Homo erectus speech (long)

Glenn Morton (GRMorton@gnn.com)
Sat, 10 Aug 1996 21:13:38

This last installment on Homo erectus was really the reason the other
essays were generated. Jim Foley, knowing my views of erectus, had urged
me to read Walker and Shipman's book and deal with the data they had.
Walker and Shipman do not believe that Homo erectus spoke as modern
Humans speak. They do believe that H. erectus spoke, but they believe
that H. erectus spoke a proto-language, which is a simplified language.
There is no consensus among anthropologists on this issue. I believe
Walker and Shipman's criticisms, even if true do not exclude H. erectus
from humanity. Here is why.


In a real sense, this is the question that cannot be answered with
certainty; but it is the most important question of all. Complex speech
is most assuredly the mark of humanity. Yet speech can never leave a
direct fossil evidence of itself. How do we tell when mankind began


My dictionary defines language as "the expression or communication of
thoughts and feelings by means of vocal sounds, and combinations of such
sounds". This is the primary definition, but it is too narrow. It
leaves sign language used by deaf people out of the definition of
language. The second definition of language is "any means of expressing
or communication, as gestures, signs, animal sounds, etc." For the
purpose of defining human language, this definition is too broad. Bees
have a language and use the language to convey the location of food. How
do we define human language? I consulted several books looking for a
definition of human language and have not been able to find one. Thus I
will define a human language as any means of expressing or
communication, as gestures or signs which are capable of conveying
concept unrelated to physical needs. This definition separates bee
language, which conveys information about physical needs from human
language which can discuss the differences between Kant's synthetic a
posteriori and synthetic a priori categories.

Language is innate in humans; only the means of expression is learned.
Campbell writes:

"As we find language in man today, it is not fully inborn, but the
capacity for speech and conceptual thought is certainly innate; only the
symbols themselves must be learned."~Bernard Campbell, Human Evolution,
(Chicago: Aldine Publishing Co., 1974), p. 336

Walker and Shipman express it more eloquently:

"As Petitto observed, the fact that deaf infants babble shows that
language is an innate capacity in humans; it is the mode of expression,
not the ability itself, that is learned. Or, to use the felicitous
phrase of Steven Pinker, a linguist at MIT, there is a 'language
instinct' hard-wired into the human brain."~Alan Walker and Pat Shipman,
The Wisdom of the Bones, (New York: Alfred Knopf, 1996), p. 272

This is supported by the most recent research. Hickok, Bellugi and Klima
studied 13 people whose left brain hemisphere had been damaged and
compared the results with 10 right hemisphere damaged patients. They
found that the impairments in language production, comprehension, naming
and repetition. What they found was the impairment for sign language
patients was identical with that of speaking patients. They say:

"These data indicate that at the hemispheric level the neural
organization of sign language is indistinguishable from that of spoken
language. Given that sign language relies largely on spatial
information rather than rapidly changing temporal information to encode
linguistic distinctions, our findings demonstrate that left-hemisphere
dominance for language is not solely determined by a general proclivity
for processing fast temporal information."~Gregory Hickok, Ursula
Bellugi and Edward S. Klima, "The Neurobiology of Sign Language and Its
Implications for the Neural basis of Language," Nature, 381(June 20,
1996):699-702, p. 701-702


"Taken together, these data suggest that left-hemisphere dominance
for language is not driven by physical characteristics of the linguistic
signal or motor aspects of its production, but rather stem from higher-
order properties of the system. Whether these turn out to be domain
specific aspects of grammatical structure or other, less specific,
organizational properties awaits further investigation."~Gregory Hickok,
Ursula Bellugi and Edward S. Klima, "The Neurobiology of Sign Language
and Its Implications for the Neural basis of Language," Nature, 381(June
20, 1996):699-702, p. 702

The physiological basis for speech appears to reside in an area
just beneath Broca's area. Broca's area was first noticed and described
by Paul Broca in the 19th century. Dean Falk writes:

