To the Origins: How Did Early Humans Survive in African Rainforest?

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According to powerful evidence from an archaeological site in south-west Kenya Humans found at Kanjera South, humans were thriving and living on open grassland in Africa as early as 2 million years ago. They made stone tools and used them to butcher animals. It has long been since humans were only able to colonize rainforests in the last few thousand years, after the development of agriculture.

Thomas Plummer at the City University of New York of Queens College states that “All earlier hominins which have been found in the geological record including Ardipithecus ramidus (Ardi) and Australopithecus afarensis (Lucy) lived either in a mosaic of woodland or dense forest, grasses, and shrub.

Finding conclusive evidence for rainforest early human habitation is difficult. The temperature in tropical rainforest also played an important role in early humans life and proofs for existence of them.

Rainforests are fieldwork environments which are very challenging, not least because of its wet and warm conditions which mean that minimal archaeological record has survived the test of time.   Mounting evidence deconstructs the idea that rainforests requiring between 2,500 and 4,500 mm of rain a year were very hostile “green deserts” to early hunter-gatherers.

Foraging; gathering and hunting made humans. Fruit trees in the rainforest were becoming less abundant in the cooling, drying climate. Therefore, the hominines who survived had to alternative food sources. Many traits evolved as they did which include losing most hair, walking on two feet (bipedalism), smaller intestines, better communication, and larger brains. These are mostly the hallmarks of being human.

Early African rainforest dwellers and how they survived

An ancient hominin tooth gotten from Central Africa indicates that hominin ancestors lived around 2.5 million years ago in mixed environments at the forests’ edges. Composite tools of foraging which were argued to be forest adapted may have appeared as early as 265,000 years ago, having been found across modern rainforest vast regions. New evidence shows that humans were already exploiting grassland environments/ mixed tropical forest in Kenya up to 78,000 years ago.

Learning to control fire was amongst the significant steps by the hominines. They tended fires started by lightning, with no knowing exactly when this occurred. These hominines may have been using fire for purposes of cooking meat and roots more than a million years ago. The systematic, controlled use of light may be one of the species’ distinguishing features and may have started before Homo sapiens.

Humans gradually developed skills in hunting. Scavenging meat which had been killed by other animals was typical for hominines. They would drag a carcass to a safe place, using stone tools in butchering the flesh and cracking the bones for marrow. As they learned to hunt together and developed better weapons, it was possible to devise innovative ways of defeating many preys and take down larger animals. Herding groups of animals over a cliff as well as retrieving the carcasses later is one example of this.

The environment and climate determined the kind of life for any specific group of humans, with some generalizations applying to any group of foragers. Early humans must have possessed a detailed knowledge of their environment. They had a large territory to forage, and even more large living in harsh environmental conditions which provided smaller if they had abundance and fewer food resources.

Most foragers lived by making temporary encampments and moving frequently. They repeated seasonal movements which were based on the ripening of different plant food sources or animal migrations. Foragers lived in small groups encompassing 15 to 30 and split up further in the event conflicts arose, or food became scarce.

Population growth was exceptionally slow. Mothers’ milk provided infants with the only sustenance with nursing extending for three to four years, preventing a new pregnancy. Mothers were unable to carry one baby at a time. Foragers usually shared food they accumulated in these close-knit groups, more so prizes of fresh meat. Foraging societies were the most equal in human history.

Fieldwork in tropical West Africa uncovers striking cultural similarities. Groups living there up to 12,000 years ago made stone tools which were more typical of people living in similarly earlier time periods; these helped them in slaughtering animals. The question here, however, is why people maintained such ancient material cultural traditions while populations elsewhere were beginning to experiment with agriculture?

From the Democratic Republic of Congo, human fossils which date to around 22,000 years ago and 12,000 years ago in southern Nigeria do feature enough distinctive morphological features suggesting that the populations they belonged to didn’t often mix with others from elsewhere in Africa. Specifically, the fossils were bearing more physical similarities to people who lived between 100,000-300,000 years ago than their contemporaries. There is a possibility that they were separated being that they had in very different environments adapted to life.


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