Homo Erectus Might Have Been Really 'Lazy'

Shipton et. al,
Shipton et. al, PLOS ONE (2018)

Of all the human species that once roamed the world, only one remains—us. Why did our primitive cousins go extinct? For Homo erectus, something like laziness may have played a role, Cosmos reports.

A new study in the journal PLOS One explores the role that H. erectus's lack of drive may have contributed to its extinction. The international team of researchers based their analysis on an excavation of a paleolithic site in central Saudi Arabia with more than 1 million artifacts, finding that the tools H. erectus made were of consistently lower quality than what tool makers in later periods used. Their tools were constructed with whatever material was easiest to get, rather than what would make the best tools.

And it wasn’t because better materials weren’t available. "At the site we looked at, there was a big rocky outcrop of quality stone just a short distance away up a small hill,” study co-author Ceri Shipton of the Australian National University said in a press statement. “But rather than walk up the hill, they would just use whatever bits had rolled down and were lying at the bottom.” He added, “They knew it was there, but because they had enough adequate resources, they seem to have thought, ‘Why bother?’”

A row of stone tools excavated from Saffaqah
Some of the stone tools
Shipton et. al, PLOS ONE, (2018)

Meanwhile, other hominin species, like our own Homo sapiens, were happily clambering up mountains to seek out better materials for their tools. Shipton suggests that H. erectus lacked the tendency toward exploration and curiosity that has helped our species thrive.

The authors theorize that “laziness,” combined with changes to their environment, was likely what did in H. erectus. As the humid environment around them became drier, H. erectus seemingly didn’t adapt: They didn't invent new kinds of tools to deal with the changing landscape, nor did they relocate or travel farther afield. The research team found the tools largely near dry river beds, suggesting that H. erectus neither progressed technologically nor modified their behavior for their altered habitat.

H. erectus did manage to walk upright as we do—a first in human evolution—and it was likely the first hominin to expand their habitat beyond Africa. But the combination of these two newly identified shortcomings, the authors argue, may have contributed to H. erectus's demise. Others expressed doubt about this theory, pointing out that these hominins were pretty successful, existing for some 1.5 million years. However uncreative their methods were, they worked for a long time.

[h/t Cosmos]

Editor's note: This post has been updated.

26 Fascinating Facts About Fossils

Mental Floss via YouTube
Mental Floss via YouTube

If you’ve never visited the Big Bone Room, you’re in luck. Check out our visit to New York City's American Museum of Natural History for a rundown on fossils, which provide invaluable insight into our understanding of history and its once-living occupants.

In this edition of "The List Show," editor-in-chief Erin McCarthy explains the ins and outs of excavation, fossil follies (extinct giants were a big miss), and the terrorizing prospect of a 3-foot-tall parrot.

For more episodes like this one, be sure to subscribe here!

2000-Year-Old Roman Tweezers and Metal Ear Swab Discovered in UK

Christopher Furlong/Getty Images
Christopher Furlong/Getty Images

The ancient Romans took hygiene seriously. They pioneered indoor plumbing, deodorant, and the practice of bathing daily. A recent discovery made at a bridge construction site in the UK reinforces just how committed to cleanliness the Roman civilization was. As Geek.com reports, workers unearthed an ear cleaner and a pair of tweezers thought to date back 2000 years to the Roman Empire.

The artifacts were dug up by the Ebbsfleet Development Corporation at the location of the new Springhead Bridge in Ebbsfleet Garden City, a development in Kent. One small tool appears to be designed for pinching and plucking small items just like modern-day tweezers. The other object is thought to have been built for cleaning ears—but instead of cotton, the "swab" is made entirely of metal. They're thought to date back thousands of years, but scientific analysis will need to be done to determine the exact age.

Grooming items weren't the only artifacts uncovered at the site. Workers also found a piece of timber believed to have been meant for an ancient structure. The Ebbsfleet River, where the new bridge is being built, was once a shipping hub and a Roman settlement called Vagniacis. Historical finds are so common in the area that the Ebbsfleet Development Corporation employs full-time archaeologists.

The personal hygiene tools have been removed from the archaeological site by experts who will study them to learn more about their origins. The fate of the artifacts is unclear, but the construction company behind the discovery hopes they can remain in the same city where they were found.

[h/t Geek.com]

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