When did Homo Sapiens arise?

The human being

Modern humans also originated in Africa, about 200,000 years ago. In the course of time it conquered the entire continent, settling the Middle East 100,000 years ago and the rest of the world at the latest 50,000 years ago. 14,000 years ago all continents except Antarctica were populated, followed by the colonization of the oceanic islands, which ended 800 years ago with the colonization of New Zealand. Since then, humans have left their mark on the earth.

Rock painting from Lascaux (aurochs): Already the Cro-Magnon man
in the late Stone Age created the first cultural centers. Fig .: Prof saxx,
wikipedia commons, accessed May 30, 2012, license: cc 3.0.

The skeletons found in the rocks of Cro Magnon in 1868 (see Researching the History of Human Development) were the first to be properly recognized as the skeletons of prehistoric, modern humans. Their age was later determined to be 25,000 years. Since then, the finds made by modern humans from the Eurasian Stone Age have often been referred to as Cro-Magnon humans. (There were earlier finds, such as the excavations carried out by Reverend William Buckland, President of the Geological Society of London, in the Welsh site of Paviland in the 1820s: He found a woman with mammoth ivory, the “Red Lady of Paviland” could not believe that the woman had lived at the same time as the mammoths, he explained, Welsh tribesmen dug them there, found the ivory, carved it and placed it in the grave. Later research showed that this skeleton was over 30,000 years old.) In the course of time numerous other finds from all over the world were added; the oldest finds came from Africa: a find from Herto (Afar region, Ethiopia) is 160,000 years old, there are other finds from Laetoli and Lake Turkana as well as from South Africa. The great time lag between the African finds and those from the rest of the world suggests that modern man, homo sapiens, how nice Homo erectus originated in Africa.

What happened to the Asian Homo erectus?

For those who support a multiregional transition (see section below) is Homo erectus the forerunner of modern Asians. A new study of 12,000 South Asians showed, however, that they all have a 50,000 year old African origin - another result that speaks against a multi-regional transition. The latest traces of Homo erectus from China are 100,000 years old - most anthropologists believe that this species became extinct after that, possibly due to an ice age that too homo sapiens brought to the brink of extinction (more on this in the following section). Developed in Indonesia Homo erectus possibly to other species that are also extinct today (see The people of Flores).

Modern man originated in Africa

The theory of a multiregional transition still has supporters, according to which modern man has developed independently of one another in different regions of the world. (This was close to many early explorers of the earth - mostly wealthy white men - who believed in an innate superiority of their own “race.” Today, supporters can be found mainly in Asia: It is supposed to establish various Asian peculiarities, such as a trough-shaped one Depression on the back of the shovel-shaped incisors.) But not only the fossil record, but other evidence clearly support the alternative "Out-of-Africa“-Theory, the theory of an African origin of modern man. Originally it was developed by linguists: The American linguist and ethnologist Joseph Greenberg had the San, a gathering and hunting society still living in Botswana and Namibia (formerly called "Bushmen"), one of the oldest groups based on their language with clicks counted in the world. Today, genetic characteristics are mainly used to elucidate the origins of humans: molecular clocks help to elucidate relationships: the longer populations are separated from one another, the greater the genetic differences between them. And studies show that they are actually greatest in Africa, and there among the San: Here, the genetic differences between people in two villages 30 kilometers apart can be greater than between those in two European countries! When part of the population later set out to conquer the world, they began this adventure with only part of the genetic diversity. In return, new changes can occur later, which can only be found in the part of the world that was settled after the appearance of the new feature. For a long time, research has concentrated on investigations of the mitochondrial DNA and the Y chromosome due to the lower effort involved (in the offspring, both are not reassembled from the DNA of the mother and father, but taken over unchanged by the mother and father respectively) Due to technical progress, the entire DNA is increasingly used today: in this way, archaeogeneticists can now sketch the settlement of the earth by modern humans based on genetic characteristics.

With the molecular clock, the results could be used to estimate when homo sapiens originated: This was probably more than 200,000 years ago. The duplication of the gene "BOLA2" on chromosome 16 is regarded as a possibly decisive genetic change (320): it plays a central role in iron metabolism, and its duplication has the ability of our blood (iron is an important component of red blood cells, in the blood stores oxygen), the absorption of oxygen is improved: humans became even better runners and they got access to proteins and fats that the human brain needs. The oldest unambiguous fossils of modern humans were found in 1997 at from Herto in the Afar Depression in Ethiopia by the American paleoanthropologist Tim White and his team; they are 160,000 years old (a 195,000 year old partial skeleton was found at Omo Kibish, but its assignment is controversial). A 150,000 year old skull was found in Jebel Irhoud, Morocco. So 100,000 years ago at least three types of people lived on earth: homo sapiens in Africa, Homo neanderthalensis in Europe and Homo erectus in Asia. Maybe already Homo floresiensis on Flores. But survived alone Homo sapiens.

