One of the most successful human species to ever walk the planet, longevity-wise, was Homo erectus; they were around for about a million and a half years, with almost no changes in their physical form or toolkit. And, it may have been that failure to change that resulted in their extinction. Excerpt:
New archaeological research from The Australian National University (ANU) has found that Homo erectus, an extinct species of primitive humans, went extinct in part because they were ‘lazy’.
An archaeological excavation of ancient human populations in the Arabian Peninsula during the Early Stone Age, found that Homo erectus used ‘least-effort strategies’ for tool making and collecting resources.
This ‘laziness’ paired with an inability to adapt to a changing climate likely played a role in the species going extinct, according to lead researcher Dr. Ceri Shipton of the ANU School of Culture, History and Language.
“They really don’t seem to have been pushing themselves,” Dr. Shipton said.
“I don’t get the sense they were explorers looking over the horizon. They didn’t have that same sense of wonder that we have.”
Dr. Shipton said this was evident in the way the species made their stone tools and collected resources.
“To make their stone tools they would use whatever rocks they could find lying around their camp, which were mostly of comparatively low quality to what later stone tool makers used,” he said.
“At the site we looked at there was a big rocky outcrop of quality stone just a short distance away up a small hill.
“But rather than walk up the hill they would just use whatever bits had rolled down and were lying at the bottom.
“When we looked at the rocky outcrop there were no signs of any activity, no artefacts and no quarrying of the stone.
“They knew it was there, but because they had enough adequate resources they seem to have thought, ‘why bother?'”.
This is in contrast to the stone tool makers of later periods, including early Homo sapiens and Neanderthals, who were climbing mountains to find good quality stone and transporting it over long distances.
Here’s the catch; it’s not really a good idea to look at primitive humans like H. erectus and evaluate their behavior by our standards. Most paleoanthropologists agree, due to analysis of skulls and brain cases, that erectus lacked much, if any, capacity for analytical or symbolic reasoning. As noted, they were around for a million and half years with no real changes to their tool kit; it’s presumed that they made their one real tool, a simple hand-axe, much like a bird builds a nest. They couldn’t change how they made their basic tool any more than a bird can decide to put a roof on its nest. Their brains just didn’t work like that.
So, “laziness” isn’t really the term to use here. H. erectus‘s lack was one of capacity, not motivation.