Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Hominids Ahoy!

It turns out that archaic Homo sapiens or perhaps even Homo erectus may have actually taken to the water in some sort of light craft. Bruce Bower of ScienceNews reports:
Human ancestors that left Africa hundreds of thousands of years ago to see the rest of the world were no landlubbers. Stone hand axes unearthed on the Mediterranean island of Crete indicate that an ancient Homo species perhaps Homo erectus — had used rafts or other seagoing vessels to cross from northern Africa to Europe via at least some of the larger islands in between, says archaeologist Thomas Strasser of Providence College in Rhode Island.

Several hundred double-edged cutting implements discovered at nine sites in southwestern Crete date to at least 130,000 years ago and probably much earlier, Strasser reported January 7 at the annual meeting of the American Institute of Archaeology. Many of these finds closely resemble hand axes fashioned in Africa about 800,000 years ago by H. erectus, he says. It was around that time that H. erectus spread from Africa to parts of Asia and Europe.
The barrier that separates modern human intellect from that of our forebears gets fuzzier and fuzzier. This is not too much of a surprise. We know that Homo erectus harnessed fire and had somewhat sophisticated hunting tools. They obviously had a pretty clear understanding of their environment and how to maximise their intelligence to their advantage. Almost twenty years ago, Milford Wolpoff suggested that we sink the name Homo erectus and incorporate all of the hominids identified as H. erectus into the taxonomic status of Homo sapiens. He suggested this because of the lack of a definite speciation break between erectus and archaic Homo sapiens (specimens such as Kabwe, LH 18, and Omo 1, for example) in the fossil record. This information reinforces that argument from a biocultural perspective.

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