Here is an essay on ‘Prehistory’ for class 8, 9, 10, 11 and 12. Find paragraphs, long and short essays on ‘Prehistory’ especially written for school and college students.
The Background of Prehistory:
We inherit a featureless past but our inborn curiosity keeps seeking and constructing shapes from within this darkness. A tribal group, for instance, seeks its origin from a star or a mountain or even an animal in one place, while in another a folktale about its origin from the more probable human being may be present. That is, we attempt to explain ourselves or even our surroundings through our knowledge and perception at a given time.
One of the earliest such opinions or explanations is recorded from the second century BC Ssuma Chien, a Chinese court historian, had suggested that man had passed through four different stages of technology- A period of stones, another of jades and then of bronze before he finally entered the period of iron-making and with it the various associated techniques of cultural growth.
It is, indeed, surprising to see how close he came to what is indicated from evidences known today. In a slightly later period Greek philosophers came out with similar reasonings regarding the birth of man and the process of his cultural growth. The spread of Christianity in Europe virtually brought about a complete end to these philosophical conjectures and opinions.
The book of genesis slowly started becoming the main explanation of man and his culture. It was not only considered heretic to entertain any other view of life but there were strong punishments given to such ‘pagans’ and ‘non-believers’. Even leading scientists of the period saw justification in Dr John Lightfoot’s conclusion that the earth was created on October 23rd, 4004 BC at the civilized time of 9 a.m. (Dr Lightfoot was from Cambridge University and arrived at this conclusion on the basis of laborious research of genealogical calculations from Biblical sources in 1654.)
Geologists were the first to raise their doubts about such a young date ascribed to the origin of the earth. Incidents of accidental finds of inexplicable objects and the courage and conviction of some brave individuals soon started raising heads of doubts about this otherwise comfortable view.
One such accident which later on was to lay down the foundation of prehistoric archaeology in Europe was recorded in Suffolk during a church construction. In a letter dated June 22, 1797, John Frere wrote to Rev John Brand, the secretary of an intellectual society in London, his findings of several, “weapons” associated with “extraordinary bones”.
He even ventured to opine that “these weapons may tempt us to refer them to very remote period, indeed even beyond that of the present world.” The uniformitarianists school came out with their explanations about the various strata found on the ground as the creations of geological events. Consequently a series of such events were identified and described.
With these the moral bindings of accepting Biblical explanations as the only explanation of our creation was slowly loosened. This helped the free expression of many thinkers. The Label prehistory was first employed by a French scholar named Tournal in 1833. In 1851 Putman used it more specifically to refer to a period beyond history.
In 1853 Marcel de Serres suggested the term Human Palaeontology which extended human existence beyond the popularly held period. In 1856, in a Dusseldorf quarry, workers discovered the first remains of the Neanderthal man which was then explained as belonging to a modern race suffering from some disease (by a brilliant scientist Prof Rudolf Virchow of the University of Berlin).
In 1859 came the rude blow to the entire group of conservative scientists. It was the publication of the Origin of Species by Charles Darwin. The shock that this most important contribution caused to the intelligentsia is best illustrated by the cartoons and editorials published in numerous copies of Punch, The Hornest and Harper’s Bazar in London during 1870-1876.
A French Customs official, Boucher de Perth, posted at Amiens along the river Somme had been making a fabulous collection of prehistoric stone tools from 1838; and by 1841 he had published five volumes to illustrate the point that these were prehistoric tools. Unfortunately he had to face fierce ridicule from the intellectuals until Darwin’s brave theory led many to visit Amiens in order to re-examine Perth’s huge collection and accept them as prehistoric tools.
In 1865, Lubbock in France divided man’s prehistoric past into Palaeolithic and Neolithic periods. In 1868, the Cro-Magnon skeleton was discovered from Les Eyzies and finally in 1891 a Health Officer in the Dutch colonial military forces for south-east Asia, Dr Eugene Dubois, discovered the Pithecanthropus in Java. This chain of events which was slowly breaking the Biblical hold on knowledge was successful in giving a scientific footing to our studies before the turn of the century.