"Over a century ago, Paul Broca discovered an amazing fact from
postmortem autopsies of patients with speech disorders. Their brains
almost invariably had damage in a specific area of the left hemisphere.
Today, we know that language has both sensory and motor components. It
is therefore represented by two distinct areas in the brain, one
posterior and one anterior. The sensory area for comprehension of
spoken words (known as Wernicke's area) is next to the primary auditory
area in the temporal lobe. The motor area for speech (Broca's area) is
located in the frontal lobe near the primary motor areas that stimulate
the organs of speech (e.g. larynx, tongue, mouth). As anticipated by
Broca's initial discovery, both language areas are located in the left
hemisphere. Although they are on the same side of the brain, damage to
these areas results in different types of aphasias.
"Patients with Broca's aphasia are fine in the comprehension
department. However, they have great difficulty speaking or writing
what they wish to say. Their speech is terribly slow and, when it
finally comes, is characterized by poor articulation. Although patients
may be able to produce single meaningful words, small words and endings
are usually omitted. As a result, their sentences (such as they are)
are grammatically incorrect. Left hemisphere damage may extend to the
primary motor cortex, which accounts for the fact that Broca's aphasiacs
also frequently experience paralysis of the right side of the
body."~Dean Falk, Braindance,(New York: Henry Holt and Co., 1992), p.

Positron emission tomography (PET) scans of brains have shown that Paul
Broca was slightly wrong. The area which is named Broca's area is
actually involved in the motor function of speech. The real Broca's
area lies just under the surface of the classical Broca's area. Walker
and Shipman note:

"Like a cat lying under the bedclothes, it may make a superficial lump
that is visible, but Broca's area itself cannot make a detectable
impression on the interior surface of a skull."~Alan Walker and Pat
Shipman, The Wisdom of the Bones, (New York: Alfred Knopf, 1996), p. 268

This new interpretation of Broca's area is supported by detailed study
of damage to stroke patients. Walker and Shipman write:

"Lesions or injuries to Broca's area itself produce stuttering and other
motor problems with speaking, as Paul Broca had noticed in the
nineteenth century, but only a defect to a much larger area causes
aphasia, or loss of language."~Alan Walker and Pat Shipman, The Wisdom
of the Bones, (New York: Alfred Knopf, 1996), p. 268-269

What is all this fuss about Broca's area and how does it relate to
speech in Homo erectus? Broca's area, the new, deeper speech center,
apparently creates a bulge in the surface of the brain. This bulge is
the classical Broca's area but the bulge is due to the deeper speech
center which as Walker and Shipman said, lies like a cat under the bed
clothes. This bulge leaves an impression on the inside of your skull.

Since skulls are fossilized, the earliest appearance of this bulge on
the interior of the skull can be noted. Apes do not have a Broca's
bulge.(Dean Falk, Comments, Current Anthropology, 30:2, April, 1989, p.
141-142.) The earliest occurrence of Broca's bulge on the interior of
the skull occurs in KNM-ER 1470 a 1.9 million year old Homo habilis. All
Homo erectus' like modern man, have Broca's bulge imprinted onto the
interior of the skull. This is something that no australopithecus nor
ape possesses. This most human of physical traits appears in beings we
Christians want to exclude from the human family.

There is another feature which is required for modern speech. It is the
cranial flexion at the base of the skull. Jeff Laitman has shown that
the cranial flexion was non-existent in Australopithecus, "substantial"
in erectus and fully developed with Neanderthal and modern humans.
Fagan writes:

"He [Laitman] found that Australopithecus had vocal tracts much like
living apes. He was unable to study the base of Homo habilis crania as
they are fragmentary, but Homo erectus had a larynx with an equivalent
position to that of an 8-year-old modern child. He believes that it was
only after 300,000 years ago, with the appearance of archaic Homo
sapiens, that the larynx assumed its modern position, giving at least
mechanical potential for the full range of speech sounds used
today."~Brian M. Fagan, The Journey From Eden, (London: Thames and
Hudson, 1990), p. 87

Walker and Shipman do believe that Homo erectus could talk, just not in
the way we can. They write:

"But Laitman's studies left the case for language in erectus equivocal,
for 15K's larynx probably rested in a position very similar to that of a
young modern human child. Toddlers speak proto-language, so the boy's
ability to vocalize might have been developed to a similar degree."~Alan
Walker and Pat Shipman, The Wisdom of the Bones, (New York: Alfred
Knopf, 1996), p. 281

