History/Origins/Future of Energy,
Matter, Space, Time, and Life (6 of 7)
From ~1.8 Million Years Ago
to ~32,000 Years Ago

(updated August 16, 2009)

Years Ago



1.8 million ....

Homo erectus
(1.8 million to 300,000 years ago)

Homo erectus, unlike H. habilis and all of the Australo-
pithecus species, ranged far beyond Africa. Some scientists
have split H. erectus into three separate species, based on
the geographic region in which specimens have been found:
H. ergaster (Africa), H. erectus (Asia), and H. heidelber-
gensis (Europe). Homo heidelbergensis specimens are also
sometimes classified as archaic H. sapiens.

Generally, H. erectus (inclusive) is characterized by large
molars, an unpronounced chin, heavy brow ridges, and a
long, low skull, relative to modern Homo sapiens. The skel-
eton of H. erectus was heavier, or "more robust," than the
average modern human skeleton. Body proportions vary
greatly from individual to individual. "Turkana Boy" was
tall and slender, like modern humans from the same area,
while the few limb bones found of "Peking Man" indicate
a shorter, sturdier build:

Australopithecus robustus
(1.8 to 1.5 million years ago)

Australopithecus robustus possesses a combination of
primitive and derived physical traits. While its brain size
is much like that of A. afarensis, other characteristics are
quite different.

Specimens of this species have massive flat or concave
faces. The front teeth of A. robustus are small relative to
the species' massive grinding teeth and thickly enameled
molars and premolars. Most A. robustus specimens also
have sagittal crests (large ridges of bone running along
the top of their skulls), which indicate powerful chewing
muscles used for grinding tough foods.

Skeletal remains identified as belonging to A. robustus
indicate that males and females differed markedly in body
size, with males standing on average 4 feet 4 inches tall
and weighing about 92 pounds and females standing 3 feet
7 inches tall and weighing 71 pounds.

Modified bones found alongside A. robustus skeletons
suggest members of the species may have used tools to
help them access buried food. A. robustus probably
inhabited woodland and savanna habitats where they
foraged for foods like roots, nuts, and possibly insects:

(5 of 10) Walking With Cavemen
"... 1.8 & 1.6 million years ago. - East Africa

The omnivorous Homo habilis are an intelligent adaptible
omnivore. Homo habilis have become smart by eating
carrion and bone marrow among other things, and evolv-
ing a basic social behavior ... Also viewed, a Homo
ergaster skull from 1.6 million years ago ..."

~1.7 million ....

Hominids in Europe - Skulls probably represent
first populations to migrate from Africa - Homo
ergaster - falls between H. habilis and H. erectus.
These partial human-like skulls were found in
the former Soviet Republic of Georgia, dated at
1.7 million years, making them the oldest human
ancestral fossils ever found outside of Africa:

~1.6 million

assive volcanic eruption at Valles Caldera,
New Mexico:

(6 of 10) Walking With Cavemen
"... 1.6 million years B.C. - East Africa

Homo ergaster is depicted as the first creature to master
the art of tracking. This was made possible because their
diet has grown increasingly more carnivorous, and the
nutrients in meat made them even smarter than Homo
habilis of the previous episode.

They also begin to form into tribal societies, with genuine
bonds between their men and women, though violence is
still occurring. Homo ergaster spreads into Asia, becom-
ing Homo erectus and encountering the enormous herbiv-
orous ape Gigantopithecus ..."

~1.5 million ....

The Acheulean tool industry first appeared around
1.5 million years ago in East-Central Africa, associated
with Homo ergaster and western Homo erectus:

Earliest evidence of the use of fire, at Chesowanja,
Kenya and Swartkrans (South Africa):

~1 million

Proliferation of Homo erectus, including the spread
into many areas of Asia and Europe; beginning of
the modern (Pleistocene) Ice Age.

