The Great Rift Valley of Africa runs 5,600km (3,500miles), from the Red Sea and Ethiopia in the north, south to Lake Victoria where it splits off, and from Uganda continues south as far down as present day Mozambique. The Great Rift is where two plates of the earth’s crust are separating and is also where our human ancestry seems to have begun.
The earliest traces of man have been found in the valleys of Lake Turkana in Kenya and the Olduvai Gorge in Tanzania, between Mount Kilimanjaro and the Serengeti Plain. The Olduvai Gorge itself is a 30-mile long gash in Tanzania’s Serengeti Plain. The area is considered the primary host of all other cultures. Why this is so will be explained as we go.
Evidence of the earliest Humanoids has been found and dated from 4 to 1.6 million years ago in Tanzania, 700,000 years ago in Java, and 420,000 years ago in China. From sites found in the Olduvai Gorge in Africa and elsewhere, these early peoples favoured lakeside camps, rock overhangs and caves for protection from predators and the weather. Their camps were most always near water availability, like rivers and lakes, and close to herds of game and vegetable foods. They would stay in each camp for a few days or weeks before moving on to better land. Many of these sites also contain bones of smaller animals, species less powerful than these early humanoids.
Hunting seems to have been more running down and grappling their quarry to the ground, with scavenging the more important means of getting food, with their weapons most often being made out of wood. These early humanoids were opportunistic hunters, picking over carcasses from predator kills and gathering wild vegetables. At the time, the larger animals were kept at a distance and avoided, for they were not afraid of man yet, indeed to many of the larger predators, early man was inconsequential and often the prey.
These early humans were bipedal, had an upright posture, a high vertical forehead and rounded skull, were about 1.5m tall, and became the species, Homo erectus. For when earlier species had first moved out of the trees and the forests and onto the grasslands they had begun to walk upright, to see over the grass. By about two million years ago, Homo erectus had spread out over Africa, Asia and Europe, with their descendants thought to be the first humans to use fire.
From watching fellow creatures they would eventually develop memory and foresight, and by mimicking the behaviour of the other living things around them they would assimilate such things as trapping; from the spider, basketry; from birds, burrowing from rabbits, dam building from the beaver and the art of poisons from snakes. These early peoples did not think themselves as being different from the rest of the animal world. With no language, they grunted and squawked like everyone else. From copying the other creature’s diets, mostly fruits and vegetables, to watching how they would get their food and how they would store it, they became very adept at exploring their surroundings and keeping a memory of which plants, insects and small animals one could eat and which ones were to be avoided. Their reality was a world of animal, vegetable and human spirits interacting with each other. They could not tell the difference between material and immaterial, imaginary or real, animate or inanimate. With no idea of self, there was little difference of skills, and having no idea about the concept of surplus there wasn’t much difference in status distinction between each other. The sensations that bombarded them daily needed an immediate response, so life was lived very much in the moment with not much thought about past or future. One’s life was determined by one’s actions to what was happening at that moment, at that time.
Because of their intimate connection with the earth, they expressed great care for its well being, for they believed that they were simply one part of the earth’s body and did not distinguish themselves from everything less in nature, thus they did not possess the sense of self, only the concept of their groups survival. Their culture consisted of a father, mother, siblings and extended family members, perhaps a dozen individuals, whose only concern was each day’s survival as a group.
Everything in nature represented a spirit or demon, depending on whether looked at as friend or foe, with animals and trees considered human but simply in another form. And because they did not see themselves as finite mortal beings they did not believe that people died, but rather they went to sleep and their spirit entered a netherworld and/or parallel existence. As to birth they also had no idea, they did not make the connection that sex had anything to do with the birth of a child, instead believing a spirit would enter a female’s body and then be brought forth, with a baby thought of as being half spirit and half human, who remained in contact with the world it came from until which time it grew up and then, sometimes over years, would have to pass through various rites of passage to become a part of the community. Because having too many babies would prove to be a hindrance to the tribe’s survival of having to be always on the move, a woman could only carry one child at a time and until that child could keep up on its own to have another was no doubt forbidden. Biology took care of this issue; women would breast feed their child for two full years, thus enabling suckling to be the contraceptive technique that it is, by repressing the menstrual cycle. The average reproductive cycle of most of the women, over an average life span of about thirty years, was perhaps 10-15 children, though of course we do not know an actual fertility rate.
The evolution of all species is all about natural selection, with many similarities in all living things. For example, creatures known as vertebrates – having a backbone – all share the five digits, skeletal structure of a hand. This appears not only in humans but also in apes, raccoons, cats, bats, porpoise, whales, lizards, turtles and a plethora of other creatures. Dolphins are able, as we are, to call each other by name. At the same time it is curious why many male mammals, including humans, have nipples. All animals share the same basic bodily functions and feelings, such as pleasure, pain, breathing, eating, drinking, defecating, sleeping, the drives to find a mate and procreate, birth, and death. For humans especially, history has followed different courses for different peoples because of different environments, not because of any biological differences between the peoples themselves.
