In this article we will discuss about the evolution of homo sapiens.
When and how these fairly well equipped Homo erectus evolved into a group of early Homo sapiens is difficult to demonstrate. The generally held view is that these early precursors of modern man might have evolved between 200,000 to 100,000 years ago in Africa; Europe and Asia. They show no specific or radical change in their life style because they are also found with the same hand axe tool kit of the erectus, albeit much more refined.
Their physical features are, however, much changed with more strengthening of the chewing muscles and thus pulling out of the temporal lobes of the brain (above the ears). The added an array of additional brain faculties. All authorities agree that language must have already developed by the time of erectus evolution and therefore that early sapiens were equipped with everything that we are biologically endowed with.
Here we must pause to look into the impact of biological evolution on the life style of our ancestors during this period (6000,000 to 100,000 years before). Standing erect required a modification of the pelvis which narrowed the birth canal. The growing brain box and the narrowing of the birth canal were two simultaneous evolutionary changes which interfered with each other in the birth of human child.
Nature brought about a compromise in this conflict by allowing a baby to be born much before it develops it’s full; brain size. This required lengthening the period of post natal dependence of the new born. Evolution had also taken away the phenomenon of estrus in this group sometimes during this period.
This made the female sexually receptive all-round the year. These two combined to make human group ties stronger and stable. Whether an ideal family could develop during the early Homo sapiens period is difficult to prove but that they were able to organize in stable groups is well demonstrated.
Neanderthals are believed to be a specialized branch of early human races which evolved from the erectus stage around 100,000 years ago and lived simultaneously with the early sapiens for nearly 65,000 years. That this race was a branch of the main line of evolution is believed mainly because his brain capacity evolved to a limit which exceeded that of modern man by 50-100 c.c.
In spite of his large head his other physical characters remained fairly rugged. For instance, he had large cheek bones and a very prominent brow ridge curving over the eyes and connecting across the nose giving rise to a deep sunken appearance to the nose. These features were further accentuated by a rather broad nose which was perhaps an adaptation to cold climate.
Coupled with these facial features, his thick set body with a slight bent and a height of 5 feet gave him a real demonic look. Why such a form had to evolve when the generalized trend in evolution was progressing in a different direction is evident from the fact that they were the first proto-human group who penetrated deep into the north arctic climate. In terms of their geographical spread also the Neanderthals excel all other contemporary or earlier forms.
Regarding the socio-cultural life the Neanderthals show some very interesting evidences. Their tool kit demonstrates a very specialized series of relatively more job specific flake tools which were successfully used in large game hunting. They are also the first among our ancestors who show evidence of pre-occupation with life after death.
They buried their dead with food and tools laid along with the body. Another interesting evidence of their skill and emotion comes from the Shanidar cave in Iraq. Here a 30 year old man has been buried with flowers covering his body (the pollens of the flowers have been found and their possibility of having blown inside the cave eliminated by careful comparison).
This is a sentiment not quite uncommon even today. This man had one of his arms successfully imputed during his lifetime. Many other Neanderthal burials are known with evidences of a religious cult connected with the cave bears. In one instance an arthritic old man is buried which clearly shows that even crippled people must have been adequately cared for by them.
All these evidences qualify the Neanderthals as very close to us in their attitude and sentiments. Their physical ability and degree of environmental adaptation was also no less than what was required for a successful survival and yet this race became extinct by 35000 BC with the advent of modern man.
A possible explanation given for abrupt extinction of Neanderthals is a direct confrontation or a bloody war between these two races. So far, we do not have many archaeological evidences to prove this possibility but that they were eventually wiped out off this planet seems certain.
In the sequel it is important to mention that there are some indications of interbreeding between the Neanderthals and Modern man in the cave sites in Yugoslavia and Israel. It is quite likely that these intermixtures have finally given rise to the Upper Palaeolithic Modern man. Homo sapiens sapiens or modern man appears rather in an abrupt manner in Europe around 36000 years ago.
Right from the stage of its early appearance it shows rather strong internal heterogeneity of form. Many scholars believe that this heterogeneity may have finally given rise to the three main facial groups of modern man. One of the most talked of forms of this modern man was found from the rock shelter of Cromagnon in France and he is often taken as the ancestor of the modern Europeans.
The sites of occupation of this race of modern man are invariably very thick in their occupational debris, and this is taken to indicate a regular population growth among them. They not only migrated all over Europe but their habit of migrating seasonally with their prey made them enter lands which were not inhabited by our earlier ancestors.
Thus, the peopling of the New World took place during this period. They must have also devised ways to float and navigate, otherwise they would not have been able to migrate to the Pacific Islands and finally to Australia. The isolated skull found from Niah cave from Borneo can be taken as a direct evidence of this migration to the south-east.
There are, however, some very recent evidences coming up from both Australia and North America which shows that these migrations may have taken place in several waves and the earliest waves of migrants to the New World may have been some Neanderthal races and not modern man.
The modern man was not only adapting rapidly to various environmental conditions but his extreme mobility made him develop sharply different cultural habits in different parts of the world. Out of the most significant of his cultural achievements was his extreme preoccupation with visual art.
He undertook great pains to draw and paint various figures and motifs in hard rock walls, ceilings and floors. The motive of his art, by no means, can be taken as creations for mere visual pleasure because there are several enigmatic features about them which can be explained only at an esoteric level.