More – How Consciousness Happened

Wallace (Shaun) Shaunfield Copyright 2010

Posted 7/29/2010

In Chapter 10, “How Consciousness Happened”, of the book, My God, Your God?, I discussed possible ways consciousness in humans might have developed. One model is that consciousness is in our DNA and that it might have evolved at some early and common point in Africa before any migration out of Africa occurred. I also pointed out that if this was the model, then those consciousness genes after developing must have then later been suppressed until about 10,000 years ago. I pointed out that the earliest possible site for the evolution of the consciousness gene was at the Blombos cave in southern Africa, 70 to 100 thousand years ago.

Now a new study reported in the August 2010 issue of Scientific American by Curtis Marean indicates that Homo sapiens actually may have had consciousness at their inception about 200,000 years ago. The article, “When the Sea Saved Humanity” does not use the term consciousness but rather cognitive ability. Keep in mind that I believe cognitive ability is comprised of our consciousness plus our intelligence. And that it is possible to not have consciousness and be an instinctive creature with a high level of intelligence.

The evidence of consciousness is when creative new things are done in response to the current situation. It is an adaptive response with changes in behavior rather that an instinctive response of doing things as has been done before. In this study, Marean discovered such behavior at a cave known as PP13B in South Africa at Pinnacle Point which is on the coast and near the town of Mossel Bay. This location is just 100 kilometers east of Blombos cave. The cave of Pinnacle point was occupied intermittently during the period of 164,000 to 35,000 years ago. Marean and his team discovered evidence of sophisticated marine foraging, composite tool making using many materials and processes and strong evidence of heat treating. The heat treating process was previously thought to have been invented in France about 20,000 years ago. In addition, Marean found red ochre which is thought to have been used for body paint, and this indicates evidence of symbolic behavior.

When Homo sapiens emerged, the earth had a rather mild climate and food was plentiful, but shortly after or around 195,000 years ago conditions began to deteriorate as the earth entered a long glacial stage know as the Marine Isotope Stage 6 (MIS6). This stage lasted for approximately 123,000 years. Marean contends that the Homo sapient population dropped from more than 10,000 individuals to as low as the hundreds. He believes it was their high cognitive ability and the abundant resources on the South African coast that eventually saved humanity. There were shellfish available for the resourceful hunter-gatherer along with many varieties of geophytes-underground energy storage plants such as tubers, bulbs and corns. Apparently there were just a few locations that would have been suitable for survival.

In summary, my main interest in this important study is the discovery of conscious activity much earlier than originally thought. From the study we know we know that the earliest evidence of consciousness was 164,000 years ago and given that Homo sapiens first appeared in Africa about 200,000 years ago there is only a period of about 36,000 years between the two events. In addition, given this study shows consciousness present at the earliest of all studies to date suggest that this capability was present at the inception of Homo sapiens. The authors also came to the same conclusion. This would make more sense than my earlier model of evolution of consciousness developing sometime after they appeared in Africa. Introduction of such a major change as consciousness would be more likely to occur during the development of a new species rather than to evolve within a species as a micro change. However, while we do not yet know how a new species evolves, we do know that major changes from previous species are common and development of consciousness would fit that scenario.

Let us next look at these early reports of consciousness-the Pinnacle Point,164,000 years ago; the Blombos Cave, 70,000 years ago and the cave art in Europe,40,000 years ago. In all these cases over a period of 124,000 years the consciousness is very elementary form and not like the consciousness that began a monumental increase in civilization over the past 10,000 years. Is this early consciousness just not developed or is the limited consciousness due to the difficult time of the ice age and the limitation of resources that were present in the recent advances? There have been many other archeological studies of Homo sapiens in other times that do not show evidence of consciousness. Apparently, consciousness has appeared only sporadically in humans over the past 200,000 years. So far only three possible times in our history has early consciousness been observed.

Given all of the data now known, I present a new hypothesis of how consciousness developed in Homo sapiens.

  • First the full capability of consciousness was present in the evolution of the new species of Homo sapiens; however it was suppressed and not allowed to fully express itself.
  • Then at the three presently know times discussed above, consciousness did appear but did not fully express itself due the difficult weather and the limited resources.
  • From time-to-time consciousness may have appeared but again was suppressed.
  •  Beginning 10,000 years ago with an ideal climate and abundant resources consciousness was fully expressed for the first time and remains a key attribute of humans today.


I know this still involves some conjecture but at least there is more data to support this model than that presented in the book. On page 109 in the book, I suggested in case 2 another model that “God by some supernatural means went to each new civilization after they had settled and breathed consciousness into all humans on earth.” I now think we can discount this model since there is strong evidence that consciousness was present long before this event.  There is still the possibility that God did intervene at the development of the Homo sapient species and introduced consciousness then.

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