plausible that the homo habilis made group hunting and lived in a typically human multi families community; once again, these are all hypotheses to be verified.
By the fossil remains we know that the two other human species, slightly more recent, the homo ergaster and the homo erectus, had both developed various anatomical adaptations for running: longer legs and Achilles tendons, an appropriate plantar arch, a bigger heel and a nape crest for the stability of the skull during the race. Their stone tools are more refined, thanks to a long and challenging process and it also seems that the homo erectus could control the fire. Their brain was much larger and their face was much more similar to that of present man, having lost many of the monkey like features. It has been also possible to establish that the development of children In the homo erectus was much slower compared to australopithecus, although faster than it is now. All these data suggest that many of the social cultural changes that we mentioned have been historically verified between the first hominids and the homo erectus; this latter  had already the physic and tools to be a good group hunter; the length of childhood and the size and shape of his brain suggest that he had a significant cultural heritage to learn and a complex social life to manage; the bone structure of his face, similar to ours, suggests that he also had a similar facial expression and this would be a further confirmation of very complex social relations. In addition to group hunting, also the need to defend the territory by rival groups may have fed the need for greater collaboration within the group.
In the homo erectus there is also another feature in common with the current man: its geographical distribution, which spreads from Africa to China while, as we know, the previous hominids lived in regions much more limited, like the current apes; even this can be considered a confirmation of the high level of efficiency of these ancient human societies. The close cooperation that should have existed within these tribal groups made more useful and easier the spreading of culture within the community and from this basis developed the type of culture that we consider today as typically human.



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