Guessing Our Age
By R. D. Flavin

8-8-2014


“Figure 1 Suggested diffusion/migration of modern humans into Europe and North Africa. The dates (uncalibrated) indicate the early manifestations of Upper Paleolithic industries (Bar-Yosef 2002, p. 371).”

     We recognize babies, kids, teens, young adults, middle-aged folks, and seniors, though we still debate the when, where, how, and why of homos, that is, humans in general.  The “Out of Africa” anthropologists and archaeologists (roughly) describe our shared background as:

Rick's Partial Genus: Homo Chronology

Homo sapiens sapiens
(Modern humans, ca. 200,00 BCE to 120,000 BCE until the present)

Homo sapiens neanderthalensis
(250,000 BCE to 32,000 BCE; interbred with modern humans)

Homo denisova
(Denisova hominins; as early as ca. 400,000 BCE to 41,000 BCE)

Homo sapiens
(Archaic, as at Omo ca. 195,000 BCE)

Homo sapiens idaltu
(Archaic, Ethiopia ca. 160,000 BCE)

Homo sapiens heidelbergensis
(Ca. 600,000 BCE to ca. 200,000 BCE)

Homo erectus sensu lato
(Ca. 1.9 million BCE to 143,000 BCE; made it to China and Java)

     Guessing our age is always debatable as classifications change faster than discoveries.  New theories or models, on the other hand, are dependable as they are usually either ignored, ridiculed, or deemed too controversial for discussion.  Though some new theories, much like Pres. Obama's 'The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act' or “ObamaCare,” are essentially sound, are in need of minor adjustments or tweaking.  Such is the case with a new hypothesis that as men lost a significant amount of the androgenic testosterone hormone most often associated with aggression (in both humans and animals), modern humans ca. 50,000 BCE truly emerged and began their journey toward civilization (Cieri et al. 2014).  It's argued that “cranial feminization” gets credit for tolerance and with the low-brows gone, modern humans could interact socially ...and change the world.


“Figure 1. Craniofacial feminization in Homo sapiens. The 110–90 Ka year old male specimen Skhul 5 (left) in lateral (top) and frontal (bottom) views, compared to that of a recent African male (right), showing the large brow ridges and long and narrow, masculinized face characteristic of MSA/MP-associated modern humans. Both specimens have been scaled to the same nasion-bregma height and aligned on those landmarks. Photograph by David Brill...” Used without permission (Cieri et al. 2014, p. 423).

     The above composite graphic is great for showing change within a species, though similar comparisons could and have been made with many species.  The effects of reduced androgenic testosterone seems entirely plausible, though I balk at the term “feminization.”  Both online and print articles about the new article, “Craniofacial Feminization, Social Tolerance, and the Origins of Behavioral Modernity,” play up the loss of the low-brow and stress ca. 50,000 BCE as an approximate date for less aggression and a better fashion sense for male homo sapiens sapiens.  The authors of the journal paper only passingly refer to ca. 50,000 Ka BP (thousands of years before the present; hereafter BCE), and that mention is from Harvard's Prof. Bar-Yosef (Bar-Yosef 2002, though incorrectly listed in the text as Yosef 2002) is pure “dirt archaeology,” except for one brief consideration of “biological aspects,” specifically “a neurological change in the human brain to explain the capacity for modern behavior (Ibid p. 377), and names Stanford's Prof. Richard G. Klein (Klein 1995) who dared to compare brain-size with increasing advanced lithic technology and also advances the ca. 50,000 BCE date as significant.  Of course ca. 50,000 BCE was important in modern human (pre)history, as that's when homo sapiens sapiens began leaving Africa in earnest to populate the rest of the world.

