Laziness killed the homo erectus, ANU study finds
HOMO erectus, one of our closest ancient ancestors, went extinct in part because it was lazy. That’s the finding of new Australian National University (ANU) research.
Recent digs in areas of Saudi Arabia inhabited by primitive humans have uncovered a series of enticing details. They may offer insight as to why homo sapiens (us) emerged and won ascendancy over its older cousin.
Put simply: you wouldn’t want a Homo erectus on your staff.
UNSW researcher Dr Ceri Shipton has published a PLoS One journal paper saying our hairy predecessors used a ‘least-effort strategy’ for survival. This could be seen in the quality of their surviving stone tools.
“They really don’t seem to have been pushing themselves,” Dr Shipton says. “I don’t get the sense they were explorers looking over the horizon. They didn’t have that same sense of wonder that we have.”
RELATED: How men almost made themselves extinct 7000 years ago
A work ethic wasn’t something Homo erectus grasped. Nor was quality control.
Instead, Dr Shipton says they simply grabbed what was nearby at the time.
“To make their stone tools they would use whatever rocks they could find lying around their camp, which were mostly of comparatively low quality to what later stone tool makers used,” he said.
And we’re not talking about crossing town to the nearest trades store. Or about trekking up mountains to find hard stones. Or roaming widely to gather fine obsidian.
“At the site we looked at there was a big rocky outcrop of quality stone just a short distance away up a small hill. But rather than walk up the hill they would just use whatever bits had rolled down and were lying at the bottom.
“They knew it was there, but because they had enough adequate resources they seem to have thought, ‘why bother?’”.
And this unwillingness to put any serious effort into their work had dire implications for Homo erectus.
MORE: What we know about our origins may soon be turned on its head
Their fertile pains and lush lakes were drying up. Soon they would become the deserts we know and associate with Saudi Arabia today.
Homo erectus, however, insisted the old ways were best. Home was where the heart was — not the food.
“Not only were they lazy, but they were also very conservative,” Dr. Shipton says. “The sediment samples showed the environment around them was changing, but they were doing the exact same things with their tools.
“There was no progression at all, and their tools are never very far from these now dry river beds. I think in the end the environment just got too dry for them.”
Early neanderthals and homo sapiens (us) were more radical. They willing to pay attention to what was going on around them — and put in a little effort to do something about. So they roamed widely. They looked for better quality materials and sources of food.
Soon they were the last two hominids on earth.
Now, there’s just one. For the time being.
But that’s a different story.