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The Origins of Tidiness

December 20, 2009

“A tidy house, a tidy mind.” Some of the more slovenly among us might bristle at this scolding old proverb, but to human evolution researchers it makes perfect sense. One of the hallmarks of modern behavior is the sophisticated way Homo sapiens organizes the spaces it lives in, with everything in its place. But new work at a nearly 800,000-year-old hominin site in Israel suggests that the roots of tidiness may lie deep in our evolutionary past.
Prehistoric humans did not start building permanent dwellings until about 15,000 years ago, but earlier hominins–the term now commonly used by scientists for humans and their ancestors but not other apes–frequented caves and open-air sites as they hunted and gathered food. Whereas sites occupied by modern humans often show signs of separate “activity areas” such as hearths, stone-tool knapping areas, food preparation areas, sleeping areas, and so forth, not so long ago there was little evidence that other hominins engaged in such organized behavior.

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