“Home Bases and Early Hominids” is an article that looks at the earlier studies
that suggests early hominids living in home bases and the new studies that may suggest different.
The first archaeological sites from the Late Pliocene to the Lower Pliocene represented home bases suggesting that early hominids shifted their way of life to a way of life like present hunter and gathers (Potts, 338). However recent studies done from Olduvai Gorge suggests there are possible differences from early hominid to modern hunter and gathers.
These differences have a significant meaning in the evolution of the hunting and gathering way of life.
An archaeological site from the Paleolithic is usually defined by a concentration of stone artifacts (Potts, 338). Henri Martin and Davidson Black, tried to infer hominid behavior and ecology from the ancient archaeological remains and assumed that the association of fossil animal bones with stone tools was an important source of information about hominid activities (Potts, 338).
In the nineteen sixties early archaeological sites and the study of hominid activities was much more widely acknowledged.
The archaeological remains at Olduvai Gorge in Tanzania at Koobi Fora in Kenya, and in the Omo Valley of southern Ethiopia were about four times older than sites previously known. The time range of stone tool was pushed back greatly from five hundred thousand years to two million years. This brought about the very important question that every one was wondering how did these humans live? They wonder did these humans hunt and gather or live by foraging like present day baboons on the savanna.
The link between early archaeological sites and hominid activities has been investigated in depth at Olduvai Gorge and Koobi For a (Potts, 338). Pott’s research has focused on six stratigraphic levels at Olduvai, excavated by Leakey. Most of bones uncovered from these sites were broken some into small pieces before they were buried and fossilized. A wide diversity of species were represented: zebra, hippopotamus, rhinoceros, antelopes, pigs, giraffes, elephants, primates, and, carnivores (Potts, 339). Some aquatic animals and other small vertebrates were presented but the antelope are most abundant in the fossils. Five to ten species are identifiable in the bones from each level.
Tools were also found such as stream cobbles and other pieces of rocks that were flaked repeatedly but in a crude way. The most abundant type of artifact at each site is debitage. These flakes seamed to be used but not intentionally made to be used. Finally each site contained stone pieces of stone raw material, which exhibit no evident traces of flaking or use.
Isaac has recently suggested that the first interpretations of these early archaeological sites relied on observation of modern hunter-gathers (Potts, 339). As far as it is known all hunter-gathers do their activities around a campsite or home bases. As Potts describes debris builds up in well-defined places through out the habitat leaving behind stone artifacts and animal bones in clusters. Paleolithic archaeologists have drawn an analogy between modern day hunter-gathers and the remains from humans of earlier times.
The concept of home base and the activities connotes have been important in the interpretation of the earliest archaeological sites. In particular sites such as Bed one at Olduvai it is widely recognized to provide evidence for the existence of home bases during the Plio-Pleistocene. This implies that a hunter – gathering way of life has existed during ninety-nine percent of human history since the beginning of stone tool making (Potts, 340). This concept has two important aspects in paleoanthropology, one the sharing of food and two the safety offered from a protected base camp.
The home base would have been in a specific location and this would allow foragers to carry food. Also members of the social group would prepare and consume food there as well as, sleep, make tools, and meet with other group members. Reciprocity is a characteristic of human societies to which anthropologists attach great importance, this sharing of food by some to be a crucial expression, and perhaps the earliest one, of human reciprocity (Potts, 340). However others say that hunter-gathers eat their food while foraging and the extent of food sharing at these campsites is unclear, but it is known that in modern hunter-gathering societies at least some food exchange takes place. Potts argues that home bases do not necessarily have to be a permenant place were the food sharing and social activities take place, that these campsites may be temporary and only occupied for a few days. He goes on to say that wherever it is located the campsite is a predictable base to which food is brought, even if it is exchanged between foragers or between families is not extensive at any time.
