C O U R S E L E C T U R E
The Context of History and Our Extended Human Family
Notes taken on August 12, 2013 by Edward Tanguay
about 13 billion years ago, matter, energy, time and space came into being in what is known as the Big Bang
the story of these fundamental features of our universe is called physics
about 300,000 years after their appearance, matter and energy began to combine into structures which we call atoms and these atoms then combine into even more complex structures called molecules
the story of molecules, atoms and their interactions is called chemistry
about 4 billion years ago on a planet called Earth certain molecules combined to form even larger or more complex structures called organisms, the study of these organisms is called biology
about 70,000 years ago, organisms belonging to a very particular species, our species, homo sapiens, started to come together to form even more elaborate structures which we call cultures. The development of these human cultures is history.
this is what this course will be about: the formation, development and interaction of human cultures from about 70,000 years ago until today.
from this perspective, there is no unbridgeable gap between history on the one side and physics on the other side, history is simply the ongoing process of complexity in the ongoing universe
there are three main revolutions which occurred throughout history
began about 70,000 years ago
homo sapiens, who were an insignificant species of African ape, developed cognitive abilities of thinking, remembering, learning which gave it the potential to be the most powerful animal in the world
homo sapiens domesticated animals and plants, established permanent settlements, and began to create more complex societies
established villages and cities
began about 500 years ago
homo sapiens began to understand better and better the laws which govern the natural world around them and inside them, and began to master the entire planet, homo sapiens are gaining so much power, through technologies such as genetic engineering and brain/computer interaction, it will change how life has been evolving on the planet for the last 4 billion years
humans existed long before history, as we define it, which began about 70,000 years ago with the cognitive revolution
but animals which resemble modern humans first appeared about 2.5 million years, these human ancestors was just another kind of animal, there was nothing special about them, there was no hint that their great, great, great, grandchildren would one day walk on the moon, understand DNA, or write history books.
the history of ancient humans was just another chapter in the book of biology
biologists classify animals into species
animals are said to belong to the same species if they tend to mate with one another and give birth to fertile offspring
horses and donkeys look quite similar but they usually have little sexual interest in each other, humans can force horses and donkeys to mate which produces a mule, but mules are always sterile, this tells us that horses and donkeys are two different species
yet a bulldog and a cocker spaniel have sexual interests in each other, will happily mate, and their offspring will produce fertile puppies which can mate with other dogs and have offspring, which is why bulldogs and cocker spaniels are considered to be in the same species
a collection of species which evolved from a common ancestor is called a genus
e.g. lions, tigers, and jaguars are different species within the genus Panthera.
scientists usually like to use the Latin language in order to name things because everything sounds far more impressive and scientific when you say it in Latin, so all of our medicines and muscles of our body are in Latin as well as all species and genera of animals. So when you write a scientific article about Lions, you don't call it a "Lion" but a "Panthera Leo" i.e. an animal of the species "Leo" which is of the genus "Panthera". You and I and everyone watching this video are homo sapiens, which means our species name is "sapiens" which is Latin for "wise" and our genus name "homo" is Latin for "men".
above genera are families, e.g. there are many genera in the "cat family" such as lions, tigers, cheetahs and cats.
the Canis family includes domestic dogs, wolves, coyotes, jackals, as well as many extinct species
all members of a family trace their lineage back to some ancient ancestor, e.g. the most ferocious tiger to the smallest, cutest house kitten have the same ancestor which lived about 25 million years ago
homo sapiens also belong to a biological family
for thousands of years, homo sapiens preferred to view itself as different from all the other animals and set apart as a kind of orphan which had no family, no cousins, no siblings, and most importantly, no parents, as if homo sapiens just popped up on earth without having any evolutionary ancestors, but whether you like it or not, homo sapiens are also members of a large and particularly noisy family called the family of the great apes. There are some other members of our family which are still living today in the world, our closest relatives which are still alive include the chimpanzees, gorillas and orangutans. Of these, the chimpanzees are the closest to us.
if you went back in time 6 million years ago, you would find somewhere in Africa, a single female ape who had two daughters, one became the ancestor of all the chimpanzees and the other daughter became yours and my great ancestor
we tend to call ourselves humans, but humans simply means animals that belong to the genus homo.
humans began evolving in East Africa about 2.5 million years ago from an early genus of ape called australopithecus or "southern ape"
at first, this was the only human species
about 2 million years ago, some of these men and women spread from East Africa into Europe and Asia and in each place these human encountered different conditions which led them to evolving in different ways, which led to different species
e.g. humans who moved up into northern Europe needed to adapt to the cold, those who moved to Indonesia had to adapt to hot climates
"Man from the Neander Valley" (Germany)
well adapted to the cold climate
bigger and more muscular than us
insulating layers of fat
even the middle east was colder than it is today
"Man from the Solo Valley" on Java island
"Man from Flores Island", Indonesia
they were dwarfs, very small
Flores used to be connected by land, sea levels rose, of those that remained on the island, the larger people died first, and the smallest people had the best chances of having enough food to keep themselves alive
according to bones found, Homo Floresiensis reached a maximum height of 1 meter and a maximum weight of 25 kilograms
nevertheless these people were humans, could manufacture tools and hunt animals
big, open spaces of Asia
very tall, 1.8, 1.9 meters tall
the most successful human species ever in terms of how many years it managed to survive
evolved 1.5 million years ago and survived until 50,000 years ago, existed to close to 1.5 million years
in contrast, our species, homo sapiens, evolved about 200,000 years ago
in 2010 scientists discovered another human species
found the fossiled bone of a human finger
extracted DNA from this fossilized bone and compared it to the DNA of other human species and it didn't match
known only through a handful of representative fossils found in Kenya
existed between 1.8 million and 1.3 million years ago
found many tools with the fossils, therefore the name "working men"
evolution continued in East African
appeared in Africa around 300,000 years ago
left Africa around 120,000 years ago
a misconception we have of humans is that there was a linear evolution of these various human species and that at any one point in time, there was only one species of human (genus Homo) inhabiting the earth and that all other species of humans evolved eventually to become home sapiens
just as today there are different species of the genus Panthera (e.g. tiger, lion, leopard) and different species of the genus Canis (e.g. wolves, dogs, coyotes), from about 2 million years ago until about 10,000 years ago, there were different species of the humans (e.g. Homo Sapiens, Homo Neanderthalensis, Homo Erectus) all living simultaneously, we know for sure of six of these species and there may have been many more.