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The Ape that Stood on Its Own Two Feet: Hominids of the Plio-Pleistocene

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The Ape that Stood on Its Own Two Feet: Hominids of the Plio-Pleistocene. We’re just a blink of Time’s eye. What's this "Plio-Pleistocene" thing?. Or, What caused human evolution?. The Pleistocene: Ice Ages. Why glaciers? Perhaps a ‘wobbly’ earth. Glaciers and the earth.

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what s this plio pleistocene thing
What's this "Plio-Pleistocene" thing?

Or, What caused human evolution?

glaciers and the earth
Glaciers and the earth

Compression of climatic zones up to 30° latitude


Massive ice sheets as much as 1.5 kilometers thick covered much of the northern hemisphere.

32% of land mass was ice-covered (10% now)


Glaciers and the earth

Climatic compression detail: North America


Glaciers and the earth

Sea level changes of up to 100m (300+ feet)


World glacial sequences:

A complex sequences of advances and retreats

all this led to
All this led to…
  • Environmental stresses on species
  • Increased mutation
  • Increased competition for econiches
  • Population movements

The Great Rift Valley of East Africa


One view of the sequence

Homo floreiensis

Click for a list with details of these and other specimens

Click on skull image for information.


1 HOMO HABILIS ~ NICKNAME: Handyman LIVED: 2.4 to 1.6 million years ago HABITAT: Tropical Africa DIET: Omnivorous – nuts, seeds, tubers, fruits, some meat2 HOMO SAPIEN ~ NICKNAME: Human LIVED: 200,000 years ago to present HABITAT: All DIET: Omnivorous - meat, vegetables, tubers, nuts, pizza, sushi3 HOMO FLORESIENSIS ~ NICKNAME: Hobbit LIVED: 95,000 to 13,000 years ago HABITAT: Flores, Indonesia (tropical) DIET: Omnivorous - meat included pygmy stegodon, giant rat4 HOMO ERECTUS ~ NICKNAME: Erectus LIVED: 1.8 million years to 100,000 years ago HABITAT: Tropical to temperate - Africa, Asia, Europe DIET: Omnivorous - meat, tubers, fruits, nuts5 PARANTHROPUS BOISEI ~ NICKNAME: Nutcracker man LIVED: 2.3 to 1.4 million years ago HABITAT: Tropical Africa DIET: Omnivorous - nuts, seeds, leaves, tubers, fruits, maybe some meat6 HOMO HEIDELBERGENSIS ~ NICKNAME: Goliath LIVED: 700,000 to 300,000 years ago HABITAT: Temperate and tropical, Africa and Europe DIET: Omnivorous - meat, vegetables, tubers, nuts7 HOMO NEANDERTHALENSIS ~ NICKNAME: Neanderthal LIVED: 250,000 to 30,000 years ago HABITAT: Europe and Western Asia DIET: Relied heavily on meat, such as bison, deer and musk ox


Why don’t we know all that much?

Why all the controversy?

All the fossil specimens we’ve found so far would fit into the back of one pickup truck!


The Australopithecines

Australoptihecus anamensis


The Australopithecines

Raymond Dart and the 1924 Taung discovery

Mary and Louis Leakey with a Zinjanthropus boisei palateand a modern human skull

Taung Child  (Australopithecus africanus)


Australopithecus afarensis

Tim White

Laetoli footprints

Donald Johanson with "Lucy"


Homo erectus

What did Homo erectus look like?

the origins of complex cultural practices
The origins of complex cultural practices

Homo erectus

  • Stone-knapping advances that resulted in Acheulean bifacial tools
  • The beginnings of shelter construction
  • The control and use of fire
  • Increased dependence on hunting
  • Communal Hunting
  • Care of the infirm

100,000 to 30,000 years ago

The original caveman

neanderthal culture
Neanderthal culture

Well developed family and clan structures

Intentional burial

Walking with Cavemen

Walking with Cavemen


Key questions about Neanderthal

  • What is there relationship to modern humans?
    • DNA evidence suggests a shared ancestor at about 550,000 years ago. See Neanderthal DNA
    • Did the overlap humans in some areas?
    • Did they interbreed with humans?
  • Did AMH competition drive Neanderthal to extinction?
  • Did Neanderthals have language?
anatomically modern humans
Anatomically Modern Humans


Sophisticated art

Sophisticated stone and other tools


A firm sense of individual identity

Palm prints at Chauvet (above right shows hand placement of palm prints at left


Searching for meaning

Cave Bear altar, Chauvet Cave, 32,600+/-490 and 21,390+/-420 ybp

Altamira, Bison, 40,000 ybp


and more…

Sophisticated , permanent shelter


Firm identity as individuals

Visit Chauvet cave