Back in 2010 some research was done at the Gesher Benot Ya’aqov site in Israel and what was discovered was rather amazing. Well, for some people but not for the rest of us!
When we think of our ancient human ancestors we often think of them as having been not as intelligent as we are and in some cases, as with the Neanderthals, we tend to envision them as club carrying brutes! But such conceptions of our ancient ancestors are rather naive at best in my opinion. I came across this research carried out in Israel which supports my position that our ancestors were NOT “club carrying brutes.”
In our own egocentricism we have thought that modern behavior is something that originated during the Middle Stone Age (300-50 kya) in modern humans (ie: Homo sapiens) but that may NOT be the case after all. In fact, the finds in Israel indicate that modern living may have originated about 500,000 years earlier than thought! And that puts modern living squarely in the realm of our hairy sometimes heavy browed ancestor known as HOMO ERECTUS.
The site is in northern Israel and it is here that researchers found the earliest known evidence of social organization, communication, and divisions between living and work spaces! All of these are considered hallmarks of modern human behavior. The site dates back to at least 750 kya and possibly to 790 kya and was built by H. erectus or perhaps some as yet undiscovered human ancestor. Homo sapiens only “emerged” about 200 kya according to the current thinking in paleoanthropology.
Researchers found artifacts here that include hand axes, choppers, scrapers, hammers, an awls all make of stone or bone. They also found flora (plant) remains buried in distinct areas of the site. According to lead archaeologist Naama Goren-Inbar specific tasks were taking place at specific locations at this site and that is significant when it comes to organization, communications, and the concept of modern living.
Basalt tools were being made and modified in the area of the fireplace. Flint sharpening was being done at the other end of the camp. A significant number of fish teeth were also found in this area. This was really the first time researchers found such organization outside of Homo sapien encampments. What we’ve typically focused on when it comes to modern living habits we’ve focused on modern humans but finds at this site indicate modern type living standards were employed by Homo erectus.
Such finds have also been made at nearby sites and what this all shows is Homo erectus encampments had a division of labor with specific areas used for specific purposes. There was a communal hearth and some areas were apparently designated for food processing while other areas were for butchering of large animals. Stone tools were made in another area using raw materials such as basalt, flint, and limestone. Also, at this site evidence was found that these ancient people were eating fish more than 750 kya! The site is located on an ancient shoreline of a lake and this evidence is some of the earliest we have for our ancestors consuming fish. One of those fish these people ate was a 3 foot long carp which seems to have been a common meal.
So, what this site shows and what the evidence found there indicates (proves) is that there was a much earlier emergence of what we deem as modern human behavior! And…..it begins with Homo erectus NOT Homo sapiens! This site shows that hairy Homo erectus was organized, had some for of communication, had a system of social organization, and divided work from living spaces in their encampments. And this is all indicative of INTELLIGENCE!! Further, at nearby sites such as Ubeitiya which is a 1.5 myr site in Israel there is evidence that our ancestors selected raw materials based on the types of tools they intended to make and use meaning they just simply did NOT pick up the closest rock to use! Again, this shows intelligence and intent!
The sites in this area all show a development in aspects of daily life. There are also Neanderthal sites and early Homo sapien (Cro-mag) sites in the area and some of these sites show evidence of burial of the dead and organized layouts of settlements. What we basically have is archaeological evidence for bedrooms, kitchens, living rooms, and workshops! Question is does this “modern human behavior” go back even further than Homo erectus? Future discoveries can only answer that.
There is also evidence of the control of fire at the Gesher Benot Ya’aqov site. Evidence includes burned seeds, wood, and flint at this Acheulian stone tool site. This all suggests fire was contained in certain spots and that fire may have been used for cooking food! Oddly, no human remains have been found yet at this site even though the evidence indicates this site was in use off and on for a long, long time! Homo erectus, H. ergaster, and Cro-magon may have all used this site.
At least 14 encampments have been found at this site and research continues today. New discoveries made should be interesting! In my mind this site and surrounding sites is EVIDENCE that Homo erectus was an intelligent, organized, disciplined, purposeful, and innovative early human ancestor! That’s a far cry from the common conception of Erectus! FASCINATING!!