Africa – Early Homo Sapiens

The term homo sapien refers to a human being in relatively the same form as we are today (i.e. not in an ape-like or similarly undeveloped form). Many anthropologists and scientists adamantly believe that Africa is the Cradle of Humankind, the origin of human life as we know it. This would necessarily imply that it is on this vast and varied land that the first Homo sapiens lived, farmed, hunted and settled to form the civilisations that predated ours.

It is believed that the predecessors to Homo sapiens, Homo erectus, lived in prehistoric Africa approximately 400 000 years ago. During the Middle Pleistocene era, these Homo erectus beings are believed to have evolved into Homo sapiens. By this time, however, the Homo erectus had moved all around and out of the continent. So, the Homo sapiens likewise moved around and eventually replaced all Homo erectus beings. This is in conflict with some of the polygenism theories that propose that mankind evolved in different areas, independently of one another, rather than in one area, followed by a dispersal.

Photo of Lucy's Skeleton on display
Photo of Lucy’s Skeleton on display

Fossilised findings have confirmed these hypotheses, although gaps continue to plague researchers to this day. In Ethiopia’s Middle Awash, a homo sapien idaltu fossil was found and dated to 160 000 years ago. Anatomically, it resembles modern man quite accurately, although being termed a sub-species. More modern remains have been found a cave in Israel (Qafzeh), which are dated to 100 000 years ago. Although these remains resemble modern human beings, they are not classified as the same species and both are recognised as being extinct. These valuable findings achieved much in the way of establishing Africa as the Cradle of Humanity.

These early Homo sapiens required tools and implements with which to hunt, cook, build and live. They constructed these tools out of stone, flint and wood. The remnants of these have provided much insight into the types of materials that were available during that time, the animals they ate and cared for and the farming they accomplished. These all bear testimony to their way of life and level of advancement.

These early African civilisations recorded events, experiences and their daily lives, not with a pen and paper, but through paintings on rock surfaces. These have proved to be most revealing concerning their hunting habits, clothing and so on. Of course, these were artistically significant too, and ancient mankind took pride in their portrayal of life in Africa. This demonstrates the innate desire in man to create and preserve beauty in an art form. This same desire to create led to innovations that are alarmingly similar to the modern equipment we use today. Some of these items are dated to 50 000 years back. The tools they used advanced gradually over time, and were duplicated once perfected in design.

The Homo sapiens that first walked the African continent are believed to be the ancestors of modern man. For this reason, they hold particular interest for us today. As researchers continue to dig for and discover valuable pieces of the endless puzzle that makes up the remains of ancient Africa, it becomes increasingly viable that Africa is, indeed, the Cradle of Humankind.

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Effects Of Climatic And Environmental Changes On Ancient African Civilisations

Hundreds of thousands of years ago, the entire planet earth looked very different to what modern man experiences today. Continents were not yet divided, and the vegetation and animals were different. Significantly, the climate was also vastly different to what it is today. Climate plays an integral role in determining the plants and animal that live in a certain areas, as well as how habitable a place is for human beings.

In fact, even the theory of the evolution of man was dependent largely on the climatic influences on our ancient ancestors. It is hypothesised that the ancient versions of man were forced to walk upright, lose body hair and develop their coordination for survival in a changing environment. New skills also needed to be learned as farming techniques and living habits had to be adapted.

Ancient Africa experienced major vacillations between mega-droughts and Ice Ages, although these fluctuations occurred over thousands and thousands of years. As humans continued to develop and evolve through these phases, they needed to make major adaptations, not only to their ways of life, but also to their personal body structure. Prior to 135 000 years ago, the whole of Africa was lush and fertile, with a tropical climate. Then, the most intense mega-drought ever to occur hit the continent in the period referred to as the early part of the Late Pleistocene epoch. This is believed to have led to the migration of most of our human ancestors into other areas that were more habitable and fertile. Lake Malawi has been used by scientists as a rain gauge to ascertain water levels in ancient times. Research has shown that, during this mega-drought, the lake’s level dropped at least 1968 feet, or 600 metres! Evolutionists claim that this severe lack of water not only pushed ancient man from the area, it also forced aquatic animals (such as fish) to develop the facilities to be able to survive on dry land, thus evolving into land animals.

As people flocked out of the continent, only a very small proportion of this specific generation remained. Humankind as we know it is widely believed to have come from these few remaining on the continent, who evolved significantly and in response to the climatic changes.

These conditions continued until about 70 000 years ago, when the climate was again characterised by wetter conditions. These led to the growth and renewal of fresh vegetation, as well as an increased water supply to the region. More people were in the area during this time of abundance, and the population grew. This increase in numbers eventually led to migrations due to space limitations and the ownership of land.

Then, about 20 000 years ago, an Ice Age overcame the entire earth. This meant that the planet underwent a long-term period of cold temperatures over most of its surface. In places like North America and Eurasia, giant ice sheets covered enormous proportions of the land, making it impossible to farm and, sometimes, even live in these areas. This final Ice Age lasted for about 9 500 years. It forced most of the populations to migrate to the highlands, where they would be relatively protected from the ice sheets. Again, these civilisations had to adapt their farming methods, and change their diet, social habits, clothing and migratory patterns. This forced an evolution to a certain extent. Body hair was necessary to keep people warm, their skin lightened due to a lack of the harsh rays of the sun that they experienced during the mega-droughts, etc…

When this Ice Age came to an end 10 500 years ago, areas like the Sahara were left fertile and healthy. This made it and the other areas like it the ideal spots in which to settle as ancient man began to descend from the highlands. Animals and plants thrived in this environment, which made it very desirable in the eyes of mankind. The abundance of food, water and sunshine again changed the habits and physical structures of our earliest forefathers.

These conditions lasted for some time, but the Sahara in particular continued to experience fluctuations between humid and dry conditions. These eventually left the entire area unable to yield crops or sustain life for any extended period of time. Today, it remains a large stretch of desert. Then, approximately 2500 years ago, the group of people who had made their home in the Sahara began to follow the direction of the Nile River, which held promise of a rich water supply. The arid conditions of the Sahara and its surrounds continue to the present day.

Africa has, since prehistoric times, proven to be a place of fascination, life and evolution. Changes in the climate were often dramatic, and these were, to a great extent, responsible for determining the ancient civilisations that inhabited this vast continent. It is no wonder that many researchers and scientists maintain that Africa is the Cradle of Mankind, and research continues to yield fascinating evidence of this theory.