What Life Was Really Like As An Early Human

When most people think about our distant ancestors, many envision a group of ape-like creatures huddled in a cave trying to break bones open with a rock. While this isn’t entirely wrong, early humans also made incredible strides in innovation and survival that resulted in the modern man and the dominant species on planet Earth. Take a look to see what life was really like in the days of early Homo sapiens, and how far we’ve come from being a species with little organization, no language, and just trying to survive.

The “Out Of Africa” Theory

Picture of migration
Pinterest/BBC
Pinterest/BBC

It has been concluded by scientists that our human ancestors originated in Africa. The theory suggests that our ancestors left the continent and migrated to the continents of Europe and Asia. In doing this, they also began eliminating earlier examples of the human species, such as the Homo erectus.

Supposedly, the migration took place around 80,0000 years ago with the now-extinct Homo erectus taking the same route around one million years ago. Apparently, they had the same idea.

Cooking Food Changed Our Anatomy

Picture of flames
Farm Images/Universal Images Group via Getty Images
Farm Images/Universal Images Group via Getty Images

Early humans began cooking food on controlled fires around 790,000 years ago, which resulted in humans consuming much less bacteria than eating it raw. This changed the anatomy of early humans leading to shorter digestive tracts since there was less of a need to process food.

Cooking meat over fire also led to humans receiving more energy from the meat which resulted in taller bodies and larger brains. Humans would look much different if we never discovered the magic of cooking food.

They Were Extremely Social Beings

Painting of early humans socializing
Twitter/Wings Over Scotland
Twitter/Wings Over Scotland

Being social was a fundamental part of early human survival and evolution. Humans began building communal shelters around 400,000 to 800,000 years ago, although they didn’t start trading resources until around 130,000 years ago.

Researchers have concluded that being social and living together significantly increased our chance of survival, and is what helped make us successful as a species. Even though it may not seem like it today, it’s most likely that early humans were extremely good at working together because their survival depended on it.

They Were Artistic

Cave painting
Prisma/Universal Images Group via Getty Images
Prisma/Universal Images Group via Getty Images

Around 17,000 years ago, early humans had developed many of the tools needed in order to help their survival. However, with the help of tools and other kinds of technology, humans also had more time on their hands. This led to them becoming more artistic, decorating their tools and giving their pottery individual flare.

However, prehistoric art dates far further back than 17,000 years. The oldest known use of color to make art was 250,000 years ago, which can be found in the form of a doodle in a cave in Zambia.

Our Bain Size Has Tripled

Human brain
Auscape/Universal Images Group via Getty Images
Auscape/Universal Images Group via Getty Images

Over the course of human evolution, the human brain size has tripled, which is the main reason that we were able to survive as a species. However, our brain size didn’t just allow us to survive, but to thrive, becoming the dominant species on Earth.

Interestingly, scientists are still not totally sure why we developed such large brains in the first place. Some believe that it was the result of climate change, or our need to evaluate new locations and unknown terrain.

Early Humans Had Incredibly Low Genetic Diversity

Starting a fire
Pinterest/Jessica Chediak
Pinterest/Jessica Chediak

Humans are one of the least genetically diverse species, most likely because we evolved from a small group of early humans that lived in East Africa. Scientists measure genetic diversity with what’s known as “effective population size.” Effective population size is how many people you would need to reproduce the genetic diversity of our full population.

For humans, this is only about 15,000, which is a minuscule number compared to our population of 7 billion. On the other hand, species such as mice have an effective population size of around 733,000.

There Was A Massive Population Decline 80,000 Years Ago

Volcano eruption
Photo 12/Universal Images Group via Getty Images
Photo 12/Universal Images Group via Getty Images

Around 80,000 years ago, there was a significant decline in the human population. Scientists still aren’t entirely certain of what happened, but they know that something definitely did. Some theorize that there was a massive volcanic eruption, which filled the sky with ash, blocking out the sun.

They believe that the ash particles blocked the sun’s heat for many years, resulting in freezing temperatures, which seriously affected human life and population growth during that time on Earth.

