There are a many theories which could suffice as an explanation for the lack of progress and eventual distinction of Homo Sapiens’s predecessors. However, after reading After the Ice, I am only able to speculate as to why Homo Sapiens succeeded rather than why our genus’s ancestors failed due to the limited time span addressed that of 20,000 BC to 5,000 B.C. in After the Ice. It seems the most plausible explanation as to why, suddenly, after the Last Glacial Maximum progress clipped on at a good pace is due to environmental changes. After the Ice gives a brief synopsis of history before 20,000 B.C., the date usually pegged for the LGM, last glacial maximum. The LGM was the peak of the last ice age. The Earth, 15,000 years following the LGM, experienced global warming at an unprecedented rate. Global temperatures stabilized circa 9600 B.C. to a mean temperature not unlike that of today.
At this time, ice sheets receded, new animal and plant species surfaced providing more opportunities for a successful hunter-gathering lifestyle. The modern notion of farming began in different variations on each continent of the world, with the exception of Antarctica. The transition from the hunter-gatherer lifestyle to a more sedentary lifestyle formed the foundations of modern life. Permanent homes introduced a number of different variables into the equation, such as the notion of private property. Without these favorable environmental conditions, survival would have been near impossible, let alone progress.
Mithen mentions on the first page that progress, the author calls history, takes a certain kind of mind, the modern Homo Sapien brain, with an insatiable curiosity to travel, create, and solve in order to progress. For instance, cave drawings are found in nearly every hunter-gatherer culture. These drawings are not simply for entertainment, decoration, or even for art’s sake, but are an educational tool in order to pass on information to others. Even when faced with an ever-growing population, self – sufficient independent “farms” became a way to domesticate wild breeds of various plants to ensure higher yields to feed more mouths. Rather than reacting to circumstances, Homo Sapiens seem to have an immeasurable need to understand their surroundings and the larger picture. Perhaps, this is explains our constant pursuit to expand the frontier. This desire to acquire full knowledge does not begin or end with traveling, but also pertains to how groups operate. Most groups instituted some variant of order and hierarchy to control trade and resources. Religious rituals are certainly evidence of our early ancestors to fill in information gaps with the supernatural and sometimes establishing an authority in the shape of a priest or shaman to regulate practices. Perhaps, early humans lacked the mental faculties to entertain abstract thought making them not dissimilar to animals, who the Victorian writer, Lubbock, would have claimed are merely prone to satisfying their biological needs. This combination of the more habitable environment and the nature of the new modern mind facilitated the foundations for progress.