Over the past 200,000 years since Homo sapiens evolved, something extraordinary happened. Somehow, we went from being clever monkeys with stone tools, to being insanely brilliant masterminds who use complex language, and control the planet with agriculture and technology. How did we start the intelligence explosion that anthropologists call the “human revolution”?
Perhaps one of the biggest mysteries in our evolution is how humans developed symbolic culture, a very general catch-all term that includes things like art, language, personal adornment, weapons, and rituals like funerals. Symbolic culture is what sets humans apart from other species, and yet it also seems to pre-date the emergence of Homo sapiens. We find plenty of stone tools in Africa before 200,000 years ago, as well as evidence of fire pits and art-making. Our Homo erectus ancestors were throwing spears and making colorful paint from pigments thousands of years before we evolved.