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Sunday, 04 December 2022, 02:06 (02:06 AM) CST, day 338 of 2022

Prehistoric Cultures

Fall 2012 Calendar -- DAY  [archive]

Fall 2012 Calendar  -- EVENING [archive]

Dates and Times to Remember 

class slides on-line 

Sunday, 04 December 2022, 08:06 (08:06 AM) GMT, day 338 of 2022
. . . in History 
  . . . in Headlines

      Babel Fish Translation 
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OWL logo, Online Writing Lab, Purdue University.


Hominid footprint
from Laetoli, Tanzania
3.7 m.y.a.

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The Making of Mankind:
One Small Step


The Making of Mankind, Richard Leakey.

51 min., 1981, VC 398

Note Owen Lovejoy's "provisioning hypothesis"



Laetoli footprints, artist's reconstruction.

Laetoli hominids, Tanzania
3.7 m.y.a.

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This video discusses the oldest human footprints in the world (3.75+ mya), which were unearthed at Laetoli, near Olduvai Gorge, in Tanzinia. These footprints led Owen Lovejoy to conclude that even these early hominids walked with an upright, striding gait just as modern humans do. Lovejoy suggests that this led to remodeled pelvises and other morphological changes. His "provisioning hypothesis" further asserts that bipedal males carried provisions to females who were burdened with youngsters.

Also discussed in the video is the famous "Lucy" skeleton, one of the oldest and most complete skeletons of human ancestry, which was discovered by Don Johanson in Ethiopia's Afar Triangle. Johanson and Tim White concluded that these fossils constituted an early species of the previously known Australopithecus genus. The species was named Australopithecus afarensis after the Afar region of Ethiopia.

This touched off a debate about the nature of Australopithecus afarensis. The "Lucy" and "First Family" hominid skeletal remains have challenged the prevailing view of how human evolution began--and have sparked a controversy over the nature of ancient upright-walking creatures--as they seem to have had small brains and primitive faces and teeth, despite their advanced locomotion.

A key question remains: "How many species are represented by the wealth of Afar-Laetoli hominid specimens?" Deciding where in human prehistory to place fragmentary fossil material is crucial to determining the ancestral relationships of extinct species and thus to reconstructing the human family tree. Inevitably, experts' interpretations of fossil fragments differ.

In 1972, Richard Leakey suggested the existence of two separate lines of hominids (Homo and Australopithecus). One, the well-known Australopithecus genus, was composed of primitive, small-brained individuals principally adapted to a diet of roots and hard seeds. The other was the larger-brained, tool-using, omnivorous Homo lineage. Leakey states that Homo is the only hominid to change to meat-eating, first as scavengers and later as hunters.

While Homo flourished in the African environment, its Australopithecine cousins eventually reached an evolutionary dead end and became extinct. Leakey's model--a three-species view for the period between 2.5 mya and 1.5 mya--was based on his observation that the earliest australopithecines known at the time already resembled the later australopithecines so much that they could not also be ancestors to the very different Homo lineage.

The "Lucy" discoveries overturned this prevailing model of human evolution. A. afarensis is so primitive and generalized in its features that White and Johanson see it as conceivably ancestral to both lines of early hominids (Homo and Australopithecus). But these findings signal more that a repositioning of Species on the human family tree. Small-brained Australopithecus afarensis challenges Darwin's hypothesis, which lies behind Leakey's model. That bipedalism evolved intelligence, tool use, and hunting.

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Terms / Concepts

  • bipedalism / bipedality

  • hominid (human family) = biped with smaller canines

  • pongid (ape family)

  • mandible = lower jaw bone

  • "provisioning hypothesis" (Lovejoy)

  • K-selected

    • "K reproductuve strategy" emphasizes the production of few offspring, in whom parents invest increased care

  • r-selected

    • "r reproductive strategy" emphasizes the production of a large number of offspring with reducted partental care

  • tool making

  • "weapons" vs. "tools"

    • aggression

      • "warfare," "gang attacks," "killing and cannibalism"

      • "aggression" is against conspecifics

        • conspecifics — members of the same species

  • meat eating / hunting

  • scavaging (as hayenas, jackels. . . .)

  • diet types

    • insectivorous (insects)
    • frugiverous (fruit)
    • herbiverous (plants)
    • gramnivorous (grasses)
    • carnivorous (meat)
    • omnivorous (all of the above)

  • opposability / prehensility

  • microwear analysis

    • striations

  • histology = the study of tissues, esp. of their microscopic structure

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  • "very primitive" = "very ape-like" in terms of anatomy

  • Ardipithecus ramidus and Australopithecus anamensis had not been discovered yet when this video was made

  • In the 19th century and early 20th centuries "people expected to find a large brain on a more primitive [sic.] ape-like body," and almost wanted to find this. But the large brain came later

  • Note use of chimps as a model to explain prehistoric primate behavior


    • Oldest footprints in the world are those found by Mary Leakey at Laetoli, and date to 3.5 - 3 .7 mya. The Vértesszöllös footprints are from ca. 400,000 ybp. What are thought to be the oldest human footprints in other parts of Europe are the 25,000 to 27,000 ybp footprints from Chauvet Cave in France.