Our African past

Over the first 100,000 years, i.e. over the first half of the history of modern man Homo sapiens, there is little evidence. This first half took place largely (330) in Africa. The San or their predecessors settled large parts of the African continent at that time. They developed new stone tools (microliths - small blades that were probably used for arrows), first bone tools, and fishing. The temperature fluctuations of the Ice Ages had a significant impact on the population: Warm periods brought warm, humid weather to Africa, in which even the Sahara was full of animals. An ice age meant dry weather in Africa; the animals have to migrate south to the tropical regions to find enough food (and humans had to follow them). During the warm phase 125,000 years ago, the number of people increased: it is estimated at up to a million. The cooling that began afterwards probably led to increasing drought in Africa; On the other hand, the sunken sea level made it possible for people to hike around the northern tip of the Red Sea or by boat over the few kilometers of the southern Red Sea: 100,000 years ago, modern humans left Africa again. One group came to Israel, where finds were made near Qafzeh near Nazareth and Skhul in the Carmel Mountains. But it probably never got any further and died out 90,000 years ago.

Cooling and drought continued to increase until 70,000 years ago. 74,000 years ago, the volcano Toba erupted on the Indonesian island of Sumatra, whose clouds of dust darkened the sky and possibly led to a “volcanic winter” all over the world. The number of people decreased - maybe even sharply: genetic analyzes indicate that the population at that time fell to only about 10,000 people, Homo sapiens so possibly on the verge of extinction. In retrospect, this may even have helped humans, because in the small surviving populations (due to genetic drift) the genetic diversity is increasing rapidly: humanity could have made a leap forward due to a genetic change. Or was it cultural? - While people probably cultivated their social life in good times (see here), bad times were often phases of intensive innovations (according to the motto “Necessity makes inventive”). Still other anthropologists believe that the development now beginning was the result of a long development of human language.

A big leap forward, or: the "cognitive revolution"

Be that as it may: Apparently, 70,000 years ago, human cognitive abilities - learning abilities, memory, communication abilities - increased significantly. For the first time in human history, grave sticks, millstones, fishing, tools made of bones (such as bone needles with eyelets and drills), the use of color pigments and finally rock carvings, pearl necklaces, ivory pendants with animal motifs and musical instruments (flutes made of bones) - not just finer tools but suddenly there was painting, figurative representations and music. One of the oldest of these sites is the Blombos Cave in South Africa, which has been excavated since 1991. Among other things, bone tools, pearls and ocher pigments and millstones that are more than 70,000 years old have been found here. This first evidence of modern, planned and abstract (artistic) thinking in modern man shows a development that many anthropologists call a “great leap forward” (English: great leap forward) in human history: Man was no longer just anatomically similar to man today, but apparently thought and spoke similarly to us today.

The language was now fully developed at the latest; and so that not only joint activities can be better planned, but also the tools have been further developed: The advances in tool processing lead over to the Neolithic. In southern Africa spears were used at the latest at this time; Hunting skills had improved considerably as a result - this can be read from the bones of the hunted animals. Man suddenly stood at the top of the food chain (so to speak, "unskilled" what had bad consequences for his prey, more on this here). At this time at the latest, humans could also light a fire themselves - with a technique similar to that of drilling - and thus finally mastered a force with which they could do more than with their own muscle power. Changed with the fire homo sapiens its environment for the first time on a large scale (more on this here). In any case, the cognitive revolution, as the "great leap forward" is also called, led to a decisive change: humans could not only think abstractly, but also talk to other people about their ideas: This is how legends, myths, religions, gods came about - so-called "social constructs", on which common values ​​and norms were based, which gave rise to what we now call "culture". This allowed humans to work together in larger groups, but above all to react much faster and more flexibly to new challenges than all other animals (360). First he conquered the earth.

Modern man conquers the earth

At the time of the "great leap forward", that is 70,000 years ago, the climate became a little warmer again and in East Africa more humid again, and at the same time the number of people increased again. Whether this increase was due to the climate or the cognitive revolution is controversial. We know, however, that at this time humans are conquering new habitats in Africa; and the second successful wave of human emigration from Africa also took place at this time. It began 70,000 to 50,000 years ago and led over the Red Sea, which was much smaller in an ice age, to the south coast of the Arabian Peninsula; and from here over the next millennia along the south coast of Asia to Australia and New Guinea (see illustration).


