New light on human civilisation

2010-07-08 08:20

London - Flint tools found in an English village show ancient humans settled northern Europe 800 000 years ago, far earlier than previously thought, which could prompt scientists to reassess the capabilities of early humans.

An excavation in the eastern coastal village of Happisburgh reported in the journal Nature revealed over 70 flint tools, probably to cut wood or meat, and provides the first record of human occupation on the edges of the cooler northern forests of Eurasia.

"These finds are by far the earliest known evidence of humans in Britain, dating at least 100 000 years earlier than previous discoveries," said Chris Stringer, a specialist in human origins at London's Natural History Museum, who gave a briefing about the research.

"They have significant implications for our understanding of early human behaviour, adaptations and survival, as well as when and how our early forebears colonised Europe after their first departure from Africa."

The study extends findings published in 2005 from Pakefield in Suffolk, eastern England, which suggested humans had managed to reach Britain about 700 000 years ago, when the climate was warm enough to be comparable with the Mediterranean today.

Clear picture

Until then, humans were believed to have colonised only areas south of the Alps and Pyrenees in Europe.

Stringer said the discovery was likely to lead scientists to look again at the capabilities of early humans, since it showed, contrary to previous scientific thinking, that they were able to move to and live in cooler parts of northern Europe.

The evidence from Happisburgh also suggests the site lay on an ancient course of the River Thames, which now runs through central London. It had freshwater pools and marshes on its floodplain, as well as herbivores such as mammoths, rhinos and horses and predators like hyenas and sabre-toothed cats.

"The new flint artefacts are incredibly important because, not only are they much earlier than other finds, but they are associated with a unique array of environmental data that gives a clear picture of the vegetation and climate," said Nick Ashton an archaeologist from the British Museum, who also worked on the study.

The researchers believe the humans adapted their way of life to cope with tougher living conditions, with few edible plants and animals, and extremely cold winters. "My personal hunch is that they had some sort of clothing," said Ashton.

The scientists still hope to find human fossils, yet these are elusive - "the 'holy grail' of our work", according to Stringer.

The ancient human populations were small, made up of a few hundreds, or possibly thousands, and would either be driven out or severely reduced due to the cold climate, only to repopulate approximately every 100 000 years, the scientists said.

  • Gareth - 2010-07-08 10:23

    So let me get this straight. They find a few pieces of rock, which are in such a shape that they believe they must have been tools, they believe these rocks are 800 000 years old and from this they can deduce that between 100 or 1000 people decided to pack up home in Sunny Africa, swam across the ocean's to then-sunny Britain, set up camp next to the old Thames and wore suits & dresses.

    All this from a couple of stones which could for that matter just coincidentally look like they were tools...or no nature doesn't do accidents...but how do you explain everything then, isn't it all random...or is this double standard science...or is this simply nonsense??

    That's what I thought.

  • Shelley - 2010-07-08 11:42

    @gareth. Thought? It's obvious that you didn't. Or can't.

  • Keane - 2010-07-08 12:37

    @Shelley... shut up Shelley. Do not question Gareth for refusing to believe this typical crap. Science has and will continue to eat it's words because none of this is fact. It's all conjecture and supposition and it's based on hypothesis that have very very very very little scientifically deduced evidence.

    I suppose the big bang has been proven in your mind. Newsflash it hasn't. It's not a settled scientific issue, it's NOTHING more than a hypothesis. Drawing grandiose and far-reaching conclusions from rocks is stupid. But they keep on doing it because fools keep on lapping it up.

    Try thinking about it. What is science?

  • Disflippant - 2010-07-08 12:44

    You can't hope to judge the accuracy of their conclusions based on reading this Reuters report. If you're really interested, which I suspect not, I'd suggest studying some geology, anthropology and basic physics, then getting hold of any peer reviewed paper that they submit, and draw your judgments like that. Until then, be prepared for your comments to be seen to be coming from an ignorant twit.

  • bmpdragon - 2010-07-08 13:04

    @Keane: Before you lambast someone for their ignorance of science, why don't you read a few books or articles on the Philosophy of Science. You too might learn a thing or two... @Gareth: Before naively simplifying the article and jumping to (wrong) conclusions, take some time to do a little research. Through a cursory perusal of Wikipedia, I can gather that the stone tools (given their obvious cultural shaping) are probably Acheulean Bifaces (commonly called hand-axes) which are often associated with Homo Erectus or Homo heidelbergensis fossils. These stone tools were then dated through various stratigraphical and radiometric methods whereas use-wear analysis revealed what the tools were used for. Given the way the tools were found, combined with other known sites, would further indicate a tentative population size. Through a couple of generations, this population probably walked from Africa and crossed into Europe and then onto the British Isles using Glacial (Ice Age) land bridges. I think that addresses the confusion in your first paragraph. But based upon the not-so-subtle agenda displayed in your second paragraph, I’d wager that you are not really interested in the various sciences and facts used to explain human evolution: your true motivation is in trolling forums and comment boards on evolution in order to proselytize your particular cosmology. That’s what I thought!

