Homo sapiens is only 200 000 years old, but in that time we have come so far. A lot of the breakthroughs we have made in this time are amazing. But the things people think are important aren’t always the things that have made a difference. What things have affected EVERYONE? Every human on the planet? Here are 20 things which, together, provide a beautiful map of human progress.
2 Stone Tools (2.6 million years ago)
Apes, and indeed many other animals, have been making tools for millions of years. However, very few ever venture to refashion stones. Tools made of leaves and wood tend to rot or wear away, but stone tools are much more permanent, and therefore lend themselves to better and better shaping towards their purpose over time. A spearhead, after a hunt, can be retrieved and refined so that the next hunt is easier. Hunting suddenly became much more successful. Stone tools and the need for more refined tool making require a greater intellect and imagination than that of most animals, and so the humans with better brains made better tools, enjoyed better lives, and generally lived longer, allowing them time to have more offspring. In shaping stone tools we shaped our own evolution.
3 Fire (1 million years ago)
Although there are records of chimpanzees, our closest relatives, performing ritualistic fire dances and even wielding flaming branches, humans are the only verified creature to have learnt the art of creating a flame. Fire provides comfort and warmth, but much more importantly, it allows us to cook meat. Our ancestors found that cooked meat was easier and safer to eat, and they rapidly adapted to a diet with more meat in it. Their powerful vegetation-chewing jaws shrank and their brains grew as they hunted more game, an act requiring a relatively high amount of intellect for the planning and communication involved. Fire changed our diets, which subsequently changed our digestive tracts, our jaws and teeth, and was one of the biggest factors in the development of near-modern intelligence. Stone tools may have started us down the road to larger brains, but fire massively accelerated the process. In a relatively short space of time after fire was mastered, the brain size of our ancestors more than doubled.
4 Farming (10,000 years ago)
Rather than live nomadically and follow herds of game around, some groups of early people found they could keep groups of less aggressive creatures confined to a set area and alleviate themselves of the need to constantly travel. This allowed more permanent settlements to be formed, and the people had more free time due to not having to travel so often. Written language became much more useful in keeping track of things, and the extra time gave them the window to develop it. Domestication was applied to plants as well, and basic husbandry began. Breeding became a carefully controlled process. Weaving and other arts could be refined, and trading for goods greatly increased. Instead of having only a few occupations as in a hunter-gatherer society, there were now hundreds of specialist jobs, ranging from metal workers to breeders to primitive vets. No-one was a generalist anymore. Where previously the world population had been only a few million, farming allowed a number approaching the billions. Farming had an internal affect as well: the large stores of food which resulted from farming gave rise to larger and larger numbers of disease-carrying vermin, which in turn made people develop stronger immune systems.