Event 50

160,000 years ago

Cromagnon Male
A reconstruction of an anatomically modern Upper Palaeolithic man with a mammoth tusk and an antler perforated “baton,” probably a spear shaft straightener. He is also wearing a necklace of perforated teeth.
Credit: Illustration by John Sibbick, courtesy of John Sibbick Illustration. This illustration used with permission. All rights reserved.

Look in a mirror. You are a fine example of an anatomically modern human or Homo sapiens. You have a very large brain (probably with a volume of about 1350 cubic centimeters, or about 4 cans of soda), and have a more spherical cranium with a high vertical forehead, and a more delicate face and skeleton than earlier pre-modern human ancestors. You can communicate symbolically, which includes your ability to read and understand this text, and can talk about the past, the present, the future, and the hypothetical. About 160,000 years ago, our direct ancestors emerged from archaic populations in Africa and evolved into Homo sapiens, ultimately the only hominid species on the earth. You are a member of this exclusive club.

Early anatomically modern humans are found in Africa, at Herto in the Middle Awash in Ethiopia by 160,000 years ago. Modern humans subsequently appear in the Near East by about 90,000 years ago, in Europe between 40,000 and 30,000 years ago, in East Asia by perhaps 40,000 years ago, in Australia by 40,000 years ago, and in the Americas by at least 13,500 years ago.


Skhul cranium
This is a cranium from Skhul (Israel) dated to about 80-120kya. It is an early modern Homo sapiens displaying some archaic and modern human traits.
Credit: Photo by Wapondaponda, courtesy of Wikipedia.



Prehistoric sites in the Omo Valley and Middle Awash region of Ethiopia show the emergence of very early anatomically modern humans from earlier, more robust archaic forms such as Homo erectus, Homo heidelbergensis, and Homo helmei. These earliest moderns are dated to between 200,000 and 100,000 years ago. Anatomically modern humans, for whatever reason, appear to have had an adaptive edge over other contemporary forms and would, in time, become the lone survivors of human evolution. It is not clear from the archaeological evidence what this advantage would have been, but better communication and planning skills could have been critical.


We are talking about the emergence of you, your family, and the entire human species. They evolved in Africa at a time when Neandertals occupied Europe and the Near East, and other archaic proto-human forms existed in East Asia. Recent genetic evidence has suggested that all modern humans are descended from African Homo sapiens populations. You can have your own personal DNA sequenced and find out about your recent evolutionary history: where your ancestors came from, and when.






This is a Science News article, “The Oldest Homo Sapiens: Fossils Push Human Emergence Back to 195,000 Years Ago.”

This is a Discovery News story about X-Woman who may have co-existed with Neanderthals about 30,000 to 50,000 years ago.

This is a course webpage that discusses cranial capacity and stone tool use from the earliest human ancestors to the present.




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