Ask most any child what makes people different from all the other animals, and she will point out that we are the only ones who speak. The origin of language is science’s fourth greatest frontier question. We hail it as a miracle, yet we take it for granted. How did people acquire language, and how did it affect them and their world?
These are questions that arose with Homo sapiens, aka modern humans. In Chapter 5, our species literally stole the stage. The features that we recognize as “modern” began to appear 300 TYA, and by 30 TYA Homo sapiens was the only surviving human form. Section II details the modernization of the Homo genus. Whatever happened to Homo erectus and neanderthalensis?
The rest of the chapter discusses the qualities that make Homo sapiens unique. Geneticists describe our modern ancestors with haplogroups defined by migratory and mating patterns of the last 100,000 years, which you may have seen on a DNA analysis report.
Section IV is about behavioral modernism, which probably matured with spoken language. The human brain, which developed the capability for speech and other symbolic and abstract thought, also gave us a spiritual instinct. For the first time, humans saw themselves reflected in the world around them. Why do we have such a proclivity for false religious and superstitious beliefs, while the quest for true knowledge is slow and difficult? Chapters 5, 4, and 3 present a trilogy of religious history: natural religion, organized religion, and the world religions.
For archaeologists, Ch. 5 is pretty well concordant with the Middle Paleolithic (Eurasia) or Middle Stone Age (Africa). The Middle Stone Age is characterized by more refined knapping techniques than the Lower Stone Age. The most advanced “modern” human behavior characterizes the Upper Stone Age after about 50 TYA.
Geologists number the last few ice ages as Marine Isotope Stages (MIS) in reverse chronological order. 1 The present interglacial (Ch. 4) is MIS 1 and the most recent glacial period was MIS 2. As this pattern continues, all preceding interglacials (green on the timeline below) have odd numbers and the glacials (white) are even. The timeline reveals unusually rapid climate fluctuations in this chapter, which may have had an impact on mass migrations. 1
Continue to Section 5.II: Hello, Modern Humans; Goodbye, Early Humans
- L. Bruce Railsback et al., “An optimized scheme of lettered marine isotope substages for the last 1.0 million years, and the climatostratigraphic nature of isotope stages and substages”, (2015) Quaternary Science Reviews 111, 94-106, https://doi.org/10.1016/j.quascirev.2015.01.012 (accessed and saved 7/15/18). ↩
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