Now, speech is speech and the speech of an 8 year old is still quite
human! So is that of a 2-year-old and the speech of my wife's severely
retarded uncle. He has a relatively small head. And an 8-year old who
dies, still has an eternal fate awaiting him no matter the status of his
speech. But before Laitman's views are taken as gospel, closing the case
on modern speech, one needs to remember that Laitman said that
Neanderthal would not be able to speak (see James R. Shreeve, The
Neandertal Enigma, (New York: William Morrow and Co., 1995), p. 190).
Subsequent discovery showed that the Neanderthal vocal tract was modern.
Arensburg et al wrote:

"The discovery of the first fossil hominid hyoid bone from Kebara
provides important insights into the vocal tract of Middle Palaeolithic
hominids, because a previously unknown portion of the anatomy is
available for study and its anatomical relationships can be evaluated.
The bone itself is not notably different, in either size or morphology
from that of modern human hyoids. The relations of the hyoid to the
mandible and cervical vertebrae probably did not differ from the modern
pattern; the Kebara neck appears to be anatomically and proportionally
similar to that of living peoples. These new data strongly suggest that
Middle Palaeolithic people shared structural relationships with modern
humans in terms of their vocal tracts. They appear to be as
'anatomically capable' of speech as modern humans when hyoid positioning
and supralaryngeal space are the critera considered. The hyoid bone from
Kebara is a 'singular' discovery, yet the evidence for marked
similarities of this bone to those of living peoples cannot be easily
dismissed; this research has demonstrated that it is a component in a
suite of morphological relationships that collectively display a modern
human configuration."~B. Arensburg et al, "A Reappraisal of the
Anatomical Basis for Speech in Middle Palaeolithic Hominids,"American
Journal of Physical Anthropology 83:137-146, p. 145

Laitman's methods would predict that the Neanderthal who was able to
make the earliest known bone flute would have been speechless. This
seems unlikely: a mute, brute, who makes the flute.
(see http://www.zrc-sazu.si/www/iza/piscal.html )


Walker and Shipman present three arguments against speech in Homo

First they use the newly discovered fact that the classically defined
Broca's area is not per se involved in speech to suggest that it is not
indicative of speech.

Their rejection of language based upon the Broca's area itself being
beneath the bulge is logically flawed. To use their own analogy of a
cat lying under the bed clothes, it really doesn't matter if the
impression of the bulge is made by the cat itself or the bedclothes
covering the cat. The fact is that some part of human language is
controlled by this deeper region and it creates the bulge. And the
bulge first occurs in the skulls of habilis and is found in all erectus


Secondly, they argue from one anatomical difference between Homo
sapiens and Homo erectus that H. erectus did not have the proper
enervation for speech. Walker and Shipman write:

