An Examination of Life Two Million Years Ago
In order to make a complete assessment of the technological advancements of modern civilization one must first have a working understanding of early man and the environment he/she lived in. Currently, there seems to be a debate going on as to whether the quality of life of early man was better or worse than that of human beings in modern times. It had been assumed for a number of years that, as Hobbes had phrased it, life for early man was, “nasty, brutish and short’. Ponting however, argues that life for early man, “was without [a] doubt the most successful and flexible way of life adopted by humans and the one that caused the least damage to natural ecosystems,” (18). Both perspectives seem to be equally plausible and for that very reason this essay will not delve into that debate any further. The purpose of this essay then, is to establish a foundation of understanding for early man, the environment he/she coexisted with and his/her means of survival.
of Homo Erectus (modern human’s
direct ancestor) have been dated as far back as
to 2 million years ago (Ponting pg.18). These early
human beings were known to inhabit several different stretches of land ranging
Although the tribes were known both for hunting and gathering, their real focus was on gathering. Hunting, as Ponting makes clear, is a very difficult and inconsistent means of attaining nourishment. Not only is it difficult to kill an animal, but at the time, early humans were not nearly as talented a predator as were lions or tigers. Most meat enjoyed by the tribe tended to come from scavenging animals killed by other predators, rather than by hunting it. More so, hunting and even gathering were both made more challenging by the nomadic aspect of the tribes.
The tribes move around in small groups, composed of approximately 25-50 people, but gather together in larger groups for special occasions (marriages, ceremonies, etc.) (Ponting 20). The constant movement of these tribes results in two rather interesting phenomenon. First, material possessions are not only of little concern to the tribes people but they are actually considered an impediment to the tribe’s progress (for they slow the tribe’s movement from one region to another). This policy applied to food as much as it did for material goods (therefore lessening the chance of the tribes acquiring excess goods from nature). Secondly, the constant traveling and the sometimes limited resources resulted in population control. Tribes achieved this, “through a number of accepted social customs…the most widespread was infanticide involving the selected killing of certain categories such as twins, the handicapped and a proportion of female offspring,” (Ponting pg. 23). This practice seemed to be a way of dealing with the environment they lived in and procuring the survival of the majority of the tribe.
Another means of
procuring survival was the development of weapons and tools. As Homo Erectus developed, so did his/her
tools and weaponry. In the early stages of Homo
Erectus’ development, most tools were limited to “crude stone choppers from
pebbles,” but as they progressed they soon devised wooden spears, the use of
wood, skins and fire (Ponting pg.24). As of now, the
use of fire by Homo Erectus is still highly
debatable and highly controversial. Recently, Jean-Laurent Monnier of the
Even after a careful analysis of early man’s means of attaining nourishment, his/her nomadic lifestyle and his/her development of tools, it is still difficult to assess whether life today is worse or better than life million of years ago. Still, hopefully the background information provided in this essay will assist the reader in drawing their own conclusion.
 (Ponting pg.19)
 By this I mean to say that both perspectives have very concrete arguments and since I have not decided which one is more convincing to me, I cannot argue one over the other.
 Note that warfare may not be the best or most beneficent substitute for finding food.
 At least from my own modern-day, capitalist-raised mind-set.
 Personally, I understand how this behavior may have become accepted but I would not consider this part of the happy existence Ponting is referring to.