Spread of modern man (homo sapiens) over the world. The colors and numbers indicate the period of expansion, the numbers mean years before our time. (The map represents today's
Distribution of land masses and seas; At the time of the hikes this was different, so it existed
a land bridge between Siberia and Alaska.) The map is based on data from Spencer Wells, the year for the settlement of America updated to 370 (see also text below).

Were people driven by curiosity? Or did they just follow migrating game, moving a little further east every year? We do not know it. But on their trip they made surprising encounters that would no longer be possible today: For example, in Indonesia (The People of Flores) - they were allowed to meet people of the

The people of Flores

In 2004, the discovery of a small human species on the Indonesian island of Flores went through the press: only one meter tall, was alive Homo floresiensis 18,000 years ago on the island (366). Initially, a pathological origin was thought to be possible with the dwarfism, but have since been H. floresiensis but found in several other places, so that the people of Flores probably actual their own, presumably from Homo erectus arisen, human species are likely to have been. Dwarfism could have occurred due to the isolated development on the island; This occurs occasionally on islands - and unusually small elephants have also been found on Flores. Examination of the brain showed that H. floresiensis had a small but complexly networked brain, i.e. it was intelligent.

Species Homo erectus to have encountered; nobody knows what happened. In any case, the spread was slow; but even if you only advance two kilometers a year, you can cover 10,000 kilometers in 5,000 years. Or maybe it was the coastal fishing grounds that people followed; in any case, in the course of time they reached the extreme point of Southeast Asia.Since their hiking route is now submerged as a result of the sea level rising again, little is known about them. Accordingly, we don't know anything about how well these people got along with the sea. But on today's Indonesian island world, the coast came to an end, which at that time protruded a good 1,600 kilometers further into the sea. Australia was separated from the mainland by at least eight inlets of up to 80 km in width - and yet it was reached: Australia and New Guinea, at that time connected to a single continent, were settled 60,000 to 50,000 years ago, according to molecular clocks. The oldest known find, "Mongoose Man”From Mungo National Park in New South Wales, is 40,000 years old.

The colonization of Australia and New Guinea was a milestone in human history. Australia and New Guinea had split off from Antarctica around 55 million years ago (more on this here), and its flora and fauna had developed all of their own since then. And then came the human. To get to Australia and New Guinea via the inlets from the Indonesian islands, he definitely needed boats. With these he reached a new continent for the first time beyond the contiguous land mass Africa - Eurasia. Why did people suspect that they would find land beyond the water? Did you see migrating birds? Did they see columns of smoke or nightly firelights from bushfires? We do not know it; But since the Solomon Islands east of New Guinea were also settled, the settlement was apparently no coincidence: The people in the Australian area were already proficient in handling boats - probably ocean-going bamboo rafts, as they are still used today on the coasts of southern China. The colonization of islands in the north of Australia also suggests impressive navigational knowledge. (The next reference to the use of boats is not to be found until 30,000 years later in the Mediterranean.) The crossing was apparently not easy for the seafaring predecessors of the Australians either, because Australia and New Guinea were to develop largely isolated from the Asian mainland until around 1,600 BC C.E., Austronesian seafarers reached (more) New Guinea and Australia in the course of colonizing the Pacific island world.

The Australian "dream time"

The people who came to Australia encountered exotic flora and fauna on the new continent: three-meter-high kangaroos and other marsupials, flightless giant birds, seven-meter-long lizards, rhinoceros-sized wombats and 50-kilogram snakes - the result of 55 million Years of own evolution. The Aborigines still remember this time in their mythical stories; a time when their ancestors went out to sea in a canoe, orientated themselves by the morning star and reached the north coast of Australia, were attacked by giant kangaroos and the sea level rose at the end of the last ice age. According to their ideas, the land was formed during the "dream time" (which has nothing to do with dreaming in sleep, but rather a metaphysical parallel world in which the world was created / ordered and is) by ancestors like the rainbow snake, who once passed over the land meandered, scraping rivers into the earth and raising mountains. The land (and not a god) is the central figure of the dreamtime, landmarks remind of events in the "dreamtime", and every person is connected to the ancestors from the "dreamtime" via a totem. Rules for living together follow from the stories from the dream time. So people with the same totem have to help each other regardless of their relatives (an ideal constellation for nomads); and the connection to the dream time is cultivated through rituals at places of worship.

These holy places lie along the "dream paths", where the ancestral beings once "sang" the world into existence: the Aborigines can find their way around unknown land using song cycles that describe the dream paths. The rituals, to which they take very long distances, represent a connecting element of the culture of the indigenous people, who otherwise lived (d) very scattered - 200 to 300 different languages ​​had developed in Australia, but many indigenous people speak three or four languages ​​and understand many more.

