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Early Human Culture. Homo habilis Homo rudolphensis Homo erectus Homo ergaster. Evolution of Humans. Homo habilis (ca. 2.5-1.6 mya). Homo habilis was first discovered in 1959 in the Olduvai Gorge in Tanzania.

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early human culture

Early Human Culture

Homo habilis

Homo rudolphensis

Homo erectus

Homo ergaster

h habilis finds
Homo habilis was first discovered in 1959 in the Olduvai Gorge in Tanzania.

A nearly complete skull of H. habilis was discovered in 1972 at Koobi Fora on the shores of Lake Turkana in Kenya. Its age is estimated at 1.8 million years and its brain capacity at 800 cc.

Other H. habilis remains have since been discovered at Olduvai Gorge. There is considerable variation among the specimens from this era found thus far.

Some anthropologists argue that the variations appear to indicate that several separate species of humans existed and competed at the same time in east Africa; other scientists lump all the individuals together in a single species.

H. habilis finds
oh 7 type specimen
OH 7 (Type specimen)


homo habilis
Homo habilis
  • Brain size much bigger than Aus. (500-800)
  • Teeth smaller, thinner enamel, more parabolic dental arcade.
  • Skulls rounder, less prognathic, jaw muscles reduced.
  • East and South Africa, same time as robusts.
  • Handyman, associated with Pebble choppers.
knm er 1813
KNM ER 1813


knm er 1470
KNM ER 1470


hablis vs rudolphensis
hablis vs. rudolphensis


oldowan tool variety
Oldowan Tool Variety

OLDOWAN TOOLS (left to right): end chopper, heavy-duty scraper, spheroid hammer stone (Olduvai Gorge); flake chopper (Gadeb); bone point, horn core tool or digger (Swartkrans) http://www.handprint.com/LS/ANC/stones.html

tool technology
Tool Technology
  • Oldowan Pebble Choppers
    • rounded pebbles
    • portions broken to form sharp edge
    • flakes used for butchering
    • Bone points and horn cores

These crude hand axes and stone flakes could have been manufactured as needed or as opportunity arose. The fracture lines of stones create a sharp cutting surface capable of butchering fairly large animals. The photo above right shows a modern anthropologist skinning a calf with a stone tool made just as ancient Homo habilis would have done.

  • The background of the photo shows the kind of environment in which this earliest-known human species lived--open bush and savannah country in east Africa.
  • This must have been a very challenging environment, filled with large predators.


  • Meat eating
  • Home base, food sharing, sexual division of labor.
  • Archaeological evidence
    • Animal bones and stone tools at sites (Olduvai)
    • Hunting or Scavenging?
hunting hypothesis
"Hunting Hypothesis"
  • One widely held view of human development has held that hunting as an activity was the chief driver of evolutionary change in early humans, as it would have selected for for certain kinds of intelligence, coordination, and aggressive behavior
  • Was Homo habilis a hunter of large game and a successful competitor with the great predators of Africa--lions, leopards, hyenas? Or was this species an opportunistic taker of small game and a scavenger?
  • Present evidence cannot answer the question, but a scavenging role seems more likely.
homo erectus traits
Homo erectus: Traits
  • Homo erectus lived from approximately 2 million to around 400,000 years ago.
  • Homo erectus is a large brained species, with adult brains ranging from 900 to 1200 cc.
    • This size range means that the larger brained individuals of this species exhibit a fifty-percent increase in brain size over the older Homo habilis.
    • The largest brain sizes of H. erectus fall within the range of modern humans, although the H. erectus brain is configured somewhat differently than our own.
  • Were from the neck down almost exactly like moderns
  • Had no chin, thick and big brow ridges
  • Bigger teeth than moderns
  • Males were much bigger than females, but this changes over time
  • More robust body
  • Body Size
    • male:170cm,66kg
    • female:150cm, 56kg
acheulian hand axes
Acheulian Hand Axes
  • Homo erectus was an accomplished tool maker and tool user; hand-axes were widely used in addition to sharp-edged flakes.
  • The tools of Homo erectus are the first in the fossil record to show conscious design of any complexity.
  • Wooden tools and weapons are also assumed to be present in the tool kit of this species, but none has been preserved in the fossil record.
acheulian innovations
Acheulian Innovations
  • The key innovations are
    • (1) the shaping of an entire stone to a stereotyped tool form, and
    • (2) chipping the stone from both sides to produce a symmetrical (bifacial) cutting edge.
  • Manufacture shifted from flakes struck from a stone core to shaping a more massive tool by careful repetitive flaking.
  • The most common tool materials were quartzite, glassy lava, chert and flint.


acheulian hand axe
Acheulian Hand Axe

ACHEULEAN TOOLS (left to right): cleaver stone (Bihorei oest, France); lanceolate hand ax (Briqueterie, France); large hand ax (Olduvai Gorge).