"Ann's [Maclarnon] previous studies had shown that the dimensions
of the vertebral canal are an excellent indicator of the width of the
spinal cord itself, except at the pelvic end of the body, where the
spinal cord peters out. In most primates, the dimensions of the spinal
cord reflect the body size of the animal itself: big animals need more
nerve tissue to maintain control over their bodies. Since all that
nerve tissue ultimately comes or goes to the spinal cord, it is no
wonder that big-bodied primates have big spinal cords and small-bodied
ones have smaller ones. Ann had also discovered that the main
difference between humans and all other primates was an enlargement of
the human spinal cord in the region that controls the lower neck, arms,
and thorax, which, fortuitously, was the very region that was best
represented in the boy's remains.
"Ann confirmed that the boy's spinal cord was genuinely small in
the thoracic region, as I had suspected. That made him anatomically
like apes and monkeys and unlike humans. The lingering question was why,
why humans developed this unique expansion of the spinal cord and what
was implied about the boy's behavior by the fact that he didn't show a
humanlike expansion. Typically, Ann took a very empirical approach to
answering the question. She had dissected dozens of primates, including
humans, and had studied the composition of the spinal cord in this
region. Spinal cords contain two types of tissue, known as gray matter
and white matter for their appearance. The parts of the spinal cord
that house nerve cell bodies, where the nucleus resides, appear gray;
the long nerve fibers, covered with fatty, myelinated sheaths, look
white. Ann found that the enlargement of the spinal cord in the
thoracic region of humans was due to an increase of gray matter, meaning
that these were extra nerve cell bodies in that region. This made
perfect sense; the extra cells showed that there were extra spinal
nerves that left the spinal cord in this region. The surprise was that
the location of the cell bodies told her that the spinal nerves were not
for control of the muscles of the arms. (Although control of the arms
is extremely important to us, it is just as crucial to nonhuman
primates, who manipulate objects habitually and use their forelimbs for
locomotion.) These extra nerves to the abdominal and thoracic muscles.
Ann's manuscript simply made this observation without drawing any
further conclusions. I was dissatisfied and wrote back, pressing Ann to
draw out the broader significance of her findings. What did it mean
that humans had additional innervation of the thorax and abdomen? Why
did we need it--and why didn't the boy need it?
"She replied that she could think of only two interpretations of
these data. The first is that Homo erectus was not yet fully adapted to
bipedalism in terms of postural control of thoracic movements; by this
she meant the twisting of the torso that inevitably accompanies walking,
the characteristic movement that makes us swing the right arm forward
with the left foot, or the left arm forward with the right foot, for
balance. I can't believe that, Ann, I thought as I read her letter.
She knew as well as I did that hominids had been walking for more than
two million years by the time the boy was born. There was little chance
that he and his conspecifics were still ill-adapted to bipedalism so
long after this mode of locomotion had evolved. Besides, the work that
Carol and Bruce had done showed that the vertebrae were almost fully
adapted to weight-bearing. Since this is one of the most fundamental
anatomical responses to bipedalism, I was incredulous that erectus could
have adapted so fully to bipedalism in that respect--not to mention the
reshaping of the pelvis, knee, foot, and (as Fred's work would later
show) vestibular system--and yet still lack the nervous control of the
muscles of the thorax. It made no sense to me.
"Ann also offered an alternative explanation. "I gave a seminar in
my department covering a lot of my spinal cord stuff, and the analyses
I'd done on WT 15000 so far,' she wrote. 'A colleague, Gwen Hewitt,
suggested that the increase in thoracic innervation in modern humans
might be the result of increased breathing control associated with the
evolution of speech.' In other words, the extra nerve cells controlled
the intercostal and abdominal muscles of the thorax."~Alan Walker and
Pat Shipman, The Wisdom of the Bones, (New York: Alfred Knopf, 1996), p.

Does the smaller nervous system rule out a language for Homo erectus?
No. First it may be that modern people who have this defect can talk in
spite of it. This is one possibility which I have been unable examine.

Secondly, a smaller vertebral column may be proof that H. erectus had a
different form of language than we have. Remember that language is hard-
wired into our brains but the form or expression of that language is
learned. Do men need vocal tracts to have a language? No. Sign
languages can be picked up by hearing babies born to deaf parents. And
some have suggested that signing was the first form of language.

"Primates are overwhelmingly manipulative animals--they are always
handling, altering, and using objects with their hands--and, as a group,
they are not especially verbal. If you had to guess at a modality in
which primates would evolve an elaborate communication system, you would
probably bet on a gestural modality. Nonetheless, humans have followed
an evolutionary trajectory that has led primarily to spoken, not signed,
language."~Alan Walker and Pat Shipman, The Wisdom of the Bones, (New
York: Alfred Knopf, 1996), p. 270

This trajectory may not have started with vocal speech. Clive Gamble

"Gordon Hewes has consistently argued the long chronology for gestural
origins of language. He sees tool use and manufacture as critical
evidence for gestural languages comparable to modern sign languages, so
that when spoken language took over relatively late and as a result of
cognitive developments it appropriated rather than invented a language
system."Clive Gamble, Timewalkers,(Cambridge: Harvard University Press,
1994), p. 172

Modern sign languages are as complex as spoken languages and can convey
complex concepts like any other language. Under this suggestion, the
Upper Palaeolithic explosion may have taken place with the development
of spoken language not with the development of language itself.

