by Paul J. Dejillas, Ph.D.
Time began 14.5 billion years ago in a “big bang,” and from that time on it took 10 billion years for the Cosmos—stars, planets, clouds, suns, moons—to develop before it finally gave birth to our planet Earth sometime 4.5 billion years ago. The first signs of life were detected 7 million years later, or 3.8 billion years ago, and the next stages of creation saw, at various time stages, the appearance of plants, fishes, reptiles, mammals, and the first primitive primates. Modern apes as well as chimpanzees, from which, it is said, Modern Man evolved, appeared during the Miocene period, circa 15,000,000 years ago. Cremo and Thompson in their The Hidden History of the Human Race include convincing evidence that anatomically modern humans may have been present on the Earth not just for 100,000 years or less (the orthodox view), but for millions of years.
But how did Man come to evolve? The story of human evolution may be stretched to as far back as over 10 million year ago during the late Miocene period with the discovery of three broad groups of Hominoid, a category to which both modern apes and humans belong. These groups are the Dryomorphs, Pliomorphs, and Ramamorphs. Of the three groups, it is in the latest, the apelike Ramamorphs, that the beginnings of Man’s evolution can be traced, making Ramamorphs excellent ancestors for Man. According to anthropologists William A. Haviland, this view that humans evolved from Ramamorphs is accounted by two findings: the primate’s capability of arm movements and molecular similarities as well as differences between the two species (Haviland, 2000:144). Some of the Ramamorphs were already bipedal and were seen still roaming around Earth until eight million years ago.
But, according to other scholars, they still exhibited primitive characteristics to be considered humans. This observation, however, is not final since, as Haviland maintains, “existing evidence allows the hypothesis that apes and humans separated during the late Miocene, and some fossils, particularly the smaller African Ramamorphs, do possess traits associated with humans” (ibid, 148). Moreover, through genetic research, scientists have today sequenced the genome of the chimpanzee and found that humans are 96 percent similar to the great ape species. Modern science is telling us that Man evolved from the primitive apes. Everything in him—his physical features, traits, personality, psychology, genetic materials, culture—has its origins from the chimpanzees. Primate scientist Frans de Waal of Emory University in Atlanta, Georgia to say:
Darwin wasn't just provocative in saying that we descend from the apes—he didn't go far enough. We are apes in every way, from our long arms and tailless bodies to our habits and temperament."
What is more convincing is the scientific finding that there is hardly any uniqueness to the human genes. Human genes, with the same functions, were found to be identical to genes of other vertebrates, as well as invertebrates, plants, fungi, even yeast. These findings tend to point to the evolutionary view that there is only one source of DNA for all life on Earth. And scientists are able to trace the evolutionary process—how more complex organisms evolved, genetically, from simpler ones, adopting at each stage the genes of a lower life form to create a more complex higher life form—culminating with Homo sapiens, to which we modern Man belongs. Thus, Ramamorphs could be considered as the base, or, if not, near the base, of Man’s evolutionary tree.
From the ramamorph-like creatures came to evolve Ardipithecus ramidus, which emerged in Africa some 4.4 million years ago, but which appeared to be, what anthropologists call, a “side branch in human evolution,” since it did not produced any other species in the human evolutionary tree. The genus that pursues the path of human development is the Australopithecus, which appeared around 4.2 to one million years ago. Though still apelike creatures, they were observed to be “remarkably human from the waist down that had become fully adapted for moving about on the ground on its hind legs in the distinctive human manner.” The earliest members are Australopithecus anamensis, The earliest species of the hominid evolutionary ‘tree’ are Australopithecus anamensis, which emerged from Ardipithecus ramidus, and the species Australopithecus afarensis, to which the celebrated Lucy belongs. Anthropologists say Australopithecus showed marked increase in brain size and already walked fully erect and upright (bipedal), foraging for food in the woods and open spaces. But there was one hitch. As more archeological findings poured in, it was also known that “from the waist up, Australopithecus was still essentially apelike.”
But it was during this time period, around three to 2.5 million years ago, that two evolutionary lines evolved from a species of Australopithecus: one path leading towards extinction; and the other towards the development of modern Man (Relethford, 1997:260). The split in the evolutionary path became evident between one and 2.5 million years ago with the appearance in Africa of Australopithecus robustus, a descendant of Australopithecus aethiopicus, but which became extinct thereafter, and the appearance of another genus—Homo, which pursued an evolutionary that leads to us modern Man. Three species of Homo were discovered. The first one was Homo habilis (known as the “handy or able man”), which was discovered in 1960 and known to exist about 2.5 million years ago. The major distinguishing feature of this new “human” species is its more expanded and reorganized brain structure, compared to that of Australopithecus, accompanied by evolutionary changes in the behavior.