Entirely independent from these events, the European colonizers in North America were trying to explain the mysterious presence of non-whites in this newly discovered land. Initially it was naturally sought to be explained on the basis of the Biblical precepts. William Penn and some other writers explained that the American Indians are the descendants of the “lost tribes of Israel”.
Closer contact and keen observation, in course of time, gave rise to more logical reasonings about their origin. Some intellectuals amongst them reasoned that man has passed through some evolutionary changes in the past. The American Indians, it was argued, represent one of the earliest such stages of culture which migrated into the new world and remained stagnant as a result of isolation.
William Robertson in the book, History of America, published in 1777 names one of these evolutionary stages. He was the first to coin the terms Savagery, Barbarism and Civilization to designate the evolutionary stages through which human society has passed. The ideas of Robertson were carried on with more objective description by Lewis Henry Morgan (1818-1881) and EB Tylor (1832-1917).
Morgan, a lawyer, represented the Iroquois in their legal battles against the land-grabbing white settlers. During this process he came close enough to these tribals which enabled him to produce a study of their culture. He published a treatise in 1851 and called this work the “League of the Iroquois”.
Taylor’s involvement with culture, on the other hand, occurred mainly because of his contact with the celebrated prehistorian Henry Christy. Intensive work with tribal groups in the later years enabled him to break the subjective connotation of the world culture.
In 1871 he published his famous work Primitive Culture in which he categorically defined culture as a complex which includes knowledge, belief, art, morals, law and customs in any population irrespective of whether it is from the so called civilized West or from the pagan East or South.
Morgan studied more than one hundred societies during 1857 to 1871. Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels were working on the historic process of socio-cultural evolution in man during the same period and were deeply impressed by Morgan’s work, In fact Marx and Engels felt that the conclusions arrived at from the study of the primitive societies by Morgan were quite congruent with those of their own modern societies.
The ethnographic studies on the one hand and the discovery of fossils and tools of early man on the other, led to the development of a prehistoric archaeology where the assumption had been that the tribals of today represent a culture which must be similar to some prehistoric culture. Naturally the areas of tribal concentration were thought to be unlikely to have a prehistory.
Recent discoveries seem to show how biased these assumptions were. A site called Apollo-11 situated in the Huns Mountains in south west Africa yielded a total of about seven stone slabs decorated with animal designs. It is believed that these finds could not be more than 6-7 thousand years younger than the earliest west European Upper Palaeolithic art.
Similarly evidences of Upper palaeolithic man from Niah cave in Borneo, New Guinea Highlands and now from numerous sites along the coastal Australia can be taken to indicate the generalized presence of early man almost all over the planet, in a period as early as Upper Palaeolithic.
Culture of Prehistory:
The word culture can mean a growth of bacteria, or cells in a test tube, or a specific way of behaving in a specific situation in a specific society, or even the cause for which parents seek prestigious schooling for their children. In anthropology as well, the meaning of the word has not been entirely unanimous.
More than a dozen books are known to be in print, only shredding the word and the concept threadbare. However, a generally accepted meaning of the word may be attempted here. To most anthropologists Culture is the sum total of the learned behaviour of man which evolves out of the need to adapt within a given environment.
Culture is both adaptive and also the means of adaptation. In short it is the artificially created buffer which envelopes man and through which man interacts with his environment. We inherit our biotic characters from our ancestors through genes, while such other things as our language or behavioral ‘dos’ and ‘don’ts’ are given to us through the process of socialization.
That is, while we inherit the colour of skin or shape of face or similar other features from our parents through genetic transmission; we also inherit language, customs, avoidances and likings from our parents through extra-somatic means of transmission. These behavioral aspects that we inherit are grouped together as culture.
Many other species of animals learn behaviours from their progenitors but no other animal can employ these behaviours form total adaptation within an environment. For instance bears and rabbits in the arctic have to develop heavy pelts through biological evolution.