A second wave of migration of homo sapiens started 45,000 years ago. This time the coastal areas were already settled, so it led to the Middle East. From here, three more migratory movements started in the next 15,000 years: one to India, one to East Asia (from which the Chinese and other Asian peoples descended) and one to Central Asia, to today's Kazakhstan. Migrations also led to Europe (finds in the Siberian Ust'-Ishim and in the Romanian oasis cave testify to this), but the genetic makeup of today's Europeans no longer shows any traces of these (367). The first successful (in the sense of: until today) colonization of Europe by modern humans came from the Middle East 40,000 years ago: these people probably came to Europe via the Danube valley. The oldest finds from this wave of settlements come from the Swabian Alb; Among other things, a lion man made of mammoth ivory was found there, who is 35,000 years old. These first settlers in today's Germany were also dark-skinned "Africans".

The end of the Neanderthals

When modern man arrived in the Middle East 45,000 years ago in the area that was colonized by Neanderthals, their decline began. Wherever modern man came, the Neanderthals disappeared after a few thousand years; the youngest occurrence found so far is in Gibraltar and is 28,000 years old. Genetic analyzes show, however, that in modern humans, if they do not come from Africa, two to two and a half percent of the genome comes from Neanderthals: our ancestors apparently did not shy away from closer acquaintance (368), even if they were other human forms (ob the Neanderthal was really a different species, is called into question by this result: fertile offspring were possible). So the Neanderthals are not completely extinct. Apart from that: Was the disappearance of the Neanderthals and the arrival of modern man a coincidental coincidence or did modern man displace the Neanderthals?

That the modern one that originated in the tropics homo sapiens In Ice Age Eurasia, supposedly displacing the Neanderthals, who were adapted to the cold, does not seem particularly plausible at first glance. But research shows a crucial biological difference: Neanderthals became sexually mature much younger - which means that young Neanderthals had less time for their development and for learning from older group members. This difference, so suspect many researchers, could have led to the fact that modern man was perhaps biologically inferior, but culturally superior: He developed more effective weapons and hunting techniques (see the following section), and a first division of labor: while with the Neanderthals men and Women hunted large animals, but in modern humans this was reserved for men - so women and children were not exposed to the risks of hunting. That modern man was superior to the Neanderthal can also be seen from the fact that he colonized an area far beyond the distribution of the Neanderthal.

The question remains whether homo sapiens "only" suppressed the Neanderthals or fought them directly? The answer is controversial, but the fact that the disappearance of the Neanderthals took a few thousand years tends to suggest that they were pushed into less rewarding regions. The more muscular Neanderthals, with over 4,000 kcal per day, needed about twice as much food energy as a modern person - possibly this was simply not to be found there in bad times, which then led to extinction in the long term.

The colonization of Europe by modern humans took place during an increasing cooling, which culminated in the last Ice Age (cold) maximum 24,000 to 18,000 years ago. The first settlers shaped the Aurignacian culture. They came thanks to ever more effective weapons and ever finer tools - one of the most important developments was the sewing needle, it enabled the production of sewn (with animal tendons), tight-fitting clothing and warm shelters from animal skins - coping with falling temperatures and expanding ice sheets. About 33,000 years ago, a new wave of settlers came from the east, they brought them Gravettian culture with himself. Apparently the new settlers drove out their predecessors, who withdrew to the Iberian Peninsula. That should be her luck, because the temperatures continued to fall, the ice sheets continued to expand: in Central Europe it was homo sapiens, a living being adapted to the tropics (our “neutral temperature”, at which the heat generation through the basal metabolic rate of the metabolism exactly compensates for the heat losses, is 27 ° C), survival is hardly possible. The new settlers of the Gravettian culture disappeared again, but their predecessors had survived on the Iberian Peninsula and returned to Central Europe after the end of the cold phase 18,000 years ago. Here they met another group of people who had moved to Central Europe from the Balkans at the same time; Both groups mixed and their descendants shaped Europe for a long time: they were technically highly developed hunters with dark skin and blue eyes.

Eastern Siberia was particularly inhospitable after the Ice Age; groups of hunters appeared here only in warm years. But about 15,000 years ago it was warm enough for people wearing fire and warm clothing to survive in the north-east of Lake Baikal: the first settlements emerged (older information in the literature could not be confirmed with modern dating methods). They were probably not the first: with the warming, the grazing animals had moved further and further east, followed by human hunters. Since a lot of water was still bound in the huge ice sheets, the sea level was much lower than it is today - and where the Bering Strait is today, there was a land bridge between Siberia and Alaska. Without realizing it, the hunters reached America. The Colonization of America probably took place soon after the first reaching of Eastern Siberia by a group which, according to genetic data, moved on to America around 16,000 years ago (370). The oldest finds from Alaska are almost 14,000 years old. (Also in America there are allegedly older finds, for example rock carvings in the Brazilian city of Pedra Furada are said to be 35,000 years old. However, the stone tools found are not clearly made by man, nor was the age of the pigments determined, but the ashes at the place of discovery, which are just as good could have come from forest fires.)

