Archaeological excavations at the Acheulean site of Saffaqah near Dawadmi in central Saudi Arabia have found that Homo erectus, an extinct hominid species that lived between 1.9 million and 143,000 years ago, used ‘least-effort strategies’ for tool making and collecting resources.
“This ‘laziness’ paired with an inability to adapt to a changing climate likely played a role in the species going extinct. They really don’t seem to have been pushing themselves,” said Dr. Ceri Shipton, from the School of Culture, History and Language at the Australian National University.
“I don’t get the sense they were explorers looking over the horizon. They didn’t have that same sense of wonder that we have.”
“This was evident in the way the species made their stone tools and collected resources. To make their stone tools they would use whatever rocks they could find lying around their camp, which were mostly of comparatively low quality to what later stone tool makers used.”
Dr. Shipton and colleagues analyzed thousands of artifacts from the Saffaqah site, including giant andesite cores and flakes, smaller cores and retouched artifacts, as well as handaxes and cleavers.
“At the site we looked at there was a big rocky outcrop of quality stone just a short distance away up a small hill,” he said.
“But rather than walk up the hill they would just use whatever bits had rolled down and were lying at the bottom.”
“When we looked at the rocky outcrop there were no signs of any activity, no artifacts and no quarrying of the stone. They knew it was there, but because they had enough adequate resources they seem to have thought, ‘why bother?’.”
Homo erectus at Saffaqah were strong and skilful, with their adaptation evidently successful for some time, the researchers found.
However, these tool-makers were also technologically conservative, and used least-effort strategies for collecting resources and tool transport.
“A failure to progress technologically, as their environment dried out into a desert, also contributed to the population’s demise,” Dr. Shipton said.
“The sediment samples showed the environment around them was changing, but they were doing the exact same things with their tools.”
“There was no progression at all, and their tools are never very far from these now dry river beds. I think in the end the environment just got too dry for them.”
“This is in contrast to the stone tool makers of later periods, including early Homo sapiens and Neanderthals, who were climbing mountains to find good quality stone and transporting it over long distances,” he said.
The research appears in the journal PLoS ONE.
C. Shipton et al. 2018. Acheulean technology and landscape use at Dawadmi, central Arabia. PLoS ONE 13 (7): e0200497; doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0200497
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