Prehistory Timelines – The Origin of Man

The Creation of Adam by Michelangelo 3

~ The Creation of Adam

“We live under the shadow of a gigantic question mark,” stated Hendrik Willem Van Loon in the Story of Mankind (Loon, 2000),“Who are we? Where do we come from? Whither are we bound?” Perhaps man will never know the answers to these questions. Yet the probabilities at arriving at the truth concerning the origin of man has never daunted our noble pursuit for the discovery of our roots. In fact, the impossibility of this task is what motivates us to speculate on various possibilities. Human beings are, after all, creatures of curiosity.

Not much is known of the origin of man. Creationists believe that man comes from God, period. Evolutionists believe that man comes from the process of natural selection since our genes are almost identical to that of other primates like chimpanzees. Tell this to a kid and he or she will be likely to ask, “Then who created the chimpanzees?” Whether man is from monkey is a matter of debate even to this very day.

Whether you take the Old Testament literally or choose to believe in the theory of evolution, genetics have shown us that the earliest appearance of a humanoid lifeform akin to modern man appeared in Africa some 4.5 million years ago. This place in Africa is modern day Ethiopia, the source of the River Nile.

The proof?

A human-like skeleton of a young girl was found in East Africa. Dubbed ‘Lucy’, she was carbon-dated to be some 3 million years old!

The people in Ethiopia were not as dull as they look (they had elongated skulls, small brains, and long limbs). Right before the second Ice Age, they began to invent stone tools that they used to great effect in coordinated hunts. By this time, you would also deduce that human beings have also invented some form of communications (guttural sounds, perhaps). The ice age threatened to wipe out human beings from the face of the earth if not for an accidental, or ingenious, discovery of the use of fire. To survive in the harsh environment of bitter cold and hungry predators, man had to create and innovate. In the words of Van Loon, “the glacial period, which had threatened to destroy the human race, became its greatest teacher because it forced man to use his brain.”

By the 50,000 years ago, humanity’s population had peaked to 1 million. Scarcity of food probably prompted the spread of human beings into new uncharted territories.  Archeological evidence points that man around this time had reached Australia. Approximately 15,000 years ago, humans crossed the Beringia Land Bridge into North America from Siberia. This coincides with the extinctions of huge mammals like mammoths and mastodons (probably due to hunting).

Around 10,000 years ago, the temperature of the world started to rise and the ice sheets retreated to the north and south. During this time, humanity was fertile with new ideas and inventions. Evidence of agriculture and animal domestication appeared in Mesopotamia around this time.  By 5,500 years ago, the first irrigation system is seen in Mesopotamia. Then came the rise of the four great river civilizations (Mesopotamia, Egypt, China, and India) and, from then on, men would change the face of the earth forever.

Inventions for Survival:

Hunter-Gatherers (Cave-dwellers) – Language – Stone Tools – Cave Art – Fire

Farmers and Herders (Permanent settlements) – Pottery – Animal Domestication – Irrigation – Plough – The Wheel -Written Language

