It may have been a lazy, 'why bother?' attitude that led to the downfall of an early species of human, according to new research.

Findings from the Australian National University after an archaeological excavation in Saudi Arabia found Homo erectus tended to do the bare minimum to get by, while other species of human were inclined to put in the effort.

They used "least-effort strategies" for tool making and collection of resources, as opposed to Homo sapiens and Neanderthals, who would climb mountains and haul materials over dozens of kilometres to ensure they had quality goods, the research showed.

Homo erectus, in contrast to the more advanced species, tended to use a single "generic" tool for almost all purposes.


An archaeological dig at Saffaqah
An archaeological dig at Saffaqah © ANU - There was better material at the top of a nearby hill, if only they had made the trek.

Acheulean technology and landscape use at Dawadmi, central Arabia

Ceri Shipton , James Blinkhorn, Paul S. Breeze, Patrick Cuthbertson, Nick Drake, Huw S. Groucutt, Richard P. Jennings, Ash Parton, Eleanor M. L. Scerri, Abdullah Alsharekh, Michael D. Petraglia
Published: July 27, 2018

Despite occupying a central geographic position, investigations of hominin populations in the Arabian Peninsula during the Lower Palaeolithic period are rare. The colonization of Eurasia below 55 degrees latitude indicates the success of the genus Homo in the Early and Middle Pleistocene, but the extent to which these hominins were capable of innovative and novel behavioural adaptations to engage with mid-latitude environments is unclear. Here we describe new field investigations at the Saffaqah locality (206–76) near Dawadmi, in central Arabia that aim to establish how hominins adapted to this region. The site is located in the interior of Arabia over 500 km from both the Red Sea and the Gulf, and at the headwaters of two major extinct river systems that were likely used by Acheulean hominins to cross the Peninsula. Saffaqah is one of the largest Acheulean sites in Arabia with nearly a million artefacts estimated to occur on the surface, and it is also the first to yield stratified deposits containing abundant artefacts. It is situated in the unusual setting of a dense and well-preserved landscape of Acheulean localities, with sites and isolated artefacts occurring regularly for tens of kilometres in every direction. We describe both previous and recent excavations at Saffaqah and its large lithic assemblage. We analyse thousands of artefacts from excavated and surface contexts, including giant andesite cores and flakes, smaller cores and retouched artefacts, as well as handaxes and cleavers. Technological assessment of stratified lithics and those from systematic survey, enable the reconstruction of stone tool life histories. The Acheulean hominins at Dawadmi were strong and skilful, with their adaptation evidently successful for some time. However, these biface-makers were also technologically conservative, and used least-effort strategies of resource procurement and tool transport. Ultimately, central Arabia was depopulated, likely in the face of environmental deterioration in the form of increasing aridity.