Anatomically and Behaviorally Modern Humans

Modern human behavior, at least as judged by archaeologists, means behaving like living hunter-gatherers. By this criterion, the humans of 100,000 years ago did not behave like modern humans, even though they looked like them. They are known as anatomically modern humans to denote that they were not so in behavior.

What kept them from attaining a fuller modernity? The question of behavioral modernity is of great significance because it appears to be the last major step in the emergence of the ancestral human population. The components of modern behavior appear most prominently around 45,000 years ago in Europe. At sites throughout Europe, the staid culture of the Neanderthals begins to yield to a set of new and more inventive techniques. There is a new set of stone tools, more carefully crafted to attain specific shapes. There are complex tools made of bone, antler and ivory. The bringers of the new culture made personal ornaments, of materials such as punctured teeth, shells and ivory beads. They played bird-bone flutes. Their missile technology was much improved. They were avid hunters who could take down large and dangerous game. They buried their dead with rituals. They could support denser populations. They developed trade networks through which they obtained distant materials.29

This new modern culture is called the Upper Paleolithic. Some archaeologists have proposed that it was created by Neanderthals or by Neanderthals interbreeding with modern humans. It now seems more likely that the culture was the work of behaviorally modern humans alone, who simply replaced the Neanderthals, over a period of several thousand years, throughout their European domain. One reason for this interpretation is that several diagnostics of modern behavior can be seen to have appeared first in Africa, in the Later Stone Age, which had begun by at least 46,000 years ago. (The Later Stone Age of Africa and the Upper Paleolithic of Europe are the same archaeological period but for historical reasons have different names in the two continents.) The timing suggests that humans with modern behavior first evolved in Africa and later reached Europe. This hypothesis, made on purely archaeological grounds, has been confirmed by the genetics of modern human populations, all of which point to a diaspora in recent times from an African homeland.

So if behaviorally modern humans arose in Africa, the final stage of human evolution in Africa was that from anatomically modern humans of 100,000 years ago to the behaviorally modern people who appeared some 50,000 years later. What caused that profound transition? Archaeologists tend to explain changes in terms of culture. But paleoanthropologists, looking at much longer sweeps of time, are more accustomed to seeing evolution and genetic change as the principal shaper of novelty. The paleoanthropologist Richard Klein has proposed that the transition to modern behavior was so profound that it required a genetic change: "Initially, the behavioral capabilities of early modern or near-modern Africans differed little from those of the Neanderthals, but eventually, perhaps because of a neurological change, they developed a capacity for culture that gave them a clear adaptive advantage over the

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