Chapter Twenty-nine — The Restless Ape
A Short History of Nearly Everything – by Bill Bryson
Chapter 29 — The Restless Ape
- About 1.5 million years ago, some inventive member of the hominid world did an unexpected thing – he or she used one stone and used it to carefully shape another stone. The ultimate outcome was the creation of a hand-axe. It was the world’s first piece of advanced technology.
- When early humans began to move out of Africa about 100,000 years ago, the took their hand-axes (Acheulean tools) with them. They carried them vast distances.
- It is thought that humans came out of Africa in two waves. The first wave was comprised of Homo erectus, which became Java Man and Peking Man. The second wave was Homo sapiens. This second wave eventually displaced the first wave.
- Scientists have been astonished to find early human bones in Australia, dating back 23,000 to 60,000 years ago. Australia has always been an island, so these early humans must have arrived via the sea.
- Nineteenth-century explorers to New Guinea found remote tribes growing sweet potatoes! Sweet potatoes are native to South America. How did these vegetables get to New Guinea? Scientists have no idea.
- The whole of India has yielded just one ancient human fossil, from about 30,000 years ago.
- Humans dispersed across Eurasia in two waves, Homo erectus and Homo heidelbergensis.
- The first undisputed appearance of Homo sapiens is in the eastern Mediterranean, around modern-day Israel, showing up about 100,000 years ago.
- Neanderthals were tough. For many 1000’s of years they survived conditions that no modern humans could have lived through. They survived blizzards, hurricane-force winds, and temperatures near 50 degrees below zero. Few Neanderthals survived past the age of 30.
- Mitochondrial DNA can survive as a molecular clock. It is passed on only through the female lie, so it doesn’t become scrambled with paternal DNA with each new generation, and it mutates about 20 times faster than normal nuclear DNA, making it easier to detect and follow genetic patterns over time. By tracking rates of mutation, scientists can work out genetic history and relationships of whole groups of people.
- Neanderthal DNA was unlike any DNA found currently on Earth, strongly indicating that there was no genetic connection between Neanderthals and modern humans.
- One scientist has proposed that modern Europeans are descended from no more than a few hundred ancient Africans who left their homeland as recently as 25,000 years ago.
- One Oxford scientist, using mitochondrial DNA studies, claims that all living Europeans can be traced back to just 7 women, whom he called the Daughters of Eve.
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