We Might Have Neanderthal Genes

Replica of early human
Pinterest/Taylor Robinson
Pinterest/Taylor Robinson

Neanderthals are humans’ closest extinct ancestors. These ancestors lived in Europe and Asia from as early as 200,000 years ago until 30,000 years ago. Although we shared many similarities with Neanderthals, they were shorter and thicker than us, with angled cheekbones, wide noses, and prominent eyebrow ridges.

However, their appearance wasn’t by chance, they were necessary for survival in Europe’s cold climate and for hunting large game. Yet, it’s possible that early humans bred with Neanderthals, meaning that some of us may have Neanderthal genes in our genetic makeup.

A Pointless Leg Muscle

Diagram of leg muscle
VintageMedStock/Getty Images
VintageMedStock/Getty Images

Around nine percent of the human population has a completely useless muscle in their leg. It’s what’s known as the Plantaris muscle and actually did have a purpose back when humans resembled monkeys more so than a person.

It helped us to grip and manipulate objects with our toes, but we eventually stopped having a need for it thanks to our fingers, and especially our thumbs! The Plantaris muscle is actually so useless that surgeons take from it when reconstructing other parts of the body during surgery.

Blue Eyes Were Extremely Rare

Early human with blue eyes
Pinterest/Feylesof Philosophia
Pinterest/Feylesof Philosophia

The oldest evidence of someone having blue eyes dates back around 7,000 to 8,000 years ago. The evidence was uncovered in Northwest Spain and belonged to someone with a dark complexion, similar to sub-Saharan Africans. Today, blue eyes are still considered to be less common than other eye colors, but they’re even rarer than most people think.

Studies show that it’s possible that everyone with blue eyes today has a single, common ancestor. The trait of blue eyes likely survived because early humans found them attractive, making it easy for them to reproduce.

The Purpose Of Our Fists

Jack Dempsey's fists
Bettmann/Getty Images
Bettmann/Getty Images

Like the rest of our body, our hands changed over time as our species evolved. However, some researchers claim that our hands evolved not for dexterity, but in order to make fists, a theory that came about during the study of anatomical changes in the human body.

The theory goes on to claim that around the time we started walking upright, our hands became short and square with opposable thumbs. While some believe that this was to help make tools, others claim that it was in order to make a fist to fight.

The Changing Of Skin Tone

Transition in skin color
Pinterest/Ancient Origins
Pinterest/Ancient Origins

Lighter skin tone in humans only began to become noticeable around 5,8000 years ago. At this time, early humans began to resemble modern Europeans of today. They began to develop lighter skin after they began to migrate and settle farther north where there was less sunshine, and pale skin synthesizes more vitamin D when light is scarce.

This is opposed to those who remained in areas with more intense sunlight, resulting in the needed higher levels of melanin for protection against the sun’s radiation.

Starting To Wear Clothes

Early humans in furs
Pinterest/Michelle Taylor
Pinterest/Michelle Taylor

Although scientists aren’t entirely sure when early humans began wearing animal skin as a way to stay warm, it’s assumed that the practice started around 1 million years ago, based on the genetic skin-coloration of our ancestors around this time.

Humans most likely began doing so after losing a large portion of their body hair and needed to substitute it with something. In colder areas during the winter, it is estimated that early humans covered up to 90% of their bodies in animal furs to protect themselves against the elements.

Cancer Was An Issue

X-ray of tumor
BSIP/UIG Via Getty Images
BSIP/UIG Via Getty Images

Interestingly, bone cancer has been found in several remains of the early human species of Homo Kanamensis. One of the remains was discovered in Kenya by the leading paleoanthropologists, Louis Leakey, who was surprised to find a lump by a left tumor on the jaw.

This discovery proved that while most people might assume that cancer is more of a modern disease that came about after mankind became civilized, that’s certainly not the case. It’s been afflicting humans for far longer.

Why We Walk On Two Legs

Man walking down the street
In Pictures Ltd./Corbis via Getty Images
In Pictures Ltd./Corbis via Getty Images

Our ancestors began walking on two legs long before we developed our large brains or started utilizing stone tools. But the question remains, which is why do we walk upright? One of the leading theories that we do is because walking as bipeds might actually use less energy than walking on all fours.