In man the need for such an evolution does not occur because he can culturally produce fur suit and igloo to protect himself from the environment. If these polar animals were to migrate to the tropics they would die until a series of genetic mutations can make them biologically equipped to cope with the tropical heat.
Such mutations are a very slow process and take generations. In other words, the chances of the polar bears adapting and hence surviving in a different climate are extremely low. Unlike these animals the man of the polar region needs to just change his culturally acquired kit to adapt to a different climate.
Although such a change will call for a series of adjustments in his other cultural components, yet his possibility of survival will be cent percent more than that of the animals. In other words we can lay down another law for culture- Culture is uniquely human. In the above example we have been talking of certain material objects as culture because these are devised by man as an extra somatic means of adaptation.
Culture is not merely these material objects shaped by man but also a complex set of behaviours and behavioural sanctions which maintain regulate and perpetuate the creation of such material objects. This array of habits, both material and non-material, is integrated within the social fabric of the community.
This interrelated nature of culture is designated by the expression (that) ‘Culture is patterned’. A society is a group of interacting individuals. The interaction is based on the structure of the social organization. Culture is the “fixed deposit” within the society. That is, the society acts as the vehicle of culture, while the dominant social behavior of its members is determined by its culture.
Like “fixed deposit” culture also accumulates changes and these changes, again, being related to the society brings about adjustment within the society. The progression or continuation of culture through time, therefore, requires the understanding of the mechanisms of culture change. The mechanism of culture progression is often referred to as Culture process.
Most of culture and its patterned structure are not retrievable for an archaeologist. It is only through the undestroyed remains of the past that actual culture is reconstructed. No one has ever heard about the digging out of a political system or a set of religious beliefs, yet reasonably clear and convincing political system of the early urban societies of the Middle-East or the religious structure of the Aztecs of Central Mexico have been archaeologically reconstructed.
What the archaeologists recover are material objects which were created in the interaction of these behavioral systems. Tools, pots or fire hearths are all products of a culture and are hence linked in a systematic manner. Careful recording of all these along with their context and spatial spread is analysed in deductive logic in order to obtain information regarding the culture.
The general laws which guide these deductions are obtained from unknown and surviving cultures. Here we may cite a few such laws to enable our understanding of the logic of archaeological deductions. If, in a society, all pottery pieces are identical in most of the attributes then such a society is taken to have a very centralized group of professionals producing the needs of the society.
In addition this can also be taken as an indication of an efficient distribution system. On the other hand, when a society has a large degree of individual variation in ceramics it can have only a nominal leadership the jurisdiction of which may at the most be applicable to settling disputes or organizing in case of defence or similar other ad hoc needs. Many such general laws are kept to guide the mute data of the archaeologist.
Concept of Prehistory Culture:
When Morgan was working on primitive contemporaries to establish his theory of unilinear socio-cultural evolution, some archaeologists like Heinrich Schliemann (1870), Grafton Elliot Smith (1911) and others were arguing that diffusion was the main cause of the spread of civilization. Such archaeological explanations did not make any dent in the popular anthropological theory for cultural evolution.
In fact Morgan went at great length to qualify these stages in cultural evolution. For instance, the initial period of cultural evolution, called the lower stage of Savagery, was characterized by men living on fruits and nuts and without the knowledge of fire. This was followed by the next stage of savagery when men lived on fish and used fire.
This scheme continued in seven such stages – the last one corresponding to the 19th century Europe. Soon it was felt that although Morgan had amassed enormous data on tribes, his evolutionary scheme was not adequately supported by empirical data. Further, it could not explain several cases of apparent de-evolution in the ethnographic records.
The chief opponent of Morgan’s scheme was Franz Boas, who taught at Columbia University from 1896-1941. Boas emphasized the collection of historical data for every cultural element before one can put forward any law regarding culture change. In the urgency of gathering cultural history of tribals Boas had to push back the main cause of the data collection viz., evolving laws of culture changes.