In its second aspect the home base as a common meeting place of social activity is assumed to provide safety (Potts, 340). For example Washburn and DeVore provided us with an image of a home base to be a place were weak or the injured may be left to be taken care of, or a place were the elderly might be left. Potts explains that according to this view the origin of home bases correspond with an increase in the dependence of infants on social care and with cultural learning in hominid social groups. This can be debated as to whether this is picture portrayed with the emphasis on safety and food sharing is accurate of base camps of all hunter-gathers. The thought of this interpretation of the archaeological sites from Olduvai and others has been extremely attractive for two major reasons.
The first reason is that this home base interpretation implies long-term continuity between early hominids and modern humans (Potts, 340). This existence of campsites in the early archeological records implies that a basic component of hunter-gather subsistence and socioecology occurred. Like modern day hunter-gathers the adaptation of bringing back food and sharing it with others represents a natural conditioning with deep roots in our evolutionary past. Long term continuity in hominid behavior, supposedly substantiated by the existence of hunter-gathers two million years ago, is crucial to this view of human nature as expounded in the popular literature (Potts, 340).
The second reason is that home base interpretation in accurate with other prominent ideas of human evolution. For example the dietary change of eating more meat, this is viewed to be a significant change in hominid evolution. And the home base view supports this by the numerous amounts of animal bones found at archeological sites. Even more important the use of tools as well supports this theory and the way these humans used and modified their environment. A crucial part of survival is the care of children over a long period of time, and the idea of a home base supports this as well. Potts explains that there is no debate that food-sharing the use of tools and meat eating takes place today among modern humans, but the question is whether this complex of behaviors, existed two million years ago. In order to test this archeological sites can be tested with the data concerning the formation of these and the ecological context of hominid activities.
This study is called taphonomic studies these studies consider the geological and biological processes, which have helped to accumulate, modify, and bury archaeological remains. The goal of this is to assess the contributions of geological events, the activity of carnivores and hominids, and other factors to the formation of clusters of animal bones and stone artifacts. This studying helps to determine whether the artifacts being found are produced by hominid activity. If these artifacts did get there from hominids they need to assess what kind of activities took place there.
Researchers look at the fact that these artifacts could have been placed there in other ways such as water flow. Water flow can produce a large amount of fossil bones and fossil collections built up. Geological processes such as activity of a stream or river can also aggravate stone artifacts. It was found that the sediments of Bed one at Olduvai were deposited by water. The question was now was most of these bones and artifact at theses sites placed there from water flow? Geological studies show that the Olduvai area was a lake basin with distinct zones for the lake, the lake margin, and the stream channel (Potts, 341). But the evidence for rapid moving water is not present. Bones as well as sediments can be deposited by water, each element responding differently to the energy of the flow. And although the movement of bones in water is affected by a complex array of factors, rapidly flowing water tends to sort skeletal elements according to their hydrodynamic properties. The bones found at the Olduvai Gorge do not show the differential sorting of the bones that would have occurred if there was rapid flowing water. The bones do show some signs of water being present, but it was probably just by a sheet wash of rain. However the geological and archaeological evidence shows that water transportation was not the reason for the accumulation of bones and artifacts at Olduvai.
The second possibility for the accumulation of animal bones at this site is the death of a large amount of animals in one spot. If this hypothesis is correct the stone tools either were used by hominids on carcasses at the death site or were fortuitously associated with the bones (Potts, 341). To assess this hypothesis they studied animal carcasses in modern savanna habitats. These studies which cover instances of both individual death and mass mortality, identify several distinguishing features of death sites (Potts, 341). It shows that under normal conditions or attritional conditions, mortality a very low degree of bone concentration occurs after only a few weeks (Potts, 341). Any catastrophic events leave evidence, and lastly vertebrae and other axial skeleton parts tend to remain at a death site.
The Olduvai fossil assemblages show none of the features that typify animal death sites. The bones are densely concentrated at each site and there is no evidence of a catastrophic event. This information only can not rule out the possibility of repeated predation of game animals at particular locations. Potts goes on to explain the preponderance of limb bones indicate that some bone-collecting animal was responsible for carrying these remains away from death sites to other specific locations. The problem remains who that bone collector was.
