One of the most exciting developments in archeology in the last ten years has been the complete rewriting of the timeline of human development. The dates I’m giving here will probably also be revised in the future and are certainly controversial now but they are gleaned from reputable sources, including archaeology journals and press services.
In addition to dates that are far older than we were lead to believe even thirty years ago, there are now far more lines of hominids identified, including the “Hobbit” folks found in Indonesia and the mystery “X-woman” found in Siberia, who is neither homo sapiens nor Neanderthal. Plus, there is now ample evidence of interbreeding between Neanderthal and homo sapiens in Europe, something that was once deemed impossible. And the term Cro-Magnon Man is now disappearing, being replaced with Anatomically Modern Human.
All that said, here are some interesting dates:
More than 4,000,000 years ago: oldest identified hominid ancestor, Ardi, in Ethiopia
More than 1,000,000 years ago: hominids in Spain
800,000 years ago: toolmakers in Africa, sailors in Crete, evidence of sailors arriving in England
100,000 years ago: humans in Australia, extensive cave art in northeast, perforated shells (Morroco)
Experts like Professor Barton of the University of Oxford now argue that “modern symbolic behaviour was present from a very early stage at both ends of the continent [Africa], probably as early as 110,000 years ago.”
80,000 years ago: decorated, pierced shell beads, decorated block of red ochre ( North Africa and South Africa)
75,000 years ago: evidence of sharpened spears and treating rocks with fire to make better tools (southern Africa)
50,000 years ago: extensive cave art (southern Africa)
48,000 years ago: female remains with bracelet (Siberia) 48,000 – 32,000 years ago, human remains in Brazil
32,000 years ago: Chauvet Cave art
Chauvet cave drawings
17,000 years ago – 14,000 years ago Lascaux Cave art (France), Altamira Cave art (Spain) petroglyphs (Egypt)
14,000 years ago, human remains in Oregon, Chile, Mexico, Pennsylvania, Delaware, and other locations
12,000 years ago Female shaman/healer (Israel) buried with 50 tortoise shells and the pelvis of a leopard
Every year, new discoveries are changing our view of early humans, and that information seems to challenge all of our preconceived notions. In school, we were told that early humans were brutish and dull, not at all like the fine folks we are today. But that’s not the picture that’s emerging.
It seems impossible to dispute the fact that early humans were capable hunters and fearless explorers, taking to the sea very early. To do this, they would have had to communicate, quite exactly, in order to plan hunts, make efficient tools, design and build boats, learn about how to use them, and share information on current dangers. In other words, they had to have a fairly sophisticated and exact language and a deep sense of the shared welfare of the community.
Sue asked for a general timeline of human activity because it seemed strange to her that the characters in the story were arguing and building boats and generally acting like what we would think of as modern humans, but it was 14,000 years ago! Yes, things were very different then, but humans already had tens of thousands of years of collective and symbolic behavior to build on by that point.
There was an explosion of human exploration and discovery around 14,000 years ago. That’s why the story is set in that time period.