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Evolution                  1 Million BC
Africa
Southwest Asia
Egypt
Indus Valley
China
Europe
South America
Mesoamerica
North America
Other

In General

It is an inescapable fact of genetics that all people alive in the world are genetically related, and that at some point an individual existed whom we all claim as an ancestor. The only points of debate are how long ago that ancesor lived, and where. DNA data suggests all modern humans are genetic descendants of one small inbred group of prehistoric Africans.(18)

The "Total Replacement," "African Origins," or "Eve" model contends that modern humans evolved first and only in Africa and only a few hundred thousand years ago or less, and then migrated to the rest of the world, displacing all other hominid forms, and with little or no genetic interchange between them. If this is true, then, as interesting as those many European and Asian fossils and sites of hundreds of thousands of years ago are, the people who left these remains had almost nothing to do with us in terms of our physical or cultural heritage. This is a difficult premise for many anthropolgists to accept, because so much of what we know about human evolution has been based on sites such as Zhoukoudian, in China, Toralba-Ambrona, in Spain, etc. This "African Eve Hypothesis" is based on the study of DNA taken from the mitocondria, which are features in human cells where energy to keep the cell functioning is produced.(18)

Alternatively, the "Multiregional Evolution," "Continuity," or "Candelabra" models propose that: sometime between about 1 million and 2 million years ago a generic Homo ancestor or ours spread out across the warmer latitudes of Africa, the Middle East, Asia, and possibly the southernmost fringe of Europe; then, with the passage of the millennia, although these groups began to diverge somewhat as they adapted to local and different environments, across the whole range of Homo they were evolving toward Homo spaiens as a result of gene flow that connected all human groups to some extent and because they were all under similar evolutionary selective forces as genralized hunter-foragers; so they all converged at about 30,000 years ago as one species, Homo sapiens--but with the physical differencess that distinguish modern Europeans from, for example, modern Chinese.(18)

To explain the relatively slow rate of technological change between 2 million and 100,000 years ago, we must reflect on the fact that not only were our ancestors of this era less intelligent, there were also many fewer of them. Although technolgical innovation is not a simple product of the number of minds available to create new ideas, a strong relationship exists between population numbers and innovation in the simple hunting-gathering economies of the early and middle Pliestocene. Even as late as 500,000 years ago, there were probably only a million people in the entire worlde. Also, people of this era tended to live much shorter lives. Few survived past thirty years of age, and people learn a great deal and retain considerable creativity past thirty.(24)

Other possible early human groups overlapped with erectus: Homo antecessor arrived at 800,000 BC and Homo heidelbergensis appeared at 500,000 BC, with brain sizes apparently three-fourths that of modern humans. Erectus largely disappeared from the record about 300,000 years ago. (113)

Combining the fossil record and clay-tablet story surprisingly accounts for paleoanthropological thinking about three stages in the origins and diaspora of human development. Early humans were scattered over the globe more than a million years ago. Perhaps a quarter million years ago, transition humans arose in Africa (Abzu in Sumerian lore) and migrated to other continents. They included variations (Neanderthal and Cro-Magnon) with a limited migratory range. Then modern humans appear in the Middle East about 100,000 years ago and further divided into modern groupings. (113)

With only one human species surviving today but two or three a few million years ago, it's clear that one or two species must have become extinct. Who was our ancestor, which species ended up instead as a discard in the trash heap of evolution, and when did this shakedown occur? The winner was the light-skulled Homo habilis, who went on to increase in brain size and body size. By around 1,700,000 years ago the differences were sufficient for anthropologists to give our lineage a new name, Homo erectus, meaning "the man that walks upright." (Homo erectus fossils were discovered before all the earlier fossils I've been discussing, so anthropologists didn't realize that Homo erectus wasn't the first protohuman to walk upright). The robust man-ape disappeared somewhat after 1,200,000 years ago, and the "Third Man" (if he ever existed) must have disappeared by then also. As for why Homo erectus survived and the robust man-ape didn't, we can only speculate. (114)

Whether the first sojourner was Homo habilis at 1.9 million years ago or Homo ergaster at 1.7 million to 1.0 million years ago is less important than the elementary fact that two of these creatures did leave Africa and did occupy areas of far greater topographic and environmental diversity than anything "back home." That they were able to do so speaks volumes not only to their increasing capacity to use culture - inventions of various kinds - to buffer the variability inherent in new environments, but also to the continuing interplay between cultural behavior and continued increases in brain size and cognitive capacity. (130)

The australopithecines as a group emerged between four and five million years ago and, in the face of the changing African environment, underwent a number of evolutionary adaptations before disappearing into extinction approximately one million years ago. (142)

Some time between 1.8 and 1.3 million years ago, Homo erectus succeeds in spreading out of Africa and occupying much of the Old World. Around 1.1 million years ago, we see the extinction of the robust lineage's in both eastern and southern Africa corresponding - perhaps not coincidentally - with the evidence of the first controlled use of fire at Swartkrans in South Africa. And by one million years ago, populations of Homo erectus are in the Far East, Asia, and Europe, and of course widespread in Africa. But for the next million years, while we have a good fossil record of human evolution in the Near East and Europe, and a fossil record of Homo erectus in the Far East and Indo-Pacific, the fossil record in Africa is almost nonexistent. While stone tools litter the landscape of Africa, indicating plentiful populations of hominids, we have only a tiny handful of fossils from across the continent. The record is so poor that we have begun to call this period in Africa the Million Year Gap. (142)

At the beginning of the 1990s, there were about eight species of hominid known to have existed between five million years and one million years. Today, we recognize no less than 13 early hominid species, and the numbers of "new" species will grow as the science progresses. (142)

Africa

It seems clear that some form of early Homo left Africa and colonized Europe and Asia between 1.0 and 0.5 million years ago.(16)

We can see traces of our origins in all of the earth's ancient life forms, from the earliest marine creatures through the tree-shrews that lived tens of millions of years ago to our last primate ancestors--but only in the crucial interval of two to one million years ago did our genus, Homo, become become the dominanat primate in the world.(9)

Paleoanthropologists recognize various species of early hominids in the period between about 4 and 1 million years ago. A substantial number of scholars accept at least four of these species: Australopithicus afarensis, Australopithicus africanus, Australopithicus robustus, and Australopithicus boissei. Several factors identify them as probable members of the same genus: 1) they are all bipedal, walking upright on two legs all or most of the time; 2) they all appeared to have brains only slightly larger, if at all, than modern gorillaas and chimps; 3) they all lived in Africa; and 4) they all had teeth that looked somewhat like ours and differed from those of girillas and chimps in various details.(6)

About all scholars agree on is that: (1) there were humans living in Europe and western Asia by 500,000 years ago but they were not Homo sapiens spaiens; (2) a distinctive form of human, the "Neanerthals," who were different from us in important anatomical ways, lived in Europe, western Asia, and perhaps North Africa between about 100,000 and 40,000 years ago; and (3) by 30,000 years ago all the Neanderthals and other distinctive physical forms of humans, except ourselves, Homo sapiens sapiens, hade disappeared.

We can see traces of our origins in all of the earth's ancient life forms, from the earliest marine creatures through the tree-shrews that lived tens of millions of years ago to our last primate ancestors--but only in the crucial interval of two to one million years ago did our genus, Homo, become become the dominanat primate in the world.(9)

Paleoanthropologists recognize various species of early hominids in the period between about 4 and 1 million years ago. A substantial number of scholars accept at least four of these species: Australopithicus afarensis, Australopithicus africanus, Australopithicus robustus, and Australopithicus boissei. Several factors identify them as probable members of the same genus: 1) they are all bipedal, walking upright on two legs all or most of the time; 2) they all appeared to have brains only slightly larger, if at all, than modern gorillaas and chimps; 3) they all lived in Africa; and 4) they all had teeth that looked somewhat like ours and differed from those of girillas and chimps in various details.(6)

Two hominid fossils discovered in Kenya are challenging a long-held view of human evolution. The broken upper jaw-bone and intact skull from humanlike creatures, or hominids, are described in Nature. Previously, the hominid Homo habilis was thought to have evolved into the more advanced Homo erectus , which evolved into us. Now, habilis and erectus are thought to be sister species that overlapped in time. The new fossil evidence reveals an overlap of about 500,000 years during which Homo habilis and Homo erectus must have co-existed in the Turkana basin area, the region of East Africa where the fossils were unearthed.

"Their co-existence makes it unlikely that Homo erectus evolved from Homo habilis," said co-author Professor Meave Leakey, palaeontologist and co-director of the Koobi Fora Research Project. The jaw bone was attributed to Homo habilis because of its distinctive primitive dental characteristics, and was dated to around 1.44 million years ago. It is the youngest specimen of this species ever found.

The skull, discovered by Frederick Manthi of the National Museums of Kenya, was assigned to the species Homo erectus despite being a similar size to that of a habilis skull. Most other erectus skulls found have been considerably larger. But it displayed typical features of erectus such as a gentle ridge called a "keel" running over the top of the jaw joint. Analysis showed the skull to be about 1.55 million years old. The new dates indicate that the two species must have lived side by side. Professor Spoor explained, "the easiest way to interpret these fossils is that there was an ancestral species that gave rise to both of them somewhere between two and three million years ago."

Not so similar The fossil record indicates that modern humans ( Homo sapiens ) evolved from Homo erectus . However, to some researchers, the small size of the erectus skull suggests that species may not have been as similar to us as we once thought. On average, modern humans display a low level of "sexual dimorphism", meaning that males and females do not differ physically as much as they do in other animals. The scientists compared the small skull to a much larger erectus cranium found previously in Tanzania. If the size difference between the two is indicative of the larger one being from a male and the smaller being from a female, it suggests that erectus displayed a high level of sexual dimorphism - similar to that of modern gorillas. (34)

All the developments that I've been discussing so far were played out within the continent of Africa. The shakedown there left Homo erectus as the sole protohuman on the African stage. It was only around one million years ago that Homo erectus finally expanded his horizons. He continued to evolve in our direction by an increase in brain size and in skull roundness. By around 500,000 years ago, some of our ancestors looked sufficiently like us, and different from earlier Homo erectus, that they are classified as our own species (Homo sapiens, meaning "the wise man"), though they still had thicker skulls and brow ridges than we do today. (114)

The first significant African discovery took place early in this century. In 1913, Professor Hans Reck, of Berlin University, conducted investigations at Olduvai Gorge in Tanzania, then German East Africa. While one of Reck's African collectors was searching for fossils, he saw a piece of bone sticking up from the earth. After removing the surface rubble, the collector saw parts of a complete and fully human skeleton embedded in the rock. He called Reck, who then had the skeleton taken out in a solid block of hard sediment. The human skeletal remains, including a complete skull, had to be chipped out with hammers and chisels. The skeleton was then transported to Berlin. Reck identified a sequence of five beds at Olduvai Gorge. The skeleton was from the upper part of Bed II, which is now considered to be 1.15 million years old. For Leakey, the Kanam and Kanjera fossils showed that a hominid close to the modern human type had existed at the time of Java man and Beijing man, or even earlier. If he was correct, Java man and Beijing man (now Homo erectus) could not be direct human ancestors, nor could Piltdown man with his apelike jaw. (138)

In March of 1933, the human biology section of the Royal Anthropological Institute met to consider Leakey's discoveries at Kanam and Kanjera. Chaired by Sir Arthur Smith Woodward, 28 scientists issued reports on four categories of evidence: geological, paleontological, anatomical, and archeological. The geology committee concluded that tbe Kanjera and Kanam human fossils were as old as the beds in which they were found. The paleontology committee said the Kanam beds were Early Pleistocene, whereas the Kanjera beds were no more recent than Middle Pleistocene. The archeology committee noted the presence at both Kanam and Kanjera of stone tools in the same beds where the human fossils had been found. The anatomical committee said the Kanjera skulls exhibited "no characteristics inconsistent with the reference to the type Homo sapiens." The same was true of the Kanjera femur. About the Kanam jaw. the anatomy experts said it was unusual in some respects. Yet they were "not able to point to any detail of the specimen that is incompatible with its inclusion in the type of the Homo sapiens." That over the years scientists have attributed the Kanam jaw to almost every known hominid (Australopithecus, Australopithecus boisei, Homo habilis, Neanderthal man, early Homo sapiens, and anatomically modern Homo sapiens) shows the difficulties involved in properly classifying hominid fossil remains. (138)

The Gombore humerus, given an age of about l.5 million years, was found along with crude stone tools. In 1981, Brigitte Senut said that the Gombore humerus "cannot be differentiated from a typical modern human." So now we seem to have two very ancient and humanlike humeri to add to our list of evidence challenging the currently accepted scenario of human evolution. These are the Kanapoi humerus at 4.0-4.5 million years in Kenya and the Gombore humerus at more than 1.5 million years in Ethiopia. They support the view that human beings of modern type have coexisted with other humanlike and apelike creatures for a very long time. The humanlike ER 813 talus is 1.5 to 2.0 million years old, roughly contemporary with creatures designated as Australopithecus robustus, Homo erectus, and Homo habilis. In a subsequent report, Wood said his tests confirmed "the similarity of KNM-ER 813 with modern human bones," showing it to be "not significantly different from the tali of modern bushmen." One could therefore consider the possibility that the KNM-ER 813 talus belonged to an anatomically modern human in the Early Pleistocene or Late Pliocene. (138)

Although I have argued the case for a southern African origin of humans, I believe that the underlying message that arises from a dispassionate view of the present evidence is that we are not in a position to identify a single region of Africa as the birthplace of humankind, particularly in the early hominid record. If anything, the evidence at hand suggests many evolutionary experiments were conducted during the course of the last four or five million years of human evolution across the continent. (142)

The first being considered to be truly manlike--"Advanced Australopithecus"--existed in the same parts of Africa Some 2,000,000 years ago. It took yet another million years to produce Homo erectus. Finally, after another 900,000 years, the first primitive Man appeared; he is named Neanderthal after the site where his remains were first found. (146)

Lasting from l.78 million years ago to 0.4 million years ago, Homo erectus is one of the longest-lived hominid species. If evolution is thought of as a gradual, steady process, then we might expect erectus, if it was the direct ancestor of humanity, to exhibit such steady evolution toward the anatomically modern condition over its lengthy existence on the planet. ...all of the Homo erectus specimens, from the very oldest to the most recent, are "built on a common plan". Even brain size within the species can be shown to be fundamentally stable through time: There is no significant increase in cranial capacity within erectus from its earliest appearance in Africa l. 78 million years ago until it is replaced by Homo sapiens sometime after 400,000 years ago. Interestingly, this period of relative stability in brain size is also a period of great cultural stability regarding stone tools. The hand axes made by Homo erectus change only slightly from 1.4 million to 400,000 years ago. At about 400,000 years ago, however, a steep increase in brain size over a short interval is seen. This jump in brain size, in fact, is how the earliest appearance of members of our species is identified. Those changes produced and defined the first Homo sapiens in what is seen here as being a punctuational event. (170)

Southwest Asia

 About all scholars agree on is that: (1) there were humans living in Europe and western Asia by 500,000 years ago but they were not Homo sapiens spaiens; (2) a distinctive form of human, the "Neanerthals," who were different from us in important anatomical ways, lived in Europe, western Asia, and perhaps North Africa between about 100,000 and 40,000 years ago; and (3) by 30,000 years ago all the Neanderthals and other distinctive physical forms of humans, except ourselves, Homo sapiens sapiens, hade disappeared.

The erectus cranium size was larger than that of the other Homos, but their physical proportions resembled the seemingly older types. Their global diaspora indicates skills at adaptation and potential for development. They left artifacts of a surprisingly sophisticated stone tool technology, plus wood and seeds. The currently available fossil record shows erectus lived beyond Africa, reaching at least from Western Europe to Eastern China and the Pacific Islands to Australia. Some of them, or their cousins, lived along the Jordan River approximately 800,000 years ago. That archaeological find was dated through evidence of a magnetic pole reversal about 780,000 BC. They inhabited one site in what is now Israel for at least 100,000 years. Similar erectus sites in Europe date from 500,000 BC. All this suggests erectus had a very early and widespread habitat. (113)

All the developments that I've been discussing so far were played out within the continent of Africa. The shakedown there left Homo erectus as the sole protohuman on the African stage. It was only around one million years ago that Homo erectus finally expanded his horizons. His stone tools and bones show that he reached the Near East, then the Far East (where he is represented by the famous fossils known as Peking Man and Java Man) and Europe. He continued to evolve in our direction by an increase in brain size and in skull roundness. By around 500,000 years ago, some of our ancestors looked sufficiently like us, and different from earlier Homo erectus, that they are classified as our own species (Homo sapiens, meaning "the wise man"), though they still had thicker skulls and brow ridges than we do today. (114)

Egypt

 

Indus Valley

 Finds from Pakistan, China, Java and elsewhere raise the possibility that hominids were distributed across the warmer regions of the world by at least 1.5 million years ago. The lowered seas of the Pleistocene would have facilited this, opening rich coastal niches far out into the Southeast Asian archipelagos.(8)

China

 Finds from Pakistan, China, Java and elsewhere raise the possibility that hominids were distributed across the warmer regions of the world by at least 1.5 million years ago. The lowered seas of the Pleistocene would have facilited this, opening rich coastal niches far out into the Southeast Asian archipelagos.(8)

Based on the few leg-bone fragments recovered, it is estimated that the Zhoukoudian hominids averaged about 5 feet, 1 inch in height5--which may seems short, but is only an inch or two less than the average height of most people of just a few hundred years ago.(15)

Wu and Lampo note that every Homo erectus upper incisor found in China is "shovel-shaped." They note that this feature is found in nearly as high frequencies in living Mongolian populations, whereas it is at much lower frequencies elsewhere, and thus they conclude that the Chinese Homo erectus are the genetic ancestors of contemporary Chinese.(15)

All the developments that I've been discussing so far were played out within the continent of Africa. The shakedown there left Homo erectus as the sole protohuman on the African stage. It was only around one million years ago that Homo erectus finally expanded his horizons. His stone tools and bones show that he reached the Near East, then the Far East (where he is represented by the famous fossils known as Peking Man and Java Man) and Europe. He continued to evolve in our direction by an increase in brain size and in skull roundness. By around 500,000 years ago, some of our ancestors looked sufficiently like us, and different from earlier Homo erectus, that they are classified as our own species (Homo sapiens, meaning "the wise man"), though they still had thicker skulls and brow ridges than we do today. (114)

Europe

It seems clear that some form of early Homo left Africa and colonized Europe and Asia between 1.0 and 0.5 million years ago.(16)

 About all scholars agree on is that: (1) there were humans living in Europe and western Asia by 500,000 years ago but they were not Homo sapiens spaiens; (2) a distinctive form of human, the "Neanerthals," who were different from us in important anatomical ways, lived in Europe, western Asia, and perhaps North Africa between about 100,000 and 40,000 years ago; and (3) by 30,000 years ago all the Neanderthals and other distinctive physical forms of humans, except ourselves, Homo sapiens sapiens, hade disappeared.

Scientists have discovered the oldest human remains in western Europe. A jawbone and teeth discovered at the famous Atapuerca site in northern Spain have been dated between 1.1 and 1.2 million years old. The finds provide further evidence for the great antiquity of human occupation on the continent, the researchers write in the journal Nature. Scientists also found stone tools and animal bones with tell-tale cut marks from butchering by humans. The discovery comprises part of a human's lower jawbone. The remains of seven teeth were found still in place; an isolated tooth, belonging to the same individual, was also unearthed. Dr Bermudez de Castro told BBC News that the latest find had anatomical features linking it to earlier hominins (modern humans, their ancestors and relatives since divergence from apes) discovered in Dmanisi, Georgia - at the gates of Europe. The Georgian hominins lived some 1.7 million years ago and represent an early expansion of humans outside Africa. The researchers therefore suggest that Western Europe was settled by a population of hominins coming from the east. Once these early people had "won the West" they evolved into a distinct species - Homo antecessor, or "Pioneer Man", say the scientists. The researchers said the new find represented the earliest reliably dated evidence of human occupation in Europe. (37)

The erectus cranium size was larger than that of the other Homos, but their physical proportions resembled the seemingly older types. Their global diaspora indicates skills at adaptation and potential for development. They left artifacts of a surprisingly sophisticated stone tool technology, plus wood and seeds. The currently available fossil record shows erectus lived beyond Africa, reaching at least from Western Europe to Eastern China and the Pacific Islands to Australia. Some of them, or their cousins, lived along the Jordan River approximately 800,000 years ago. That archaeological find was dated through evidence of a magnetic pole reversal about 780,000 BC. They inhabited one site in what is now Israel for at least 100,000 years. Similar erectus sites in Europe date from 500,000 BC. All this suggests erectus had a very early and widespread habitat. (113)

Osmond Fisher, a fellow the Geological Society, discovered an interesting feature in the landscape of Dorsetshire--the elephant trench at Dewlish. Fisher said in The Geological Magazine (1912): "This trench was excavated in chalk and was 12 feet deep, and of such a width that a man could just pass along it. It is not on the line of any natural fracture, and the beds of flint on each side correspond. The bottom was of undisturbed chalk, and one end, like the sides, was vertical. At the other end it opened diagonally on to the steep side of a valley. It has yielded substantial remains of Elephas meridionalis, but no other fossils...This trench, in my opinion, was excavated by man in the later Pliocene age as a pitfall to catch elephants." Elephas meridionalis, or "southern elephant," was in existence in Europe from 1.2 to 3.5 million years ago. Thus, while the bones found in the trench at Dewlish could conceivably be Early Pleistocene in age, they might also date to the Late Pliocene. (138)

Most early erectus sites in southern Europe date back to just over a million years ago. In Spain an adaptation of erectus, classified as Homo antecessor, has been dated to around 800,000 years ago. It is believed to have been a forerunner to the Neandertals who emerged in Europe roughly 300,000 years ago. (142)

South America

 In 1896, workers excavating a dry dock in Buenos Aires found a human skull. They took it from the rudder pit at the bottom of the excavation, after breaking through a layer of a hard, limestonelike substance called tosca. The level at which the skull was found was 11 meters (36 feet) below the bed of the river La Plata. ...according to Ales Hrdlicka of the Smithsonian Institution, the skull was just like that of modern humans. The skull was found in what Hrdlicka called "the upper-most portion of the Pre-Ensenadean stratum." According to modern geological opinion, the Pre­Ensenadan stratum should be at least 1.0-1.5 million years old. (138)

Mesoamerica

 

North America

 

Other

 ...the flourine content test results reported by Day and Molleson remained consistent with (but are not proof of) an eartly Middle Pleistocene age of about 800,000 years for the anatomically modern Trinil femurs. Consequently, the T2 skull and T3 femur can be said to indicate the presence of two kinds of hominids in Java during the early Middle Pleistocene--one with an apelike head and the other with legs like those of anatomically modern humans. Following the typical practice of giving a species identification on the basis of partial skeletal remains, we can say that the T3 femur provides evidence for the presence of Homo sapiens sapiens in Java around 800,000 years ago. Up to now, no creature except Homo sapiens sapiens is known to have possessed the kind of femur found in the early Middle Pleistocene Trinil beds of Java. (138)