Once upon a time there were nine human species. They didn’t eat bananas all day. Prehistoric hominids have shown moments of genius, courage, and hardcore survival instincts. They knew exactly where to expose cataclysms, when to fight other human species, and when to live together in peace. From unexpected facts to strange secrets, here is the best information about human ancestors you can read about today.
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10 They burned their beds
The border cave in South Africa was once home to an early community of humans. About 200,000 years ago, these individuals were the ancestors of modern humans who would soon appear on earth. When researchers examined the cave in 2020, they found something interesting. The cave dwellers set their beds on fire.
In addition to confirming that they made fire at will, it was also revealed that they were experts in pest control. The ashes of the old beds were layered in new bedding along with insect-repellent plants. Today we know that ashes are deadly to insects because it blocks their breathing. But without knowing the finer details, this group understood the value of ashes as a means of keeping their beds free from pests.[1
9 The face of a rare ancestor
The ancestors of the homo species were the Australopithecus group. Their most famous fossil is Lucy, a female member of A. afarensis. But this ancient crowd is often mysterious. In fact, A. anamensis had no appearance when the bone fragments of another species were found. The discovery only included teeth, limb bones, and some pieces of skull. That wasn’t enough to put a face to the world.
The researchers worked in Afar, Ethiopia. In 2019, the rest of the skull was found. At the end of the day, a small skull was put together and facial reconstruction revealed an ancestor that was more ape-like than human. But the unique creature was invaluable for another reason.
At 3.8 million years old, it was the oldest species in the Australopithecus group. As such, it filled a frustrating void in the fossil record. For years there has been no association between species of Australopithecus and the earliest human ancestors, which lived 6 million years ago. The Ethiopian fossil bridged this gap.
8th Mass extinction of eight human species
Around 300,000 years ago there were nine human species. About 10,000 years ago eight were gone. The mass extinctions had never been fully explained. But the sole survivor, Homo sapiens (the direct ancestor of modern humans) could be responsible.
All eight branches started going downhill when H. sapiens first emerged from southern Africa. The new human species was fierce and caused one of the largest waves of animal deaths on the planet, which included the woolly mammoth. It is plausible that the wave affected other types of people as well.
Why would homo sapiens do this? Researchers believe that the modern tendency to practice genocide to fight for territory and exploit resources is nothing new. As their tribes grew, so most likely did the violence to eliminate the other two-legged competition.
Interestingly, Neanderthals lasted the longest. A few millennia, in fact. Some of their skeletons also show traces of warfare. Both longevity and battle scars suggest the Neanderthals didn’t walk quietly.
7th The controversial Grazer
Humans have not always sneaked in on antelopes. Millions of years ago our ancestors grazed through grass and called it dinner. But it is not that simple. The only leaf nibbler among human ancestors might not even technically exist.
Meet A. bahrelghazali. The 3.5-million-year-old pine was discovered in Chad in 1993 and resembled another known species – A. afarensis. However, since the remains were found well outside the region where all fragments of A. afarensis were discovered, someone decided it was a different species. The decision remains controversial. But whatever this thing was, it was a primitive human, and its teeth showed that it was mainly nibbling on grass and sedges.
6th They walked on a pyroclastic flow
Pyroclastic flow isn’t really something to walk across. Volcanoes send these rapid avalanches of ash, debris, and scorching heat down their slopes during the eruptions. The fast clouds are one of the deadliest phenomena in nature. The debris that covers the landscape afterwards is so hot that no one can go or drive there for some time. Around 50,000 years ago, a group of hominids dared to do just that.
The fossilized footprints were found near the Italian town of Roccamonfina in 2001. The shape and length of the footsteps suggested that Neanderthals wandered relaxed through fresh pyroclastic debris. The latter was hours or days old and the volcano was probably still grumbling which didn’t seem to bother the group. It remains unclear why they entered such dangerous territory. You might have been curious. Or maybe it was all business; a rescue group looking for victims or toolmakers looking for volcanic rocks to use in their trade.
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5 The blue secret
Ancient writings never mention the color blue. Not even those written in ancient Arabic, Hebrew, or Chinese. The Egyptians were the first to write down a description of blue after inventing the first blue dye. As soon as this happened the world seemed to awaken to the color. The question is this. Was blue so rare that no one wrote about it, or couldn’t early humans see the color?
Chances are our ancestors couldn’t see shades of blue. After all, the sky is a brilliant blue and right there where everyone can see it. From the first Lucy to the last Neanderthal man, they must have looked up at one point and noticed the color of the sky. This could explain why no one wrote about blue until the Egyptians came up with their blue dye, but why suddenly everyone noticed that the color also remains unclear.
4th The Toba survivors
A volcano lost its control around 74,000 years ago. When Mount Toba exploded on the island of Sumatra, it was the worst volcanic eruption in two million years. The sheer amount of debris and ash in the atmosphere caused temperatures to drop. What followed was a volcanic winter so severe that some experts believe it brought humans to the brink of extinction. One of the affected areas was southern Africa.
A few years ago, Toba’s ashes and glass were found in two locations in South Africa. Pinnacle Point and Vleesbaai did a remarkable thing. The people who lived there during and after the supervolcano’s tantrum not only survived but also flourished. Over 400,000 artifacts showed that they continued to hunt, make fire and tools, and stayed at the site for generations. How they survived a chilly event that killed most of humanity remains unsolved.
3 The multi-species neighborhood
Around 1.9 million years ago, three different human species shared the same neighborhood. This groundbreaking fact was revealed when their remains were recently found near the same South African cave. At this point, A. africanus was on the verge of extinction. Paranthropus robustus was a human species, but not an ancestor of modern humans. The third species was possibly H. erectus, a group that was just beginning its 2 million year existence.
Found near the Drimolen paleocave system, nobody knows how much the groups interacted, but there was no evidence of violence. The jury isn’t sure about the H. erectus skull either, but if the noggin is one of them, then this is not only the oldest H. erectus ever found, but also a mystery. This species is more likely to be native to East Africa. What was it doing in that cave? Perhaps they have their origin in southern Africa. On the other hand, an early group could also have migrated south to a neighborhood already occupied by much older human species.
2 Solved the Yucatan puzzle
Some of the first people in America lived in Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula. For years, their skeletons appeared in certain caves, but no one could explain their presence. In 2020, divers explored the caves that had been underwater for thousands of years when they found the mine. With most of the human remains found nearby, researchers are confident the bones belonged to miners.
The mine was huge and ran 7 kilometers into three different cave systems. The first ocher was mined around 12,000 years ago and humans continued to mine this valuable pigment for the next 2,000 years. The end of the Ice Age flooded the site and kept it underwater (and counted) for 8,000 years. Notably, the undisturbed mine gave an immaculate glimpse into the miners’ tactics, including how they broke the ground, what tools they used, and how they navigated the darkness with piles of stones and fire pits.
1 Eden was in South Africa
Do you remember Pinnacle Point? This place where people survived the Toba outbreak? This one. Long before the onset of volcanic winter around 170,000 years ago, the earliest modern humans lived in the caves. Scientists spend years putting their lives and the environment together when the latter revealed something surprising.
The need to migrate is hardwired in some animals. But this place maintained a unique ecosystem that caused herbivores to give up their migratory instincts. Antelope enjoyed consistently good weather and a seemingly endless supply of food and water. Nor did the cave community have to travel far to ingest meat or water. It was the proverbial Eden for humans and animals. There’s even a possibility that, thousands of years later, Pinnacle Point regained a certain level of that perfection – and gave Toba survivors a place to suspend the volcanic winter.
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