According to a new study conducted by researchers at York University, kindness, compassion and a sense of beauty developed in early humans long before intelligence did.
“Human evolution is usually depicted as driven by intelligence, with empathy and deeper emotions following,” said Penny Spikins, human origins researcher at York University. “However, the evidence suggests it happened the other way round. Evolution made us sociable, living in groups and looking after one another, even before we had language.”
Our success since then, including the evolution of intelligence, all sprang from that,” Spikins said.
Spikins pointed to finds at archaeological sites that hint to pre-humans having emotional depth that we had not suspected. Among the finds was a small Makapansgat pebble which had pits carved into it, resembling a baby’s face. It was found in a cave inhabited by as far back as 3 million years ago.
Australopithecines are a direct ancestor of ours and are usually portrayed as mindless, killer apes. Archaeologists believe that australopithecines hunted animals and engaged in warfare, noting the discovery of australopithecine skulls smashed unceremoniously. New discoveries are shedding light on an ancient species that survived by co-operating and were more often the ones being hunted.
“What is remarkable is that this pebble was carried several miles back to its cave by an australopithecine. Did it remind them of a baby? It is impossible to tell for sure but this is not the only tantalizing sign of something perhaps approaching tenderness,” she said.
These discoveries date back as far as 3 million years ago, but things like language skills and intelligence in modern humans date back at furthest 500,000 years, and maybe even as recently as 150,000 years ago. Evidence is mounting that early humanity developed empathy much much earlier than intelligence. 1.5 million years ago, Homo ergaster is thought to have cared for their sick. Homo heidelbergensis, a 450,000 year old species, appeared to have cared for disabled children.
Pretty interesting, isn’t it? Maybe war and violence aren’t truly human nature.
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