There is also the possibility that the original language, if vocal, may
have had a basis in clicks and clucks of the tongue like the language of
the San bushmen of the Kalahari today. If they did not exist, we would
never envision a language like theirs. Khoisan languages, of which
their language is a member, are like no other languages on earth having
tongue clicks as a major constituent. A language which used the labials
and the tongue would have less need of precise control of breathing and
could be spoken by some one on the condition of Homo erectus.


The final argument against speech in H. erectus concerned symbolism.
They write:

"Other analyses have suggested that language was a very late acquisition
indeed; this made more sense to me from my new perspective. Two
anthropologists at the University of New England in Australia, William
Noble and Iain Davidson, have emphasized the symbolic nature of language
as its most readily visible and perhaps the most important attribute.
To them--to me too--the earliest, unequivocal evidence for the repeated
use of symbols occurs very late. This evidence occurs at different
times in different parts of the world, perhaps reflecting the spread of
modern humans. Nowhere do undoubted symbols appear earlier than about
125,000 years ago, when anatomically modern humans first evolved; in
much of the world, symbolism appears a mere 30,000-50,000 years ago.
(While some people think of 50,000 years ago as very ancient, to me it
is a negligible span of time that is smaller than the dating error of
the fossils I work on.) Noble and Davidson point to abundant evidence
from the Upper Paleolithic, a period that began around 35,000 years ago
in Europe coincident with the appearance of anatomically modern humans.
Although there are a few cases of apparently symbolic behavior in Europe
earlier than this, they are isolated instances and thus not fully
convincing."~Alan Walker and Pat Shipman, The Wisdom of the Bones, (New
York: Alfred Knopf, 1996), p. 283-284

This argument has several major difficulties. First, the assumption
must be made that mankind produced no symbolic art prior to the Upper
Paleolithic 30-40,000 years ago.The only thing that can be said with
certainty is that very little symbolism was carved onto stone or bone
prior to this time. Stone and bone are the only objects capable of
being preserved for such long time periods. Wooden, leather or other
soft art objects would be lost to decay.

What evidence is there of symbolic activities among Homo erectus?
Surprisingly there is quite a lot of indirect evidence. I will consider
evidence down to the 250,000 years ago which is the youngest date
ascribed to H. erectus and is before the appearance of fully modern men
and before the appearance of neanderthal.

There is some indirect evidence of the use of body painting, which is
most assuredly symbolic. Ochre has no purpose of a utilitarian nature.
To find ochre with Homo erectus sites almost from the beginning of the
erectus is quite a remarkable situation. Ochre is an iron oxide of
various colors that were used by primitive peoples for no other purpose
than decoration and painting. Dickson writes:

"Ochre has no apparent practical or technological use until the
development of iron metallurgy sometime in the second millennium before
Christ when it becomes a principal ore for iron smelting. Nonetheless,
many of the Paleolithic period ochre specimens show evidence of having
been worked or utilized in some fashion. For example, the two lumps of
ochre recovered at Olduvai Gorge show signs of having been struck
directly by hammerstone blows (M. Leakey 1971)."~D. Bruce Dickson, The
Dawn of Belief, (Tuscon: The University of Arizona Press, 1990), p. 42-

With no use, the finding of ochre at lots of erectus sites leaves use
with little alternative other than to believe that it was used for some
non-utilitarian purpose, like body painting or decorating other objects.
The attack Dickson talks of in the following is the attack on the body
of body painting.

"The presence of worked ochre in Bed II at Olduvai Gorge suggests that
the beginning of this 'attack' may even predate the appearance of Homo
erectus and begin instead with Homo habilis or the australopithecines
more than 1.5 million years ago."~D. Bruce Dickson, The Dawn of Belief,
(Tuscon: The University of Arizona Press, 1990), p. 44

Ochre powder is found at Terra Amata, a 300,000 year old erectus site
near Nice, France.(~Alexander Marshack, "On Paleolithic Ochre and the
Early Uses of Color and Symbol," Current Anthropology, 22:2, April 1981,
p. 188) Ochre powders were widely used by primitive man for body

