1,000,000 BP

The evolution of mankind has been a very slow process over millions of years. It is change from the extremely slow technological development of this period to the very rapid development in the last 100,000 years that is surprising.

It is believed that all the different hominins that developed probably evolved from homo erectus, or maybe australopithecus. These tool-using hominins date back to more than 3 million years ago. They came after the more ape-like hominids, differing from them through being adapted to walking upright.

There is now a body of work that suggests that bipedalism evolved when some ape-like hominids took to wading in water, to gather shellfish, molluscs and slow-moving fish such as catfish. And that it was this diet that provided the necessary foods to enable brain evolution.

However it happened, we should imagine homo-erectus as a very capable creature. They made and used stone tools and could make fire. They caught, butchered and cooked land animals as well as fish and nuts. There are fossilised shells associated with homo-erectus fossils that show zig-zag scratch marks on shells from 500,000 years ago, that show a desire to make deliberate marks.

But we have no evidence of any rapid or sudden changes. The scratch marks did not develop into artwork or writing. The stone tools stayed at pretty much the same level of development for hundreds of thousands of years.

It is very hard for us to imagine how slow this evolution and technological development was. We have only had use of metals for the last 5000, years or so. Three million years is a period 600 times as long as this.

All this fits with the traditional view of evolution as being a slow process involving long periods of time. This is what makes what comes next so surprising.

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