  • trueblueandreal - 2010-07-08 13:25

    you see how Intelligent Design makes perfect sense?
    These are 1) scientists, who 2) find artefacts with an appearance of design and 3) logically infer a designer (primitive man). Somehow its ok to infer a designer in anthropology and archaeology but not in biology. Evidence, which has an appearance of design...biology is replete with it. Yet somehow it came about by purely material forces...? Maybe these tool did also. No, only someone without any reason would believe that...why then the DNA molecule? far more complex than a sharpened piece of rock.

  • ProfAndy - 2010-07-08 13:47

    You people should really study a bit more before you beat up on Science... Or am I to assume that you would prefer superstition and mob-hysteria to dictate your beliefs?? @Keane - you particularly are difficult to understand because you seem to espouse science by using the terminology and yet at the same time you call it crap... I despair! At least outcomes based education has been ditched - maybe some of our populace will start to understand and appreciate things like carbon dating...

  • Tim - A Scientist - 2010-07-08 13:55

    I wasn't going to respond to this until I read 'Keane's' comment. I'm not really sure of your agenda, but you really shouldn't be reading the Science articles if you so despise Science. You clearly have no idea what Science is about and must be one of those people who do not understand Science and therefore you need to tell people to shut up. When you have a heart attck from that big chip on your shoulder please don't go to the hospital because you never know what Science they use to keep you alive... Oh please walk home from work, if you work, because the Science used to identify the steel in the car you drive is from those rocks you think are a waste of time. In fact why dont you strip naked and go hide in the park like a primitive monkey, because everything you wearing and the pc you working on come from science... At least your capacity to reason is on par with a primitive monkey.

  • Keane - 2010-07-08 14:07

    @Disflippant... I almost resolved that your post didn't merit a response but eventually felt I should explain my seemingly flippant attitude:You speak of peer-reviewed papers. I've read peer-reviewed papers. Lots of them. I'm not a scientist but I studied law and philosophy and psychology. You know what I learnt about peer-reviewed papers? They are written by academics who don't need to actually prove anything, just stimulate debate and churn out papers. Read a couple hundred if you disagree. Look at the insignificance of their arguments and the absolute lack of any real accountability from one dissenting paper to the next. And so on, and so on. A never ending lack of accountability.However, even if we accept the veracity of peer-reviewed papers. And even if this study is based on one, which I doubt, how many such papers have been detailed here? How many have been detailed on the Discovery Channel? Maybe 1 for every 100 episodes of hypothetically-biased programming.My point is that this is conjecture. If you disagree, I would love to know why! The ignorants are those that lap this stuff up. Hypothesis is necessary for scientific study but it is not science. It's not even strictly necessary for science or the scientific method. Observation is though. My suggestion is quite simple, and I think that was Gareth's point too, which is that very very little has been observed. That's why I mentioned the big bang theory. Very very very little has been observed to support it. It is a globally-held belief, much like a faith. It is not a fact.Faith I'm happy with, but calling it science is false.

  • ALF - 2010-07-08 14:39

    The Ancient Astronauts came from the sky and showed them how to make the tools. (Which was later used to build the Pyramids.)They manipulated our primitive DNA to make us smarter to help them mine for gold that they desperately needed to survive. I saw it in a TV show with Phd Scientists explaining and everything, so it must be true…

  • Keane - 2010-07-08 14:47

    @all of you... read Shelley's thorough and well reasoned reply. That's what I said shut up to. Also, I do not despise science. I despise "pop" science. That is my agenda, despising pop science. Real science, sweet! Besides, this is anthropology, sociology and geology. Not science. But what erked me what that the article suggested that "the discovery was likely to lead scientists to look again at the capabilities of early humans"... what does science have to do with early humans? Nothing. Unless their agenda is to establish the origins of humans on a time line. That's actually so unlikely without engaging in the heaviest hypothesising it can scarcely be called science. But alas, it is. On second thoughts I shouldn't even say I have an agenda. I just didn't like Shelley's comment. I prefer Gareth's skepticism to everybody else's conjecture. There you go, your turn to tell me how little I know about everything. End

  • Oracle of Pretoria - 2010-07-08 14:56

    I just knew the comments would end up falling into the deep dark black hole that is "the-earth-is-six-thousand-years-old" Let's not debate them Tim, superstition vs science - sheeple vs intellectuals. No contest