The Boasian emphasis on history of culture has led to designating his approach as Historical particularism by subsequent workers. This approach views culture as a conglomerate of traits coalesced and held by a population. This can result from either the group’s own peculiar history or through contact.
A major contribution of this period to archaeology was the increasing interest being paid to chronology so that variation in cultural remains could be arranged in correct sequence. The other major change in archaeology during the period is the increasing attention being paid to the artifacts themselves.
That is, a complete description of the recovered artifacts was followed by grouping these into certain categories and then tracing their origin, expansion or disappearance. Very soon it was realized that these archaeological studies have really little to do with the study of man.
In 1948, Walter W Taylor, in his dissertation titled “A Study of Archaeology” successfully demonstrated how Boas’s historical particularism when applied to archaeology ceases to be of any relevance to culture. The alternative suggested by Taylor can be recalled later on. Here it will be relevant to mention, very briefly, some of the important approaches to culture suggested during and after the time of Boas.
(i) Emile Durkheim (1858-1917):
Emile Durkheim (1858-1917) professionalized sociology in France and established the fundamental premises of the study of social functions which abundantly contributed to the functional approach in anthropology and sociology. Durkheim defined the function of a part as the contribution it makes for the satisfaction of a need of a society.
Even society has a charter of needs. Various parts of society function in interdependence to fulfil the needs which are indispensable and necessary. Once the needs are fulfilled the society continues and perpetuates itself as an ordered arrangement of parts. Durkheim did not call this methodology either structural-functional or functionalism.
For him the main goal of sociology was to advance a sociological explanation, stating what the social causes of a particular phenomenon are and what contribution this sociological explanation makes to society. The prepositions of Durkheim’s study of social function were developed further by a British social anthropologist, A. R. Radcliffe- Brown.,
The latter adopted Dukheim’s perspectives but did not agree with the usage of the word ‘need’ because it has a biological and technological connotation. The word is substituted by a phrase “necessary conditions of existence”. Durkheim’s cogent writings centered around division of labour, the explanation of suicide rate and totemism.
Consequently these works did not influence many archaeological analyses. However, some works appeared during the first two decades of the present century which endeavoured to combine the functional model with a diffusionist one. The early writings of V. Gordon Childe fall into this category.
(ii) Heinrich Schliemann (1860) and Grafton Elliot Smith (1911):
Heinrich Schliemann demonstrated through his study of Troy and Mycenae that every society did not evolve into higher forms of achievements as is anticipated in the evolutionary theories of Lewis Morgan and Karl Marx. Many regional cultures with distinct technological status and forms of social organization could grow both in time and space.
This analysis proved to be congenial for the emergence of diffusionism. Elliot Smith, earlier a professor of anatomy in Government Medical School (Cairo) in 1900, was profoundly impressed by the prehistoric ruins of Egypt. He spent a decade making a detailed study of these remains and published The Ancient Egyptians (1911).
In his diffusionist approach, he traced the origin of every cultural item of ancient civilizations to prehistoric Egypt. Cultural diffusion, which got an impetus from Smith, was followed in many archaeological and anthropological studies in later years. W J Perry was one of the closest disciples of Smith. A strong foundation of diffusionist approach was also a vehement criticism of evolutionism.
(iii) V. Gordon Childe (1892-1957):
V. Gordon Childe came to Oxford from Australia to study comparative philology, but was so deeply impressed by Sir Arthur Evan’s discoveries of the Minoan civilization that he began to study prehistory leaving linguistics altogether. He started identifying, classifying and chronologically ordering all the available cultural evidences in British Museum.
These data were commendably synthesized by him in The Dawn of European Civilization (1925). Childe adhered to the diffusionist approach but was considerably influenced by the Marxian writings. European prehistory till date, to a large extent, follows the generalized pattern of analysis used and popularized by Childe.
There is no denial of the fact that cultures evolve and diffuse, but an overemphasis on any one of these would drive one into the dungeon of reductionism. Childe’s work was evidence in the moderation of these approaches. As a matter of fact Childe’s main contribution lies in defining cultures by their surviving and imperishable traits, viz., stone implements, and ceramics or house forms.
