Nothing is lost – but a lot has been forgotten about the first humans who have left their stamp on stones and paper as well as hidden in human language. Homo is the Latin name for humans. The adjective is ‘humanus’. The Indo-European root of the word is ‘dhghem’ (Lagu 2009) referring to the earth. Homo sapiens are a species distinct from other mammals like apes. “The study of the origins of the first humans encompass many disciplines – anthropology, archaeology, primatology, linguistics and relatively recently – the study of genetics” (Bastir 2008).
One school opines that humans and apes had a common ancestor at one time but later they branched off. Many species of this homo developed and became extinct – homo Erectus, homo neanderthalensis. It is calculated the Archaic Homo sapiens inhabited this planet from 400,000 to 250,000 years previously. “The view among scholars that dominates regarding the first humans is that modern man came out of Africa and migrated from here nearly 50,000 or perhaps 100,000 years ago to replace the Homo erectus and Homo neanderthalensis” and this was found in Europe (Tatterstll 2009).
Observing the morphological and anatomical likeness between the apes and the humans the theory gained ground that man had descended from the apes. Charles Darwin made this clear in his book – On the Origin of Species that was published in 1859.
However, this led to hot debates between Thomas Huxley and Richard Owen and the matter remained unsettled. In the 1920s the discovery of human fossils in Africa threw light on the origins of man. From the remains of an infant – the Taung Child, it was noted that the skull was small and rounded; it was distinctly different from that of the apes. The canine teeth and the position of the foramen magnum indicated that it moved on two feet. This led Raymond Dart to conclude in 1925 that this was an early human walking on two legs who was in a transitional stage between ape and man (Lagu 2009). Since then many other theories have come forth without a consensus being reached. The work goes on now.
Charles Darwin referred to Africa as “the cradle of humankind.” Further research has shown early man to have inhabited eastern and southern Africa about 5 million to 10 million years back. Here developed two groups of creatures that were more ape-like than human. One set stayed on in the tropics while the other spread onto the grasslands or veld. Here they had to stand up to get a better view of predators.
By doing so their hands became free to pick up tools to ward off the attack. It took many centuries for them to use their hands dexterously. Historians pin the Stone Age to be 2 million to 10,000 years ago. Survival was tough but those that did manage became strong as well as smart. There was a rapid change during the previous half million years. They learned to sharpen the stones carving them into tools like crude axes (Quam 2009).
Nearly 10,000 years previously these foraging hunters began to form groups that came to be clans and tribes. Soon they were promoted from hunters and foragers to tame animals, catch fish and then finally to farm. The latter made them take roots as the land-bound them down to the seasonal crops. The social organization made its debut. According to Henry Morgan during the hunting and foraging stage, it was the women that led the clan without their sharp knowledge about the movement of the herds to be hunted, the fish and the edible roots. To the rear, the child the women clubbed together and there was no need for the identity of the father (Royer 2009).
But, farming and rearing of livestock brought about a sea change. Livestock was the first property man began to possess. Farming rooted them in one place. The two required plenty of manual labor and the role of man became more dominant. But man now wanted to pass on the property to the child of his loins and this led to enslaving of women into marriage so that paternity could be identified. This was the crude beginning of the pillar of modern society – marriage (Wood 2008).
The latest theories confirm Africa to be the starting point of human evolution about 150,000 years back. “Modern man evolved from a subspecies of the first Homo sapiens” (Wood 2008). However, Paleo-anthropologists continue to float many theories about different facets of the origin of man. Basically, there are two important theories – the Multiregional evolution and the Complete Replacement theory (Royer 2009).
Evidence found in Ethiopia shows that man started his journey has Homo sapiens 2.4 million years back. Further evidence are confirming this standpoint. Milford H. Wolpoff developed the theory of Multiregional Evolution. He states that 2 million years previously, early man migrated to various parts of the world and then developed into different species of Homo sapiens. Each species made its debut simultaneously at the same time with each clan taking on the same characteristics that mark us today (Glantz 2009).
