New paleontology exhibit shows development of man

    8:37 AM, Dec 20, 2013   |    comments
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    (CNN) -- To the south of Rome, an Italian museum is about to open a new exhibit. It sheds light on what life was like 600,000 years ago.

    Slowly, painstakingly, paleontologist Anna Rosa removes the wrapping from an old tusk and brushes off the dust. it is a fragment of elefantus anticus. It's from about 600,000 years ago.

    Back then Italy was a different place, hot and dry most of the year, and home to not just elephants but also rhinos, water buffalo, hippos and hyenas. It was also the stomping grounds for homo erectus, who came before the Neanderthals and well before us homo sapiens.

    The workers were rushing to put the finishing touches on the displays of the soon to be opened new wing of the National Museum of Paleontology in Isernia, south east of Rome. This is where some of the earliest traces of man in Europe have been found.

    Inside the display cases you can see what was the height of hi-tech 700,000: purpose-designed rocks for killing prey, breaking their bones and stripping their skin.

    Where some would see a sharp rock, Professor Antonella Minelli sees the brilliance of early man. She said, "It is, par excellence, the tool that man was able to produce, she tells me. It shows their great cognitive, mental and technical abilities."

    What attracted man and the other animals here was an ancient river bank, discovered in 1978 when a road was being built; it's littered with prehistoric bones.

    And on the banks of this river, says the professor, man preyed on the animals, perhaps dragging the biggest pieces over here and eating them on the spot. Minelli said, "It was no doubt very messy, the stench of rotting flesh overwhelming. But it allowed our great great-great-great and so on grandparents to survive."

    This is really the prehistoric equivalent of our supermarkets. there was lots of food to be had, but our ancestors, known in this case as homo erectus, had to be very quick about it because the problem was there were other animals looking for food, and there was always the chance that homo erectus could be the main course.

    Life was short and brutal, ruled, as paleontologists put it, by hunger and who could strike the hardest blow. Maybe we have come a long way after all.

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