Thing bring us to the third possibility of active carnivores. Some carnivores bring back parts of an animal back to their den and thus produce sizable accumulations. Potts says that it is possible for carnivores to be responsible for the bones found in bed one at Olduvai. But since carnivores do not carry stone tools the hypothesis of carnivore activity just like the previous two hypothesis implies that the stone tools and the bones have become associated together by accident (Potts, 342). Potts goes on explaining about the cut marks by tools on the bone and the tooth marks on the bone. He says that the studies show predominantly the marks of carnivore’s teeth and stone tools. Including tool marks that made by slicing, scraping, and chopping just like we talked about in lecture on October twenty-first. He also explains how over time the bones crack and peel as lie on the landscape and how this effects the evidence. He explains that most bones are found fractured and that it can be hard to tell whether the mark came from an animal or a stone tool. He explains how they took a bone from a modern day hyena den and compared to the stone artifacts that are associated with the stone artifacts and show how they are different. Osteological comparisons thus suggest that carnivores were primarily the reason for the one bone and the others were from a different bone-collector, these were the original ones thought to be used by hominids (Potts, 343). In the next few pages Potts goes on to explain and review the facts that I described to you above. He says that the home base interpretation depends primarily on faunal evidence. Some researchers say that it is the concentration of exotic stone artifacts which demonstrates the presence of home bases in Olduvai (Potts, 345).
Potts talks about with the exception of site DK, almost all the stones found at the sites in Bed one were carried there by hominids. And then says that if this is true hominids carrying these stone tools back and forth would have taken a lot of time and energy suggesting, that these camps were relatively permant. To investigate this they used computer simulation. This indicates that on the other hand that the sites could have been produced by hominids simply as an energy –saving strategy (Potts, 345). In almost every stimulation the production and simultaneous use of multiple caches of stone tools rather- than single home base. Thus the accumulation of stone artifacts and animal bones at the same location does not necessarily mean that hominids used these sites as home bases. An alternative to the home base theory must taken into account four factor: evidence for the competition between hominids and carnivores over meat and marrow; the attraction of carnivores to the sites to which hominids transported bones; the incomplete processing of bones and possibly of meat at these sites; and long period over which bones accumulated at each site, as compared with the brief stays of modern hunter-gathers at their campsites (Potts, 345). According to this hypothesis, stone raw materials and manufactured tools were carried and left at various places in the foraging area. And as a result to this numerous stone cache area were formed from this just like what we talked about in lecture on October seventeenth. He goes on to talk about the possibility of kill site and the way they would have worked, how hominids would carry their tools back for further processing. He talks about how time and energy spent in handling and transporting portions of meat could have been minimized by taking the bones to the nearest cache site, where there remained stone tools and bones from previous visits. These visits were done quickly and this would help the hominids avoid direct confrontation with carnivores. The implications of stone caches are more limited that those of the home base model; nonetheless Potts believes that they are important. Potts goes on to explain how this idea of home bases is different from nonhuman primates. He explains that the use of these sites just for processing for a short amount of time implies that social activity was not their focus as it is in modern day hunter-gathers. At present, the inferences on which it is based imply that there is not yet good evidence for the existence of hunter-gatherer home bases as early as two million years ago.
He concludes by saying that the Olduvai sites provide only a glimpse of early hominids and that the future studies of hominids will have to use the most direct evidence available, the fossils and archaeological records to asses the questions we can not answer now.
I believe that most of the information we touched on in class but just not as in depth as in the article. The possibility of cache site and the idea of kill site we mentioned in the lectures about the Lower Pleistocene on October 5. The information of about the idea of home base is pretty much disagreed with in the article as in the lecture and in the book in chapter ten. I found the article to be a little confusing and very repetitive about the information. The lecture information was more straightforward and comprehendible for me. I would have to agree with the evidence that the early hominids did have some kind of site were they processed their food and ate it but that it was not a “home base”, but more like a cache area or kill sites.
Cite this Home bases and Early hominids
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