That is, how certain varieties of cultural attributes, when always occurring together, can be taken to reflect the ‘modes of survival’ of a population and how these units can be isolated to observe their distribution in time and space. He used ‘evolution’ and ‘diffusion’ in controlled and limited way for explaining the observed changes.
Gordon Childe’s analysis is often called the technological theory of social change, which stated that change in technology would induce a change in other aspects of social life. According to him the world has so far witnessed three revolutions, viz., Neolithic revolution, urban revolution and Industrial revolution. A change in the level of technology needed for food production in different historical epochs was responsible for changing the style of life, the nature of relations, the world view and the ethics of people.
(iv) Leslie A White (1948):
Leslie A White (1948), an American anthropologist influenced many of his students who in later years were to pioneer the studies of change in prehistoric archaeology. He espoused the ‘energy model’ according to which every culture makes use of the amount and sources of energy available to it. The technological advancement of a culture and the total complexity of it are examined in terms of the energy harnessed per capita per individual in it.
The primitive cultures and the process of evolution thereof were demonstrated in terms of this argument and the unilinear evolutionary model of Morgan and others was resurrected by him. Depth of demonstrative arguments and the analysis of the functioning and evolution of complex social systems in White’s approach were readily acceptable to many archaeologists.
(v) Julian H Steward (1936):
Julian H Steward (1936) an anthropologist from Illinois, attributed ecology its optimum role in determining culture. Not those earlier scholars were unaware of the importance of ecology but he took lead in demonstrating the relation of certain aspects of culture with differing ecological constraints. In 1937 he studied the western Pueblo Indian and published the Ecological aspects of south western society.
In 1955 he brought out his magnum opus, Theory of Culture Change wherein he developed a methodology for “determining regularities of form, function and process which recur cross-culturally among societies found in different cultural areas.” Contrary to the unilinear evolution he prescribed a multilinear evolution of all cultures.
Lewis Morgan and Leslie White had conceived of culture as a ‘layered cake’ technology being at the bottom, social organization in the middle and ideology forming the top layer. Steward added environment to this cake and demonstrated how these three aspects of culture alter to accommodate slight environmental changes.
(vi) Bronislaw Malinowski (1944):
The wave of Boasian anthropology, which saw its glory in United States, was opposed by a British Cultural Anthropologist, Malinowski. He conceived of culture as an integrated whole. It consists of parts which collectively satisfy the biological needs and other wants of an individual. Once the biological needs are fulfilled, new imperatives are created which, like the former, require satisfaction.
Since the mechanism of satisfying these needs alludes to their function the perspective is called functionalism. Radcliffe-Brown later on demonstrated that functions also operate within a structured system and hence viewing culture within, what he called, a Structure-function frame will be more appropriate. This approach since then has been extremely popular in British Anthropology.
(vii) Lewis R Binford (1965):
Lewis R Binford (1965 a student of Leslie White at Michigan University in 1960. This was a very fateful time for archaeology. Culture was generally conceived as a system of inter-related parts. Mathematics provided the systemic analytical approach which fitted perfectly with the functional model of Malinowski.
In 1965 Binford’s famous article “archaelogical systematics and the study of cultural process” was published in American Antiquity. Binford proposed that archaeologist’s data (artifact) can be divided under three sub-systems, viz., Technofacts, sociofacts and ideofacts.
The object used to combat directly with the physical environment is technofacts; those used for social function are sociofacts and the objects contributing to the ideological aspects are ideofacts. The interplay of these sub-systems becomes progressively complex with an increase of population and other activities in a system.
Of these cultural sub-systems, one most directly concerned with exploitation of environment is technology. Hence it was assumed that technology determines the efficiency of a culture to a large extent. Social organization and ideological set up adjust themselves to the technological levels or strategies chosen in the community.
It is held that any given technology has a corresponding social and ideological level. Briefly, this is the stand of the proponents of Cultural Materialism. It is clear that this view is not a novelty but had broadly been the basis of Karl Marx’s analysis of cultural development. Gordon Childe had also elaborated the role of technology within a culture.
