New study suggests earliest humans were not very different from us

February 15th, 2011 - 12:34 pm ICT by ANI  

Washington, Feb 15 (ANI): A study from Stony Brook University has suggested that earliest humans were not very different from us.

Archaeologist John Shea believes that experts have been focusing on the wrong measurement of early human behaviour - ‘behavioural modernity’ instead of ‘behavioural variability.’

Behavioural modernity is a quality supposedly unique to Homo sapiens, while behavioural variability is a quantitative dimension to the behaviour of all living things.

For a long time, the European Upper Paleolithic archaeological record has been the standard against which the behaviour of earlier and non-European humans is compared.

During the Upper Paleolithic (45,000-12,000 years ago), Homo sapiens fossils first appear in Europe together with complex stone tool technology, carved bone tools, complex projectile weapons, advanced techniques for using fire, cave art, beads and other personal adornments.

The same behaviours are either universal or very nearly so among recent humans, leading archaeologists to cite evidence for these behaviours as proof of human behavioural modernity but Shea said that the oldest Homo sapiens fossils occur between 100,000-200,000 years ago in Africa and southern Asia and in contexts lacking clear and consistent evidence for such behavioural modernity.

Archaeologists disagree about the causes, timing, pace, and characteristics of this revolution, but there is a consensus that the behaviour of the earliest Homo sapiens was significantly that that of more-recent “modern” humans.

Shea tested the hypothesis that there were differences in behavioural variability between earlier and later Homo sapiens using stone tool evidence dating to between 250,000- 6000 years ago in eastern Africa.

His analysis shows no single behavioural revolution in our species’ evolutionary history. Instead, the evidence shows wide variability in Homo sapiens toolmaking strategies from the earliest times onwards.

Shea concluded that comparing the behaviour of our most ancient ancestors to Upper Paleolithic Europeans holistically and ranking them in terms of their “behavioural modernity” is useless.

There are no such things as modern humans, Shea argues, just Homo sapiens populations with a wide range of behavioural variability.

The best way to understand human behaviour is to research the sources of behavioural variability in particular adaptive strategies.

The study is published in the latest issue of Current Anthropology. (ANI)

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