Anthropologists tell us that, although not larger than that of Australopithecus, the brain of the early Homo is “reorganized along more human lines” and because of this development, it has been observed that the evolution of Man by 2.4 million years ago was “proceeding in a direction different from that of Australopithecus” (Haviland, 200:180, 197). Homo habilis continued to scavenge for food using tools made out of stone and bones that were used for cutting carcasses and meat. Other major developments discovered include the use of shelter, manufacture of tools, and marked coordination and teamwork in their foraging and hunting activities. There are indications that shelters, some anthropologists suggest, are used as central or home bases where scavenged meat of dead animals as well as foraged fruits and vegetations were brought together for quick processing and distribution to the members of the hunting band.
The second family to appear under the genus Homo was the Homo erectus, which appeared by 1.8 million years ago and survived until about 400,000 years ago. Its fossil remains have been found at several sites and localities in Africa and Europe in the West to Southeast Asia (Java Man), India, and China (Peking Man) in the East. This time, the new species exhibited a larger brain than any of its ancestors; its cranial capacity and features are comparable to that of modern Man. Inside its brain case are signs of near-modern development, especially in the speech area. Because of this, says Paleoanthropologists Milfred H. Wolpoff et al. (1980), in their work Paleontology (New York: Alfred A. Knopf), “there is every reason to believe that Homo erectus was capable of human vocal language,” a capability which they must have used to the full during hunting expeditions. This time, Homo erectus was known to be definitely a hunter, no longer dependent on the carcasses of dead animals. Most famous among the fossil remains of Homo erectus are the “China” or “Peking Man,” “Java Man,” “African Man,” and the “European Man.” As hunters, they showed great signs to adapt to their environment.
These different types of human species were skilled hunters using more sophisticated and diverse stone tool technology for different purposes. They also learned to use fire for cooking, warmth, and even for hunting animals. Hunting expeditions also became better organization and teamwork suggesting that a lot of planning may have been done before the actual game commenced. To all intents and purposes, Homo erectus, maintain Anthropologists Harry Nelson and Robert Jurmain, “should be called human” already (1979:458). Although Homo erectus appeared as early as 1.8 million years ago, their most rapid development was dated during the Middle Pleistocene, a zoologic epoch which spans a period ranging from 700,000 to 125,000 years ago. Culturally, this corresponds to the middle Paleolithic period, circa between 166,000 and 40,000 years ago. With the appearance of Homo erectus, the process of hominization became evidently definite.
Then, a third family of the genus Homo appeared in the evolutionary process very rapidly about 125,000 years ago; this was the Homo sapiens, known to be the descendants of Homo erectus. The first to be known is the early or “archaic” Homo sapiens, the most famous of which are the Neandertals. Their fossils were discovered at various sites in Europe, Africa, Java, and China and showed that they lived through until 40,000 years ago. This time, the brain size shows a clear size that is larger than its predecessors. Appearing during the ice age of the Pleistocene epoch, the Neandertals exhibited great ability to survive in these harsh conditions. Hunting, the use of fire, and shelter continue to show their ability to adapt to external conditions. Archeological evidence shows that the Neandertals already engaged in large hunting games that included bears, mammoths, and rhinoceroses and that deliberate planning, better logistical organization, much improved hunting tools, and the use of communications during large hunting expeditions. Even new hunting strategies, like the use of deep ravines for cliff-fall hunting, began to be discovered among Neandertals. Anthropologist John H. Relethford maintains that Neandertals “may have been capable of symbolic thought, perhaps even holding beliefs in the supernatural” (1997:321). They were said to be the first hominids to bury their dead, where burial rites may have been performed, as evidenced by the presence of tools, food, and flowers in carefully arranged graves. Discovery of objects carved on stones and ivory shows that Neandertals may have designed these engraved objects for purely symbolic purposes (Haviland, 2000:236).