North America was largely covered by ice to the east of Alaska, like northern Europe, but at the time of settlement an ice-free corridor was presumably formed during the warm phase between the ice cover on the coastal mountains and that of northeastern America; and on this corridor the people from the Bering Strait via Alaska probably got to the prairies of North America. A few hundred years later some of them moved on to South America. (An alternative theory suggests that the first settlers did not come to America by land, but rather traveled by boat along the Pacific coast - there were ice-free refuges along the coast that would have made this possible. The rise in sea levels gives rise to possible indications for this theory However, today in the sea and are therefore difficult to find; due to the abundance of fish on the entire American Pacific coast, however, this route is also considered plausible by some.) In any case, the immigrants settled the continent relatively quickly, as the 14,700-year-old Chilean site of Monte Verde shows . They found a rich animal world; mastodons (an original species of elephant), elephants, giant armadillos, saber-toothed tigers, horses and camels grazed the prairies. And there were no more serious obstacles on the way south: from 11,000 BC. u. Z. there are numerous finds of the Clovis culture (after the first place of discovery, Clovis in the US state of New Mexico) with characteristic stone spearheads all over North America, and soon afterwards human traces can also be found in Amazonia and Patagonia. Within a good 1,000 years, the immigrants had apparently already reached the southern tip of South America, and they had increased to several million in the process. So all continents were populated by humans; except for the ice-covered Antarctica, which could only be settled in the 20th century with highly developed technical aids. (In America at least two more waves of immigration followed later: One 9,000 years ago, in which the ancestors of the Na-Dené Indians, to which the Haida, Apaches and Navajos belong, also came to America from North Asia; and one 5,000 years ago, where the Aleutians and Inuit (“Eskimos”) populated the north of America. Possible further, possibly even earlier waves of immigration are highly controversial: For example from people from Oceania, from Northeast Asia (suspected on the basis of finds that resemble Japanese natives of the Ainu people) or even from Europe.

Life in the Stone Age

Little is known to this day what life was really like for people in the Stone Age: there are no written records, bones and stone tools only tell a small part of their story, and today's hunters and gatherers also have to live more like people before 30,000 Years, especially since they have often been displaced in regions where agriculture was not worthwhile. The conclusions are accordingly controversial. For some, they had a hard, brutal, short life (as for Thomas Hobbes in “Leviathan”); for others, like the American anthropologist Marshall Sahlins, Stone Age societies were the "originally rich societies": people had everything they wanted - because they wanted nothing that they did not have. Property was not desirable for nomads; and food was not difficult to find under normal circumstances. In fact, modern studies have shown that many indigenous peoples need a maximum of four to five hours a day to search for and prepare food. Others came to the conclusion that the food was not always sufficient in bad years. Both sides are probably right - depending on the region and the climatic conditions, life for hunters and gatherers could be easy, but sometimes extremely tough.People reacted to this with the flexibility made possible by the cognitive revolution - with the spread of humans all over the world and almost all climatic zones, different ways of life and cultures formed, the basis of the cultural diversity of humanity (which today threatens to be lost) .

What the people in the Stone Age had in common seems to have been that they lived in associations of up to 150 members, who mostly followed the seasons and animal migrations as nomads and produced everything they needed for life themselves. They were usually well fed and larger and healthier than the later farmers. Hunters-gatherers were probably also the smartest people in history: their survival depended on their skills and knowledge of their environment (in fact, the human brain began to shrink with the invention of agriculture).

But at least in good times they also had a lot of “free time”. Occasionally they had contact with other associations, and gifts and information (and probably group members too) were exchanged; it was primarily used to maintain social relationships. Possibly these relationships also extended into the non-human world - this was then the task of the shaman; more here. It is likely that neighboring associations also had common myths, norms and values ​​from time to time. Valuable goods were also exchanged over great distances - this is inferred from the figures of Venus, which were spread from the Pyrenees to the Don 20,000 years ago; In Australia, too, there is evidence of ocher trade from the Wilgie Mia mine across the continent. In addition to goods, information was also exchanged in long-distance trade, for example the rapid spread of new weapons.

Occasionally - and many anthropologists suspect: especially in bad times - the maintenance of social contact also failed: Stone Age people's bone injuries caused by ax blows show that there were also violent confrontations among them. However, the extent of this is controversial - how do you want to distinguish bone injuries caused by accidents from the consequences of combat? Some traces, such as mass graves with skulls of women and children with clear cut and stab marks, clearly point to massacres; other studies found hardly any traces of violence. Probably the same applies to the question of the extent of violence in the Stone Age: some regions will have lived peacefully, elsewhere there were definitely bloody conflicts.

