Science

Theory of human evolution could be rewritten after incredible 50,000-year-old discovery


In fact, the findings have the potential to reshape our understanding of the cultural development of Homo sapiens during their migration across Eurasia approximately 50,000 to 40,000 years ago. That’s because the findings directly challenge the prevailing, conventional beliefs regarding the timing and nature of cultural shifts that occurred during this crucial period in human history. The research, which was published in Nature Communications, a well-respected journal, provides valuable insights into the technology of stone tools. It suggests that the widely accepted notion of a cultural and technological ‘revolution’ that enabled anatomically modern humans to surpass Neanderthals is wrong. Instead, after close inspection, the team suggest that it was a more intricate and complex process of cultural evolution. Less of a Big Bang, and more of a Big Drag. 

The Japanese scientists focused specifically on the Middle-Upper Paleolithic (MP-UP) cultural transition, which marks a significant boundary between two important phases in our evolutionary journey. During the Middle Paleolithic period (250,000 to 40,000 years ago), anatomically modern humans coexisted with Neanderthals and other archaic humans. Culturally, both anatomically modern humans and Neanderthals utilized similar stone tool technology, such as the ‘Levallois methods’, which involved striking stones with a tool resembling a hammer. Overall, this study challenges the prevailing understanding of the cultural evolution of Homo sapiens during their dispersal across Eurasia. It highlights the need for a more nuanced perspective on the timing and nature of cultural transitions that occurred during this critical period in human history.

A new study conducted by researchers affiliated with the Nagoya University Museum in Japan has thrown a spanner in the works of evolutionary science.

In fact, the findings have the potential to reshape our understanding of the cultural development of Homo sapiens during their migration across Eurasia approximately 50,000 to 40,000 years ago. That’s because the findings directly challenge the prevailing, conventional beliefs regarding the timing and nature of cultural shifts that occurred during this crucial period in human history. The research, which was published in Nature Communications, a well-respected journal, provides valuable insights into the technology of stone tools. It suggests that the widely accepted notion of a cultural and technological ‘revolution’ that enabled anatomically modern humans to surpass Neanderthals is wrong. Instead, after close inspection, the team suggest that it was a more intricate and complex process of cultural evolution. Less of a Big Bang, and more of a Big Drag.

The Japanese scientists focused specifically on the Middle-Upper Paleolithic (MP-UP) cultural transition, which marks a significant boundary between two important phases in our evolutionary journey. During the Middle Paleolithic period (250,000 to 40,000 years ago), anatomically modern humans coexisted with Neanderthals and other archaic humans. Culturally, both anatomically modern humans and Neanderthals utilized similar stone tool technology, such as the ‘Levallois methods’, which involved striking stones with a tool resembling a hammer. Overall, this study challenges the prevailing understanding of the cultural evolution of Homo sapiens during their dispersal across Eurasia. It highlights the need for a more nuanced perspective on the timing and nature of cultural transitions that occurred during this critical period in human history.

The Upper Paleolithic era, which lasted from 50,000 to 12,000 years ago, witnessed significant advancements in human civilization. During this period, modern humans expanded their territories while archaic humans became – as you can probably guess – extinct. Various aspects of culture experienced significant developments, including tool technology, food acquisition, seafaring, and artistic expression through ornaments and cave art. Traditionally, scholars believed that the transition from the Middle Paleolithic to the Upper Paleolithic was a sudden and revolutionary change, characterized by the emergence of new cultural elements. The transition, they imagined, was swift, sharp and smooth. One example is the proposed neural mutation in Homo sapiens, which led to their superior cognitive abilities. This change supposedly allowed them to outcompete other cognitively inferior humans and drive the Neanderthals to extinction.

However, this study directly challenges this long-held, deeply entrenched belief. The researchers conducted an analysis of stone-tool productivity over a span of 50,000 years, covering six cultural phases from the Late Middle Paleolithic to the Epipaleolithic period. They discovered that the significant increase in innovative productivity did not occur before or at the beginning of the widespread dispersal of Homo sapiens in Eurasia. Instead, it happened after their initial dispersals, coinciding with the development of bladelet technology in the Early Upper Paleolithic. This finding suggests that the process of cultural change during this period was complex and involved multiple stages, rather than a single revolutionary event.

As Professor Seiji Kadowaki, one of the researchers involved in the study, emphasized, the shift in culture from the Middle to the Upper Paleolithic era was a multifaceted evolutionary development that encompassed various elements and transformations that took place gradually over a prolonged duration. Commenting on his team’s findings, he said, “In terms of cutting-edge productivity, Homo sapiens did not start to spread to Eurasia after a quick revolution in stone tool technology, but rather the innovation in the ‘cutting-edge’ productivity occurred later, in tandem with the miniaturization of stone tools like bladelets.”

Change, it seems, takes time. It occurs via multiple, protracted stages. The study provides some much needed perspective and challenges largely fact-free beliefs.



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