The Study of Early Humans
Presentation of the Hand Chart
…Black strip of cloth 10′ x 1′, the last half inch is red.
…The black is to give the sensorial impression of “nothingness.”
…The scale is 100,000 years per foot.
…The hand holding the stone tool is the approximate time that humans developed tools. The entire length of the strip represents the
…time humans have been on earth (1 million years).
…The red 1/2 inch is recorded history beginning about 4,000 BC.
Roll out the black strip. Say something like…”humans are now learning to walk, finding things,”… “WAIT!” “Something has happened. It took humans all this time to develop tools.” “For a long time, humans continued to develop and change and after a long time, humans developed writing as represented by the small red strip.”
Have discussions with the interested children on the following subjects:
…What does it mean to be human?
…How did the development of the hand influence the development of tool making and writing?
It is not necessary for them to arrive at any specific conclusion, merely to have considered the questions.
Early Humans: First Time Line
…The Prepared Time Line beginning about 500,000 years ago up to 1 AD.
…As much appropriate fossil material as you have.
…As many appropriate illustrations as you have.
Explain that there were earlier hominid examples, but this time lime begins with Homo habilis, “The Toolmakers.” If you met one of these “men” today, you would not think it looked very human. They were only four to four and a half feet tall. They weighed less than 60 pounds. They had low brows and protruding jaws.
But, they did something no other creature had ever done before – they picked up a rock and used it to help with their work. Scientists have found actual examples.
Homo habilis, lived in small groups and one factor in their ability to survive was their ability to work together. They established home bases where they would camp for a while rather than roam.
The picture of the man eating raw meat is to represent the fact that these early hominids did not have fire. They did not have a language with words. They communicated with grunts, screams and meaningful gestures.
· This is a great place to stop and direct a play between two groups of Homo habilis bands. The children must not speak words. They must gesture and grimace while uttering growls, hoots, groans, grunts and screams. The children love to do this! Don’t forget that the dominant males will probably form a defiant protective shield in front of the females, adolescents and children. (Assure the students that they will perform this play with their clothes on. Some may be reluctant as they think they will have to remove all their clothes.)
· Find examples of Homo habilis in pictures by different artists. Have the children discuss the differences and figure out what is speculative and what is known.
· A child can draw or copy scenes.
· Information cards should be available for research. NOTE: Older books will have little or no information of Homo habilis in them.
Homo erectus, “The Upright Man” was short (five feet tall). Their skulls were thicker than modern humans but compared with earlier hominids, their heads and brains were considerably larger and their faces were flatter.
The hand of H. erectus was becoming more dexterous with the pincer grip of thumb and fingers supplanting the power grip of H. habilis. Because of this, they were able to fashion large hand axes that functioned as cleavers.
Perhaps the greatest achievement of these people was their use of fire, which may have been related to the ice age. With fire, they were able to cook wooden spear points to harden them enough to jab into much larger animals with much tougher skin. Fire also served to keep the people warm night and day and to keep predators away at night.
Although these people originated in Africa, they could carry fire with them and were able to move into the temperate regions of the world including China and Germany. [very important NOTE: First person to discover the remains of H. erectus was a Dutch man named Eugene Dubois.]
H. erectus hunted in larger groups and used fire to drive animals into swamps or off cliffs. By cooking their food, their jaw muscles and teeth were able to diminish in size, allowing the brain size to increase.
While the vocal apparatus of H. erectus would not allow much vocalization, it is possible that a few sounds were used to “name” individuals or objects (NOUNS).
H. erectus built the first shelters recognized as such. There is no evidence that they made clothing, but those living in the temperate climates probably wore animal skin capes during the winter at least.Follow up:
· Similar to that for Homo habilis.
· Using a carefully tended briquette grill outside, the children can harden wooden points. Have the children scrape the bark from freshly cut saplings. The toasting must be done carefully so that no charcoal (which is soft and crumbly) forms. If it does, use it with your history of writing activity!
· You may be able to find a local archeologist or Native American who is adept at chipping flint tools. A visit from such a person is always a treat for everybody.
Homo neanderthalensis, take their name from the little valley in Germany where they were discovered. They were very powerful with strong muscles and thick bones. It is easy to understand why scientists mistook them for stooped, hulking brutes with a vacant expression. We now know that this is false, but this mistaken image of a “caveman” lingered for a long time – even into today in some people’s minds.
Their skulls were low in front with a heavy ridge of bone above their eyes. They barely had any chin at all. They had a brain capacity greater than modern humans. This does not mean they were smarter than we are. Intelligence depends on size and organization of the brain. Studies show that their vision was probably better than ours, but their language was not as developed and they couldn’t think ahead as well as we do.
The Neanderthals were great hunters. They hunted large animals such as mammoth and woolly rhinoceros with little more than fire hardened wooden spears. There is no evidence that they used stone spear points, but they did chip stone scrappers off flint cores.
Neanderthals buried their dead, including small children, with food and tools, probably indicating some kind of religion. This practice has contributed to the numerous skeletons in museums and to a greater knowledge of the customs of the Neanderthal. There is evidence that they cared for sick and elderly members of their clans. They used animal skins as clothes and may even have used certain plants for medicine. They continued the tradition of building simple shelters. There are indications of huts made from saplings built inside some of the European cave sites.
About 30,000 years ago, the Neanderthals died off and the cause remains a mystery, but we have a clear idea of what came next, the Cro-Magnons.
Similar to those after the other early hominids. Just adjust your information and give it a go!
Over 100,000 years ago, a new line of humans began to develop. They were called Homo sapiens, “the wise men.” These people were nicknamed Cro-Magnons after the name of the place where they were first discovered. About 30,000 years ago, the Neanderthals died out and left the Cro-Magnons as the only kind of human on earth. Today all humans, even you, belong to this species.
The Cro-Magnons had brains larger than ours today. They were taller and more slender than the Neanderthals. Their faces looked much the same as ours. If you were to meet a Cro-Magnon dressed in a business suit, you would probably not notice anything strange about them.
They were hunters, artists, dreamers, seekers and doers. They invented music (Scientists have found a flute dating from 32,000 years ago.), art (found in Altamira and Lascaux caves dating from about 17,000 years ago) and language.
The more people know, the faster changes occur. In the Paleolithic, it sometimes took 100,000+ years for a new way of making tools to develop. As time went on, our prehistoric ancestors learned to use fire, the wheel and the bow and arrow. The pace of change grew faster. This is still happening today. Our technology may change more in one year than did that of our prehistoric ancestors in a thousand centuries (1,000,000 years).
Prehuman and early human individuals lived for over 3 million years at the technological level characterized as the Lower Old Stone Age. The Upper Old Stone Age will span only 30,000 years, or 6 inches on our time line. In the last two inches are contained the Middle Stone Age, the New Stone Age, the Copper and Bronze Ages and our own Modern Age.
Obviously it is time to expand the scale of the time line so we can study these last important stages in greater detail. Unroll the Second Time Line after demonstrating the expansion of an elastic between your hands. NOTE: This time line is 9-12 material and is usually not given in detail at 6-9.
The Human Question. Each species has its own special survival tools, for example: fangs, claws, speed, the ability to hide or the ability to withstand drought. Our tools are our hands and our brains. With these tools, we have the power to choose to shape the world around us. We are the only creature that has ever had that choice. The great questions that arise from this are
· How will we shape the world?
· Will we make it better, or will we destroy it?