Walking With Beasts -- Saber Tooth
"... Filming Location: Brazil

1,000,000 years ago — Early Pleistocene — Paraguay

[featured in this episode]
  • since South America had drifted apart from Antarctica 30 million
    years ago, many unique mammals had evolved, including the
    Doedicurus, an armored armadillo-like mammal with a cannon
    ball-sized spiked club on its tail; the Macrauchenia, a camel-like
    mammal with a long trunk; and the Megatherium, a massive ground-
    dwelling sloth
  • before the continents of South America and North America collided,
    a 10-foot-tall predatory bird called Phorusrhacos had reigned as top
    predator. ... the great cats, migrating from the north, soon displaced
    them as top predators
  • the Smilodon cats hunt down Macrauchenia and try to protect the
    young from the two brothers (in vain)
  • Hippidion (in book, identified as a small Horse)

~800,000 ....

Earliest evidence thus far of sea-faring, in Bali, by
Homo erectus:

(7 of 10) Walking With Cavemen
"... 1.6 million years ago (Homo ergaster) - East Africa
& 800,000 years ago (Homo erectus) - Asia

Homo erectus confronts Gigantopithecus.

~760,000 ....

Long Valley, California
"Second only to Yellowstone in North America is
the Long Valley caldera, in east-central California.
The 200-square-mile caldera is just south of Mono
Lake, near the Nevada state line. The biggest erup-
tion from Long Valley was 760,000 years ago, which
unleashed 2,000 to 3,000 times as much lava and
ash as Mount St. Helens, after which the caldera
floor dropped about a mile, according to the U.S.
Geological Survey. Some of the ash reached as far
east as Nebraska.

~640,000 ....

The last eruption in the Yellowstone Park area of
America occurred at this time, resulting in massive
volcanic flood basalt flows, covering a large area
of the present-day northwest United States . This
is one of the largest supervolcanoes in the world.
Scientists have revealed that it has been on a regular
eruption cycle of 600,000 years, so it is long overdue:

America's Explosive Park
"... A relatively close-to-the-surface magma chamber — as
close as 5 miles underground in some spots — fuels thousands
of spewing geysers, hissing steam vents, gurgling mud pots and
steaming hot springs that help make Yellowstone such an other-
worldly and popular tourist attraction, with 3 million summer

Molten rock and gas in a chamber near the Earth's surface is
similarly present below "traditional" cone-shaped active vol-
canoes, like Mount St. Helens in Washington state. But there
are differences. Huge differences.

The crater atop Mount St. Helens is about 2 square miles. The
Yellowstone "caldera" — a depression in the Earth equivalent
to a crater top — is some 1,500 square miles.

The 1980 Mount St. Helens eruption blew 1,300 vertical feet
off the mountain, sent an eruption column 80,000 feet high in 15
minutes, ejected 1.4 billion cubic yards of ash detectable over
22,000 square miles, and killed 57 people.

But the last major eruption at Yellowstone, some 640,000 years
ago, ejected 8,000 times the ash and lava of Mount St. Helens.

And that wasn't even the largest eruption in Yellowstone's pre-
historic past. ..."

This cross-section illustration from the USGS shows one depiction of the massive, deep magma chamber that underlies Yellowstone.

Yellowstone Super Volcano Alert - History Channel Special


Homo heidelbergensis
(600,000 to 100,000 years ago)

The skulls of this species share features with both Homo
erectus and anatomically modern Homo sapiens. The
archaic H. heidelbergensis brain was larger than H. erectus
and smaller than most modern humans, and the skull is
more rounded than in H. erectus. The skeleton and teeth
are usually smaller than in H. erectus, but larger than in
modern humans. Many still have large brow ridges and
receding foreheads and chins. There is no clear dividing
line between late H. erectus and H. heidelbergensis, so
many fossils between 500,000 and 200,000 years ago
are difficult to classify as one or the other:

~500,000 ....

(8 of 10) Walking With Cavemen
"... 500,000 & 140,000 years ago -- Europe

500,000 years ago, Homo heidelbergensis is shown as
intelligent and sensitive and as not yet creating fantasies
about a supposed afterlife (i.e., not yet burying their dead).

