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GreekReporter.comHistoryHumans Have Been Speaking Earlier Than Thought, New Research Claims

Humans Have Been Speaking Earlier Than Thought, New Research Claims

Humans Have Been Speaking longer than thought
Homo erectus reconstruction that also adds to evidence that humans have been speaking for the last 1.6 million years. Credit: Werner Ustorf / Wikimedia Commons / CC BY-SA 2.0

New research has identified when humans probably began talking early on in history. A study led by British archaeologist Steven Mithen indicates early humans might have begun using basic language about 1.6 million years ago, probably in eastern or southern Africa.

Mithen, a professor at the University of Reading, emphasizes the significance of this finding. He explains that our ability to speak was an important step in our evolution. Understanding when language began is key to understanding our past.

Basic human language 8 times older than previously thought

Until now, many experts in human evolution believed humans began speaking about 200,000 years ago. However, Mithen’s latest research, published this month, challenges this. Based on his study, basic human language might be at least eight times older than previously thought.

Mithen arrived at this conclusion after thoroughly examining archaeological findings, ancient bones, genetic data, brain studies, and language research. When we look at all the evidence, it points to the birth of language and other changes in human evolution between two and one and a half million years ago.

Starting around 2 million BC, human brains quickly began growing larger, especially after 1.5 million BC. Along with this growth came changes in how the brain was organized internally.

One key change was the emergence of a specific area in the frontal lobe, called Broca’s area. This part of the brain is closely linked with both the production and understanding of language.

Scientists believe Broca’s area evolved from earlier brain structures used by early humans for communication through hand and arm gestures. This suggests a shift from physical gestures to spoken language as a primary mode of communication.

Broca’s area linked to improvements in working memory

Recent scientific studies propose that the development of Broca’s area was connected to enhancements in working memory, which is essential for constructing sentences. However, several other evolutionary changes played a vital role in the emergence of basic language.

Around 1.8 million years ago, a more sophisticated form of walking upright, known as bipedalism, emerged. This change, along with alterations in the shape of the human skull, likely initiated adjustments in the shape and position of the vocal tract. The adjustments were important for enabling speech, as reported by The Independent.

Additional evidence supporting the idea that humans began speaking around 1.6 million BC comes from archaeological findings. Unlike many animals, humans weren’t notably strong. To survive despite this physical limitation, they had to find other means to do so.

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