Africa’s Early Homo Sapiens

The term homo sapien refers to a human being in relatively the same form as we are today (i.e. not in an ape-like or similarly undeveloped form). Many anthropologists and scientists adamantly believe that Africa is the Cradle of Humankind, the origin of human life as we know it. This would necessarily imply that it is on this vast and varied land that the first Homo sapiens lived, farmed, hunted and settled to form the civilisations that predated ours.

It is believed that the predecessors to Homo sapiens, Homo erectus, lived in prehistoric Africa approximately 400 000 years ago. During the Middle Pleistocene era, these Homo erectus beings are believed to have evolved into Homo sapiens. By this time, however, the Homo erectus had moved all around and out of the continent. So, the Homo sapiens likewise moved around and eventually replaced all Homo erectus beings. This is in conflict with some of the polygenism theories that propose that mankind evolved in different areas, independently of one another, rather than in one area, followed by a dispersal.

Fossilised findings have confirmed these hypotheses, although gaps continue to plague researchers to this day. In Ethiopia’s Middle Awash, a homo sapien idaltu fossil was found and dated to 160 000 years ago. Anatomically, it resembles modern man quite accurately, although being termed a sub-species. More modern remains have been found a cave in Israel (Qafzeh), which are dated to 100 000 years ago. Although these remains resemble modern human beings, they are not classified as the same species and both are recognised as being extinct. These valuable findings achieved much in the way of establishing Africa as the Cradle of Humanity.

These early Homo sapiens required tools and implements with which to hunt, cook, build and live. They constructed these tools out of stone, flint and wood. The remnants of these have provided much insight into the types of materials that were available during that time, the animals they ate and cared for and the farming they accomplished. These all bear testimony to their way of life and level of advancement.

These early African civilisations recorded events, experiences and their daily lives, not with a pen and paper, but through paintings on rock surfaces. These have proved to be most revealing concerning their hunting habits, clothing and so on. Of course, these were artistically significant too, and ancient mankind took pride in their portrayal of life in Africa. This demonstrates the innate desire in man to create and preserve beauty in an art form. This same desire to create led to innovations that are alarmingly similar to the modern equipment we use today. Some of these items are dated to 50 000 years back. The tools they used advanced gradually over time, and were duplicated once perfected in design.

The Homo sapiens that first walked the African continent are believed to be the ancestors of modern man. For this reason, they hold particular interest for us today. As researchers continue to dig for and discover valuable pieces of the endless puzzle that makes up the remains of ancient Africa, it becomes increasingly viable that Africa is, indeed, the Cradle of Humankind.