Freeing up the arms also might have enabled early humans to carry more food or even help them control their body temperature by reducing the amount of skin exposed to the sun.

Why We Lost A Lot Of Our Hair

Early human in a cave
Universal History Archive/Universal Images Group via Getty Images
Universal History Archive/Universal Images Group via Getty Images

It’s no shock to learn that humans are one of the most naked species on the planet, especially when compared to our much harrier ape cousins. However, we didn’t always use to be this way.

A common belief is that our ancestors shed their excess hair when migrating across the savannas in Africa to keep cool. On top of that, it is believed that we lost our hair in order to keep us free of parasites and disease that is brought about by having so much body hair.

Discovery Of “The Hobbits”

Hobbit and human skull
Johnny Green – PA Images/PA Images via Getty Images
Johnny Green – PA Images/PA Images via Getty Images

The “hobbit” or “Flores Man,” is the nickname given to a small skeleton found on the Indonesia isle of Flores in 2003. Currently, the remains are the subject of extensive research to determine if the individual could be an extinct species that were different from modern humans.

The individual would have stood around 3 feet and seven inches in height and is believed to have lived around 60,000 to 100,000 years ago. Stone tools were also found around the remains.

The Development Of Language

Early human encampment
Twitter/Richard Litter
Twitter/Richard Litter

Many researchers have concluded that all languages throughout the world can be traced back to a common dialect that was spoken by our ancestors when they were still in Africa. Granted, this wasn’t a complex form of communication by any means, most likely consisting of a series of grunts and noises, but were still used to express emotion and meaning.

With over 5,000 languages spoken on Earth today, this would be quite an impressive feat. However, today, linguists and anthropologists believe real language most likely started to develop around 100,000 years ago.

Homo Sapiens Have Always Used Fire As A Tool

Bonfire
SERGEI GAPON/AFP via Getty Images
SERGEI GAPON/AFP via Getty Images

Although controlling fire is what allowed Homo sapiens to evolve and become the dominant species on Earth, we never actually had to discover fire.

As a species, we never existed without fire, which was learned to be controlled by our previous hominid relatives such as the Homo erectus, who then passed the knowledge onto us. So, in essence, we had a head start in terms of evolution, and somebody else to thank for it.

The Purpose Of Goosebumps

Goosebumps on man's skin
Geography Photos/Universal Images Group via Getty Images
Geography Photos/Universal Images Group via Getty Images

While goosebumps are a natural biological response among humans, if you think about it, they don’t serve much of a purpose anymore. However, they used to back in the days of early humans.

Back when first Homo sapiens had large amounts of hair, goosebumps served an actual purpose. They made us look bigger by raising our hair follicles, so we looked more formidable so that predators or enemies might think twice about attacking. Now, we get goosebumps for far less threatening reasons.

Homo Sapiens Are Still Rapidly Evolving

Evolution chart
Bettmann/Getty Images
Bettmann/Getty Images

Although it might seem like we’ve reached the peak of our evolutionary growth as a species, that’s far from the truth. According to evolutionary biologists, there are a few isolated areas of the human genome that are currently under rapid selection, which can result in mutations spreading throughout the population.

Our species is also still evolving given the way we live. Constantly looking at screens, sitting at desks, the way we eat, are all having an impact on the evolution of our species.

Neanderthals Made Complex Tools And Weapons

Drawing of a Neanderthal
Chris Hellier/Corbis via Getty Images
Chris Hellier/Corbis via Getty Images

Although Neanderthals are often cast in a negative light as being simplistic and brutish cave dwellers, that’s not necessarily the case. In fact, it’s been discovered that Neanderthals were far more capable than previously assumed and were even capable of trading among groups and even making glue.

Neanderthals made a wide variety of weapons and tools, even developing a type of tar from plant resin that acted as a type of glue to fix stone tools onto wooden handles. Not so brutish after all!

They Played Music

Prehistoric flute
Reddit/bigmeat
Reddit/bigmeat

Like modern human beings, the early homo sapiens also enjoyed playing and listening to music. As far back as 43,000 years ago, after early humans began to settle in what is now Europe, they were playing music on flutes typically made from either bird bone or mammoth ivory.

