Another look at human origins

The scientific theory of the evolution of humans has always fascinated me, in particular the challenge of reconciling it with the biblical data. Here is what little I know about the commonly accepted scientific view:

About 5-7 million years ago (MYA) there was the hominid / ape split. The early hominid (or precursor to humans) Australopithecus was around 4 to 1 MYA. Lucy is the oldest known example, and was discovered in 1970’s by a bunch of palaeontologists who celebrated with a party and happed to be listening to the Beatles song “Lucy in the sky with diamonds”. Lucy is 3.5 feet tall, has a brain the size of a small grape fruit and an opposable thumb which could grip things like a tool or a spear. She walked upright and lived in open woodlands rather than forests like the apes.

The earliest human species is homo habilis emerged 2-1.5 MYA. Then came homo errectus 1.6 million to 300,000 years ago. He had a larger brain and made hand axes and probably fire. They may also have been the first human ancestor to move out of Africa. From 1 million to 500,000 years ago he moved north to warmer parts of Europe and east to southern Asia. Evidence of his presence has been found in China. From 500,000 to 30,000 years ago there where migrations across Asia, up through Europe, and across a land bridge to North America.

Homo sapients emerged some 200,000 years ago with a brain size closer to ours, but had a large face and big teeth like homo errectus. Further migrations from about 30,000 to 10,000 years ago brought them to Australia, back over to North and South America and the rest of Asia. Homo sapiens sapiens emerged some 40,000 years ago with a bone structure almost identical to people today.

So we have:

Australopithecus            4 MYA

Homo habilis                 2 MYA

Homo errectus               1.6 MYA

Homo sapients               0.2 MYA

Homo sapiens sapiens    40,000 years ago

(Homo means man, sapiens means wise, so  homo-sapiens means wise man).

The transition of homo erectus to homo sapiens is the subject of much debate. There are two competing hypotheses. The first is the Multiregional hypothesis that states that 1.5 million years ago evolution began separately on each continent (Africa, Europe, Asia and Australia). African, European, Asian and Australian peoples descended separately from each of these pollutions but were kept linked as a species through occasional interbreeding.

The second theory is the “out of Africa hypothesis”, or replacement hypotheses.

Following the original migrations different species developed (including Neanderthals) but these were replaced 100,000 years ago by a second migration out of Africa of a more well adapted homo-sapiens species. So only decadents of homo erectus in Africa contributed to the genes of homo sapiens. The other species died out/were replaced rather than merged.

DNA sequencing technology favours the out of Africa hypothesis as Neanderthals turn out to be genetically significantly different from modern humans.

Neanderthals were slightly shorter than humans, with broader, bigger noses giving them  a better sense of small but they had smaller brains. They did look a lot like us though and even buried their dead, decorated their graves with belongings, flower petals etc, used stone tools, and spoke some kind of language (or at least they have the same bones in their throat as humans to generate complex tones used in language). They became extinct around 50,000  to  20,000 years ago.

In 2007 in Ethiopia (north East Africa) a team of American and Ethiopian researchers discovered two child skulls and one adult skull from 160,000 year old (dated with radio isotope methods) modern humans. They were very big individuals (the adult was bigger than humans today), who hunted and butchered animals (possibly hippos) with middle stone age (300,000-50,000 years ago)  tools and big hand axes. Their bones had been kept and handled over a long period of time.  The oldest complete fossil was discovered in Israel 115,000 years old.

“Africa is the only place that has the transitional stages leading up to homo sapiens and showing the first appearance of these modern human features.” Chris Stringer

So how does this square with the biblical data? Homo-sapiens originated in East Africa some 200,000 years ago, moved to west Africa some 70,000 years ago, and arrived in the middle east some 100,000-50,000 years ago. From there they (or possibly ‘we’ I guess we could say) spread around the globe finally reaching south America some 12-15,000 years ago. If I want to line up this Scientific data with Biblical data, in particular a flood wiping out all mankind, I would have to say (as Stott puts it) that homo Sapiens became homo-divinus around 50,000 years ago in Mesopotamia. This new mankind, made in the image of God, had much longer life spans, was almost wiped out in a local flood, grew in numbers again but stayed in the general area for many more years, until being dispersed at Babel. Modern languages, according to the bible, would all have their origins here.

This means that in order to have wiped out all of mankind (except Noah et al) before modern homo sapiens spread around the globe, the flood would have to have been much earlier than the floods that seem to have taken place in the Mesopotamian basin 4000-2000BC. If this is not the case then I would have to look for evidence that homo divinus appeared on the scene much later and all the existing global population of homo sapiens somehow got displaced (as per Neanderthal man)  as they had got everywhere by 15,000 years ago (over 10,000 year before a flood in 3000 BC). I suppose if the basin flooded 5,000 years ago it could have flooded 50,000 years ago although I have come across no evidence for that.

I have just watched this and got some more information on early civilisations.

Early humans lived egalitarian (everyone did pretty much the same thing and had similar status) hunter gatherer lives but during the Neolithic age (about 12,000 years ago) people started domesticating wild animals and growing crops. They lived in stone houses with storage shelves for food and jewels. The insides were decorated. Agriculture first started in the Middle East. Then India and china and later on in America. Irrigation projects required larger settlements with people to working together in some kind of  governmental society where some people lead and others have more specialised roles. They had god’s related to the weather.

Civilisation means large settlements, technology, writing, and a complex political and social structure. Hunter gatherers all have to hunt and gather. When you have a few farmers to provide all the food then others can specialise. Places that had suitable crops (easy to grow lots of it and store for a long time) and climate got civilisations first. Wheat and barley were good civilisation crops as they are easy to plant, you can grow more than one crop a year, plus they are easy to store. In contrast bananas are a very poor civilisation crop as  they take a long time to grow and rot very quickly. By the same token animals in the middle east are the best for settlements.  You can get milk, meat, skin, and fertiliser (manure) from cows and oxen, plus you can use them to  plough the ground. In contrast zebras and hippos are rather dangerous and hard to tame. Agriculture spread east to west because the climate was similar. However going north to south needs far more adaptation to the different climate.

Just a couple of other things while I’m thinking about it. Languages and the ice age: Evidence of early proto writing around appears around 3500 BC. A family tree of Indo-European languages suggests they began to spread and split about 9,000 years ago. “Nature” of November 2003.

Apparently some of the oldest written inscriptions concern the daily ration of beer allocated to each person.

Some people seem to put a set of common languages or proto languages around 22,000 years ago. Language is also implicated or put forward as a theory for the acceleration of human technical advancement around 50,000 year ago.

That fount of all knowledge Wiki tells me that:

“The development of fully modern behaviour in H. sapiens, not shared by H. neanderthalensis or any other variety of Homo, is dated to some 70,000 to 50,000 years ago. The development of more sophisticated tools, for the first time constructed out of more than one material (e.g. bone or antler) and sortable into different categories of function (such as projectile points, engraving tools, knife blades, and drilling and piercing tools) are often taken as proof for the presence of fully developed language, assumed to be necessary for the teaching of the processes of manufacture to offspring”

Basically the data is not as hard to reconcile as I had thought. Just one things left to consider and that is the ice ages.

The maximum extent of the last ice age (or more correctly glacial period) was 18,000 years ago (covering the northern part of the British Isles but no where near the middle east) and it ended around 12,500 years ago. It separated the paleolithic and the mesolithic periods (whatever they are). The last major actual ice age was around 75,000 years ago around the time humans began moving further north.

I’ll see if I can draw a diagram of all that info:

Well, I think I have got that out of my system for a bit longer!


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