When a modern person thinks of Stone Age people, he thinks of a group of wandering ape-men grunting and throwing rocks at wild animals. Just think of the famous GEICO insurance slogan: “So easy a caveman can do it.”
Even the history books accustom us to this image, implying that before the rise of the first river valley civilizations (Mesopotamia, Egypt and the Indus) humankind was simply too primitive to be of any real consequence.
All we need to hear is the term “stone age,” and we automatically think ourselves more intelligent and capable than the “Fred Flintstones” who were running around at that time.
In terms of our collective civilization, we have obviously advanced a thousand fold technologically. But when it comes to individual comparisons, are you really any smarter or more capable than your antiquarian ancestor?
The answer may be surprising to some. It turns out that you are probably no more intelligent than your prehistoric counterpart. In fact, you are probably far less capable a creature than he or she ever was.
Scientists believe that anatomically modern humans evolved around 150,000 to 200,000 years ago in Africa. This means that these early Homo sapiens sapiens were essentially just like us in their anatomical buildup. On average, their brains were about 1300 cubic centimeters, a third larger then Homo erectus, one of their evolutionary forbearers. Their increased intelligence was evidenced by the creation of stone tools and cultural practices such as burial.
Early Homo sapiens sapiens brain size is an estimated average, but it is in the same range as human brain sizes today. Of course, we have to account for the fact that brain size is not the only indicator of intelligence (increased neuroplasticity or grey matter is a major one), but it is a safe bet to say that near the latter end of the Paleolithic Age (12,000 B.C.) the “cavemen” were just as smart as you or I.
Naturally, they could not exhibit this intelligence in the same way you or I can. There was obviously no calculus or advanced physics for them to study. However, if you transported an early human infant through time and raised it in today’s environment, it would likely be socialized and educated to the same extent as a modern child would.
Thus, early humans’ intelligence was probably equal to our own. What about raw strength? It turns out that our prehistoric ancestors would probably have been stronger. Early humans were much bulkier than modern humans. Over time, our skeletons became more lightly built. As our brains developed, there was less and less need for brute strength. There would have been a moment in history, however, when early humans finally achieved modern intelligence but still retained some of that greater strength. So if they ever invent time travel, I discourage you from challenging an early human to a wrestling match.
One physical area modern humans do have an advantage in, though, is endurance. Early humans had greater upper body strength and more brute force, but they were not able to keep it up for very long. So they would probably lose to us in a race.
Now, you might be reading the above points and saying, “ok, so maybe they were stronger and just as smart, but I’m the one with an iPad.” It goes without say, and I mentioned early on, that technologically we are obviously far more advanced.
The mistake people make though, is equating what I would call societal ability with individual ability. To illustrate, how many of you reading could build an i-Pad right now, even if you had the materials and machinery right here? I’m assuming few, if any.
In fact, I’m guessing most of us would not even be able to build the simple stone tools that early humans knew how to build tens of thousands of years ago. When we hear about Stone Age hand axes, blades and hammers, we think of them as so primitive. Yet we would probably not know where to begin in chipping away at stones to make these tools.
So, individually, we are less capable and far more dependent on others then our early ancestors. As our society becomes far more capable, individuals become less capable.
Perhaps societal development is a natural part of human development, and maybe that is the area where we can honestly say we are superior to our prehistoric ancestors. But, man to man and woman to woman, the caveman really can do it just as good, if not better.