Female Homo-floresiensis
© CC by 4.0
Were our primeval ancestors skilled mariners who sailed thousand of miles to distant islands using language, or did they grunt at each other while holding onto tree trunks being blown randomly on the waves of tsunamis? That is the big question!

Having emerged in Africa more than 1.8 million years ago, Homo erectus fossils discovered as far afield as China, Indonesia and Southern Europe tell us it was the first archaic human to leave the continent. Some scientists even believe that the little hominid Homo floresiensis, discovered on the island of Flores in 2003, could be descended from H. erectus, but others fiercely disagree.

Revitalizing winds have been blown into the glowing embers of this centuries long debate after Daniel Everett, professor of global studies at Bentley University and author of How Language Began, addressed a meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science in Austin, saying of Erectus. "He travelled all over the world, travelled to the island of Flores, across one of the greatest ocean currents in the world," as was reported in Archeology New Network .

Further antagonizing the old brigade Everett continued, "They sailed to the island of Crete and various other islands. It was intentional: they needed craft and they needed to take groups of twenty or so at least to get to those places." Accepting that 200,000 year old primates developed sea going vessels and had developed what must have been advanced sailing skills, one must also assume that they also had language. And this is where things get controversial.

"Erectus needed language when they were sailing to the island of Flores. They couldn't have simply caught a ride on a floating log because then they would have been washed out to sea when they hit the current" said Everett. "They needed to be able to paddle. And if they paddled they needed to be able to say 'paddle there' or 'don't paddle.' You need communication with symbols not just grunts" he added.

Anthropologists debate when language first emerged among hominids and many claim that it's a feature secular to Homo sapiens suggesting it began no earlier than 200,000 years ago. But Everett is now challenging this orthodox view by pushing the origins of language deep into pre-history.

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Ashley Cowie is a Scottish historian author and documentary filmmaker presenting original perspectives on historical problems in accessible and exciting ways. His books articles and television shows explore lost cultures and kingdoms, ancient crafts and artifacts, symbols and architecture myths.