"Clearer evidence of ochre use comes from Becov in Czechoslovakia.
This cave site, occupied ca.250,000 B. P., yielded a specimen of red
ochre that was striated on two faces with marks of abrasion together
with a flat rubbing stone with a granular crystalline surface that had
been abraded in the center possibly during the preparation of ochre
powder (Marshack 1981: 138). Whether or not the rubbing stone was
actually used in the preparation of ochre powder is uncertain, but a
wide area of the occupation floor from which the ochre lump had been
recovered was stained with red ochre powder."~D. Bruce Dickson, The Dawn
of Belief, (Tuscon: The University of Arizona Press, 1990), p. 42-43

There are a few examples of symbolism.

There is the 330,000 Berekhat Ram figurine. This is a the earliest
example of a Venus Figurine a type of statue believed to be a fertility
symbol. (Alexander Marshack, "On the "Geological' Explanation of the
Berekhat Ram Figurine," Current Anthropology, 36:3, June, 1995, p. 495.)

"Mania and Ulcek (1972) had recently excavated a large engraved rib from
the Acheulian site of Bilzingsleben, German Democratic Republic, ca.
300,000 B. C. Valoch (1976) has termed the site one of the most
important in Europe from this period. The large bone, in relatively
good condition, indicated a long series of clearly intentional engraved
'decorative' or symbolic marks. Microscopic examination showed that
these were not accidental, random marks or cutting or work marks. This
rare piece of intentional Acheulian engraving is totally different in
mode and style from the engraved serpentine image from this period
excavated at Pech de L'Aze by Bordes and described by me in an earlier
paper. These Acheulian examples once again caution us that early
symbolic modes, whether they involve the use of color or engraving and
carving, cannot be subsumed under any prior theoretical concept as to
their meaning."~Alexander Marshack, "On Paleolithic Ochre and the Early
Uses of Color and Symbol," Current Anthropology, 22:2, April 1981, p.

Secondly, lack of non-perishable art and symbolism is not evidence of
the absence of symbolism at all. Shreeve writes:

"In western Australia today there are aborigines who make very crude-
looking stone tools. But their wooden implements are very elaborate,
with fancy painting on bark, and beautiful spearthrowers and shafts.
They also have extremely complex social systems, cosmology, and
narrative traditions. If you were to dig up one of their sites a
thousand years from now, however, all you would see would be the clunky
stone tools. Does this mean those aborigines were technologically
inferior? Not at all. They were simply relying on perishable
materials."~James R. Shreeve, The Neandertal Enigma, (New York: William
Morrow and Co., 1995), p. 249

In a thousand years, all of their beautiful art work will have decayed
with the wood upon which it is painted. In a thousand years we will
not have any proof of their ability to handle symbolism. If Homo erectus
lived like the aborigines, there would be no evidence of their symbolism

One simply cannot equate technological advances with language or
humanity. To do so is a western European snobbery. Carlton Coon wrote:

"Let us start our sample of myths with those of the Tasmanians,
the most primitive hunters known to us in a material sense, in that they
used one-piece stone implements without handles, one-piece wooden
spears, had no fabricated containers for carrying water, and no
knowledge of fire making. They apparently lived in simple, exogamous,
territorial bands with chiefs, and once a year the members of several
bands came together to hunt by beating in a circle."~Carleton S. Coon,
The Hunting Peoples, (Boston: Little, Brown and Co., 1971), p. 28

The equating of technology with language would exclude these humans from
our family.

Thirdly, lots of obviously human cultures have only sparingly produced
art. Art and symbolism are largely absent from India and China from the
Upper Paleolithic. Stringer and Gamble write:

"One of the interesting questions to emerge from this discussion
is why such geographical variation exists in the quality and quantity of
ritual art and ornament after 40,000 years ago (particularly since the
symbolic behaviour associated with these objects was so clearly in
practice.) Why is this aspect of material culture so variable in parts
of the Upper Palaeolithic world such as China or India? To debate this
issue in the detail it requires would fill an entire book. Suffice it
to say here that as research continues in these areas, evidence for
ritual-based art probably will turn up, as it has in Australia."~Chris
Stringer and Clive Gamble, In Search of the Neanderthals, (New York:
Thames and Hudson, 1993), p.203-204

The same can be said about the European Azilians who lived between
12,500 and 10,000 years ago. This culture produced no art like that of
their European Upper Paleolithic ancestors. Judging their language
abilities by their art or symbolism would imply that they didn't speak.

