Re: Adaptive Niche of Archaic Humans

J. Moore (
Wed, 14 Jun 95 17:33:00 -0500

Na> >be indisputably *us* (*Homo sapiens sapiens*) *only* gathered and
Na> >hunted. So I don't see how you'd test this idea that earlier types
Na> >were incapable of activities that even later types didn't pick up for
Na> >tens of thousands of years. Mind you, it seems likely, but how would
Na> >you tell?

Na> Admittedly it's tough to test the abilities of people no longer extant,
Na> but isn't a hundred thousand year long stone tool tradition, with
Na> minimal innovation and only moderate regional variation, evidence in
Na> itself that archaics were inherently less creative than modern humans? I
Na> think an argument could be made that paleolithic moderns and more recent
Na> traditional peoples went about the business of hunting and gathering in
Na> a much more flexible and innovative way than did H. erectus and archaic
Na> H. sapiens.

I would agree that this is definitely true for more recent and modern
traditional peoples, and very probably true for early H.s.s. (and
probably Neandertals as well), but that isn't quite the question you
seemed to be asking. That was a two-pronged question (and a good one,
I think) of "were they incapable of doing more than G&H?" and "was their
cultural life as stagnant as their surviving tool kit would indicate?"

Na> effective ways. We can't know for certain that archaics lacked the
Na> ability to develop new tools and the customs that go with them, but it
Na> seems they never did.
[numerous good examples of modern G&Hers and their methods deleted]

There are a number of things that material culture, tools, artifacts,
and bones, can't tell us, not to mention a number of potential and even
likely tools and artifacts that might not survive. In the realm of
likely tools, most anything made of wood might be either hard to find or
hard to identify from that early, and this could include digging sticks,
as just one example, which might have been developed and elaborated to
suit local plants and small animals without leaving a trace. Other
possibilities, perhaps less likely, would be skins, and bark and other
plant materials, used as containers or even clothing. There could have
been some dramatic and clever things going on in that field -- or there
could be none, or next to none. Same goes for innovative cooking and
food preparation, a potentially useful or even critical set of
innovations for survival in new areas with unknown food sources.
Another related area would be lore about foods, and the ability to make
connections about new things from old ("hey, that looks like ___, and
___ was [tasty/poisonous/kept us alive even though it tasted like dog
doo]"). Point is, we wouldn't know from the surviving tool kits.

In the realm of things that these things might not tell us, there's a
huge potential realm of increasingly sophisticated communication and
thought that would be at best difficult to spot at a range of several
hundred thousand years. What were they thinking about the weather, the
seasons, the stars? Maybe no more than "it's cold!", but maybe a lot
more. How would we spot that? Why would we expect it to show up in
stone or bone tools? Perhaps in living conditions? It may be an
unanswerable question, or it may be that we don't know how to
investigate it. And it may be that, if we did know how to accurately
investigate it, we'd find that nothing much was going on in those areas
of human experience at the time.

Na> No doubt archaics possessed considerable abilities to deal with varying
Na> conditions (they did, after all, become the earth's most widely
Na> distributed land mammal), but they were everywhere superseded by peoples
Na> of modern type. If a basic difference in adaptive abilities did exist,
Na> wouldn't this be evidence that a speciation event had occurred?
Na> Norman Sides (

It's generally conceded that the diff between erectus and H.s.s. is a
species diff, and archaic sapiens seems to be a pretty classic
transitional. So I agree with your statement.

The only real quibbles I'd have with your above statement
are of the semantic and/or [methodological?] nature, but they don't
change what seems to be your intended meaning. Those would be that
"adaptive abilities" sounds too much like it's talking about an ability
to physically adapt, given the subject matter and the connotation of
"adaptive" in evolution; and the same sort of problem with the commonly
used "event" as carrying, in most peoples' minds, the connotation of a
specific "thing" or "instant" when the change happened. These are
quibbles, as I mentioned, but of course this sort of thing has plagued
talk of evolution ever since Charles Darwin had to go on and on about
the slow nature of evolution (in contrast to creation's instantaneous
timing) when he obviously also thought it sometimes took place rather
quickly in geological time. Maybe no one else has these same quibbles,
but I just wanted to mention them, as I think it's always good if we can
fine-tune our language on the subject to make it less subject, whenever
possible, to potential misinterpretation. With human evolution this is
especially difficult because of the general appeal of the subject to a
wide audience.

Jim Moore (

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