The fact of the matter is, all humans have the same facial grammar; everyone smiles the same, frown the same, uses the eyes to convey cognition or flirtatiousness the same. A laugh is a laugh, anywhere on the planet and when one is angry, everyone knows they are. Don’t you find that human beings are very good looking people when they smile, and so disgustingly ugly when angry? But it’s much more than that, for instance, when people smile, the mouth doesn’t convey the whole truth. A true smile appears in the eyes and it’s no wonder the majority of a human’s muscles are in our faces, which seems to prove how important expression is in inter-personal communication. Then there is the tilt of the head, arch of the eyebrow or where the eyes are looking when communicating that further convey what one is thinking and trying to say or feel. Without eye contact we never truly know what someone is saying because we are not getting the whole story. The eyes are truly the windows into our soul. Even people that don’t understand what each other are saying can look at each other and communicate more than words could possibly describe. In Donald E. Brown’s excellent “Human Universals” he finds that there are about 400 specific behaviours that are invariant among all humans, with the facial expressions of basic emotions truly universal, and shared by many other animals besides humans, whether it is anger, happiness, sadness, disgust, fear, surprise or contempt.
About 150,000 years ago the evolutionary pace quickened when our skull and its contents evolved to the point where we became able to plan more for specific projects or definite purposes. At about the same time the development of speech and a symbolic system of language began, which allowed future cultures a much quicker way to share ideas that enabled them to cope with their environment. As language became more complex it allowed the ability to remember, transmit, and exchange information much more quickly and it allowed for such knowledge to be passed on through the ages, where myths through oral traditions would form, though it would not be until 50,000 years ago that language and culture would really begin to change who we were and who we would become.
Language would eventually give us the ability to create worlds of memories and life histories, and unfortunately, it would make us self-conscious. Before language we could only live in the moment and react to the shifting patterns of our environment, but language brought us the awareness of oneself, in terms of what others expect; humans who sense they are being evaluated and perhaps sensing a negative attitude towards themselves become self-conscious. While being conscious is being aware of oneself and subjectively experiencing each moment and having memory control; where we can think of something and then replay it in our head to examine what we had just thought. Yet we cannot both, think of something and also be self-consciously aware of what we are thinking. Conscious experiences also include inner feelings and thoughts as well as being aware of self and others. Other animals are simply conscious and not self-conscious at all. Yes they are highly intelligent and very aware of the world around them, but they do not look inward and observe the process of consciousness at work. They are not self aware, nor have imaginations, independent will or a conscience, because they are programmed by instinct, genetics and/or training.
There are many views on the origin of language. While it is true that all animals communicate in some way, human language would eventually become associated with the human way of using symbols and speech, while human nature is thinking, feeling and acting, which all humans have in common. Some views state that language is an extension of speech, which all humans have within themselves, with reason the most primary characteristic of human nature. Some believe language developed first, before reason, perhaps explaining many of the negative aspects of human communication. Others believe language and reason co-evolved. While still others believe that reason was developed out of the need for more complex communication, when more sophisticated social structures came about by the gains made by language and/or reason. It is surmised that more sophisticated human behaviour and basic speech both appeared about 164,000 years ago in southeast Africa, beginning with grunts and clicks, with language then evolving at a pace with cultural growth.
Speech evolved from non-verbal mood vocalization signals such as a cry of pain, a scream or a laugh. Other nonverbal forms include the expression of silence, hugging, touching and looking into someone’s eyes. Non-verbal communication is all about tone. While the tone of one’s voice is how the earliest humans signalled one another, speech brought cooperative exchange of information and allowed early humans to refer to objects in their environment. Non-verbal vocalization signals are still very important to us in being able to communicate; in fact they are everything, no matter what the media technology toys of our age tells us. When we cry out in pain, anyone listening can usually tell how severe it is; though with speech we now also add a few choice words along with the cry of pain, adding expression to the experience. Tone of voice is also the reason one can travel to another land and not knowing the language of that part of the world, can still get a reaction and communicate with other animals, even pets, which live there.
The evolution of speech was also connected to the development of the human vocal tract; it’s development allowed a far larger range of sound and the ability to speak more quickly. Our speaking rate has always been connected to the brain, which needs the body to take a breath about every five seconds. The earliest humans that began to speak could say maybe four to five words in five seconds. Today we can get off twenty to thirty-five words in five seconds, in fact a typical human today has a speaking rate of more than two hundred words a minute; three girlfriends chatting could raise this rate exponentially.
Language and speech would alter our brains. In order to operate, the brain needs to understand the inside world of the body and a view of the world outside, to act intelligently and make decisions. Before speech and language the brain relied on the senses. The sense organs would see, feel, hear, and taste to build a consciously experienced picture of the outside world. Sensations such as hunger, pain, and thirst told the brain what it should do to satisfy the demands of the body and because early humans operated on mostly instinct and intuition, the brain allowed rich areas of knowledge to surface in the conscious plane, which early humans would envision, and then do the images that were presented.