  • Tim - 2010-07-08 14:59

    So let’s make sure we understand. You have read peer reviewed articles in the field of law, psychology and philosophy and you believe the same rules apply in science? You watch Discovery Channel and you believe you can critique science articles now? I have a BA and a BSc degree so have seen both sides and let’s make it clear that Science and psychology/philosophy/law are incomparable. I'm not surprised there is no accountability in law etc. If you knew anything about Academics you would understand that before a paper is published it is peer reviewed and then once published it is critiqued by the specialists in the field and the problems identified are then subsequently dealt with in further research. Clearly this doesn't work the same way in psychology and law judging from the fact that Freud’s more outrageous beliefs are in text books. A Hypothesis is what the author of the paper believes to be true and the object of the research, which includes statistical analysis and reasoning (clearly not your strong point) proves or disproves the hypothesis. Let me give you an example, coal comes from plant matter, therefore for there to be coal there had to be plants, for there to be plants there had to be water… you starting to understand? Oh and if you some religious fundi the best scientists I know are also some of the most religious people I know so try philosophize that!

  • Keane - 2010-07-08 15:04

    @ProfAndy: Yes Prof, clearly superstition and mob hysteria are my thing. I'm getting superstitious of this discussion right now, I think it's harming my aura. I think I should go outside and start a riot because there's a evil prophet under my shoes... And lastly, yes, I studied under out-comes-based education. That is why I'm engaging the metaphysical aspects of our society and debating the flawed foundations of the world's biased pop-science religion. Because I'm an idiot.@ everybody else. You are all right and your scientific knowledge is unquestionably unquestionable. Please post your views on all things relevant. I will be sure to compare them to scientific fact in 10 years, or perhaps just next week when News24 publishes another ground-breaking scientific finding.@ everybody else again. Remember when the world used to be flat. I wonder how they made it round. Oh hold on they didn't. They changed their firmly held hypothetical belief in order that it might be congruent with fact. Is science not continuing this trend? Should we not question it? Is it crap? No, I apologise for my loose tongue. But is it necessarily true? Mmm

  • Keane - 2010-07-08 15:11

    @ Tim - A Scientist. Thanks for the comment Tim. I really appreciate your views. You don't have to put my name in inverted comma's. It is not a pseudonym, it is in fact just my name. As to your observations, very surreal. I almost considered doing as you suggested until I remembered that "Science" (emphasis to be placed on the capital S(?)) is not entirely useless. In fact, on the contrary, it is indispensable to all things. It is the only true pursuit of knowledge. It is not lazy and decadent like moral philosophy or irrelevant like epistemology. But it is a little, I dunno, poppy. It's like a fun thing that you can watch about on TV. YAY. Look mommy the dinosaur is exactly 25 million years old. They know that. WOW. Because carbon dating told them so! Carbon date my hair. It'll probably be imprecise. Phew. The use of the euphemism took a lot of control. Please don't hate me Tim because I dissed your Science-god.

  • Ignorant - 2010-07-08 16:05

    How accurate is carbon dating? and can it be used on items that old? They date fossils by the rocks in whitch they are found, and the rocks by the fossils found inside it, or that is how some argue the science

  • bmpdragon - 2010-07-08 19:18

    @trueblueandreal: There are quite large and fundamental differences between stone tools that have been shaped by Homo (and perhaps chimpanzee) hands and rocks that have been altered by nature. If you don’t understand or know the difference, I suggest you take an undergraduate archaeology course or, at the very least, visit the Wits Origins Centre or Maropeng to get a sense of those differences. Also, I’d like to know what the intelligent design is, with regards to the following: 1) The Panda’s Thumb; 2) Breech Births; 3) The Blind Spot in the Eye; 4) Choking in Humans; 5) Back Ache in Humans due to an Incorrect centre of balance; 6) The :Handedness” of Proteins; 7) Junk DNA; 8) Cancer; 9) Congenital Diseases... I could go on ad nauseam about the various bad and redundant “designs” in nature. Intelligent Designer: I doubt it; Flying Spaghetti Monster: perhaps! :-)

  • Pat Stevens - 2010-07-15 22:04

    An interesting article, especially the remarks by Chris Stringer, a specialist in human origins at London's Natural History Museum: “This finding has significant implications for our understanding of early human behaviour, adaptations and survival, as well as when and how our early forebears colonised Europe after their first departure from Africa.” The African link particularly interests me, as it confirms research I have done on the early origins of mankind in Africa, I have titled this thesis British Tribes of Africa and Professor Patrick Bond of KZN University has made some rather flattering remarks on my work. If anyone is interested in reading British Tribes of Africa, you can contact News 24, as I have sent them a copy of my study.
    BRITISH TRIBES OF AFRICA – Professor Patrick Bond KZN University
    Thanks so much, Patrick! The research below sorely deserves a PhD in ethnography. In my e-address book, there are only two others (one a KZN cane rat who wrote the attached with malevolent intent recently, and the other my auntie who whilst in Harare knew all these tribes' foibles) who can appreciate your artistry, so permit me to cc them.

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