Culture Ecology is yet another approach to culture which emphasizes ecology as the overall regulator of the three sub-systems. The main argument of cultural ecologists is that no technological system exists in vacuum, but is rather an answer to the constraints of physical and social environments.
Therefore, any change in these conditions is likely to be reflected in a corresponding adjustment in technology and eventually in the remainder of the subsystems. Julian Steward, is usually linked with the working out of cultural ecology of primitive societies, though his basic hypothesis had been that of multilinear evolution of all cultures.
It is important to state at the outset that there are a fairly good number of people who are recently advocating the origin of man from as diverse a source as dinosaur on the one hand and life from other planets on the other. Those who had been following organic evolution also are not in agreement about how this process gave rise to man and when. Scientists working through fossils felt that the separation of apes from the line which gave rise to man took place somewhere between 20-30 million years ago.
Some molecular biologists, on the basis of the study of albumins, have recently shown that this bifurcation may have been as late as only 5 million years ago. The disagreement about human evolution is too many to be counted in a book of archaeology. We will, therefore, briefly describe the four stages through which human evolution had generally been accepted to have taken place.
10-14 million years old geological layers have yielded some 40 teeth and some 15 fragments of jaws from India, Kenya, Pakistan, China and some other regions of the old world. Since no other parts of their body is known we have very little idea of their height or walking posture.
The most important feature which led them to be our direct ancestors is extreme reduction of their canines and modification of the chewing teeth. These evolutionary changes are impossible unless the hands have been reasonably free. Ramapithecus is, as such, believed to have already entered into the direction of specialization that leads to the human kind (hominization process).
Evolutionary significance of freeing of the hand has to be understood at this juncture. Most of the physical anthropologists believe that a group of brachiating (living on tree branches and moving from branch to branch with special adaptation of the four limbs and the tail for gripping) arboreal apes had come down to ground for terrestrial living.
The ground living required a different kind of adaptation and it is believed freeing of the forelimbs is linked with adapting to ground living. Further, it is argued that the nuts and fruits growing on the ground being harder than those growing on the trees, these apes had to develop strong chewing apparatus.
The long canines are not very useful for this purpose. In fact chewing requires a great deal of side to side or rotating motion of the jaws and the canines of the two jaws in the case of apes were often interlocked and hence were a great hindrance to this adaptation. It is quite likely that Ramapithecus represents one of the first steps of this adaptive process.
Ground living did not only require the adaptation of the chewing apparatus but also combating with an entirely different set of dangers which were non-existent in tree life. It is believed that the culmination of all these pressing needs brought about a development of bipedalism.
Walking erect made man lose the snout, freed his hand, balanced his head on the spinal column by developing the occipital lobe of the brain, and finally the ability to manipulate the hand to work with the environment. Thus, what was rather an insignificant event of leaving the tree life set off the chain of changes in these apes.
By about 5 million years (from today) he was capable of breaking simple natural objects like tree branches or stones to use them for his defence and occasional offence. Meat eating, even if practised, was more often than not, limited to carcass eating from the leftovers of other predators.
The recent discovery, of an about 8 million year old primate skull, reported by Professor David Pilbeam indicates that Sivapithecus, which is much more complete than any previously known fossils of this period, is more closely related to orangutan and cannot be a human ancestor.
Australopithecus (africanus) was a light, gracile creature who stood a little more than 4 feet in height and walked erect with a curved back. This form was more suitably adapted to ground and survived during 4 million years to nearly a million years from today. His brain was larger than the present day chimpanzee although his teeth were still in the process of evolving.
A group among them seems to specialize in a different diet and developed a barrel like trunk with an altogether robust built. These are identified as forming a separate evolutionary specialization and are called Australopithecus robustus. Both these species became extinct 1 million years ago.