      • Mary Leakey in the video says "oldest human prints," but it should be "oldest hominid footprints"

      • short 4 - 5 ft. people (2 adults and a child)

      • freestriding walk, keeping in step with one another, left foot for left foot and right foot for right foot, with the child stepping in the footprints of one of the adults

      • "These footprints are more evocative than any [bone fragment] fossil."

        • but footprints are actually also "fossils"

      • but they did find other fossils (mandibles)

      • no stone tools in the deposit, therefore "man" 3.5 mya had not reached toolmaking

      • Between 8 and 4 mya in Africa there was a change from ape (pongid) to hominid

      • "The change from a quadrupedal animal to a bipedal animal requires major anatomical change."

        • free hands, tool making

        • note the change in pelvis from quadrapedial to bipedal locomotion


    Teeth / Diet

    • did teeth analysis looking at striations

    • in 1976 did a postmortem on a 1.5+ mya Lake Turkana (northern Kenyan) on an adult Homo erectus from one of Richard Leakey's expeditions. They assumed similar effects may have had similar causes. The most complete Homo erectus skeleton ever found, but it was diseased (with vitamin A poisioning, perhaps do to eating to too much raw liver?)

    • The tooth analysis shows that Ramapithecus ate the same kind of food, and that for at least 7 mya or so, maybe longer, creatures in "the family of man," or close to it, were eating the same kind of things. The food is the same as the chimpanzees now eat, i.e., they were frugivores, they ate mainly fruit.

    • the earliest evidence that shows any basic change from fruit eaters is with the 1.8 mya Homo erectus populations, a species directly ancestral to our own. Here, for thefirst time in history, you have a MAJOR change in diet. They probably ate "a little of everything," including meat, bones, and marrrow.

    • They looked at the teeth of Australopithecus robustus

    • One problem in Prehistoric Cultures is to find a behavioral pattern in our past that is powerful enough to make changes useful and necessary

      • "We would expect bipedalism to be a forest adaptation, not an adaptation to the savanah."

      • ". . . We have to look at a population's method of reproduction methods of survival."

      • Bipedalism is not an adaptation to hunting -- Owen Lovejoy (re the "provisioning hypothesis"

    • The earliest fossil that shows any change from the eating habits of the ancestors is Homo erectus. had a radically different diet. About 1.5+ mya, for the first time in human [pre]history there is a major change in diet, from frugiverous / herbiverous to meat eating.

    • Teeth provide a clue to the diet of prehistoric animals.


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Cultures / People

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  • Hadar (Ethiopia) (1972 - )

    • "Locality 333"

    • "Lucy"

  • Lake Turkana (fka Lake Rudolf)

    Homo erectus postmortem: The most complete Homo erectus skeleton ever found, but it was diseased (with vitamin A poisioning, perhaps do to eating to too much raw liver?)

    • pelvis change -- quadruped to biped

  • Laetoli (Tanzania) (oldest hominid footprints in the world: 3.5 - 3.7 mya)

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  • Johanson, D. C., & Edey, M. A. 1981. Lucy: The beginnings of humankind. New York: Simon and Schuster. (See also summary from Science 81, No. 2, pp. 44-45, and No. 3, pp. 44-49).
  • Johanson, D. C., & White T.D. 1979 "Asystematic assessment of early African hominids." Science, 203: 321-330.
  • Leakey, M. D. 1978. "Pliocene footprints at Laetoli, Tanzania." Antiquity, 52:133.
  • Leakey, M. D. 1979. "Footprints in the ashes of time." National Geographic, April 1979.
  • Leakey, R. E., & Lewin, R. 1978. People of the lake: Mankind and its beginnings. New York: Avon Books.
  • Leakey, R. E., et al. 1976. "Fossil hominids from the Laetoli beds." Nature, 262:460-466.
  • Tuttle, Russell H. 1984. Review of The making of mankind. American Anthropologist, 86:3:796-799.


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(Wikipedia article)





Alternative Name

  Ardipithecus ? ramidus Aramis  



anamensis ?











 "Black Skull"


(aka A. robustus)





Adapted from Intoduction to Physical Anthropology, 8th ed, Jurmain, Nelson, Kilgore, and Trevathand
(Belmont, CA: Wadsworth/Thomson Learning, 2000, pp. 285 - 290).

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