In short, art and symbolism do not define language.


Walker and Shipman attempt to equate the manufacture of stone tools
(which I believe is a culturally generated phenomenon) with that done by
chimpanzees. They state:

"Another problem that came to light after Holloway made his
initial suggestion can be stated as a simple question: If toolmaking
indicates the possession of the cognitive faculties necessary for
language, how is it that chimps can and do make and use tools (in the
wild and in captivity) and yet never master full language, even with
intensive training?"~Alan Walker and Pat Shipman, The Wisdom of the
Bones, (New York: Alfred Knopf, 1996), p. 283

But they totally ignore the assessment of Schick and Toth, the
researchers who taught a chimp named Kanzi to make tools. Schick and
Toth say:

"Moreover, Kanzi's progress so far as a tool maker suggests to us that
early Oldowan hominids may exhibit a much greater cognitive
understanding of the prinicples and mechanics of tool making than modern
apes seem to be able to develop. This indicates something important
about our hard-wiring, the size and compelxity of our brain and its
connections to the motor control system, at this stage in our evolution.
We feel that these hominids probably had surpassed modern apes and
probably their australopithecine ancestors in their ability to modify
stones."~Kathy D. Schick and Nicholas Toth, Making Silent Stones Speak,
(New York: Simon and Schuster, 1993), p. 139

Johanson, Johansen and Edger agree. They say:

"It's noteworthy that Kanzi's tools do not match the Oldowan type
of hominid tools in any way, according to Nick and Kathy. The cores are
bashed and have steep-angled edges rather than the acute angles that
characterize stone tools."~Donald C. Johanson, Lenora Johanson, and
Blake Edgar, Ancestors, (New York: Villard Books, 1994), p. 128

The stone tools are more than mere ape instincts. But Homo erectus was
able to do even more. All of the following were done by H. erectus or
early archaic homo sapiens.

Mankind is the only creature that controls fire. The first evidence of
fire comes from 1.5 myr ~C. K. Brain and A. Sillen, "Evidence from the
Swartkrans cave for the earliest use of fire," Nature, 336, Dece. 1,
1988, p. 464-465

Mankind is the only creature who scalps his fellow beings. The oldest
evidence of that is from 300-400 thousand years ago from Bodo Ethiopia.
There are stone tool cut marks on the inside of the eye sockets of an
erectus.~Ian Tattersall, The Fossil Trail (New York: Oxford University
Press, 1995), p. 244.

Mankind is the only creature who makes weapons. The earliest spear is
from Clacton on Sea from 400,000 years ago.~Kathy D. Schick and Nicholas
Toth, Making Silent Stones Speak, (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1993),
p.172, p. 271

Mankind is the only being who makes a tool for a purpose other than to
get food. The first evidence of woodworking with tools comes from 1.5
myr ago.
~Kathy D. Schick and Nicholas Toth, Making Silent Stones Speak, (New
York: Simon and Schuster, 1993), p.160

The earliest evidence for making and tanning skins which could be used
for clothes is from Swartkrans South Africa dated at 1 million
years~Donald C. Johanson, Lenora Johanson, and Blake Edgar, Ancestors,
(New York: Villard Books, 1994), p. 163-165~Richard G. Klein, The Human
Career, (Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1989), p. 117

Man is the only being who hunts by making stone artefacts and using them
as projectiles. There is some speculation that the Acheulean hand ax,
which remains a fixed feature in the Homo erectus tool kit for over 1
million years, may have been aerodynamically suited as a projectile.
This would explain the remarkable stability of this artifact (see Eileen
M. O'Brian, "What was the Acheulean Hand Ax?" Natural History, July,
1984, p. 18ff.)

