Thursday, November 18, 2010

Our Earliest Human Ancestors

In class, we read about the development of humans from a small ape-like creature that lived in eastern Africa called Australopithecus afarensis to the Homo sapiens hunter-gatherers who survived the Ice Ages.

As our first open response homework assignment, it gives students a chance to learn the proper procedures for this particular kind of work. In order to receive full credit for your homework, a student must hand in three key pieces of work:
  • an original draft, done on lined paper
  • notes taken in class as we review the answers
  • a revised, typed copy with a proper heading

In the blue book, A Message of Ancient Days, students read pages 90-95 and completed questions 1, 2, 3, and 4 on page 95.

The questions and notes from class:

1. What have scientists learned about our earliest ancestors?
  • That the earliest humans lived between 1 and 4 million years ago
  • Early humans used simple tools at first, but more complicated ones as time went on
  • Humans walked on two feet (were bipedal), which is different from modern apes
  • Humans had smaller brains than modern humans (an australopithecus's brain was 1/3 the size of us)
  • Humans' appearance (bone structure) changed over time
  • "Lucy" was only about 3.5 feet tall
  • Humans began in Africa, but migrated to Europe, Asia, and the Americas
  • Humans adapted to their new environments (by making fire in cold climates, for example)

2. What method would archaeologists use to date the remains of Cro Magnons?
  • Archaeologists could radiocarbon date the remains (bones, not fossils) of a Cro Magnon because it is once-living material from a human that lived about 40,000 years ago.
  • Also, archaeologists could relatively date the remains depending on where they were found, and by analyzing objects that are found nearby.

3. How did conditions during the Ice Age make it possible for human settlement to spread to new areas?
  • During the Ice Age the sea levels dropped and land bridges formed, allowing humans to travel to new areas like the Americas and Australia.

4. What evidence might scientists have used to discover that Homo erectus was able to make fires?

A scientist might find any of the following evidence located among Homo erectus remains (1.5 million to 200,000 years ago):
  • burnt wood (charcoal)
  • fire pit (circle of stones)
  • ashes (blackened soil)
  • cooked animal remains
  • fire-making tools (flint)

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