potpouri on fossil man

Glenn Morton (grmorton@waymark.net)
Sat, 11 Apr 1998 10:17:48 -0500

I have just learned a few things today about fossil man that I wish I had
known several months ago. The new data is quite interesting at least to one
who is excited about anthropology.

One of the hallmarks of mankind is his use of fire. No animal uses or
controls fire. Traditionally, mankind's use and control of fire was believed
to have only started only after 500,000 years BP. But starting in the
1980's discoveries at Chesowanja, Kenya at Swartkrans, South Africa and
other sites started showing signs of the use of fire much earlier. Today I
ran into the a list of sites which show signs of fire in Gowlett (1993, p.
56). Using this as a starting point, I started rumaging around on the
internet and compiled the following list of sites which show the use of fire.

Vertesszollos, Hungary 166,000- 250,000
Terra Amata, France 300,000- 375,000
Olorgesailie, Kenya 375,000- 460,000
l'Escale, France 450,000- 550,000
Zhoukoudian, China 450,000- 550,000
Gadeb,Ethiopia 1,125,000-1,200,000
Yuanmou, China 1,210,000-1,300,000
Karari, ? 1,375,000-1,460,000
Chesowanja, Kenya 1,375,000-1,460,000
Swarkrans, South Africa 1,000,000-1,600,000

At Chesowanja, Kenya, there is evidence of the control of fire in the form
of a hearth, built by those ancient men (John Scarry,
http://www.unc.edu/courses/anth100/acheulia.htm; C. K. Brain and A. Sillen,
1998, p. 464-465)

Why is this important? Because as Gowlett (1993, p. 57) says,

"If the use of fire goes back to the Lower Pleistocene (over 1 million
years), as seems likely, it can be argued that our ancestors had already
achieved a basically human character: but this view will be hotly debated for
some time to come."

and (Gowlett, 1993, p. 57)

"Why then is there hostility to the idea of early fire among some
archaeologists? One view is that fire use represents a considerable mental
advance over stone tool manufacture, and that it must therefore be expected at
a later stage. Holders of this opinion are unwilling to postulate the use of
fire at any time earlier than is actually proven. But it seems likely that
early humans beings who were skilled in stone tool manufacture and use would
have a similar familiarity with wood (although it is never preserved.)."

One other thing came out of my readings with Gowlett. In addition to the
evidence for mental advancement in the form of the control of fire, there is
evidence that I was unaware of for another Pre-one million year old hut.
Gowlett (1993, p. 58) states,

"Ethiopia has a major share of early sites for, in addition to Hadar, there
are other important sequences at Melka Konture, and Gadeb. Melka Konture has
a number of different levels ranging from Developed Oldowan through to Late
Acheulean. On one site, aged about 1.5 million years, there are indications
of a cleared area, probably lying within a wind-break, and the excavator, Jean
Chavaillon, suspects that fire was in use."

I started looking again for info on Melka Konture and was able to find only
the following from a web page, but what it says, says bundles about
mankind's abilities in that far off time.

C. R. Gibbs writes in "BLACK INVENTORS: from Africa to America Two Million
Years of Invention and Innovation",

" In the oldest Oldowan level (1.5 million years) at Melka Konture near
Addis Ababa, Jean Chavaillon recently came upon a similar structure. Right in
the middle of an inhabited area strewn with tools, he suddenly uncovered a
round surface about 2.5 meters in diameter, without any tools and raised about
a third of a meter above the surrounding level, with a trough or gutter some
1.8 meters long. A few heaps of stones again suggested the presence of post.
"The construction of dwellings is a revealing step forward. Blessed with a
beneficent climate, the predecessors of genus Homo, the Australopethicines,
either could not or saw no need to build shelters. In their East African
heartland, they had lived primarily in the open resting/settling along river
banks and under shady trees. In southern Africa, they had found and lived in
many caves.
"The building of shelters showed early man and woman taking an extra step
- going beyond what was available or just getting by. These ancient structures
remind us that early humans were evolving, faster, mentally than all of their
fellow creatures. They were learning from their experiences, slowly by trial
and error; and were making things better based on these experiences. They were
learning to conceive, to think and to materially advance the quality of the
lives they led." http://www.erols.com/tdpedu/blkintx.htm

