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The Dawn of Humanity

Abiola Lapite finds an interesting hand-axe:

Foreign Dispatches: Analyzing Human Expansion: the genetic evidence tells a story... something happened 50-80,000 years ago to set the very small collection of individuals who were our shared ancestors on a course of rapid population expansion, shortly after the onset of which some of them started to pour out into Eurasia and beyond. Whatever that change was, the data says clearly that it cannot have been merely cultural, while the archaeological evidence also makes clear that it wasn't something one could read merely from looking at brow ridges, molars and so forth. My bet is that it was a cognitive change....

PS: An anthropologist by the name John Hawks has interesting things to say about the uniformity of Acheulean stone technology across Africa, Europe and Asia over more than 1 million years.

The maintenance of a single cultural tradition across much of three continents over a million years by exclusively social transmission seems incredible. Some have suggested that the handaxe is hardwired into the human genome, a proposition that seems even less credible (at least, to me). Absent these means of transmission, we are left with the proposition that the handaxe did not fade from the earth because of its functional utility -- either it was the tool that did the job the best, or it was the best tool that humans were capable of making that did the job adequately.

Now, the question you have to ask yourself is just how "human" creatures incapable of bettering the simple stone handaxe over a million years could possibly be; they may have looked like us, but it's clear they didn't think like us, and the timespans under consideration rule out "culture" as the limitation here.

Indeed, as Hawks suggests, at this point it isn't even clear that such a thing as "culture" (and its attendant variation across time and space) existed in a meaningful sense until about 80,000 years ago.