Laziness: it’s one of life’s little pleasures. Sometimes there’s just no better feeling in the world than shirking all responsibilities and watching the same bad episode of the same bad TV show for the thousandth time while the world outside carries on without you. You have to be careful though, because a little too much laziness not only wrecks your wallet and your respectability among your peers, but it also, apparently, ends entire human species. Scientists are now claiming that our ancient cousins Homo erectus—a hominid species in the early stone age that lived throughout Africa and Eurasia—went extinct some 140,000 years ago due to laziness and a “lack of wonder,” which ultimately lead to their inability to adapt to a changing environment and the end of their species.
According to a recent paper detailing an archaeological survey of Homo erectus settlements on the Arabian peninsula in 2014, Homo erectus displayed “least-effort” strategies in their tool crafting and showed a lack of industriousness, ambition, and wonder. That sounds harsh. Lead researcher Dr Ceri Shipton makes it sound even harsher:
“They really don’t seem to have been pushing themselves. 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.”
Homo erectus skull.
It sounds pretty unfair to pidgeon hole an entire species as just terminally boring, but the evidence suggests that it’s pretty accurate. It’s a bit different than, say, shouting at a black rhino “why don’t you grow some thumbs and make something of yourself?” Homo erectus wasn’t incapable. They harnessed fire and they made tools. They just made really bad tools, out of really low quality stone. But wait, you might be asking, what if that’s all they had? Can you really blame them for not having access to quality materials? Of course not, but here’s the thing: they had access to fine quality stone, they were just too lazy. Dr Shipton explains:
‘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. 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.
They knew it was there, but because they had enough adequate resources they seem to have thought, ‘why bother?’”
This is in contrast to Homo sapiens and Neanderthals who would travel across huge distances, climb mountains, and put just a little bit of effort into finding good stone. Homo erectus, as a species, didn’t want to walk up a hill.
Drawing of early stone tools.
This, combined with a cultural conservatism that resisted any change or adaptation, resulted in Homo erectus being woefully unprepared to deal with the drying out of the Arabian peninsula. As their environment dried out, they kept doing the same exact things with their tools. Once again, they went from not using fire and not having tools to inventing tools and harnessing the power of fire, so they were certainly physically capable of progress. They just said “ah, good enough.”
Maybe it still isn’t fair to rag on an entire species like this, they’re not here to defend themselves, after all. Because they couldn’t be bothered to survive. So, the next time you see someone shirking their responsibilities and putting in the least effort possible just tell them that they’re a walking, talking, extinction level event.