Lying is not a trait generally encouraged in modern society, but dishonesty may have played a crucial role in the spread of our species around the world.
Archaeologists have published a new theory they say points to the human tendency to cheat as an explanation for why patterns of human movement changed around 100,000 years ago.
They argue that humans began spreading out of Africa and into new areas in an attempt to get away from those who they felt had betrayed their trust.
Modern humans spread remarkably rapidly around the world from around 100,000 years ago (illustrated). The motivation for this spread has baffled scientists, but a new theory suggests they may have been driven to move into less hospitable areas in an attempt to flee former friends they had upset by cheating or betraying
Until around 100,000 years ago, early humans had spread relatively slowly and their dispersal was largely governed by changes in the environment or increases in population.
Dr Penny Spikins, an archaeologist at the University of York, believes, however, that as human groups increased in size, they became more reliant upon each other.
This required making commitments to each other which resulted in moral disputes when someone betrayed the trust others had placed in them.
She said that these arguments, which were often resolved with punishment, may have motivated early humans to put distance between them and their rivals.
Lying is firmly frowned upon in modern society but the intense emotional reaction it can generate in us may have helped drive humans to move into new areas as they attempted to flee those they had upset with their dishonest actions
Groups of early modern humans (artist’s impression shown) would have required trust in each other to collaborate so betrayal would have been dealt with severely, forcing those who cheated to flee into new areas
‘Active colonisations of and through hazardous terrain are difficult to explain through immediate pragmatic choices,’ she said.
HUMANS ARRIVED IN AMERICA 6,000 YEARS EARLIER THAN BELIEVED
It was a time when much of North and South America was blanketed in thick sheets of ice, yet it seems the first human settlers were able to survive in the harsh Ice Age conditions.
Archaeologists have found evidence that suggests early human settlers were living in the Americas up to 19,000 years ago – around 6,000 years earlier than had been previously thought.
Stone tools, fire pits, the remains of cooked animals and plants have been discovered at a site in southern Chile which suggest humans have been living there for some time.
Radiocarbon dating suggests the objects range in date between 14,000 and 19,000 years ago, suggesting these early settlers were living on the continent long before the first Palaeo-Indians were thought to have arrived.
For the past 40 years it has been assumed that the first people to arrive in the Americas were hunters who crossed a land bridge from Asia to North America around 12,000-13,000 years ago.
‘But they become easier to explain through the rise of the strong motivations to harm others even at one’s own expense which widespread emotional commitments bring.
‘Moral conflicts provoke substantial mobility – the furious ex ally, mate or whole group, with a poisoned spear or projectile intent on seeking revenge or justice, are a strong motivation to get away, and to take almost any risk to do so.’
Early species of human were limited to just a few pockets in Africa until Homo erectus moved out of the continent into Asia in search of new rich grasslands.
By contrast, Neanderthals occupied cold and often inhospitable areas of Europe, which they had slowly adapted to survive in.
However, around 100,000 years ago modern human populations appear to have exploded out of the areas of Africa where they originated.
They then rapidly spread all over the world, moving into the cold areas of northern Europe, crossing large tracts of ocean and through some of the most inhospitable terrains in the world.
The motivation for why our ancestors chose to make these journeys and inhabit such difficult environments has baffled scientists.
Dr Spikins believes that one of the key elements that set modern humans apart from other early humans was their ability to cooperate, but this also brought the need for a ‘collaborative morality’.
She said this led to emotional bonds which helped to hold populations in a crisis developing a darker side – the intense sense of betrayal we experience when someone we trust cheats us.
‘While we view the global dispersal of our species as a symbol of our success, part of the motivations for such movements reflect a darker, though no less “collaborative”, side to human nature,’ she added.