Modern Homo sapiens

When did our own species originate? Undisputed modern Homo sapiens fossils were known from several sites in Africa and Israel dated as 120,000-100,000 years old, and one of the most impressive finds, from Herto, Ethiopia, now extends that age range back to 160,000 years (White et al., 2003). Genetic and molecular evidence points to a comparable date (Stringer, 2002a). The human remains from Herto consist of three skulls that are modern in most respects (Figure 11.14),except that the cranium is deeper (from front to back), the face is longer and the brow ridges are slightly more pronounced than in most modern humans. Nonetheless, this is Homo sapiens,perhaps the first of our line.

The Neanderthals branched off and became established in Europe and western Asia before 100,000 years ago. Specimens dated at about 115,000 years old from Qafzeh in Israel (Figure 11.15(a)) demonstrate that true H. sapiens preceded Neanderthals in the Middle East, and not the other way round. Modern H. sapiens spread into Europe from 40,000 to 30,000 years ago. The early European forms, often known as the Cro-Magnon peoples, brought their advanced Upper Palaeolithic tools and filled the caves of France with paintings and carved objects. They must have seen Neanderthals and much has been made of such possible encounters. DNA evidence suggests there was little, if any, interbreeding, although a child's skeleton from Lagar Velho in Portugal has been put forward as evidence for hybridization.

Modern H. sapiens then spread truly worldwide from about 40,000 years ago (Figure 10.15(b)), reaching Russia and travelling across Asia to the south-east Asian islands and Australia (Diamond and Bellwood, 2003). The date of arrival of modern humans in Australia was often reckoned to be 40,000-30,000 years ago, but new, more precise, dating suggests that the famous Lake Mungo remains from New South Wales were present by 42,000 years ago (Bowler et al., 2003). But when did people reach the Americas?

The timing of the peopling of North America is highly controversial (Dalton, 2003). Ice sheets retreated from the area of Beringia (Siberia and Alaska) and there was an ice-free land bridge from Siberia to Alaska from 18,000 to 10,200 years ago. Human populations must

Fig. 11.14 The remains of one of the earliest representatives of Homo sapiens, so-called 'Herto man' from Herto, Ethiopia. The skull (a) is relatively complete and extremely modern looking, although it and other remains had to be pieced together by the research team, including Dr B. Asfaw (b). Photographs provided by and copyright of David Brill.

Fig. 11.14 The remains of one of the earliest representatives of Homo sapiens, so-called 'Herto man' from Herto, Ethiopia. The skull (a) is relatively complete and extremely modern looking, although it and other remains had to be pieced together by the research team, including Dr B. Asfaw (b). Photographs provided by and copyright of David Brill.

Oldest Dates

Fig. 11.15 The spread of modern Homo sapiens out of Africa in the past 100,000 years. Key finds and oldest dates are shown. (Based on various sources.)

Lapa Vermelha, Brazil

Fig. 11.15 The spread of modern Homo sapiens out of Africa in the past 100,000 years. Key finds and oldest dates are shown. (Based on various sources.)

have crossed during this time, because the land bridge became flooded as the ice sheets melted. Hundreds of North American archaeological sites with tools of the Clovis industry date from 11,500 years ago. There are human occupation sites in Chile and the USA that date back to ages in the range 19,000 to 11,800 years, but these dates are disputed (Marshall, 2001).

The palaeontological and archaeological evidence then suggests that modern H. sapiens has populated the world, from a birthplace in Africa or the Middle East,

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