planning ahead.

Glenn Morton (
Sun, 19 Apr 1998 21:20:14 -0500

I normally don't directly mention my books on these lists but I am going to
make an exception due to some info that I learned this weekend.

In Adam Apes and Anthropology, I have a section (p. 162-163) that discusses
how far ahead fossil man could plan. I note that chimpanzees can't seem to
plan any further ahead in time than how long it takes them to walk half a
kilometer (about 20 minutes). This is the farthest distance they have been
observed to carry a stone with which to crack a nut.

I note that 200 thousand years ago a man in England manufactured a stone
hand axe in such a way that he avoided destroying a beautifully preserved
fossil during manufacture. The fossil appeared on the hand-axe as if it
were a blazon. We know one other thing about this hand axe. The nearest
source for rocks with that particular fossil was 193 km distant. And I note
that 400 thousand years ago at Olorgesailie, Kenya stone tools were carried
for as far as 48 km.

Since the home range of a man was probably a 10 km radius,(what can be
comfortably walked out and back during a single day) this implies that in
England 200 kyr ago he could plan ahead for at least 20 days in advance and
at Olorgesailie, they could plan at least 2 days ahead Assuming a rapid
forced march one could reduce this planning ability to 5 and 1 day
respectively assuming 20 miles per day.

I have just learned that sometime between 700 kyr and 1.5 million years ago
(Gowlett, p. 56 says 1.2 MYR), Homo erectus carried a rare obsidian hand axe
at least 100 km from its nearest source to the plains of Gadeb, Ethiopia.

Clark and Kurashina write:

"Interesting features of the site are the recovery of cobbles with
artificial pitting like those from Olduvai (Beds II and IV) and Melka
Kunture (gomboreI). There were also discoloured pieces of welded tuff that
may have been altered and reddened by fire, and rare bifaces in obsidian and
pitchstone, materials which are completely absent from the plateau. These
bifaces are all well patinated and show a greater degree of abrasion than do
the tools of basalt and ignimbrite. This might be due to the greater ease
with which these materials can be abraded, but the generally cruder and less
regular finish exhibited by these bifaces suggests that they may already
have been in this condition when they were introduced to the site. This
suggested 'curation' of bifaces and the exotic nature of the material from
which they are made, the nearest sources of which are in the Rift, 100 km to
the west of Gadeb, strongly suggest that these obsidian handaxes may have
been carried up to the plateau in the course of seasonal movement by groups
exploiting localities round Lakes Zway and Langano and the PalaeoLake Gadeb
basin on the high plateau."~An analysis of Earlier stone Age Bifaces from
Gadeb (Locality 8E), Northern Bale Highlands, Ethiopia," South African
Archaeology Bulletin 34(1979):93-109, pp.94-95

Given the above figures it would appear that between 700 kyr and 1.5 myr
Homo erectus was able to plan at least 3 days(forced march or 5 days relaxed
pace). One must remember that these values represent only the minimum
planning distance. This is about 250-300 times longer than a chimpanzee.

Fossil man was not a grunting ape.

Other References

John A. J. Gowlett, Ascent to Civilization, (New York: McGraw-Hill, Inc.
1993),p. 56-57

K. P. Oakley, "Emergence of Higher Thought 3.0-0.2 Ma B.P.' Phil Trans. Ro.
Soc. Lond B 292:205-211

W. Roebroeks, et al, "Planning Depth, Anticipation and the Organization of
Middle Palaeolithic Technoloyg: The 'Archaic Natives' Meet Eve's
Descendants," Helinium XXVIII/1. 1988, pp 17-34 esp p. 30

Steven Kuhn, "On Planning and Curated Technologies in the Middle
Paleolithic,' Journal of Anthropological Research, 48:3(1992), pp 185-214,
p. 193


Adam, Apes, and Anthropology: Finding the Soul of Fossil Man


Foundation, Fall and Flood