Year Details
c. 4.5 MYA Emergence of early ancestor of modern humans, Ardipithecus ramidus, in Ethiopia.
c. 4.2 MYA Earliest of the Australopithecines (“southern ape humans”), East Africa, walks on two feet, has a brain one-third the size of modern humans.
c. 3 MYA Australopithecus afarencis, known as “Lucy”, lives in East Africa.
c. 2.5 MYA First genus of human, Homo habilis Olduvai Gorge, East Africa.
c. 2.75 – 1 MYA Earliest known stone tools found, Ethiopia. Meat now apparently a central part of energy-rich diet of hominis.
c. 1.5 MYA The Ice Age
c. 1.8 MYA – 500,000 YA Evidence for deliberate use of fire.
c. 1 MYA Homo erectus well established in North Africa and Middle East.
c. 600,000 YA Homo heidelbergensis flourishes in Central Europe; introduces Acheulean stone tools (carefully flaked on both surfaces).
c. 350,000 YA Homo neanderthalensis emerges in Europe.
c. 150,000 YA Emergence of first Homo sapiens, Africa; subsequently coexists with Homo erectus in Asia and Homo neanderthalensis in Europe and Middle East.
c. 70,000 YA Population spread halted, possibly due to catastrophic volcanic eruption of Toba, Sumatra; global temperatures lowered for a millennium.
c. 50,000 YA Human population reaches 1 million.Discoveries of artifacts from Malakunanja and fossils from Lake Mungo indicate humans followed a coastal route along southern Asia and reached Australia nearly 50,000 years ago. Their descendants, Australian aborigines, remained genetically isolated on that island continent until recently.
c. 40,000 YA Remains of Homo erectus, which dates from about 1 million years ago, was found in Zhoukoudian (China).The first modern humans in China occupied Zhoukoudian about 40,000 years ago.
c. 30,000 YA Cro-Magnon cave art and decorated artifacts in Western and Central Europe. Genetic data show that the DNA of today’s western Eurasians resembles that of people in India.
c. 24,000 YA Disappearance of Homo neanderthalensis.
c. 20,000 YA Ice Age populations live by hunting and gathering (hunter gatherers), building shelters from available resources.
c. 15,000 YA Humans cross the Beringia Land Bridge into North America from Siberia.
c. 12,000 YA The people associated with Clovis hunted big game. Their presence in America coincides with the extinction of several large species including mammoth, mastodon, and giant sloth.
c. 10,000 BCE Rising temperatures, retreating ice sheets, rising sea levels. Siberia separated from North America, continental shelves flooded.First settled agriculture in Anatolia (Turkey), Middle East, and Mesopotamia. Evidence of early sheep and goat domestication in northern Mesopotamia.Earliest pottery from Jomon, Japan, heralds gradual revolution in transportation and storage of food.
c. 8,000 BCE Foundations of Jericho, Palestine, the world’s oldest continuously inhabited town.
c. 7,000 BCE First Chinese agricultural communities, Yangzi Valley. Agriculture spreads to southeast Europe from modern Turkey.Rice is thought to have been cultivated in several locations, including south Asia and China’s Yangzi Valley, where it was grown as early as 8,500 BCE, before spreading widely.
c. 6,500 BCE Copper smelting and trade in obsidian at Catalhoyuk, Modern Turkey.Cattle successfully domesticated in North Africa, the Indus valley, and in Asia.
c. 6,000 BCE Early town cultures, such as the Halafian in southwest Asia, flourish.Domestication of cattle.
c. 5,500 BCE World’s earliest irrigation system, Mesopotamia.
c. 5,500 – 4,500 BCE Farming culture flourishes, Central Europe.
c. 5,000 BCE Corn (maize) cultivated in Ecuador and parts of North America. Cultivation of corn begins in Tehuacan Valley, Central America.Copper first used in Mesopotamia; gold and copper artifacts produced in southeast Europe
c. 4,500 BCE Introduction of irrigation techniques in Indus Valley. Horse domesticated in Central Asia.
c. 4,000 BCE First use of plough in Mesopotamia.
c. 3,500 BCE Emergence of world’s first city-states in Mesopotamia; Uruk possibly the world’s first city.
c. 3,350 BCE Otzi the ice man dies in the Alps.
c. 3,200 First hieroglyphic script in Egypt. Evidence of use of wheeled transport in Sumer. Stone circles and rows of standing stones built in north and west Europe.
c. 3,100 BCE King Namar completes unification of upper and lower Egypt and becomes first pharaoh.

Source: (Hart-Davis, 2010); (Shreeve, 2006)

Bibliography

Hart-Davis, A. (Ed.). (2010). History: The Definitive Visual Guide. London, Great Britain: Dorling Kindersley Limited .

Loon, H. W. (2000). The Story of Mankind. New York, United States of America: Liveright Publishing Corporation.

Shreeve, J. (2006). The Greatest Journey Ever Told. (C. Johns, Ed.) Washington, U.S.A: National Geographic Society.

Comments
2 Responses to “Prehistory Timelines – The Origin of Man”
  1. chicagoja says:

    Of course, a few scientists (like Carl Sagan) said that we evolved from reptiles since we supposedly have (in part) a reptilian brain.

  2. chicagoja says:

    The best evidence for Lucy being a predecessor of man is DNA studies. However, a couple of problems with anything DNA is (1) so little is known about DNA since science has only mapped 10% of our DNA. Science also says that we have almost a 99% DNA match with primates which is interesting since they also say that the most primitive part of man’s brain is reptilian and (2)
    Both Lucy and man could have independently received their DNA from a common source. Note: There is no hard evidence that Lucy is, in fact, our long lost ancestor (but simply a dead-end in evolution much like Neanderthal). As for evidence of evolution outside of science and religion, I would draw your attention to the Clay Tablets of Mestoptamia which are in the British Museum and which predate the Bible and are the oldest known writings yet discovered (they date to about 3300 BC). These clay tablets form a wonderful bridge between science and religion. By the way, a clue in man’s evolution is the elongated skull (which you referred to above) which has been found in many places in the world, including some of the Egyptian pharaohs. Skulls arguably take tens of millions of years to evolve and yet there is no scientific explanation to explain this, or for that matter which explains the different kinds of skulls that man has(including those of pygmies and giants). Any thoughts?

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