Among all animal species we are the only ones who tell stories. Living by the narrative in our communication is important to us because by listening to each other’s stories we are given to needing each other’s companionship and inclined to intimacy, affection, relationships and sociability. Language and speech would indeed change the way we lived and how we were to evolve socially, but at the same time it was when, ever so slowly, we would begin to lose focus on the present moment.
An animal’s mind operates by perception, recognition, simple thought association and environment, and is led by being aware of the moment, much like early humanoids but with language the human mind began operating not only by perception but also with memory, imagination, and more complex habits of thought such as inner-driven attention and self awareness. As humans we are responsible for our own lives, with our behaviour a function of our decisions, not our conditions. The traits of behaviour which sets humans apart from other animals’ starts with self awareness and the ability to think about our thought process, and possessing an imagination, where in our minds we can create other realities. We also have independent will; the ability to act based on our self awareness, and finally we have a conscience, an inner awareness of right or wrong, which we gain from internalizing the moral standards of behaviour of the social group we live in.
Meanwhile, the original groups of perhaps a dozen humans eventually became nomadic bands, basically large family groups of about 25-30 people. Living as hunters, gatherers and foragers, each group would need about 250 square miles (400 sq. km) to support itself. A small band would only have to travel a few miles every couple of weeks, or maybe led by the full moon, move to a new campsite about every four weeks. Most of their travels were just moving back and forth to familiar areas according to the season. In fact for over 95% of our human existence we have lived this way, as foragers and on occasion, hunters. We lived off of what the earth gave us, within daily and annual routines that matched the rhythms of the changing seasons and progressions of each day. Time would be measured only by the sun, the seasons, and the generations.
Most of these early hunters and gatherers diet was made up of nuts, fruits, edible roots, shellfish, insects and eggs, and were dependant on knowing which ones could be eaten and where to find them. To survive they had to depend on their intelligence and knowledge of the land and nature. When available, meat was a welcome addition to their diet whether by spearing big game, snaring small animals, scavenging carcasses left by bigger predators or from fishing. At first they would have had an easy time living off the land; most groups would have been able to gather the food they needed that day in only a few hours.
Beginning with simple wooden clubs, hunting and tool kit technologies would develop further when small game could not sustain the growing populations. These advancements in technologies allowed early humans to go after bigger game. Like the earliest tools, they were still often made from stone, but now would become finer and lighter, with the sharp flakes, broken and chipped from stone, and being used not only for hunting but also for cutting and sawing. As far as hunting, early man found that they could literally walk up to many of the larger animals, for they were not afraid of man. Though during the first million years of our evolvement, early humans were nowhere near being the predator they would one day become. It would take thousands of generations for the larger animals to develop the sense to run or attack when they see or sense a human. As early humans found ever more lethal ways to kill, scavenging was less needed and with the advancement of their tool technologies they were able to start processing the meat and using more of the carcasses such as the skin and bones, to further their advancement along even more and ensure their survival.
Instead of being centred on and preoccupied with oneself and the gratification of one’s own egotistical desires, early humans were more altruistic, where they were unselfishly concerned for and devoted to the welfare of their family. The group needed to be organized and work as a group; even in the pairing up of certain men and women into stable and perhaps loving couples for the better survivability of the child. But then most all animals possess this trait, where the behaviour of an animal, though it might not be exactly to its advantage and perhaps is life-threatening, benefits others of its kind, most often its family. While making up simple tools took a great deal of thought, testing and refinement and was a turning point for human’s evolvement, learning how to get along with our fellow human beings would prove more difficult.
With language and speech, the human ego began to develop and time began to take over our lives. Our thoughts eventually became only concerned with the past and the future. We would begin to rely on our past for our identity and sense of self, while we looked to the future for our fulfilment. This state of consciousness brought forth fear, anxiety, expectation, regret, guilt, and anger into our lives, while our cultures and environments would form whom we have become today, shaped personalities, with our brains filled with a continuous stream of thought. But we should not get too far ahead of ourselves.
Early humans were formed from interaction between only a few people, mostly all family members, the surrounding environment, and their unconscious mind; where the mental phenomena of feelings, perceptions, intuitions, thoughts, habits, and desires, exist. Being an exploratory species by nature, as their populations grew and enough room to forage became intruded upon they would have to move more often, with generation upon generation slowly making their way farther out of Africa.
By about 400,000 years ago, Homo erectus had been joined by another species of humanoid, Homo neanderthalensis and between them had spread throughout Africa, Asia and Europe. Around this time another species would also evolve and enter the mix, Archaic Homo sapiens. Then about 170,000 years ago, anatomically modern humans, Homo sapiens sapiens would arrive on the scene.
First appearing in Ethiopia, these more modern humans slowly replaced all the other populations, while language, speech and more sophisticated human behaviour began to appear, and evolution, brain size and myth would take another slow step forward, though self awareness, lives filled with an almost constant state of mental distraction, and such things as an ego, were still thousands of years away.