Discussion on clustering human evolution

An article published last year in Nature and discussed in several scientific journals, described the oldest stone tools dated to be around 3.3M years old. While the use of tools is known for other primates such as Bonobos (see GARG blog from November), the scientific community always argue to place tools in the hand of Australopithecus. Why? Well most likely because even if we still try to abstract ourselves from Christian, Judaic or Muslim background, beliefs, preconceived ideas and society acceptance are often hard to fight and change. Since the separation between Pans and Human linage was before Australopithecus it appears logical that early hominids would have been using tools as well.

Nonetheless, as most tools would have been in perishable material (branchs, sticks, bones…) and very crude rocks, the first tools would be hard to identify or simply impossible to find. Tools are a very important part of what defines us as Human. Again, we know that other animals uses tools, some birds, a few mammals, but the distinction we make in the complexity of the process to create the tool. Some stone tools made of Obsidian (a natural volcanic glass) by past population were so complex technologically that in today society no-one can reproduce the quality of the tools without many many years of experience and training. Of course the first stone tools were very rudimentary, but the act of transforming a rock, a stone, or a branch into an useful object requires much more than the just technique and skills.

So what makes us human? when do we really make the human linage starts? What is the criteria to do so? Should we only consider the anatomy of the individuals? Only parts of the anatomy? or the technology? A mix of the different features that makes Hominids so specific?

Obviously, there are no right answer, it comes down to the criteria chosen. This for one simple reason, we are trying to cluster or set limits to a continuous phenomenon. As an analogy, it is similar to decide when do we decide than an individual is not a teenager anymore but an adult. If you follow the law in most country it would be 18, but in some case 16 could be the age for example when trial as an adult. Some could argue that it’s around 12 years old when the individual is capable of reproducing. And some would take the social aspect and say that it’s only when the individual starts to work, and is financially independent which could be very late or early depending on the specific case. Which one is the right answer, well all and none. I guess it is the same when we talk about human evolution, depending on the criteria the answer will change. Furthermore, future discoveries will also change our theory and understanding of the human linage.

We can only be sure that what we don’t know is greater that what we know so far, and there is much more to discover on this fascinating subject, So stay tuned!!!

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