TAU archeologists find source of faster, smarter human

New study: Disappearance of elephants in the Levant 400,000 years ago led to emergence of the Homo sapien.

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December 11, 2011 23:17
2 minute read.
Archeologist

Archeologist 311. (photo credit: Courtest of TAU)

Archeologists, anatomists and anthropologists are the first to discover that the disappearance of elephants in this region 400,000 years ago led to the emergence of the Homo sapien – modern man – in the Levant instead of the more primitive and monkey-like Homo erectus.

The researchers at Tel Aviv University published their findings in Friday’s openaccess PLoS journal based on their discoveries in the Qesem Cave at Gesher Bnot Ya’acov. The cave is 12 kilometers east of Tel Aviv, in the Western mountain ridge between the Samaria hills and the coastal plain.

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The researchers said the worldwide association of H. erectus with elephants is welldocumented, and so is the preference of humans for fat as a source of energy. The team showed that instead of it being a matter of preference for H. eretcus to live in the Levant, it was forced to because it was dependent on both elephants and fat for his survival. But when the elephants died out, a “new and innovative local cultural complex and new hominin – the Levantine Acheulo-Yabrudian” called H. sapiens – evolved and replaced it. Such teeth were discovered at the Qesem Cave, they said.

The TAU scientists said that as the elephants disappeared, there was a need to hunt an increased number of smaller and faster animals while maintaining an adequate fat content in the diet. This, they said, “was the evolutionary drive behind the emergence in the Middle Pleistocene era of the lighter, more agile, and cognitively capable hominini.”

They called the new creatures “the fat hunters.” The elephants provided H. erectus – with its large brain – in the Levant with so much fat and protein for its diet than when the large mammals were wiped out, the hominini were in a bind. They had to find a new supply of food. Thus they evolved into creatures with a lighter body, a greater lower limb-to-weight ratio and improved levels of knowledge, could better handle the hunting of an increased number of smaller animals and most probably also developed a new supporting social organization.

H. erectus, which inhabited the world for 1.5 million years and was man’s direct ancestor, was equipped with a thick and large skull, a large brain, impressive brow ridges and a strong and heavy body – heavier than that of its H. sapiens successor. The more primitive creature used handaxes to kill large animals such as elephants, hippos and rhinoceroses for food.

According to archeological evidence, H. sapiens appeared only around 200,000 years ago, long after it was in the Levant. Fire used in this region by H. sapiens had the benefit of processing meat and increasing its intake, thus making proteins more digestible, they continued.

The TAU researchers said it was still “premature” to be sure whether the Qesem hominin ancestors evolved in Africa more than 400,000 years ago and then migrated to the Levant or whether those whose remains were uncovered at Qesem were a local hominin.

“If indeed... the dependence of humans on fat was so fundamental to their existence, the application is made possible... of this proposed bioenergetic model to the understanding of other important developments in human evolutionary history,” they concluded.


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