This is not the only claim for a hut from prior to 1 million years ago. Mary
Leakey discovered the possible remains of a hut from even earlier at Olduvai
site DKI. Her son, Richard writes of that find (Leakey, 1989, p. 60-61)

"One of the most interesting but seldom recalled archaeological
traces is of a stone structure at site DK in the lowest strata at
Olduvai. This structure has been interpreted by my mother as the
site of a windbreak or simple hut, where stones were perhaps used
to support a series of branches. There are stones piled
unnaturally one upon another in small heaps, and these were found
in a roughly circular pattern with a diameter of some 12 feet
(3.6 m). In my view, this is certainly a 'man-made' structure
and is of quite special significance to our understanding of our
ancestors as far back as 1.8 Ma."

Here is a list of the reported remains of other human-bult huts made by
hominids other than anatomically modern humans.

Site age BP reference

Arcy-sur-Cure 40,000 Gourhan,1989, p. 33
La Baume Peyrards 80,000 Freeman, 1995, p. 84-85
Gotte-du-Lazaret 150,000 Mellars, 1996, p. 281

Terra Amata 350-400,000 Leakey, 1981, p. 124
Bilzingsleben, German 3 huts 300-400,000 Mania and Mania 1994, p.124
Melka Konture 1,500,000 Gowlett, 1993, p. 58
Olduvai, DK1 1,800,000 Leakey, 1989, p. 60-61

One final evidence of modern behavior among at least the Neanderthals was
the practice of head-binding. I was reminded of it among by Gowlett's book.
Some modern cultures tie the heads of infants to boards in order to shape
the skull to some preconceived vision of beauty. Tattersall (1993, p.130)

"There's also other possible evidence of 'modern' behavior
from Shanidar. A couple of crania from the site may have been
artificially deformed by binding the head when the individuals
were young, a practice otherwise unknown except among modern

The flattening of the head was accomplished by binding the baby's head to a
board or series of boards. Native Americans in the Northwestern US
flattened the heads of freemen but not of slaves. In the SE US bags of sand
were sometimes used to alter the shape of the head.(Encylcopedia Brittanica
1982, vol IV, p. 971)

It would appear to me that the ancient hominids were behaving in a quite
'human' fashion.


Brain, C. K., and A. Sillen, "Evidence from the Swartkrans cave for the
earliest use of fire," Nature, 336, Dece. 1, 1988, p. 464-465

Freeman, Leslie, "The Development of Human Culture," in Andrew Sherratt,
editor, Cambridge Encyclopedia of Archaeology, (New York: Cambridge
University Press, 1980)

Gowlett, ~John A. J., Ascent to Civilization, (New York: McGraw-Hill, Inc.
1993), p. 56

C. R. Gibbs, "Black Inventors", http://www.erols.com/tdpedu/blkintx.htm

Gourhan, Andre Leroi, The Hunters of Prehistory, transl. Claire Jacobson,
(New York: Atheneum,1989)

Leakey,Richard E., The Making of Mankind, (New York: E. P. Dutton, 1981)

Leakey, Richard, "Recent Fossil finds From East Africa," in J.R. Durant ed.
Human Origins, (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1989)

Mania, D. and U. Mania and E. Vlcek, "Latest Finds of Skull Remains
of Homo erectus from Bilzingsleben (Thruingia)", Naturwissenschaften,
81(1994), p. 123-127

Mellars, Paul C., The Neanderthal Legacy, (Princeton: University Press,
1996), p. 281

Scarry, John http://www.unc.edu/courses/anth100/acheulia.htm

Tattersall, Ian, The Human Odyssey, (New York: Prentice
Hall, 1993)


Adam, Apes, and Anthropology: Finding the Soul of Fossil Man


Foundation, Fall and Flood