Human Beings on Planet Earth: History of Early Man

About the history of early man on planet Earth seen in the species homo habilis found in fossil records, about pre-historic man.


In the ascent of life forms on earth, man is the strangest animal yet to emerge. His difference is expressed in his most recent name, Homo sapiens, which implies sagacity, wisdom. The Ben Franklins and Socrateses warrant this, yet it is the Henry Fords and Thomas Edisons, descendants of Homo habilis (Handy Man), who have made possible human progress via sheer invention.

Drs. Louis and Mary Leakey uncovered skullbits of pre-Zinjanthropus, or "Handy Man," in the East African Olduvai Gorge, some 1,750,000 years after man died there. Others trace the "human arrival" to much earlier dates. Several Yale scientists, after gathering fossil fragments in the foothills of India's high Himalayas, suggested that humans may have parted from their ape cousins as far back as 14 million years ago.

The Leakeys' discovery--Handy Man--had a brain that was only half the size of a modern Einstein's or Edison's. Steadily increasing brain capacity came about in man evidently because of the perpetual threat of starvation. Man needed to think and invent, or perish. The Leakeys found numerous stone tools, tapered hand axes, and vital weaponry used 2 million years ago. Adventurous Americans today often discover Indian arrowheads that a few hundred years ago served the same purpose for the Stone Age men who occupied North America before the arrival of European "discoverers."

During the 1970s and 1980s, anthropologists and paleontologists just might discover a "missing link" that carries the changeover between the animal that does not think, invent, or philosophize and the man who has learned--always the hard way--to do all these things. "Peking man," Home erectus, discovered at Choukoutien, China, in 1929, was accepted as a 500,000-year-old ape-man. During W.W. II, his fossil bones disappeared, but in 1974 the Chinese Government announced that new excavations had begun to search for other progenitors at Choukoutien. This is typical of modern man's worldwide interest in tracing his ancestry in the hope that he is somehow separate and unique from beasts.

The great mystery is, of course, just how man came about in the 1st place. Equally dramatic is the fact that this diminutive animal went on to improve his condition by cultivating or domesticating large numbers of plants and animals in order to serve his needs. The dog is man's devoted servant (an important arm of the early hunting pack). The horse is his dumb but obedient servant. The camel is his ever-hating drudge. The elephant, used in the Indian teak forests, is perhaps his closest animal companion. Elizabeth Mann Borgese placed these lumber-jumbos next highest in intelligence to man and said that the elephant offers a more promising approach to the study of interspecies communication than does the porpoise. The taming of wild grasses created man-dependent crops--wheat, corn, and rice--that are as much a part of the domestic scene as man's cows and chickens.

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