Recent evidences from Africa have revealed big colonies of Australopithecines with piles of eaten bones and numerous stone fragments. These evidences leave little doubt about their ability to shape some sharp border by simple breaking of stones and using these sharp stones to cut animals. Most probably they still did not hunt but merely scavenged dead animals.
There is increasing belief that the Australopithecus co-existed with another advanced variety of ape-men who formed the first member of the hominid bifurcation branch. The eastern rift valley in Africa continues northwards through the Ethiopian highlands. Don Johanson in 1973 discovered an almost 40 per cent complete skeleton from these deposits at Hadar.
The deposits could be dated to over 3 million years and the skeleton was named Lucy. The find was undoubtedly one of the earliest Australopithecus species which may have been the first representative in the line of hominid bifurcation from Australopithecinae. It was given the generic status of Australopithecus afarensis.
At Koobi Fora region around Lake Turkana another group of finds dating to 1.8 to 1.6 million years along with many tools and Australopithecus remain were described since late 1960s. In 1961, Louis Leakey had announced the discovery in Bed I, Olduvai Gorge of a more modern looking hominid, which he called Homo habilis or the hand using man.
Thus, the earliest membership in the hominization process that had to be ascribed within our own genus was given to this fossil find. At Koobi Fora Homo habilis could be attributed with tool making ability which acted as added evidence. In other words, the direct ancestor of Homo erectus had to be now considered as Homo Habilis rather than Australopithecus, although wherever habilis is reported it is invariably accompanied by a large number of Australopithecus boisei finds.
Further, it is important to note that there are specialists who would still like to group habilis with a somewhat advanced variety of the gracile australopithecine. The latter group of specialists, therefore, would find it not difficult to accept that the tool fabrication and manipulation emerged within Australopithecus stage.
iii. Homo Erectus:
Homo erectus was much closer to man in looks. His head was more rounded and had a volume of nearly 1225 c.c. (modern man having 1500 and apes 450-600 c.c.). He was nearly 5ft in height and had strong bones. The earliest of them has been found from Lake Turkana in Kenya and dates around 1.5 million years.
The original finds from Java (Pithecanthropus) and China were of much younger date (200,000 to 400,000 years) and this demonstrates the long period through which they ruled for forests. Erectus was perfectly adapted to making varieties of stone tools – the magnum opus of their creation being the Handaxe. More than 60 species of animals have been found associated with these tools.
These include elephants, rhinoceros, bears, horses and camels besides numerous smaller species. Sometimes in the long duration of their stay the erectus must have domesticated fire because we have evidences of hearths where they must have kept the fire alive. It is believed that big game hunting was possible mainly because of domestication of fire. Herds of these large mammals could be driven into swamps or driven off a cliff with the use of fire and once trapped they could be butchered.
Modern scientific researchers have demonstrated that human adaptation within these widely varying environments must have already started the genetic selection processes. For instance Vitamin-D synthesized from solar radiation is both essential as also lethal when taken in large doses. Higher exposure to sun could also be lethal and hence melanin (or the pigment causing chemical) of the skin is activated to protect the body from absorbing excessive Vitamin-D.
That is, although all human beings have the same number of pigment producing cells (melanocytes), the rate of pigment production is differently programmed by genetic selection. In the same way mutation may have caused the sickling phenomenon of blood just in order to enable man to adjust within an area otherwise infested with malaria.
We have very little possibility of knowing, through archaeological researches, how and when the various differentiating processes in man started. Nonetheless, it is generally believed that man’s need to adapt to various kinds of environmental and cultural stresses faced during the Pleistocene period may have been the main cause of evolution and subsequent differentiation.
Coprolite or dried faeces of prehistoric man have been analysed to see the pattern of food man has been eating. Many interesting information regarding his preferences of specific edible plants out of a large available variety (known through palynology) can be demonstrated through this study.
Similarly, palaeopathologists, through their study of skeletal remains, have demonstrated that arthritis was perhaps one of the most common ailments suffered by prehistoric people. For comparatively recent periods evidences of many other diseases, which leave a permanent mark on bones and teeth, have also been recorded.