What is significant about this period is that it was during this time, the time when Neandertals appeared on earth, that when three modern biochemists Allan Wilson, Mark Stoneking, and Rebecca Cann University of California used mitochondrial DNA to reconstruct family trees, they found out that all living humans descended from a common maternal ancestor, “Eve,” who lived 200,000 years ago ((Haviland, 2000:240-241). If this finding can be further corroborated this would make this one particular species the sure beginning of Man’s lineage. In spite of this finding, Neandertals were considered a side branch ensuing from the evolutionary flow of Homo erectus, apparently disappearing suddenly all together between 30,000 and 40,000 years ago. This “sudden disappearance” might change when anthropologists will be able to discover new finds between 35,000 and 40,000 years ago, a period known among anthropologists as “fossil-less years.” Most anthropologists, however does not discount the possibility of gene exchange between Neandertals and the emerging Homo sapiens sapiens.
The world witnessed the appearance of “modern” Homo sapiens in the Upper Paleolitic era, around 30,000 years ago, with the discovery in 1868 of five human remains in Cro-Magnons in Southern France. Similar finds were also unearthed in other areas like Africa, Europe, North Borneo, Java, and Australia, whose remains dated to 30,000 and even to 10,000 years ago. While anthropologists believe that modern Homo sapiens evolved from archaic H. sapiens, they are still uncertain as to the exact nature of this evolution (Relethford, 1997:325). For example, where and when did the transition occur exactly?
Physically, anthropologists maintain that there is no significant difference of the brain size and structure of Neandertals and Cro-Magnons. Analysis of the stone tools used indicates that Cro-Magnons lived a culture reflective that of the period during the Middle Paleolithic. One recalls that stone tool conditions of Homo habilis and Homo erectus were those of the Lower Paleolithic epoch. Both archaic and modern Homo sapiens live in caves, rock shelters, and open spaces. A period of “creative explosion” was also attributed to the time when modern Homo sapiens dominate the world. As with the Neandertals, Cro-Magnons also exhibited forms of symbolic behavior, as evidenced in several cave arts dating back over 30,000 years ago. They also moved into other areas reaching Australia and other parts of Asia.
But the exact nature of how and where the Neandertals evolved into Cro-Magnons is still not certain. One theory advanced is that the transition from archaic to modern Homo sapiens took place in Africa. Another theory argues that the evolution from “archaic” to “modern” Homo sapiens took place simultaneously in several places displaying similar developments and continuity over time.
The Cro-Magnons are considered vastly superior to the Neandertals—physically, intellectually, and technologically—the men standing six-foot tool on the average. Their appearance upon the Earth was observed to be unknown, sudden, and unexpected. As Astrobiologist Joseph Rhawn observed, while both Neandertals and Cro-Magnons coexisted for over 20,000 years, the origins of the latter is not completely known since there are no transitional forms that link between the two. In fact, the Neandertals were known to be of completely different race both physically and genetically, and when they, after 400,000 years of history, simply vanished from the surface of the Earth around 29,000 years ago, their genetic heritage and all the traces of their DNA were also wiped out (Ovchinnikov, I.V. et al. 2000. Nature 404, 490-493, as noted by Rhawn Joseph, op. cit., p. 63). It is clear from all this that “Neandertals,” as Joseph maintains, “did not evolve into Cro-Magnons” and the Neandertals, 2001:63).
In any case, science’s search for Man’s ancestral lineage ends with the “modern” Homo sapiens, and the issue of at what particular place and time did Man really enter is still fraught with uncertainties. Did Man appear already in the form of Ramamorphs? Australopithecus? Homo habilis? Homo erectus? Or, did Man emerge as “archaic” Homo sapiens (Neandertal) or “modern” Homo sapiens (Cro-Magnon)? Anthropologists themselves are uncertain. Says one biological anthropologist: “if we mean similarity to Modern Man, then, humans must have appeared more than 100,000 yrs ago. If we include all the fossils placed in our species—old- or modern-looking, Man could have emerged around 400,000 yrs ago. But if we focus on all members of our genus (Homo), then, Man could be 2.5 million years old” (John Relethford 1997).
On the other hand, if genetic research will be given weight, then, Man appeared 16 million years ago as Ramamorphs, considering that 96 to 99 percent of his genes are no different with those of the modern apes. But genetic research can be misleading too. One strong theory advanced in the evolution of Man is that biologically, through genetic research, modern humans descended from a common maternal ancestor “Eve” who lived during this period 200,000 years ago. As we said earlier, this was the period of the Neandertals, making this one particular species the sure beginning of Man’s bloodline or lineage. The issue is far from settled.