6.I: Introduction & Geological / Archaeological Terms

For the last few million years, global climate has been characterized by a series of ice ages.  Section II of this chapter discusses the overall causes and effects of these ice ages.  For our purposes, the most important consequence was the evolution of what we now call the Homo genusearly humans.  The paleontological and archaeological record of that evolution – the “hard” data of bones and stones – is the subject of Section III. 

Chapter 7 was the point of departure for the hominin clade from the rest of the great apes.  The commonalities of humans with other apes were discussed in Chapter 7.  Chapter 6 focuses on the qualities that set humans apart from the other great apes.  These differences are harder to date but are reserved for this chapter as a practical matter.  Aside from skeletal anatomy, Section IV discusses the major soft-tissue and behavioral traits that set the hominins and humans apart from chimpanzees.

The timeline below shows the preferred technical terms associated with the million-year time scale.  Geologists have numerous names for the ice ages, including the Quaternary Period, which takes us up to the present and even the future if the cycle of ice ages continues.  The Pleistocene Epoch includes all of the past Quaternary except the present interglacial thaw.  

Archaeology is the study of human artifacts.  Archaeologists use their own timeline separately from geologists.  Chapter 6 coincides almost perfectly with what archaeologists call the lower Paleolithic, also known as the “Early Stone Age” in Africa.  This age encompasses the three oldest specific embodiments or “industries” of stone technology.  Those few stone tools known from 3 MYA are called Lomekwian.  The tools in use 2 MYA belong to the Oldowan Industry, and those from 1 MYA fall into the Acheulean Industry.  Not all scientists agree that these classifications are meaningful, 1 but they are the preferred archaeological terms for now. 

   Click here for image attributions. 2


Continue to Section 6.II:  The Ice Ages

  1. John Shea, Stone Tools in Human Evolution, Cambridge University Press (2017).
  2. Ice ages image: Wannapik Studio, https://www.wannapik.com/vectors/6500.  Nose icon by Rachel Healey, https://thenounproject.com/term/nose/10826/ .  Hand image by Furfur / CC BY-SA (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0), https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Hand_drawing.png . Campfire icon by Clker-Free-Vector-Images, https://pixabay.com/vectors/campfire-fire-logs-burning-wood-295095/. Oldowan image by José-Manuel Benito Álvarez / CC BY-SA (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.5), https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Retoque_denticulado.png. Acheulean image by Locutus Borg / Public domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Hand_axe_spanish.gif. Hunter icon by OpenClipArt-Vectors, https://pixabay.com/vectors/lance-javelin-throw-shaft-throwing-150317/.  All accessed, saved, and archived September, 2020.
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