With the colonization of America at the end of the Ice Ages, man had opened up the last of the then habitable continents. Just in time, because with the end of the ice ages the sea level rose and separated Siberia and Alaska again; also Australia, New Guinea and Tasmania as well as Japan from Korea. The one world that humans could colonize again became three areas separated by seas (Africa and Eurasia, America, Australia), between which - if at all - there was hardly any contact. With the end of the Ice Ages, however, the habitable areas expanded on all continents and the number of people increased.

Around 10,000 years ago, four to eight million people lived on earth.

But the earth was not yet fully populated: the Mediterranean and oceanic islands were still populated. The Mediterranean islands from Crete to Sardinia were founded between 8,500 and 4,000 BC. populated u. the Caribbean islands from 5,000 BC ETC (Trinidad). The Arctic was (presumably by North American Indians as the forerunners of today's Inuit) around 2,000 BC. populated u.

The last major barrier for humans were the oceans: The settlement of the Pacific islands (Polynesia, Micronesia and New Zealand) began 4,000 years ago with the crossing from today's China to Taiwan - this was the beginning of the most spectacular wave of settlements across the oceans. For a long time, historians believed that it happened more by chance when Fischer got off course. Today it is believed that it was carried out in a targeted manner: On the one hand, it was carried out against the prevailing direction of wind and ocean currents, on the other hand, the settlers had useful plants and animals with them (in contrast to the older settlement waves, there were not hunters and gatherers here, but people who knew agriculture). The first wave brought Austronesian seafarers across the Indonesian archipelago and via Australia and New Guinea to the Solomon Islands, where they arrived about 3,200 years ago. In the next wave of settlements, farmers and fishermen from the Bismarck Archipelago northeast of New Guinea and the Solomon Islands reached the Fiji Islands, Samoa and Tonga in deep-sea outrigger canoes - almost 1,500 kilometers across the open sea. These ancestors of the Polynesians are called Lapita ceramists because of the style of their pottery. More than 1,500 years later they set out again - now equipped with large double canoes - and reached the Cook, Society and Marquesas Islands between 600 and 800 AD (and from there - more than 5,000 kilometers across the open sea! - towards 400 AD Hawaii) and Easter Island around 900 AD: At least 2,100 kilometers over the open sea from the nearest archipelago, the Pitcairn Islands in the west. Presumably from Kalimantan in Indonesia, Madagascar was settled around the year 400 - also a 5,000 kilometer journey, which was probably made possible by the northeast monsoon. The settlement of New Zealand in AD 1,200 completed the settlement of the habitable islands in the Pacific - this journey also required at least 3,200 kilometers over the open sea. (It is possible that the Austronesians even reached America; according to genetic research, chickens found in Chile came from Polynesia and reached the New World in the 14th century.)

In between, numerous islands in the Indian Ocean and those of Madagascar from Indonesia were settled between the fourth and ninth centuries and in the ninth and tenth centuries Iceland and Greenland (already settled by the Inuit) were settled by Norwegians. Only a few remote islands in the Atlantic and Indian Ocean, such as the Azores and the Seychelles, were really discovered by European conquerors; all other islands and continents were already populated. A long history of technical developments made it possible to colonize the Antarctic in the 20th century - and in 1969 the first visit to the moon.

First cultural centers

The modern “Cro-Magnon man” was technically much more advanced than the Neanderthals: He used bones to make fishhooks and sewing needles, for example; he invented bows and arrows and so-called spear throwers. With these weapons the speed and range of the projectiles was greater; and the killing of large and dangerous animals therefore became easier. The grave sticks were also provided with stone weights that allowed them to penetrate deeper into the ground. The climate of the ice ages offered Homo sapiens Abundant prey south of the ice sheets: an open grass landscape with many large grazing animals promised such a good hunter easy hunting luck, especially on the migration routes and water holes. The first cultural centers even formed in the best places, such as the Magdalénien in southern France and northern Spain. Here our ancestors built the first village-like settlements that were inhabited for long periods of time. Apparently they made a living by hunting down herds that regularly pass by. A few months a year were sufficient for this; and in the rest of the time they created some of the most remarkable works of art of the Paleolithic, the famous Lascaux and Altamira Picture Caves.

