For a long time some scientists thought the “cradle of mankind” was in central Asia. Other scientists insisted it was in Africa, and still others said it might have been in Europe. Actually, we don’t know where it was. We don’t even know that there was only one “cradle.” If we had to choose a “cradle” at this moment, we would probably say Africa. But the southern portions of Asia and Europe may also have been included in the general area. The scene of the early development of mankind was certainly the Old World. It is pretty certain men didn’t reach North or South America until almost the end of the Ice Age--had they done so earlier we would certainly have found some trace of them by now.
The earliest tools we have yet found come from central and south Africa. By the dating system I’m using, these tools must be over 500,000 years old. There are now reports that a few such early tools have been found--at the Sterkfontein cave in South Africa--along with the bones of small fossil men called “australopithecines.”
Not all scientists would agree that the australopithecines were “men,” or would agree that the tools were made by the australopithecines themselves. For these sticklers, the earliest bones of men come from the island of Java. The date would be about 450,000 years ago. So far, we have not yet found the tools which we suppose these earliest men in the Far East must have made.
Let me say it another way. How old are the earliest traces of men we now have? Over half a million years. This was a time when the first alpine glaciation was happening in the north. What has been found so far? The tools which the men of those times made, in different parts of Africa. It is now fairly generally agreed that the “men” who made the tools were the australopithecines. There is also a more “man-like” jawbone at Kanam in Kenya, but its find-spot has been questioned. The next earliest bones we have were found in Java, and they may be almost a hundred thousand years younger than the earliest African finds. We haven’t yet found the tools of these early Javanese. Our knowledge of tool-using in Africa spreads quickly as time goes on: soon after the appearance of tools in the south we shall have them from as far north as Algeria.
Very soon after the earliest Javanese come the bones of slightly more developed people in Java, and the jawbone of a man who once lived in what is now Germany. The same general glacial beds which yielded the later Javanese bones and the German jawbone also include tools. These finds come from the time of the second alpine glaciation.
So this is the situation. By the time of the end of the second alpine or first continental glaciation (say 400,000 years ago) we have traces of men from the extremes of the more southerly portions of the Old World--South Africa, eastern Asia, and western Europe. There are also some traces of men in the middle ground. In fact, Professor Franz Weidenreich believed that creatures who were the immediate ancestors of men had already spread over Europe, Africa, and Asia by the time the Ice Age began. We certainly have no reason to disbelieve this, but fortunate accidents of discovery have not yet given us the evidence to prove it.