Tuesday, September 13, 2016

THE EARLIEST MEN WE KNOW (Intermediate-Advanced level)

 The men whose bones were the earliest of the Java lot have been given the name Meganthropus. The bones are very fragmentary. We would not understand them very well unless we had the somewhat later Javanese lot--the more commonly known Pithecanthropus or “Java man”--against which to refer them for study. One of the less well-known and earliest fragments, a piece of lower jaw and some teeth, rather strongly resembles the lower jaws and teeth of the australopithecine type. Was Meganthropus a sort of half-way point between the australopithecines and Pithecanthropus? It is still too early to say. We shall need more finds before we can be definite one way or the other.
Java man, Pithecanthropus, comes from geological beds equal in age to the latter part of the second alpine glaciation; the Meganthropus finds refer to beds of the beginning of this glaciation. The first finds of Java man were made in 1891-92 by Dr. Eugene Dubois, a Dutch doctor in the colonial service. Finds have continued to be made. There are now bones enough to account for four skulls. There are also four jaws and some odd teeth and thigh bones. Java man, generally speaking, was about five feet six inches tall, and didn’t hold his head very erect. His skull was very thick and heavy and had room for little more than two-thirds as large a brain as we have. He had big teeth and a big jaw and enormous eyebrow ridges.
No tools were found in the geological deposits where bones of Java man appeared. There are some tools in the same general area, but they come a bit later in time. One reason we accept the Java man as man--aside from his general anatomical appearance--is that these tools probably belonged to his near descendants.
Remember that there are several varieties of men in the whole early Java lot, at least two of which are earlier than the Pithecanthropus, “Java man.” Some of the earlier ones seem to have gone in for bigness, in tooth-size at least. Meganthropus is one of these earlier varieties. As we said, he may turn out to be a link to the australopithecines, who may or may not be ancestral to men.
Meganthropus is best understandable in terms of Pithecanthropus, who appeared later in the same general area. Pithecanthropus is pretty well understandable from the bones he left us, and also because of his strong resemblance to the fully tool-using cave-dwelling “Peking man,” Sinanthropus. But you can see that the physical anthropologists and prehistoric archeologists still have a lot of work to do on the problem of earliest men.

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