Wood (2008) reports that “The Complete Replacement theory of Out of Africa/Eve Theory/Recent African Evolution suggests, that Homo sapiens that we know today, evolved nowhere else but in Africa about 200,000 years previously” (Wood 2008). Migration then followed and they replaced any other Homos they encountered. Exchanges in traits occurred due to genetic mutations with the dominant genes gaining ground.
This theory thus supports what Darwin has said about the survival of the fittest. The best traits began to spread with success through others that happened to come in contact. It led to intermixture but also sometimes to complete replacement. Each group responded to the challenges within their society and this led to the development of modern human features. There are similarities with wide variances right across the globe (Bastir 2008).
This theory replaces the Complete Replacement one – the name summarizing it aptly. It states that the first modern humans developed in Africa and then they traveled northwards exiting from Africa to other places of the world around 60,000 to 45,000 years previously. With time, population numbers increased and became denser outnumbering the previous occupants of these regions. The latter soon became extinct. This latter theory is aided by modern biology dealing with Mitochondrial DNA. The framework of the DNA being direct replicas are transferred through the mother. DNA study helps us to look back with precision and accuracy. “The examination of mtDNA helps scientists to see from where early humans started their journey and where they settled” (Glantz 2009).
Wood (2008) states, “A publication in Nature Genetics in 1999 traces the journey of Homo sapiens from Ethiopia to southern parts of Asia skirting the Levant (Greater Syria)” (Wood 2008). The conclusion has been drawn from DNA similarities among Indians and Ethiopians. Supporting this theory is the non-existence of this particular DNA in the Levant region. It shows the successful mass migration that took place from East Africa.
However, conclusions from DNA studies are also changing. mtDNA is not transferred by the father but it has a high rate of mutation. This can split up the ancestral link and blur the genealogical line – it being more probable when digging back millions of years (Bastir 2008).
Studies in Y-Chromosome shift the focus from the mother to the father. Till 1998 the study of Y- Chromosome had not met with success. But scholars at Stanford University are making headway and claim to have found a type that matches a small group of people living in northern and southern Africa. Others in different parts of Africa and all of the Europeans have a common version of this type and there are mutated editions of it right across the world. Thus it supports the theory of mass movement across the planet through millions of years (Bastir 2008).
The contradiction in biological research continues with another theory that has made use of an enzyme to calculate the time clock in human evolution. The scientists took the assistance of a method known as the molecular clock. “They took into count the rate of mutation of genes changing between man and the apes to chart a new tree depicting human evolution” (Wood 2008). They observed that one type was located in African and another type ultimately led to the formation of another variant among the Africans. 200,000 years previous another variant cracked and this pervaded the non-Africans (Wood 2008).
Thus this theory is similar to the Multiregional Evolution but does not agree with Complete Replacement. While all this hair-splitting argument goes on ancient India has another truth to state based on the direct perception of the sages. Man is not the son of a monkey but the children of the Immortals.
Bastir, M. (2008). Middle Cranial Fossa Anatomy and the Origin of Modern Humans. The Anatomical Record: Advances in Integrative Anatomy and Evolutionary Biology 291(2), 130-140.
Glantz, M. (2009). Is Central Asia the eastern outpost of the Neandertal range? A reassessment of the Teshik-Tash child. American Journal of Physical Anthropology 138(1), 45-61.
Lagu, R. (2009). Hominid mandibular corpus shape variation and its utility for recognizing species diversity within fossil ‘Homo’. Journal of Anatomy 213(6), 670-685.
Quam, R. (2009). Evolution of M’1′ crown size and cusp proportions in the genus ‘Homo’. Journal of Anatomy 214(5), 655-670.
Royer, D. (2009). Size variation in early human mandibles and molars from Klasies River, South Africa: Comparison with other middle and late Pleistocene assemblages and with modern humans. American Journal of Physical Anthropology 140(2), 312-323.
Tatterstll, I. (2009). The morphological distinctiveness of ‘Homo sapiens’ and its recognition in the fossil record: Clarifying the problem. Evolutionary Anthropology: Issues, News, and Reviews 17(1), 49-54.
Wood, B. (2008). Hominin life history: reconstruction and evolution. Journal of Anatomy 212(4), 394-425.