We have, during this year, discussed whether the Neanderthals, despite not being our direct ancestors, could plausibly have immortal souls. This time, some new discoveries are the occasion of looking at homo antecessor – an extinct species thought to have been present in Europe about a million years ago.
The most northerly point which we believe that they reached is Happisburgh in Norfolk, not far from Norwich. The site is an early course of the Thames, now revealed by erosion. At that time of course England was joined to continental Europe, and a walk directly eastward would take one to the area of modern Amsterdam. If you know the loucher parts of Amsterdam you might well reflect on the degree of progress man has or hasn’t, made over the last million years.
No direct Antecessor fossils have been foundon the site, and we do not know whether they died out there or retreated to warmer southern climates: the winters were very harsh. Later settlements at other sites have been found in Europe, but during a time when the climate was milder.
Antecessor had a somewhat smaller brain than modern humans, but the Norfolk finding demonstrates that they were manufacturers of sophisticated stone tools and certainly hunters. It is thought likely that they made clothing from animal skins and were capable of using fire. Without these skills they would hardly have survived at all. Indeed the experts had previously found it hard to believe that survival would be possible that far north.
I have not attempted to write in greater detail because those who need this might like to visit the site at Nature, where there is a good video and a very clear explanatory article: http://www.nature.com/nature/index.html There is also a good Wiki piece on homo antecessor, which already writes about the latest finds.
And we are left with the old question of the point at which the homo line was immortally ensouled. We know when it is night, we know when it is day – it’s twilight which cases the problem. So we have evidence of behaviour, both in Antecessor and Neanderthal, which suggests the presence of the unique powers through which we recognise the soul. But the evidence appears gradually, while a human soul either is or isn’t present. I would not care to come down on one side or the other.