140,000 years ago, Homo neanderthalensis is battling ice
age conditions in Europe.

~400,000 ....

Recent findings indicate mitochondrial DNA research
might place the common ancestor of modern humans
approximate to this time period:


Possibly the oldest known human structure, a hut,
is found at Terra Amata, France.

~250,000 ....

Homo neanderthalensis
(250,000 to 30,000 years ago)

Like H. erectus, H. neanderthalensis had a protruding jaw,
receding forehead, and weak chin. The average Neanderthal
brain was slightly larger than that of modern humans, but this
is probably correlated with larger body size in general. The
mid-facial area of Neanderthals protruded much more than
the same area in H. erectus or H. sapiens and may have
been an adaptation to cold. Indeed, Neanderthals lived
mostly in cold climates.

Their short, stocky bodies are similar in proportion to those
of modern cold-adapted peoples; men averaged about
5 feet 6 inches tall. Neanderthal bones are thick and heavy
and show signs of powerful muscle attachments. Neander-
thals most likely would have been extraordinarily strong
by modern standards, and their skeletons show that they
endured brutally hard lives. They are found throughout
Europe and the Middle East. Western European Neander-
thals usually have a more robust form, and are considered
"classic Neanderthals."

Some scientists consider Homo neanderthalensis to be
a subspecies of Homo sapiens, rather than a species unto

Neanderthals 'distinct from us'
"... Scientists studying the DNA of Neanderthals say they can
find no evidence that this ancient species ever interbred with
modern humans. ..."

~200,000 ....

The Mousterian industry appeared around 200,000
years ago and persisted until about 40,000 years ago,
in much the same areas of Europe, the Near East and
Africa where Acheulean tools appear:

First language gene discovered
"... Scientists think they have found the first of many genes
that gave humans speech. Without it, language and human
culture may never have developed.

Key changes to a gene in the last 200,000 years of human
evolution appear to be the driving force.

The gene, FOXP2, was the first definitively linked with
human language. ... Changes to two single letters of the
DNA code arose in the last 200,000 years of human
evolution. They eventually spread throughout the human
population along with our unique capacity for speech. ..."

~164,000 ....

Early Modern Humans Used Fire To Engineer Tools
From Stone; Complex Cognition Older Than 72,000
"... We show that early modern humans at 72,000 years
ago, and perhaps as early as 164,000 years ago in coastal
South Africa, were using carefully controlled hearths in a
complex process to heat stone and change its properties,
the process known as heat treatment ... Heat treatment
technology begins with a genius moment – someone dis-
covers that heating stone makes it easier to flake ...

... There is no consensus as to when modern human behav-
ior appears, but by 70,000 years ago there is good evidence
for symbolic behavior ... some time around 50,000 to 60,000
years ago, these modern humans left the warm confines of
Africa and penetrated into the colder glacial environment
of Europe and Asia, where they encountered Neanderthals.
"By 35,000 years ago these Neanderthal populations were
mostly extinct, and modern humans dominated the land from
Spain to China to Australia ...

... The command of fire, documented by our study of heat
treatment, provides us with a potential explanation for the
rapid migration of these Africans across glacial Eurasia
 – they were masters of fire and heat and stone, a crucial
advantage as these tropical people penetrated the cold
lands of the Neanderthal ...

~160,000 ....

Herto skulls discovery: Their mortuary practices may
represent the earliest evidence of modern human sophistication (cover image by Nature)

Three fossilised skulls unearthed in Ethiopia are said by
scientists to be among the most important discoveries
ever made in the search for the origin of humans. ... The
crania of two adults and a child, all dated to be around
160,000 years old, were pulled out of sediments near
a village called Herto in the Afar region in the east of the
country. They are described as the oldest known fossils
of modern humans, or Homo sapiens:

The afore-mentioned discovery occurred after the
following reference which uses a more recent date
for Homo sapiens:

Homo sapiens
(100,000 years ago to present)

The modern form of Homo sapiens first appeared about
100,000 years ago. This species is distinguished by large
brain size, a forehead that rises sharply, eyebrow ridges
that are very small, a prominent chin, and lighter bone
structure than H. heidelbergensis.

