Homo sapiens today look very different from our evolutionary origins, the microbes wriggling about in the primordial mud. But our emergence as a distinct species cannot, based on the current evidence, be conclusively traced to a single location at any single point in time.
In fact, according to a team of scientists, who have conducted a thorough review of our current understanding of human ancestry, there may never even have been such a time. Instead, the earliest known appearances of Homo sapiens traits and behaviours are consistent with a range of evolutionary histories.
We simply don’t have a large enough fossil record to definitively rule on a specific time and place in which modern humans emerged.
“Some of our ancestors will have lived in groups or populations that can be identified in the fossil record, whereas very little will be known about others,” said anthropologist Chris Stringer of the Natural History Museum in London in the UK.
“Over the next decade, growing recognition of our complex origins should expand the geographic focus of paleoanthropological fieldwork to regions previously considered peripheral to our evolution, such as Central and West Africa, the Indian subcontinent and Southeast Asia.”
We do have some general ideas about our history. Homo sapiens diverged from archaic ancestors sometime between a million and 300,000 years ago (by which time nine distinct human species populated the planet). [Continue reading…]