The Evolution of Modern Humans
Minoru Yoneda, The University of Tokyo
1. Introduction: a brief review of modern human evolution before agriculture The origin and evolution of modern human has been investigated by
anthropological and archaeological approaches. The oldest fossil evidence from enEthiopia, Homo sapis idultu, dated to 160,000 (1), which generally agreed with theestimations of modern human origin based on the genetic diversity of modern populations, pioneered by the “mitochondrial Eve” work (2).
However, the recent findings have indicated that the modern behavior appeared significantly later than the biological origin of modern human. In the Levant around 100,000 year ago, the difference between Homo sapien
sand Homo neanderthalensis were not clear in their industries and subsistence, although some exceptions were reported such as ochre from Qafzeh (3) and shell beads from Skful, Israel (4).
The progress in human behavior was significant in the Upper Paleolithic culture of Europe. In the traditional perspective, this culture was carried by “Cro-Magnon” from the Near East. However the origin of Upper Paleolithic was not clear in the Near East. On the other hand, new evidences from Africa indicated the scattered origins of the modern behaviors, such as the evidences of symbolism and marine resource consumption at the Blombos cave, South Africa, dated to 75,000 year ago (5). Theevolution of the modern behaviors and its biological backgrounds are speculated to relate to neural network and language developments by researchers of various fields.
2. The Natufianculture in the Levant
In most of the way of modern human evolution, human adapted to various environments based on the hunting, gathering, and fishing. The next giant leap of human evolution had been called “Neolithization” including the origin of sedentarism, agriculture, and animal husbandry, occurred from 11,000 to 9,000 years ago in the Near East. An Epi-Paleolithic culture called the Natufian (13,000-10,500 BP) showed a good example of adaptation to drastic climate changes in this period.
The Early Natufian culture showed an adaptive strategy for the warm and wet condition after the Ice Age based on “collecting” in woodlands, and the Late Natufian who faced to the cool and dry condition in the Younger Dryas event (11,000 to 10,000 BP) found the threshold to the agriculture (6, 7). Natufian sites were located mainly in the southern coastal Levant in the early period and then expanded to the northern and inland area in the late period. In the Early Natufian, many round pit-houses surrounded by stones were uncovered. They lived on the plant materials including pistachio, acorns, wild cereals (wheat, barley and rye) and pears (lentil, pea, bitter vetch and chickpea). This new subsistence on plants required much labor and time to process foods than previous one based on hunting games. The food processing requires many heavier stone grinding tools, such as mortar and pestle, as well. These factors probably made people more sedentary than the precedent hunter-gatherers, while they still exploited a larger amount of mammals, especially gazelles.
The growth of precipitation during 14,500 to 11,000 BP made north and inland expansion of the Natufian culture, but rainfall decreased during the Younger Dryas period. This cold climate in the Late Natufian caused the shrinkage of woodland and people started to exploit various plant resources more extensively. When the warmer and pluvial conditions returned around 10,000 BP, the new subsistence including cereal agriculture expanded among the Prepottery Neolithic (PPN) populations.
3. The Jomon culture of Japan
Similar adaptive strategies in the early Holocene could be found in the sequence of the Jomon culture from 16,500 to 2500 years ago in Japan. The Jomon culture consisted of six sub-period, Incipient (~11,000), Initial (~7000), Early (~5300), Middle (~4200) Late (~3300), and Final periods, and their subsistence patterns have not well studied in the perspective of human evolution. In many books, the Jomon subsistence was described as “sedentary hunter-gatherers” but some recent discussions suggested the temporal changes in the adaptive strategies (10, 1
Although the Jomon pottery is known as one of the oldest potteries, their function in the Incipient period is not clear. Radiocarbon dates of 16,500 year ago assigned to potsherds from the Odai Yamamoto I site suggest that pottery was used by Jomon people in the glacial condition. The Holocene climate promoted the Jomon culture in the Initial period. In this period, people started using pottery more commonly and it probably made people more sedentary. While most sites of Incipient Jomon were located in mountainous caves and rock shelters, Initial Jomon people made small settlements with 5 or less pit-houses. In the southern Japan, a larger settlement including 52 houses was found at Uenohara, Kagoshima. Potteries were used for not only cooking but removing the harshness of acorns, although they seemed to prefer chestnuts which can eat without cooking. The tools including grounding stones suggested their intensive exploitation of plants in the Initial Jomon. The sedentarism and plant exploitation were also recognized as the adaptations of the Early Natufian in the Levant to the global warming.
It should be noted that marine resources had stared to be used in the Initial Jomon period as well. The subsistence based on the plants, especially chestnuts, and marine foods worked as complementary roles to each other. Further, recent works on chestnuts remains from the Sannai Maruyama site of the Early Jomon showed a genetic evidence of intensive care for chestnuts.
It is clear Jomon developed adaptive strategies for the changing environment after the last glacial period. Although some strategies were similar to those of Natufian, differences should be noted to understand the human adaptations at that period. The nature of main plant resources, supplemental hunting games, and the function of potteries seems to be important to understand the difference. It may be interesting that clear evidence of cooling event at Younger Dryas has not found in Japan. Jomon culture could be investigated in the light on the human evolution after the Ice Age.
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