Hunters in the Ice Age

In the picture books for children, ice age hunters are often depicted, who ring a mammoth while swinging a spear. For all we know, this scene never happened: For one thing, it would have been far too dangerous for the Stone Age hunters to mess with a full-grown mammoth; on the other hand, such a test of courage would be of no use to them - a fully grown mammoth provides so much meat that it would largely rot without refrigeration. The evaluation of the bones from Stone Age sites shows that the Stone Age hunters primarily hunted animals with a live weight of less than one ton - including young mammoths. These animals produced a quantity of meat of 400 - 500 kilos; a family clan could use that much before it was rotting (and it was even more tender, by the way). Dangerous animals were often killed in ambush, or in places where they sank into deep mud and were defenseless. Admittedly, “small” animals with a live weight of almost a ton were also dangerous, their hunting was only possible in groups. The hunters tried to isolate weakened animals from the herds and chase them to death (using their excellent running skills, see above). With the invention of “ranged weapons” like the javelin, hunting was made much easier. However, wild animals change their behavior in case of danger, and in response to the throwing spear they became shy. The people then camouflaged themselves with animal skins and put on horns or antlers in order to deceive them - this is probably how the “deer people” can be explained in stone age rock paintings. This disguise seems to have proven itself, because the shamans later adopted it for the ritual evocation of the luck of the hunt.

The first “pet”: the dog

Even in the early days of mankind, 135,000 years ago, according to the latest genetic research, the wolf became a domestic animal. The oldest bone finds, which clearly show no wolf but a dog, are only about 15,000 years old. But even in this case the dog is still the oldest “domestic animal” of humans. Whether man came to the dog or the dog to man is controversial: It is both conceivable that wolf packs have sought the vicinity of human encampments, where there was leftover meat and ashes from abandoned campfires rich in salt and minerals; as well as that people found and raised young puppies. In any case, the wolf must have proven to be useful to humans, for example by helping them track down prey - and this is how long-term coexistence began. As pack animals, wolves are relatively easy to tame; by nature they live in hierarchical associations and, when treated correctly, subordinate themselves to humans. The coexistence eventually led to genetic changes in the wolf, which should result in the dog. Wolves apparently became pets independently of one another in the Middle East, China and North America.

The first sedentary cultures arose outside of Europe too, often in connection with fishing: fishermen settled on the coasts of the Indonesian archipelago 45,000 years ago. On the North American Pacific coast, fishermen settled who lived on migrating salmon and whales, lived in long houses up to 35 meters long and carved magnificent totem poles. Fishermen even settled on the Arctic coast, where the aborigines received enough food for permanent settlements from whaling - adapting to the arctic climate is another impressive testimony to man's ability to adapt.

The spiritual world of the early Homo sapiens

What people thought and believed in the past is more difficult to understand than technical achievements or diet: We know Venus figures, which obviously represent female fertility, and we know the cave images of the early one homo sapiens. But what purpose did they serve? Was there already a spirit world for humans that existed parallel to the human world and could explain experiences such as dreams, life and death? Was there already something like shamans who could come into contact with this spirit world, and did the images have anything to do with it (as the comparison with today's hunter cultures suggests)? Were there the first forms of religion? Most researchers think that the early hunters, like many of today's hunter-gatherer cultures, adhered to animistic beliefs - the term is from Latin anima, Soul or spirit, derived and means that people believed that the whole world was animated, that every stone, every plant, every animal has consciousness and sensations and that one with them (through language, dance, song, ...) in Contact. Humans do not have a prominent role in this. But beyond that we know nothing - which myths did people believe in, which spirits invoked them? Tens of thousands of years of human history are hidden behind a "curtain of silence" (380). But anyone who looks at the pictures from the Stone Age caves of Lascaux or Altamira is still touched by them today: the world of thought of the early days homo sapiens obviously had a lot in common with ours.

The cultural diversity of humanity

While there is obviously a wide variety of characteristics such as skin color, facial features, and other physical characteristics among humans, cultural (and linguistic) diversity far exceeds it. It was the basis for the success of mankind: adapting to the most varied of living spaces. But the cultural diversity of humanity is increasingly being lost. Indigenous peoples - those who lived in an area before conquests, colonization or the founding of a state, the best known are the Yanomani in Brazil, the Bushmen in Africa, the Aborigines in Australia or the Papuan tribes in Indonesia - are often viewed as backward and angry marginalized; especially if they settle in an area with mineral resources or large-scale projects are planned.

Similar to biological diversity (see here), there is a great danger here: Diversity is the basis for adaptation to changing environmental conditions. For example, when the fossil fuels on which industrial agriculture is based run out, knowledge of traditional farming methods may become very topical again (see here). Or another current example: Thousands of years ago, the indigenous people of the Amazon region succeeded in producing fertile soils there with the help of charcoal (more); today this technology is discussed as one of the beacons of hope in the fight against climate change (here). But the indigenous people of the Amazon region, who after bad experiences usually refuse any contact with whites, are being pushed back or lose their culture by gold prospectors, (illegal) logging, soy and sugar cane cultivation, the settlement of landless farmers or Christian missionaries. (Most of these peoples live in Brazil and Peru; while in Brazil, at least on paper, there are protected areas - which the Indian authority FUNAI can only inadequately protect against agro-industrial and forestry interests - these are only just being planned in Peru.)

