100,000 BP

The many different hominins in the world by 100,000 years ago were all very competent creatures, making and using very effective stone tools, burying their dead and using fire. Their level of collaborative activity in hunting large animals strongly suggests they had language and could plan.

They co-existed and we have no evidence to suggest that the early modern humans - our ancestors - were any more competent than homo-naledi, homo-floriesiensis, the denisovans or the neanderthals. There is no hint that soon the early modern humans will gain ascendency over the other hominins.

This period is much debated as several new varieties of hominin have been discovered in recent years. The most recent is homo naledi, whose bones have been found deliberately buried deep in the star cave system in Africa. Nobody yet knows how these species are inter-related. It is known that they inhabited different areas of the world and interbred to some extent - some modern humans have DNA from denisovans and neanderthals.

They had brains larger than apes, in the case of Neanderthals a brain slightly bigger than our brains. But they didn’t leave evidence of the creative and abstract thought that differentiates modern humans from these hominins and early modern humans.

They had spread around the world, following coasts where they could exploit seafood as well as land animals. There is much discussion about whether mankind developed in Africa and then spread out of Africa. Or maybe whether early pre-cursor species did this, with the ancestors of human beings developing in Europe and then spreading back into Africa. What we do know is that the fossil skeletons of early modern humans have been found in East Africa, Ethiopia and Israel.

It is reckoned that early modern humans had evolved by 200,000 years ago. In the 100,000 years up to 100,000 BP, they too hadn’t shown any evolution that distinguished them from the other hominins. There is no evidence of art, ornamentation or refinement of their stone tools. They were just of slightly different skeletal form to the other hominins. There is at this point nothing to suggest that there was any greater chance of modern humans developing from the early modern humans, than of us developing from neanderthals, home naledi, homo floriesiensis or the denisovans.

And indeed there was to be another 40,000 years or so before the evolution happened that changed the brains of early modern humans, to give us the capability for symbolic thought, deep planning and technological creativity.

What happened to create a brain evolution that then brought rapid development?

Read the story for more.