Behavioural modernity in Africa


What evidence do we have for the emergence of both biological and behavioural modernity in Africa?

There are many different types of evidence for the emergence of both biological and behavioural modernity in Africa. Each of these aspects adds a compelling argument for this materialization of these modern traits. There are a number of theories as to how H.sapiens evolved each of these drawing upon evidence of biological and behavioural modernity to support their theory. These theories are fundamental to our understanding as to how there became modernity in Africa. These theories show how H.sapiens' have spread throughout the world from an origin of Africa in the Levant area, replacing H.erectus in eastern Asia and the Neanderthals in the West. The archaeology of the 100,000 years in which H.sapiens became the dominant species amongst their rivals, reveals big steps in H.sapiens behaviour which are associated with modern humans. These changes include the emergence of symbolism and art and these behavioural traits revolutionized H.sapiens and as such show the emergence of behavioural modernity in Africa. (The rise of modern humans, Paul Pettitt, University of Sheffield).

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This behavioural shift shows that there was a cognitive advance amongst H.sapiens and this is reflected in the evidence we find. This evidence evolves from a simple pattern of behaviour such as crude tool use, to a shift to modern behaviour and the use of complex planning. The increased typological diversity and standardization of artefacts suggests that H.sapiens were showing increased aspects of modernity. However there are many arguments for how this increase in typologies arouses, with the "human revolution" on the one side and on the other the gradual evolution of skills and modern human behaviours. The "human revolution" model "creates a time lag between the appearance of anatomical modernity and perceived behavioural modernity, and creates the impression that the earliest modern Africans were behaviourally primitive", being those which were found around 100ka. (The revolution that wasn't: a new interpretation of the origin of modern human behaviour: Sally McBrearty University of Connecticut: 2000 :page: 1). However the evidence of increased tool typology and greater frequency of these tools coupled with use of art, decoration and many other aspects of daily life shows modernity. In the human revolution model these advances are meant to have occurred around 40 ka, however many of the finds actually prove to be many thousands of years older. This then makes the argument that the skills did not suddenly come into fruition as the human revolution model suggests but instead appears to suggest that these changes and advances in behaviour and skill set gradually evolved over time and not in just one place but instead in as backed up by the archaeological record at many different sites. However the one thing both these models appear to agree on is that whether it was gradual or a sudden leap in behavioural advance, it is clear that Africa was the focal point of behavioural modernity and that from here ideas were exported to other areas. (The revolution that wasn't: a new interpretation of the origin of modern human behaviour: Sally McBrearty University of Connecticut: 2000 :page: 1).

The theories that there was a gradual build up of ideas over Africa supports the idea of the emergence of behavioural modernity in Africa, this is because as well as the increase in diversity of tools which can be seen at sites such as the Middle Awash Valley in Ethiopia from as early as 2.5 million years ago. There are also stone artefacts ranging from the simple to the scrapers and hand axes of the Oldowan industry found at such sites as Sterkfontien in South Africa. However these ideas build up gradually and this can be seen in the typologies and dating of these stone tools. This gradual build up shows that as time goes on the stone tools become more complex from the rudimentary tools which did not need many steps to create, to tools which required cognition and planning depth such as prepared cores. There is also a greater frequency in tools over time as ideas appear to be spreading and being copied amongst the Hominins this also adds to the idea that that there is a gradual build up in time and that this is the foundation for early behavioural modernity. However these are just basic skills which do not necessarily prove complete behavioural modernity as we know it today. Instead H. Ergaster builds upon this basic skill set using hand axes which suggests that they are learning and that there is more intelligence. They also show a growth in population density suggesting they are able to sustain a larger community because of their hunting and more meat in their diet. This learning is brought to a pinnacle and can truly be recognised as the birth of behavioural modernity in the H.sapiens at c. 300 ka where there is the use of organic material for the first time amongst Hominins, also instead of crude tools there are complex tools which require skill, such as the spear points found at Still Bay and Aterian. The H.sapiens moves from the Acheulean period into the MSA (Middle Stone Age) and begins to show an organisation of space as can be seen with their dwelling structure and elaborate hearths. (The rise of modern humans, Paul Pettitt, University of Sheffield). By c. 75 k H.sapiens can truly be considered as to have provided substantial evidence for behavioural modernity in Africa for by this time art and ornaments are being produced and as such draw close parallels to modern day behaviour. The evidence for this behavioural modernity is shown in the genetic evidence found in the fossils which also supports the idea of biological modernity originating in Africa. In the archaeological evidence however this behavioural change can either be viewed as gradual as McBrearty and Brooks thought whereby there is a measured process spanning 100,000 years. This measured process showing that there was not a sudden and immediate realization of skills amongst H.sapiens is shown in the fact that LSA elements appear quite early and some MSA elements continue quite late. This range in technological advancements suggests that the transition was not only gradual but also intermittent taking time for advances to fully be accepted. Examples of this gradual advance can be seen at Matupi, where small microlithic cores found predate 40 ka. Whereas at Kalemba and Rose Cottage Cave, MSA radial and disc core types were found to exist as late as 25 ka, showing that advances were not necessarily sudden. (The revolution that wasn't: a new interpretation of the origin of modern human behaviour: Sally McBrearty University of Connecticut: 2000 :page: 1). However in contrast to this Richard Klein believed there was a sudden change around 50,000 years ago. The evidence for this is in the change from the Acheulean to the MSA and the fact that H.sapiens started to use prepared cores suggesting higher intellect along with evidence for exchange over great distances. This exchange can be seen in the obsidian found in East Africa which was over 300km from its source.

