I. Prehistoric Times > D. Homo Erectus and the First Peopling of the World (1.8 Million to 250,000 Years Ago) > 3. Out of Africa
  PREVIOUS NEXT  
CONTENTS · SUBJECT INDEX · BIBLIOGRAPHIC RECORD
  The Encyclopedia of World History.  2001.
 
 
3. Out of Africa
 
There was a widespread interchange of mammals between Africa and Europe between a million and 700,000 years ago. Hippopotamuses, forest elephants, and other herbivores and carnivores migrated north, crossing the Sahara when rainfall was higher and the region could support animal life. Human predators shared many ecological characteristics with these mammals and radiated out of Africa with this familiar mammalian community.  1
The earliest recorded human settlement of Europe and the Near East dates to about 700,000 years ago. By the same time, tiny Homo erectus populations were flourishing in south and Southeast Asia and were widespread by half a million years ago. Apparently, however, Homo erectus lacked the technology to settle in anything more than tropical and temperate latitudes, for it was not until the very end of the Ice Age that humans mastered arctic and periglacial environments in Europe and northern Asia, or ventured on boats to New Guinea and Australia.  2
Half a million years ago, the world's population was no more than a few thousand people, scattered in temperate and tropical environments. In Africa, Europe, the Near East, and south Asia, Homo erectus exploited more open country, subsisting on plant foods and game of all sizes. The bands used simple tool kits that revolved around multipurpose stone axes and cleavers with sharp edges and points. They used such hand axes for butchering, digging up roots, and many other purposes, such as woodworking and fashioning fire-hardened spears. Their hunting methods were simple and involved not only scavenging predator kills, but also careful stalking of their prey to get close enough to kill or wound with a spear. Like their predecessors, Homo erectus hunted and foraged for plant foods, but in more effective ways than earlier hominids. At Ambrona and Torralba in central Spain, bands of hunters drove elephants into swamps, killed the mired animals, and butchered them where they lay. Similar kill sites have come from eastern and southern Africa, but we can be sure that wild plant foods were still of great importance in the diet.  3
The dense tropical forests of Southeast and eastern Asia provided a quite different challenge, for game was rare. Homo erectus lived off small animals like monkeys and a multitude of plant foods. Instead of hand axes and cleavers, the bands relied on wooden tools and bamboo artifacts. They had no need of any stone tools other than crude flakes and choppers for woodworking.  4
For hundreds of thousands of years, archaic humans, loosely classified as Homo erectus, lived in the tropical and temperate regions of the Old World. Except for an overall increase in brain size, Homo erectus remained remarkably stable in evolutionary terms for more than a million years, until less than 500,000 years ago. During these long millennia, they developed improved language and communication skills. With enhanced language skills and more advanced technology, it became possible for people to achieve better cooperation in foraging, storing food, and hunting. These people depended on cooperative activity by every individual in the band. The secret of individual success was group success.  5
 
 
 
The Encyclopedia of World History, Sixth edition. Peter N. Stearns, general editor. Copyright © 2001 by Houghton Mifflin Company. Maps by Mary Reilly, copyright 2001 by Houghton Mifflin Company. Published by Houghton Mifflin Company. All rights reserved.

CONTENTS · SUBJECT INDEX · BIBLIOGRAPHIC RECORD
  PREVIOUS NEXT