These first instruments were found in a cave in southern Germany in 2012 and it is believed that they were utilized for both religious purposes as well as social interaction.

They Built Uniform Urban Dwellings

Reconstruction of urban dwelling
DEA / G. DAGLI ORTI/De Agostini via Getty Images
DEA / G. DAGLI ORTI/De Agostini via Getty Images

While many people assume that early humans lived in caves only mere step-above wild animals, a discovery in Turkey in the 1960s revealed something else. What was found was one of the first signs of evidence of urbanization among early humans. Nine thousand years prior, these Neolithic people lived in houses made of brick and mud in a sort of neighborhood.

Each structure was built in the shape of a rectangle and around the same size, using a hole in the roof as the front door. The houses were also simple with most simply consisting of a hearth, an oven, and platforms to sleep on. It’s assumed that most of their time was spent on the roof.

They Navigated The Indian Ocean

Reed boats
Werner Forman/Universal Images Group/Getty Images
Werner Forman/Universal Images Group/Getty Images

Around 50,000 years ago, Homo sapiens first arrived in Australia. But how did they get there from Africa? Well, it’s assumed that they fashioned boats that were most likely lashed together with reeds.

At the time, it was essentially an impossible task, with no way to navigate the treacherous waters, and who knows how many attempts it took for someone to land on the shores of an island. Yet, they eventually succeeded. Over time, they utilized these boats on several occasions, eventually populating the entire continent of Australia.

The Women Were Astonishingly Physically Strong

Woman working
Pinterest/Viking MCU
Pinterest/Viking MCU

It should come as no surprise that the women during the time of the early Homo sapiens are described as being as physically fit as many professional athletes today.

This is because they weren’t exempt from many of the laborious tasks that it took to stay alive, doing an equal amount as the men, if not more considering childbearing. According to a study from Science Advances, the remains of women found from around 7,000 years ago show that they would have been as strong as “semi-elite rowers.”

They Would Go Camping

Prehistoric camp
Pinterest/bodhi
Pinterest/bodhi

Today, in Scotland, the Cairngorms are a popular destination for hikers and vacationers. However, this is not a new tradition, but has been going on for 8,000 years. Back then, people would come to this location and stay in tents for a few nights around central campfires.

However, it’s still unclear exactly what they were doing there, although it’s possible that it was a popular hunting location. Researchers at The Press and Journal note that they could have stayed there because it is a natural corridor between east and west Scotland and food was abundant.

It Was Not Uncommon For Homes To Be Passed Down To Future Generations

Man and woman in a home
GraphicaArtis/Getty Images
GraphicaArtis/Getty Images

When prehistoric people needed a place to live, they didn’t always go find a nice cave like most people think. What they would typically do is refurbish old homes in the area and take up residence there.

According to Silje Fretheim at NTNU’s Department of Archaeology and Cultural History, “People became more settled and linked to certain sites because they saw them as good places to live.” In some places, some homes would be continuously lived in for over a thousand years.

They Survived Climate Change

Man with a deer
Raphael GAILLARDE/Gamma-Rapho via Getty Images
Raphael GAILLARDE/Gamma-Rapho via Getty Images

Around 11,000 years ago, the climate changed drastically, which posed a serious threat to the early humans of the time, especially those in what is today northeastern England. In order to survive, they had to make some serious lifestyle changes to fight off the cold.

Researchers have found, however, that many groups decided to acclimate to the new climate rather than move elsewhere. this can be seen in how they built the structures of their home, their diet, and the kinds of tools that they used.

Some Of Them Made Bread

Making bread
Universal History Archive/Universal Images Group via Getty Images
Universal History Archive/Universal Images Group via Getty Images

Almost 14,400 years ago, the early humans were snacking on food that doesn’t look all that much different from what we eat today. In northern Jordan, archaeologists found the remains of a fireplace that contained the remnants of flatbread. This was an impressive find for researchers, considering the labor-intensive and lengthy process that it takes just to make the dough.

This doesn’t even include harvesting the grain, milling it, and grinding it down into a flour. Tobias Richter, an archeologist at the University of Copenhagen, commented, “Nobody had found any direct evidence for the production of bread, so the fact that bread predates agriculture is kind of stunning.”