controlled use of fire
Controlled Use of Fire
  • H. erectus may have been the first species to use and control fire.
  • This milestone in human development occurred 1 to 1.5 million years ago.
  • Control of fire may have enabled humans to move out of Africa and into colder climates in Europe and Asia.
use of fire
Use of Fire
  • Homo erectus invented fire
  • To cook food, scare away animals and travel to colder places
  • controlled fire
migrate out of africa
Migrate Out-of-Africa
  • The earliest specimens of Homo erectus are found in Africa, but, sometime after 1 million years ago, Homo erectus apparently migrated out of Arica.
  • Tools and remains of this species have been found widely distributed in Europe and Asia.
  • Homo erectus is thus the first human species to migrate out of Africa and adapt to a variety of Old World environments.
olorgesailie kenya
Olorgesailie, Kenya
  • This Acheulian site is located about 90 kilometres south-west of Nairobi on the road to Magadi.
  • The site of Olorgesailie, donated to the Kenyan Government by the Maasai community, covers an area of 52 acres.
  • First discovered by Mary Leakey in 1942, this site was excavated continuously between 1942 and 1947. The area continues to be under investigation to this date, with a team from the Smithsonian Institution, USA, making annual surveys and excavations.
  • Olorgesailie is the largest of the National Museums' prehistoric sites, and is characterised by in situ displays of prehistoric materials, including numerous hand axes and fossilised skeletons of extinct species of elephant and a hippopotamus.
A view of the Catwalk Site shows a jumble of stone tools left by our ancestors, buried by the sediments of a local stream channel nearly 900,000 years ago, and then re-exposed to the elements by recent erosion. These areas of erosion allow us to find the actual layer of burial in the nearby hillside.
ambrona and torralba
Ambrona and Torralba
  • At Ambrona and Torralba in central Spain, bands of hunters drove elephants into swamps, killed the mired animals, and butchered them where they lay.
  • Similar kill sites have come from eastern and southern Africa, but we can be sure that wild plant foods were still of great importance in the diet.
  • This site (and the nearby site of Ambrona) have been proposed as evidence of coordinated hunting behavior by Acheulean people between 400,000 and 200,000 years old (pollen evidence suggests 400,000)
finds at ambrona and torralba
Finds at Ambrona and Torralba
  • Artifacts found:
      • over 1000 stone tools
      • animal bones
      • > 30 elephants
      • 25 deer
      • 25 horses
      • 10 cattle
      • several rhinos
  • All skeletons disarticulated , many bones smashed/split, almost all elephant skulls missing as are many meat-bearing bones, charcoal but no hearths or ash concentrations or burned depressions, bits of charcoal scattered in among bones
  • The earliest Homo erectus finds are in the Rift Valley of Africa and in South Africa.
  • Stone tools and camp sites are widely distributed over Africa, including sites in what is now the Sahara desert. By at least 1 million years ago, H. erectus migrated out of Africa to Asia and Europe.
  • Recent dating techniques applied to earlier finds in Java and the Caucasus mountains indicate dates much earlier than that and would place Homo erectus in Asia over 2 million years ago.
    • Such early dates would, if proven accurate, dramatically overturn the currently accepted chronology of early human development.
    • At this date, however, the earliest claimed dates for H. erectus outside of Africa are still highly controversial.
habitat map



Asia (cold)

Europe (cold)

Africa (hot)

Australia (hot)


important finds
Important Finds
  • Narikatome Boy
          • Discovered by Kamoya Kimeu
  • Peking Man
          • Was found near Beijing
          • Name used for the bones of an extinct hominid
          • Reconstruction of Peking man Skull
          • Peking man pic


narikatome boy
Narikatome Boy
  • The nearly full skeleton at the right belonged to a teen-age boy, 12 or 13, who lived 1.65 years ago near what is now Lake Turkana in east Africa.
  • He was five feet, four inches tall, and his body is remarkably modern looking.
  • This is the most complete find of an ancient human ancestor yet discovered, and it has provided a wealth of information.
  • Yet this immature male had already surpassed a height of five feet at the time of his death, and probably would have attained a height of 6 feet and a weight of roughly 150 lbs.
homo ergaster in africa
Homo ergaster in Africa
  • ER 3733 represents a mature female of the early human species Homo ergaster.
  • The gender identification comes from a comparison of the anatomical features of her face with another Koobi Fora for a cranium KNM ER 3883, and the KNM WT 15000 male, found on the opposite side of Lake Turkana.
  • The features of KNM ER 3733 are markedly less robust. It's known to be an adult on the basis of the cranial sutures (which were fully closed), the extent of the wear on the teeth, and the eruption of the third molars before the individual's death.
Note the difference in the shape of the cranium. On the top, H. erectus has a long cranium with a "transverse torus," a protruding area of bone at the back of the braincase.
  • H. ergaster has a more globe-shaped braincase that lacks this torus.
    • Although the African cranium and the East Asian reconstruction both depict females, the later H. erectus (right) exhibits larger browridges.

H. erectus

H. ergaster