Modern humans may have evolved 200,000 years earlier than we thought

For early hominid hunters, there was no greater prize than an elephant. Kill just one of those, and a tribe could eat well for days. But when the elephants suddenly disappeared, something remarkable happened: Our hominid ancestors became more intelligent.

Homo erectus was particularly fond of eating elephants, and it isn’t hard to see why. Elephants are slow moving, which makes them easy to kill, and their massive size provides a large number of people with bountiful food. As a bonus, elephant meat has just the right fat-to-protein ratio to sustain humans long-term, and unlike other animals that ratio remains consistent throughout the entire year. Like the bison for 19th century American settlers, they were the perfect meat.

And, like the bison, the elephant supply didn’t last forever, though it did take more than a few decades to wipe out the population. Elephants were once common in the Middle East, which hundreds of thousands of years ago was the territory of Homo erectus. At one site recently excavated by archaeologists at Tel Aviv University, elephants accounted for 60% of all animal-derived calories. But by 400,000 years, elephants had completely disappeared from the region.

That date is intriguing, because it lines right up with the recent discovery in Israel’s Qesem cave of a shockingly modern human tooth that dates back to 400,000 years ago. The researchers say the two events are likely linked — the loss of the elephants made the situation untenable for Homo erectus, and any hominids that wanted to survive there had to become better adapted to hunting and eating smaller, more agile prey.

These later, more modern hominids might have evolved from or simply replaced Homo erectus, but either way, the loss of elephants is key. This lines up with the disappearance of elephants from hominid archaeological sites in Africa. There, elephants lasted a bit longer, only disappearing from the human archaeological record 200,000 years ago – just when modern humans emerged in Africa. Although elephants of course survive today, we stopped hunting them long ago.

A little more here Modern humans may have evolved 200,000 years earlier

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3 Responses to Modern humans may have evolved 200,000 years earlier than we thought

  1. alfy says:

    The text is ambiguous. We read about a “site recently excavated by archaeologists at Tel Aviv University,”. Does this mean the buggers were actually digging for elephant bones on the campus? Or does it mean they were digging somewhere else but came from TAU? I suspect that latter is true but nowhere, even among the links does it say where the excavation is going on.

    We apparently have evidence of Homo erectus romping after elephants in the Middle East 200 000 years ago but poor old H. sapiens was still waiting in Africa until 40 000 years ago to evolve. One of the links just faintly hints that this view may be untenable (that is, a load of cobblers). I await patiently for further results.

  2. Deskarati says:

    I read that the two sites are in Israel, first is Gesher B’not Yaakov which dates back nearly 800,000 years and is associated with Homo erectus and the second is Qesem Cave, dated approx. 400,000 to 200,000 years ago. Gesher B’not Yaakov contains elephant bones, but at Qesem Cave does not.

  3. Lavar says:

    Cheers pal. I do appeciarte the writing.

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