The earliest known member of the genus Homo, habilis evolved on the savannah of Africa between 2.5 and 2 million years ago. They are believed to have been the earliest part of our evolutionary chain to have been fully bipedal, to have lost (almost all of) the body hair that other primates have, and to have lived entirely on the ground – although possibly still gathering fruit from and seeking shelter in trees, much as we still do.
The reasons for this evolutionary move are many, but some of the more important ones include greater access to water, increased dietary variety and increased use of tools in hunting, which also made defence against predators easier than it had been for their australopithicene ancestors.
The classic ‘caveman’, Neanderthals – homo neanderthalensis – were native to Europe, Western Asia and Central Asia. The earliest Neanderthal characteristics evolved at around this time – fossil evidence (admittedly incomplete) suggests that the full differentiation of the species had taken place by 130,000 BCE.
They were not, as is often thought, the ancestors of modern humanity, but rather a rival species that our ancestors wiped out in a competition for space and resources.
The earliest known example of tool making by a hominid species, the Mousterian tools were created by members of the species homo neanderthalensis. They were primarily a flint-based technology, consisting mostly of cutting and scraping tools. Their name derives from Le Moustier in France, where such tools were discovered. However, it is unlikely that Le Moustier is the actual site of the tools’ origin, as similar tools have been found throughout Europe, the Near East and North Africa. Wherever they were invented, they clearly disseminated widely and – one assumes – swiftly.
The advent of tool making is the beginning of humanity’s technology-enabled conquest of the world. Up until this point, our ancestors were one species among many – a little smarter than most, but not especially better adapted than any other. Tool making changed that, making hominid species deadlier and more efficient hunters, and leading in time to the technological civilization that anyone reading this lives in today.
The actual origin of religion is a hotly debated topic in anthropoligical circles. We don’t know exactly when or how it happened. We know that it pre-dated the invention of writing, but not by how much. And we don’t know what the first religious beliefs were – do cave paintings represent a recording of a successful hunt, or a devotion to the aurochs spirits?
It is generally – though not universally – accepted that the ritualisation of death and burial, and the invention of the funeral, mark the earliest evidence of a belief in an afterlife or a spirit world. We know nothing of what was believed, but the care and attention which our ancestors paid to the arrangement of the dead, the things they buried with them and the markers left at gravesites – all of these imply a developing spirituality. We cannot say exactly where it happened, but somewhere in this process, the idea of God was invented.
Okay, this one’s a bit of a reach, but work with me here.
At some point, boats were invented. We do not when, or where, or by whom. Nor, Mr Brown’s opinions aside, do we know what gender the inventor had.
What we do know is that, at the very latest, humans arrived in Australia having traveled by boat approximately 40,000 years ago. So that’s when I’ve placed the date of the earliest boats, even though it was, in all probability, quite some time earlier.
In the traditions of the Indigenous Australian peoples, their ancestors were created with the land, at the dawn of what is called the Dreamtime, the Dreaming or Alterjinga.
Science tells it a little differently. The original ancestors of the people now known as the Australian Aboriginals emigrated to Australia at some point between 40,000 and 120,000 years ago. Due to the wide variation of dates, it is unclear whether they arrived here after a sea crossing, or via a landbridge now submerged. It is not known where they first set foot in Australia, nor how many separate waves of migration occurred.
What is for certain is that these people dwelt in Australia with little or no contact with the rest of the world (the Macassar fishing fleets being one of the few exceptions), for thousands of years before European settlement in 1788. Whether or not one accepts the Dreamtime legend, there remains an undeniable case for considering them to be the traditional owners of the land, displaced and disenfranchised by European imperialism.
It’s unclear exactly how our nearest hominid relatives went extinct, but the leading candidates are our direct ancestors: whether fucking or fighting.
I mean that quite literally: some of them interbred with homo sapiens until they no longer existed as a separate species, or they just plain got killed by other homo sapiens. At their widest range, Neandertals occupied lands from Ireland and Spain in the west through to the southern Urals in the East. They did not go extinct everywhere at the same time, of course, but the precise details are somewhat obscured by the incompleteness of the fossil record.
The most recent Ice Age – or more precisely, the most recent glacial maximum of the current Ice Age – ended a little under 10,000 years ago, having lasted some 70,000 years itself. The abrupt climactic changes (abrupt in a geological sense) contributed to mass extinctions of various animal species, notably the woolly mammoth, although it is also believed that hunting by early humans also contributed to at least some of these extinctions.
In geological terms, the end of the last Ice Age is recorded as the transition from the Pleistocene to the Holocene epochs.
It’s Atlantis. Everyone knows the basics: an advanced civilisation on a large island or small continent in the Atlantic Ocean, sunk beneath the ocean in a single day.
The Atlantis story originated in two works by Plato, the Critias and the Timaeus. These tell the story of Atlantis – created by the sons of Poseidon, ruled the world as an economic superpower, and finally destroyed by the gods of Olympus for its hubris.
Of course, so far as anyone can tell, Atlantis never truly existed. It was a myth, a parable regarding the dangers of arrogance and pride.
It was a most Unexpected Party. Bilbo had no idea that he was going to be throwing it, for one thing.
But despite all the misunderstandings that Gandalf had apparently deliberately fostered (who says you can’t have a few laughs while you’re saving the world?), in the end, one bemused middle-aged hobbit with no prior experience at anything more challenging than walking down to the pub had agreed to travel halfway round the world with thirteen dwarves he didn’t know to steal things from a dragon. Because why not?
More than a year after he had departed, and after numerous adventures, after triumphs and losses, Bilbo Baggins returned to his home of Bag End, in the Shire. His long adventures there and back again are completed; he carries with him the One Ring (albeit not yet recognised as such), and believes that all his troubles lie behind him.
He is mildly discombobulated to discover that he has been declared dead and that certain of his relatives are attempting to claim his possessions. The matter is soon sorted out, although Bilbo’s penchant for adventures, the strange company he keeps (elves, dwarves and even wizards come to visit at times), and, we must suppose, a certain jealousy of his wealth, do little to endear him to most other hobbits.
At long last, weary of Middle Earth, the majority of the remaining Noldor Elves take ship for the Uttermost West. Their company includes the bearers of the three Elven Rings; Galadriel, Elrond and Gandalf; and also the hobbits Bilbo and Frodo Baggins, who carried the One Ring.
It is an occasion both of sadness and of the rewards of victory, as the peace of the West means forsaking Middle Earth and all there whom they love, forevermore. The departure is witnessed by Frodo’s three closest friends, Merry, Pippin and Sam Gamgee.
So tired today. Spent the whole day working on one thing, man. My plan is that he’s like an animal, only intelligent, like me. So because he’s not an animal, I figure he doesn’t need a mate. I mean, I don’t have one and I’m intelligent. Anyway, it went according to plan: I woke him up, told him that he was basically in charge whenever I’m not around, and called it a day.