     Commenting on modern human morphology with chemical versus environmental factors is beyond me.  I can't begin to suggest the reasons behind the subtleties of basic evolution and racial characteristics, i.e., how long it takes for skin pigmentation to change, or how many snowy winters it took for noses to become long and narrow, or how many generations of folks getting bugs in their eyes before epicanthic or epicanthal folds developed, or was it all climate based?  Even in Mother Africa we find thousands of varied ethnic groups divided into fifteen ethnolinguistic super-groups.  Yet, returning to the ca. 80,000 BCE date for a change in modern human behavior as emphasized by the authors, we have the wondeful archaeological work being done in the Affad Basin of northern Sudan and dating back to ca. 70,000 BCE.  A big WOW is in order...  That's remarkably early for village foundation stone-work and clearly demonstrates the early cooperative ability of modern humans. If only I had the time and space to discuss early languages and "Behavioral Modernity."


Excavating the Palaeolithic level. Image: M. Osypińska. PAP – Science and Scholarship in Poland. 70,000 year-old African settlement unearthed. Past Horizons. July 20, 2014, from http://www.pasthorizonspr.com/index.php/archives/07/2014/70000-year-old-african-settlement-unearthed. Retrieved 8-7-2014.

     The authors refer to the importance of testosterone in animals, especially when discussing the so-called "Challenge Hypothesis," and often cite the efforts of the noted psychologist, the University of Central Lancashire's Prof. John Archer, who has long speculated on testosterone and human aggression (Archer 1991, 2004).  While much work has been done testing birds and animals over the years and the effects of either lowering or increasing testosterone levels, as far as human studies are concerned, we need look no further than the locker-room.  Anabolic-androgenic steroids are basically super-testosterone and have been banned in sports for many years.  Rumors of German soldiers using steroids, as well as Pres. John F. Kennedy, may or may not be true.  Too much of anything has one effect and not enough has another.  As far as Nature's intentions and evolution, it remains anyone's guess.

     As far as “feminization” goes for the smoothing of the human brow, I strongly suggest a failed politically correct intention.  The late (and great) paleontologist, Prof. Stephen J. Gould (Harvard, New York University), demonstrated how we have shaped our cartoon characters (such as Mickey Mouse and Bambi) to have rounded, baby-like facial features to be more accessible (Gould 1979).  Sometimes we see what we 'want' to see...  I believe the authors experienced pareidolia and instead of seeing faces in clouds, saw the low-brow early man become more lady-like, that is, gentle and tolerant.  Indeed tolerance is not only in the title of the authors' paper, but accepted and applauded for directing our attention to tolerance and social cooperation which led to our earliest civilizations by the papers' “Comments” writers (Current Anthropology often publishes a significant paper, along with several comments from qualified reviewers, and then allow the authors a brief reply to the comments).  I simply can't accept “feminization” on a species level. Individuals, sure, but equating lower testosterone levels with femininity is second-guessing evolution and sexist.

     The old trick biology question comes to mind – Question: Why do men have nipples? Answer: Because women do...  As a species we are separated into two sexes (usually) and both have parallels in and to each other.  We are human, hear us complain...

     80,000 BCE seems as good a time as any for Nature to change our brows.  Now, let's see how long it takes Mom Terra to change our views on war and pollution....  I hope it's soon.

Bibliography:

Archer, John. 1991. “The Influence of Testosterone on Human Aggression.” British Journal of Psychology. 82: 1-28.

Bar-Yosef, Ofer. 2002. “The Upper Paleolithic Revolution.” Annual Review of Anthropology. 31: 363-393.

Cieri et al. 2014. “Craniofacial Feminization, Social Tolerance, and the Origins of Behavioral Modernity.” By Robert L. Cieri, Steven E. Churchill, Robert G. Franciscus, Jingzhi Tan, and Brian Hare. Current Anthropology. 55, 4: 419-443.

Gould, Stephen Jay. 1979. "Mickey Mouse meets Lorenz.” Natural History. 88, 5: 30-36. Reprinted in: Gould, Stephen Jay. 1980. “A Biological Homage to Mickey Mouse.” The Panda's Thumb: More Reflections on Natural History. See pp. 95-107. New York: Norton.

Klein, Richard G. 1995. “Anatomy, Behavior, and Modern Human Origins.” Journal of World Prehistory. 9,2: 167-198.

And 'manicure' is just over a century old,

Rick

Return to