Early Man IQ: Et Tu, Brute?
Anthropologists are receiving a jolt about the intelligence of early man. Long before the cave paintings showed our forebears exercising art appreciation, new findings suggest they were gifted individuals, not brutes.
The first report was about manufactured beads dated older than 82,000 years. Science Daily said, “The shells are currently at the centre of a debate concerning the origins of modern behaviour in early humans.” For one thing, it’s too early for common ideas that humans did not have “a sophisticated symbolic material culture” that long ago. Another surprise is that these shell beads, found in Morocco, are nearly the same as those found in South Africa dated 72,000 years old. The research team said that “the most striking aspect of the Taforalt discoveries is that identical shell types should appear in two such geographically distant regions.” Indeed some of the beads found at four sites may be older than 110,000 years. The research team leader explained, “These new finds are exciting because they show that bead manufacturing probably arose independently in different cultures and confirms a long suspected pattern that humans with modern symbolic behaviour were present from a very early stage at both ends of the continent, probably as early as 110,000 years ago.”
Another hint of “unknown smarts” in ancient man was announced in National Geographic based on a paper in PNAS1. Researchers studying stone axes noticed that the red ochre around the shaft was not just a decorative feature; it was a kind of superglue. A mixture of red ochre and gum acacia actually bound the axe to the shaft firmly. The problem is that this gives the shaft to anthropological theories that humans were too unsophisticated to make such things. Glue manufacture required harvesting and testing remote ingredients for the best effect. “It was mentally taxing work that would have required humans to account for differences in the chemistry of gum harvested from different trees and in the iron content of ochre from different sites,” the article said. How could they know about pH and iron content? Success must have required a significant amount of goal-directed experimentation. “The finding also suggests the intelligence of Stone Age humans was more akin to that of modern humans than previously thought,” a team member said. “Their technology was a lot more competent than we have given them credit for.”
Update 06/10/2009: Thomas Wynn (U Colorado) tried to explain where the human mind came from and why anatomically modern humans were smart enough to invent a glue to haft their spears supposedly 70,000 years ago:
One [implication] that has held central stage in paleoanthropology for two decades is the problem of modernity. When and how did the modern mind evolve? Most of the focus in this debate has been on the role language [sic] and symbolism but, as Wadley et al. make clear, there is more to modern cognition than language and the use of symbols. Indeed, language has proven to be a particularly intractable topic for archaeologists, a point made cogently by Botha. By focusing on activities that tax reasoning ability and are also visible archaeologically, such as hafting, archaeologists are in a better position to contribute to an understanding of the evolution of the modern mind. In the current example, Wadley et al. have been able to demonstrate that some elements of modern cognition were in place by 70,000 years ago.
Meanwhile, debate still rages about the “Hobbit” bones of miniature people from Ling Bua cave in Indonesia (see 10/24/2004, 10/25/2005, and 08/21/2006). Papers in Nature last week suggested that the tiny people underwent “island dwarfism” by living too long on the isle. Another paper said the foot bones show primitive features. Some are suggesting these were early versions of Homo erectus that migrated out of Africa ahead of the rest, and developed independently on their isolated island The skeletons, however, are dated at 18,000 years old – much younger than their axe-gluing, shell-button-manufacturing kin. Robert Eckhardt, an evolutionary biologist at University of Pennsylvania, isn’t buying the argument that it represents a new species of human. “In science, poor hypotheses identify themselves by needing ad hoc revision after revision,” he remarked. “This is what is happening with increasing visibility in the [descriptions] of ‘Homo floresiensis.’” For an intelligent design perspective on these skeletons, see an article by Robert Deyes on ARN.
1. Wadley, Hodgskiss and Grant, “Implications for complex cognition from the hafting of tools with compound adhesives in the Middle Stone Age, South Africa,” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences USA, published online May 11, 2009, doi: 10.1073/pnas.0900957106.
2. Commentary by Thomas Wynn, “Hafted spears and the archaology of mind,” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences June 8, 2009, doi: 10.1073/pnas.0904369106.
Evolutionary anthropologists throw their dating schemes around with reckless abandon. Step back from the dogma and look at the big picture. They would have you believe that human societies, smart enough to invent superglue and share bead technologies across a continent (unless you buy their line that this represents convergent evolution) were too dumb to invent cities and agriculture for some 100,000 years – an order of magnitude greater than all recorded human history, in which time humans built Sumer and Rome and New York and the Hubble Space Telescope. Once the ridiculousness of their picture sinks in, you see the evolutionary scenario for what it is: a made-up story concocted to keep the Darwinian picture of the emergence of man from apes the dominant religion among scientists. All their head-scratching and controversy and “ad hoc revision after revision” looks comical in that light.