Even in those 100,000 years, anatomical trends toward
smaller molars and decreased bone mass can be seen in
the Homo sapiens fossil record. For example, contem-
porary humans in Europe and Asia have bones that are
20 to 30 percent thinner and lighter than those of upper
Paleolithic humans dating from about 30,000 years ago.

About 40,000 years ago, with the appearance of the Cro-
Magnon culture, tools became markedly more sophisti-
cated, incorporating a wider variety of raw materials such
as bone and antler. They also included new implements
for making clothing, engravings, and sculptures. Fine art-
work, in the form of decorated tools, beads, ivory carv-
ings of humans and animals, clay figurines, musical instru-
ments, and cave paintings, appeared over the next 20,000

~150,000 to ~140,000 ....

(9 & 10 of 10) Walking With Cavemen
"... 140,000 years ago -- Europe (Homo neanderthalensis)

... life of a Homo neanderthalensis clan, how they lived and
hunted, including the mighty mammoth during the latest Ice
age ...

150,000 years ago -- Africa (Homo sapiens)

"Follows the trek of Homo sapiens from battling drought in
Africa, to spreading across the planet, to developing art in
European caves. ..."

~90,000 ....

The Hominid Brain - technological, abstract and
computational thinking seems to arise in the parietal
lobe, and this is the area of greatest relative difference
between the two outlines (Homo sapiens compared
to Homo erectus). We might associate this parietal
expansion with the appearance of remarkably
diverse and refined tool cultures about 90,000
years ago:

~87,000 ....

Acheulean culture as revealed in Shanidar Cave
(base) in Iraq.

~85,000 ....

Early knives.

~80,000 ....

Neanderthals dominate Europe; stone lamps
fueled by animal fat; bone tools used in the
Congo; earliest evidence of musical instruments.

~75,000 ....

Anatomically modern humans inhabit China and
southeast Asia.

~74,000 ....

The last supervolcano to erupt was Toba 74,000 years
ago in Sumatra. Ten thousands times bigger than Mt St
Helens, it created a global catastrophe dramatically affecting
life on Earth. Scientists know that another one is due - they
just don't know when or where.

The 1,080-square-mile Toba caldera is the only super-
volcano in existence that can be described as Yellowstone's
"big" sister.

A hypothesis about recent human evolution suggests
that humans came close to extinction because of
a 'volcanic winter' that occurred 71,000 years ago.
Some scientists estimate that there may have been as
few as 15,000 humans alive at one time. The 'volcanic
winter' lasted about six years.

It was followed by 1,000 years of the coldest Ice Age
on record. It brought widespread famine and death to
human populations around the world. It also affected
subsequent human evolution:

~72,000 ....

Early Modern Humans Used Fire To Engineer Tools
From Stone; Complex Cognition Older Than 72,000
[see the description of this link at the ~164,000 reference

~70,000 ....

When humans faced extinction - humans may have come
close to extinction about 70,000 years ago, according to
the latest genetic research - the research also suggests that
humans (Homo sapiens sapiens) made their first journey
out of Africa as recently as 70,000 years ago:

"... The study suggests that at one point there may have
been only 2,000 individuals alive as our species teetered
on the brink.  The research also suggests that humans
(Homo sapiens sapiens) made their first journey out of
Africa as recently as 70,000 years ago. ..."

~67,000 ....

Anatomically modern humans in Linjang, China.

~62,000 ....

Neanderthal Mousterian culture as revealed in
Shanidar Cave (layers D, C) in Iraq.

~50,000 ....

