The ancient mind was planning earlier than thought

Science News covers a fascinating new archaeological study that mapped the the remains of an 750,000 year-old settlement lived in by the ancestors of the human race and found evidence for tasks being organised in different areas, suggesting a degree of intelligence and problem solving that was not thought to have arisen until much later in evolution.

The study, just published in Science, analysed the pattern of artefacts in the Gesher Benot Ya’aqov site, located in what is now Northern Israel.

Previously, only modern humans, Homo sapiens, were thought to have developed the mental capacity to organise and separate their daily tasks. However, this site was settled by hominin ancestors of the human race and shows distinct signs of planned organisation:

Daily behaviors occurred in two main parts of a rectangular living area excavated at GBY, the researchers conclude. One area hosted primarily flint-tool making and preparation of fish for eating. In another area, situated around a large hearth, residents resharpened used stone tools, fashioned new tools out of basalt and limestone, ate fish and crabs, and cracked nuts after roasting them.

Roasting allowed the inedible shells of various nuts to be easily peeled off. It also reduced levels of bitter substances, called tannins, found in acorns.

‚ÄúHominids who were responsible for the organization of space at GBY had very advanced cognitive abilities that have generally been considered an important marker of human intelligence,” Goren-Inbar says.

Many researchers have thought that the mental capacity to plan and organize living spaces around different activity areas first arose among Homo sapiens roughly 100,000 years ago, well after the species originated around 200,000 years ago.

Until now, hominid sites from before 100,000 years ago had yielded stone tools and bones of various animals but no signs of separate activity spots in common living spaces.

Link to write-up from Science News.
Link to summary of scientific study in Science.

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