Returning to Atapuerca and human development, there were many sub-branches in the long line of species that culminated in the Homo sapiens. Although now extinct, they nevertheless contributed to our present state. For those interested, herewith a mention of some ancestral subspecies that were influential:
Homo erectus, the upright man, lived between 1.8 million and 300 thousand years ago and its members migrated from Africa into the Middle East and beyond. They left no traces other than bones. Homo Heidelbergensis migrated from Africa to Asia only 600 000 years ago and spread from there to Europe. A branch of the Homo Heidelbergensis in Europe developed into what we term as the Homo Neanderthal. All these became extinct at some stage but during their existence their brain size increased from 900cc to a volume of 1400cc – the average size of our brain today.
We belong to the branch Homo sapiens sapiens, a designation attributed to the human development over approximately the last 40 000 years. The designation Homo sapiens is attributed to our forefathers which were cousins of the Homo Heidelbergensis family which remained in Africa after the first trek out of Africa around 600 000 years ago. The earliest fossils credited to Homo sapiens, found in Ethiopia, are around 200 000 years old and their migration from Africa to the Middle East and beyond appeared to have taken place as late as 70 000 years ago. Only about 43 000 years ago this branch colonized Europe and formed our early society.
Climatologists established that the last ice age commenced around two and a half million years ago. It was not a linear increase, followed by a final melting period. There were periods of greater and lesser accumulation of ice over this time. The last peaking and final meltdown in the northern hemisphere and Europe took place around 23 000 years ago. Today we can find look-alikes of this ice age at the North and South Poles and on high mountain regions. In those days the Atapuerca caves in Spain were close to the southern edge of the icecap and temperatures must have been considerably lower than those I experienced on my walk. This was about the time when the Neanderthals became extinct and, although the harsh climate conditions greatly weakened the population, it was probably the Homo sapiens group that was better able to ‘weather’ the climate and outlive the Neanderthals. On the other hand, they may have developed better weapons and forced their way to dominance, eradicating or maybe absorbing the Neanderthals through marriage.
As recently as around ten thousand years ago farming practices and domestication of animals commenced in the region of Turkey and Iraq. This coincided more or less with the final melting of the ice cap and when we consider that larger human settlements followed around 7000 years ago, we realize that the modern Human has existed for only a very short time. With civilisation being so young, it is no wonder that we are still inexperienced in the use of our brain and matters of life, we still have a lot to learn.
I wonder at what time our brain had sufficiently developed for us to recognize our ‘nakedness’. Did it start with Homo erectus or Homo Heidelbergensis or did it develop only with Homo sapiens? It appears that ever since then we have played the role of the sophisticated Adam and Eve with its related side effects, complications and economic benefits for some. Incidentally, it is said that the fall of Adam and Eve from paradise dates back to around 4000 BC – 6000 years ago, more or less the time when greater societies formed. Maybe a conscious recognition of nakedness commenced then?