Cro-Magnon Culture

Cro-Magnon people were nomadic hunter/gatherers and
had elaborate rituals for hunting, birth, and death. Artifacts
they left behind include carvings of people and animals.
Symbolic representation through adornment of the dead
also became more common during this period.

Barringer Meterorite Crater
"... a gigantic hole in the middle of the arid sandstone
of the Arizona desert. A rim of smashed and jumbled
boulders, some of them the size of small houses, rises
150 feet above the level of the surrounding plain. The
crater itself is nearly a mile wide, and 570 feet deep. ..."

When Europeans first discovered the crater, the plain
around it was covered with chunks of meteoritic iron
- over 30 tons of it, scattered over an area 8 to 10
miles in diameter. ..."

Homo sapiens migrate out of Africa into Asia and
Australia - abstract designs painted on rocks in
Australia - the aborigines' way of life, involving
hunting and gathering and the use of Stone-Age
technologies, was well adapted to the Australian
environment and changed very little until the advent
of the Europeans.

Prehistoric skulls found in Brazil match those of the
aboriginal peoples of Australia and Melanesia. Other
evidence suggests that these first Americans were
later massacred by invaders from Asia. It's likely
that these aboriginal people reached Brazil by boat,
based in no small part on the earliest known art
depiction of a boat in cave paintings at Kimberley,
a region at the northern tip of Western Australia:

~42,000 ....

Evidence of first humans to reach the Americas
via land, due to the hunting of herds of mammoth,
bison, and mastodon across the wide bridge of iced
over land connecting Asia to North America until
the end of the last ice age, ~12,000 years ago.

~40,000 ....

Aurignacian tools were used from 40,000 to 30,000
years ago. Diverse tools characteristic of modern
humans, dominated by blades flaked from prepared
cores, use of ivory, bone and antler as raw material,
in addition to stone.

Aurugnacian stone tools

This technology consists of sharp-edged blade tools
used for cutting and scraping. Homo sapiens employed
a wide variety of materials during this period, including
stone, ivory, bone, and antler, to create knives, scrapers,
and spear points. People also began using these materials
to make non-utilitarian items, such as jewelry.

Ivory Venus Figurine From the Swabian Jura
Rewrites Prehistory
"... excavations at Hohle Fels Cave in the Swabian
Jura of southwestern Germany recovered a female 
figurine carved from mammoth ivory from the basal
Aurignacian deposit. This figurine, which is the earliest
depiction of a human, and  one of the oldest known
examples of figurative art worldwide, was made at
least 35,000 years ago. ...

...  The figurine originates from a red-brown, clayey
silt at the base of about one meter of Aurignacian
deposits. ... Radiocarbon dates from this horizon
span the entire range from 31,000 – 40,000 years
ago. ... that figurine is indeed of an age corresponding
to the start of the Aurignacian around 40,000 years
ago. ..."

~37,000 ....

Baradostian cultures as revealed in Kebara
(layer D) in Israel and Zarzi, Iraq.

~36,000 ....

Chatelperronian tools were used from 36,000 to
27,000 years ago. An advanced Neanderthal
technology, perhaps influenced by the technology
of modern humans living in the same area.

~35,000 ....

Cave bears, cave lions, wooly rhino extinct; Homo
sapiens migrate in large numbers to Europe; first
evidence of round huts and mortars in Ain Gev,

~32,000 ....

Chavet Cave Art

Chauvet Cave holds some of the oldest and most sophisti-
cated examples of cave art in the world. The age and ad-
vanced nature of the paintings suggest that carved and
engraved objects did not necessarily precede painted
images, as archaeologists once believed.

Science shows cave art developed early
"... Carbon isotope analysis of charcoal used in pictures of
horses at Chauvet, south-central France, show that they are
30,000 years old ...

The remarkable Chauvet drawings were discovered in 1994
when potholers stumbled upon a narrow entrance to several
underground chambers in a rocky escarpment in the Ardeche

Because the paintings are just as artistic and complex as the
later Lascaux paintings, it may indicate that art developed
much earlier than had been realised.

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