Organizations for the Protection of Threatened Peoples:
Survival International
Society for the Protection of Threatened Peoples

In the tropics, and so in Africa, the temperature changes during the cold and warm phases were much smaller than in higher latitudes, but the cold periods were drier. The rain returned in warmer phases, and after a few hundred years the savannas were green again - and even the Sahara, as rock carvings from the Libyan desert show. In Africa, the digging stick was probably invented during the Ice Ages, a sharpened stick that was occasionally weighted down with a stone disc, which helped dig up roots and tubers - and was also suitable for planting seedlings; He is therefore (more) an essential forerunner of agriculture and, for some historians, even as one of the most important inventions of mankind. In the vicinity of the 70,000-year-old Klasies River Caves in South Africa, there are numerous plants that store their reserves in bulbs, tubers or rhizomes underground, and that have been used to an extent that paleobotanists can only “manage” - such as Burning down other plants - can explain. So 70,000 years ago humans manipulated their environment (more).

In Western Europe, the warmer climate 15,000 years ago resulted in the open grasslands being displaced by the forest; a development that is evidenced by pollen deposits in sediments. With that, however, the large herds of animals disappeared and followed the tundra vegetation to the north. The Cro-Magnon hunters had a choice: Either they followed their previous prey; or they stayed on site and hunted forest animals such as elk, deer and aurochs. They used both options. In the north they were able to keep their old way of life, in the warmer regions everything changed: the forest animals did not live in large herds like the grazing animals before; and while the invention of the bow and arrow helped hunting in the forest, it became more difficult to ensure sufficient food. Village-like settlements, cave paintings and Venus figures no longer exist from this time. In addition to hunting, vegetable food again played a larger role; Forests provide tubers, mushrooms, nuts and other fruits. These also had the advantage that they could be stored well so that reserves could be created for bad times. As the forests became more and more dense, people withdrew to open areas: They preferred to settle on river and lake banks or swamps, where hunting was easier and could be supplemented by fishing.

East of the Mediterranean ...

However, the region east of the Mediterranean Sea was to become historically significant: With the onset of the end of the Ice Ages 15,000 years ago, wet westerly winds brought so much rain into the country that in the area of ​​today's Israel, Palestine, Jordan and Syria, loose oak-pistachio forests emerged over productive grasslands, where gazelles and wild asses grazed. Grass seeds in spring, gazelles in summer and acorns and pistachios in autumn provided abundant - and balanced - nutrition. But the acorns in particular required a complex preparation - the bitter substances had to be washed out. The women who were responsible for their preparation were therefore increasingly tied to the household. In this region too, permanent settlements emerged that Natufian culture (after the site of Wadi an-Natuf in today's West Bank) belonged: Located primarily in the region of today's Israel and Jordan, these settlements consisted of round houses with bases made of stones and air-dried mud bricks. Mortars, grinding stones and flint sickles that were found in the settlements of the Natufien show how important the grasses were for nutrition. The use of mortars and millstones probably also showed people the way to cut stone tools - and thus ushered in the New Stone Age (Neolithic).

Sedentariness could also be fatal: The mobile former human could react to changes in his environment by simply moving to where his prey went. This way out stood people in a densely populated Region lived but no longer available - people already lived in the adjacent areas, and newcomers were hardly welcome in bad times. Such a change came 13,000 years ago with the beginning of the last cold phase, the Younger Dryas: a long-lasting drought began in the eastern Mediterranean; the forests shrank, the grasslands yielded fewer grains. People made a virtue out of necessity: they tried to increase the harvest by sowing grass; and with that began the transition to agriculture - this is described on the page The Invention of Agriculture.


Additional Information:

Genographic Project: Joint research project of the American National Geographic Society and from IBM, in order to understand the history of the spread of modern humans across the world with the help of modern genetic procedures and their information technology evaluation (in English).

Next page:
Hunters and gatherers and their environment

Previous pages:
Our African origin
Background information: brain and language

Or to:
Overview "The human being"

© Jürgen Paeger 2006 - 2020

An almost classic study of the importance of art for the development of human consciousness is that of David Lewis-Williams: The Mind in the Cave (only available in English).

The literary classic about the mythology of the Australian aborigines is Bruce Chatwin's book well worth reading "Dream paths"; a brief description of the facts can be found in Gerhard Leitner: The Aborigines of Australia, Beck, 2nd edition 2010.