Mankind is the only being who makes weapons like spears and clubs. Shick
and Toth write:

"Of special interest was the preservation of prehistoric wood at
Clacton-on-Sea on the southern coast of England, in particular the
broken shaft and tip of a spear made out of yew. This is the earliest
definitive evidence of wood technology in the prehistoric record.
Microscopic examination by archaeologists revealed clear striations from
the wood having been shapes with a stone tool about 300,000 years ago.
At the Acheulean site of Kalambo Falls in Zambia, probably between
200,000 and 400,000 years old, a possible wooden club was discovered
among the fossil wood specimens. And microwear analysis by Lawerence
Keeley of flint tools from the English sites of Clacton and Hoxne shows
clear use-wear patterns from woodworking on some implements, from hide
scraping on others. Artifacts made out of wood and hide are inferred
from these polishes: as previously discussed, wood could have served as
spears, digging sticks, pegs, or containers, while scraped hides could
have served as containers, clothing, or elements of architecture.
"This meager but tantalizing evidence suggests that there was
probably a range of perishable materials employed as tools, and again
suggests a rich invisible technology that rarely survives in the earlier
prehistoric record. Among recent Stone Age hunter-gatherers, tools made
from organic materials, such as wood and hide, are very common. The
stones give us the tip of the iceberg, perhaps, but an invaluable tip it
is.~Kathy D. Schick and Nicholas Toth, Making Silent Stones Speak, (New
York: Simon and Schuster, 1993), p. 271

The cultural data when combined with the evidence of compassion seen in
KNM-ER 1808 argues strongly for some type of language with which to pass
the technology down to succeeding generations. Lacking a language, one
must the say that all of this technology was instinctual in the erectus,
that the manufacture of stone tools, woodworking and the tanning of
hides was merely instinctual. Since no primate has technology as part of
its genetic heritage, appeal to this is an appeal to something which has
not been observed.


Should the small brain size of Homo erectus be considered sufficient to
eliminate his language abilities? No. There was an interesting Science
article a few years ago. It said:

"'There's a young student at this university,' says Lorber, 'who has an
IQ of 126, has gained a first-class honors degree in mathematics, and is
socially completely normal. And yet the boy has virtually no brain.'
The student's physician at the university noticed that the youth had a
slightly larger than normal head, and so referred him to Lorber, simply
out of interest. 'When we did a brain scan on him,' Lorber recalls, 'we
saw that instead of the normal 4.5-centimeter thickness of brain tissue
between the ventricles and the cortical surface, there was just a thin
layer of mantle measuring a millimeter or so. His cranium is filled
mainly with cerebrospinal fluid."~Roger Lewin, "Is Your Brain Really
Necessary," Science, Dec. 12,1980, p. 1232.


"Lorber divides the subjects into four categories: those with minimally
enlarged ventricles; those whose ventricles fill 50 to 70 percent of the
cranium; those in which the ventricles fill between 70 and 90 percent of
the intracranial space; and the most severe group, in which ventricle
expansion fills 95 percent of the cranium. Many individuals in this
last group, which forms less than 10 percent of the total sample are
severely diabled, but half of them have IQ's greater than 100. This
group provides some of the most dramatic examples of apparently normal
function against all odds."~Roger Lewin, "Is Your Brain Really
Necessary," Science, Dec. 12,1980, p. 1232.

According to some rough calculations I made, that student who took
honors in math had a brain size of around 100-150 cubic centimeters.
The erectus had a cranial capacity of between 800 adn 1200 cc. This is
much more than the honor student. From this it is quite clear that the
organization of the brain is more important than size. Homo erectus had
plenty of cranial capacity for speech and an honors in math.


While no one can prove that Homo erectus had a language, there is still
enough evidence to say that he may have spoken. The evidence presented
by Walker and Shipman against speech in the erectus is relatively weak,
with their best evidence from the spinal cord. But even this does not
exclude certain scenarios for language. The cultural data would imply a
significant method of passing the information on to the next generation;
and only a language can accomplish that.

When the evidence for speech from cultural technology is combined with
the evidence from symbolism, the evidence from compassionate behavior and
the evidence that Homo erectus had a human pattern of birth and growth,
one should seriously consider the possibility that Homo erectus is human
in the Biblical sense.


Foundation,Fall and Flood