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The emergence of biological modernity is naturally closely linked with the emergence behavioural modernity. However without this advanced biological emergence these behavioural advances would not have been able to have occurred. There is a lot of biological evidence for modernity to be found in Africa and this evidence helped to construct the out of Africa hypothesis. This theory suggested that the single earliest fossil remains of H.sapiens were going to be found in Africa. The fossil and archaeological records also support this theory strongly. The fossil record implies that anatomically modern or near-modern humans were present in Africa by 150 ka. This evidence supports the Out of Africa Hypothesis and this theory suggests that Africa should show the greatest genetic diversity. In contrast to this there is the Multi-regional Evolution Hypothesis which seeks to explain both modern human origins and modern human diversity. Modern racial differences are seen to have deep evolutionary roots (wolpoff and Caspari 1997). Central to this argument are fossils found in Asia and Australia which have been interpreted as showing evidence for regional continuity in populations. It suggests also that transitional fossils should be found throughout the world such as H.Ergaster. However the scholarly view at the moment is to support that of the out of Africa theory. The biological make up of the Hominins at the time differ and the evolution from the early Hominin which ultimately did not survive through to the H.sapiens which resemble modern humans. Early H.sapiens although resembling modern humans would have been more robust, had large brow ridges, sloped foreheads and no chins to begin with but over time exhibited more characteristics of that of a modern human such as now reduced brow ridges, a large rounded brain case and a chin. These biological changes from the early H.sapiens and H.Ergaster to the more complex and developed H.sapiens are clear to see in the fossil record.

The change from H.Ergaster to H.sapiens was a gradual one and this is backed up by the archaeological records as seen in the Bodo cranium. The Bodo cranium is a nearly complete Hominin skull which was recovered from a site in the Middle Awash region of Ethiopia. It is important because not only is it not H.erectus skull with H.sapiens characteristics like some scientists argued as it has now been assigned to H.Heidelbergensis, but more importantly the cranium seem to show a gradual enlargement of the brain. This gradual enlargement which is a key aspect to biological modernity could have been occurring as early as 600,000 years ago. There is also genetic evidence for biological modernity, in which it is though that instead of many slow mutations and developments over time there was instead one vital mutation on the H.sapiens DNA which assisted in the emergence of language. This DNA change is suggested that it could originate from a mutation on the Y chromosome and that this could be the start of biological modernity. (Crow 2002; Tyler Smith 2002). It has been put forward that the Human Y chromosome roots lie between 20,000 and 4000 years ago. However it has been proposed that there were two important segments of DNA duplicated onto the Y chromosome before these dates, and that one of these segments may have mutated in such a way so that it could lead to the emergence of language. However this chromosome is originally only occurring in the male of the species and as such c. 50,000 years ago, females are thought to have acquired the skills to use language through participation and imitation.

The other aspect to look at when considering biological and behavioural modernity in Africa and whether it emerged there is to consider the rivals to H.sapiens. This is because at the time H.sapiens were becoming a dominant species with strong ties with behavioural and biological modernity. There were also the Neanderthals or Europe and H.erectus in Asia, however the H.erectus record from Asia is limited due to few fossils being released from China and when they are the dates are not necessarily accurate. This is in contrast to the Neanderthal archaeological record which is in comparison much more complete. This more comprehensive record goes some way in showing that Neanderthals were inferior behaviourally and biologically to H.sapiens. This is because along with a limited skill set and apparent in lacking the superior cognitive power, as is shown in the archaeology of Neanderthals. It is clear to state that in contrast to H.sapiens remains that their biological modernity is also crude and limited. The reason for this could be the fact that Neanderthals were evolving at a time when glacial periods dominated for long period, and as such the adaptation which Neanderthals have in their biological appearance matches this with specializations for the cold such as short limbs. Also their limited ability to migrate freely around Europe and as such the likelihood of mutations amongst Neanderthals is limited since the only way in which groups would encounter each other would be through chance meetings due to being isolated by harsh and sudden climate change. It has been proved that this random chance of meeting and limited movement of groups could alone explain the difference in brain size between Neanderthals and H.sapiens. (Out of Africa and the Evolution of Human Behavior; Richard G. Klein; Evolutionary Anthropology; 17:267_281; (2008); pp.2)

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As such it can be seen that although there are many rivals to H.sapiens and that other Hominins are able to have a limited grasp of modernity in the fact they can produce tools. There is strong evidence to suggest that behavioural and biological modernity must have originated in Africa, as these other species cannot compare to the H.sapiens found out of Africa and that the oldest remains are found there. The behavioural evidence left behind in Africa such as the tools and intricate jewellery and artwork gives us an insight into the very beginnings of what we consider modernity. The biological aspects are clear to see from the remains as the Hominins evolve to H.sapiens they begin to take on the characteristics of a modern human and the fact that there could have been a sudden mutation which allowed for speech which only occurred originally in Africa. This mutation of the Y chromosome is in line with the theories of Klein (1995) in that the because of this biological modernity the behavioural modernity was able to take place in Africa c. 50,000 years ago and then spread rapidly from there on out to the rest of the world over time.