Anthropology Essays - Australopithecines and Homos

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Australopithecines and Homos

Section 1

4. (a & b)

At Olduvai Gorge, East Africa, several australopithecines and homos, such as Australopithecus Boisei (sometimes Paranthropus Boisei) and Homo Habilis (large) may have coexisted (Leakey 1994, 24-27, 29).  Australopithecus Boisei is distinguished by prominent sagittal crests on the top and back of the skull and a long, broad and quite flat ‘dished’ face with large molars (Wood 1992, 236). Homo Habilis (large) also has a large flat face with a slight brow ridge, though without the wide, dished’ appearance and crests of Australopithecus Boisei (Stringer 1992, 242 & 251).  It also had a robust jaw and large narrow molars.

The robust jaws and large molars of both Australopithecus Boisei and Homo Habilis suggest that the diets of both were primarily vegetable.  It is possible that early Homo Habilis, a tool maker, also hunted or scavenged for meat.  Cut marks from tools found on animal bones from Olduvai show that meat was being cut from the bone by homo around 1.8 million years ago (Potts 1992, 331).  However, the tools from the earlier Oldowan industry cannot firmly be associated with either australopithecus or homo, though Leakey favours the latter because of the later association (1994, 41).  Stanford cautions that we remember that even one species may display a variety of behaviours (2001, 25).

5. (a, b & c)

The earliest examples of Acheulean technology date to 1.5/4 million years ago and are associated with Homo Erectus Leakey 1994, 93; Gowlett 1992b, 353).  The handaxe (or biface) is associated with the development of a long axis linked to a ‘walnut’ shape and examples may be symmetrical through a different planes and sections (Gowlett 1992a, 343). 

Apart from use as the eponymous handaxe, Acheulean tools were used as choppers and picks – some dozen implements have been identified (Gowlett 1992b, 354; Leakey 1994, 93). 

In eastern and south Asia finds of Homo Erectus have not yielded Acheulean tools, possibly due to the presence of splintered bamboo rendering stone technology redundant (Gowlett 1992b, 351).  Also, we might expect variability in behaviour over a wide, or even quite narrow, geographic area (Stanford 2001, 25).

6. (a, b & c)

The Clovis people could have reached America, perhaps via a land bridge, as part of a series of three migrations or movements of population from northern Asia, suggested by a variety of evidence from linguistics, tooth analysis and genetics (Renfrew & Bahn 1996, 438).  Dates for the movements are problematic and vary from up to 42,000-21,000 years ago for the earliest, 20,000 years ago for the second and 16,000-5000 years ago for the last pre-Columbian movement.  Martin had suggested they were the first culture to enter the Americas (1973). Evidence from sites such as Murray Springs, Arizona, reveal Clovis culture artifacts association with macrofauna that later became extinct (Haynes 1984).

A variety of tools characterise the Clovis culture, in particular bifacially worked and fluted projectile points (Gowlett 1992b, 359).  Such tools are characteristically those of hunters.

Section 2

7. (a, b & c)

Table 1. Showing Relative dates, brain sizes and brain structure of various species of hominid and hominoid (after Deacon 1992, 116-7; Stringer 1992, 251; Wood 1992, 236).


Dates (approximate years ago)

Brain size (cm3)

Brain structure


23-15 million



Australopithecus Afarensis

4-2.5 million


Broca’s area not present

Homo Habilis (large)

2.4-1.6 million


Broca’s area present

Homo Erectus

1.8-0.3 million


Broca’s area present

Homo Sapiens Neanderthalensis



Broca’s area present

 Homo Sapiens (early modern)



Broca’s area present




Area homologous to Broca’s area

Table 1 shows that early hominoids such as Australopithecus Afarensis had comparable and slightly larger brains than modern chimpanzees (400-500cm3), although Broca’s language area seems not to have been present.  Broca’s area was present in the larger brains (600-800cm3)of Homo Habilis (large) and in later homo species up to and including modern Homo Sapiens Sapiens.  The brain size of homo species has increased over time, peaking at that of Homo Sapiens Neanderthalensis at 1200-1750cm3, similar to that of Homo Sapiens Sapiens with a range of 1200-1700cm3.

From the data tabled above, it is not possible to conclude that encephalization was a key event in human evolution although humans are without doubt the most encephalized species on earth with a brain three times bigger than that of a similar sized ape (Deacon 1992, 116; Curtis et al 2001, 167).  The relationship between intelligence and brain size is not simple and the presence of Broca’s area does not prove language use.  Chimpanzees are sociable, learn and teach, use tools and display complex behaviour, even capable of being trained in sign-language yet their brains are comparatively small.  Humans also display great variety in their behaviour and it is not always clear that they are better adapted to life than less encephalized species, which calls into question the nature and validity of such comparisons.  Also very significant are the recent discoveries on Flores, which suggest that a tool and fire using homo species weighing only 55 pounds and with a brain three times smaller than modern humans evolved from Homo Erectus (Morwood et al. 2005).

Section 3

8. (a, b, c & d)

Multiregionalists, such as Wolpoff and Thorne have observed continuity, despite gaps, from Homo Erectus in Java to modern aboriginal Australians (Curtis et al. 2001, 198).  The Sangiran Homo Erectus was dated at 700,000 years old, the skulls from Ngandong to between 400,000-100,000 years old and the Australian Mungo people to 24,000 years old.  Wolpoff and Thorne have observed anatomical continuity in the cranial features, known as the ‘mark of ancient Java’.

The Ngandong Homo Erectus crania have been redated from 400,000-100,000 to 50,000-30,000 years old by electron spin resonance (ESR) dating and uranium series dating (U-series dating)(Curtis et al. 2001, 221).  Dates achieved by gamma ray dating have not been published.

The Mungo remains have been variously dated, originally at 24,000 years old then to about 62,000 in 1999, and most recently using optically stimulating luminescence, both the Mungo Lady and Man were redated again to 40,000 years old (Bowler et al. 2003).

 The new dates for the Ngandong crania and the Mungo people, if correct, suggest that Homo Sapiens and Homo Erectus coexisted in south east Asia.  While initially an uncomfortable conclusion for many, the various dating techniques do seem to corroborate one another, and recent finds of Homo Floresiensis may provide further proof of diversity.  The redating of the Mungo people has led to the proposal that modern Homo Sapiens spread eastward from Africa, before entering Europe, thus retaining the ‘Out of Africa’ position (Gore 2000, 97).  Thorne, commented that the redating had no impact on multiregionalism, Wolpoff adding that from 2 million years ago there was only one human species (Curtis et al. 2001, 229).  Whatever theoretical approach one has to dispersal, it seems essential to recognise the diversity and coexistence of communities of Homo.


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