The important point to know is that Homo heidelbergensis is just a type of Homo erectus that lived in Europe about 500,000 years ago in what is today Germany, France, and Spain. This type of human ancestor exhibited the first aspects of culture in the human species: living together, making and using tools, making and controlling fire, adapting to colder climates, and hunting in coordinated groups.
Much more after the jump:
1. First, human culture became more complex from the time of Homo heidelbergensis to the time of Cro Magnons:
- Homo heidelbergensis lived in small groups of 20-30 people who traveled over a wide area hunting animals and gathering plants for food. These people had some loose social organization and probably had some type of language to help them coordinate a hunt.
- Later, Neanderthals developed a more complex culture than Homo heidelbergensis with a sense of community becoming more important to them. Neanderthals lived in larger groups of 20-50 people and stayed in one place longer. The Neanderthals buried their dead, giving us the earliest examples of funeral ceremonies, and a belief in the afterlife.
- Finally, Cro-Magnons have the most advanced culture of the early humans. Cro-Magnons were a type of Homo sapiens that lived in caves in western Europe around 30,000 years ago. The Cro-Magnons lived a life similar to modern hunter-gatherers. They made the most complex tools to that point: fishing nets, spear throwers, and bows and arrows. Cro-Magnons also left very advanced artwork in sculptured objects and cave art.
2. Over time, the image of the Neanderthal has changed a great deal. People used to imagine Neanderthals as stupid, brutish, primitive, and with bad posture. New findings have demonstrated that this image is false. Neanderthals were actually pretty advanced in terms of the early humans. They had a belief in life after death, they cared for the sick and elderly members of their tribe, and they adapted well to the cold environment of Europe in the winter. So the expression, "So easy a caveman can do it!" is actually pretty insulting.
- Fire kept people warm (and alive!) during the cold climate of the Ice Ages in Europe and Asia.
- Fire was used to scare off predators that might try and eat the early humans
- Fire was used to cook food--this kills bacteria and makes meat easier to digest
4. Cro-Magnons were the most advanced of the early humans. They were of the species Homo sapiens, just like modern humans. The best evidence of the Cro-Magnons' culture is found in their amazing artwork. Cro-Magnons painted very lifelike designs on the walls and ceilings of thier cave homes, often showing animals and nature scenes. The Cro-Magnons also carved animal bones and wood into detailed depictions of animals. Aside from being a little dirtier and shaggier, a Cro-Magnon would look a lot like a human today.
Check out the location of this amazing prehistoric artwork in Lascaux, France: