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Evolution                  500,000 BC
Africa
Southwest Asia
Egypt
Indus Valley
China
Europe
South America
Mesoamerica
North America
Other

In General

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)

Readers unfamiliar with details of our evolution might be forgiven for assuming that the appearance of Homo sapiens constituted the Great Leap Forward. Was our meteoric ascent to sapiens status half-a-million years ago the brilliant climax of Earth history, when art and sophisticated technology finally burst upon our previously dull planet? Not at all: the appearance of Homo sapiens was a nonevent. Cave paintings, houses, and bows and arrows still lay hundreds of thousands of years off in the future. Stone tools continued to be the crude ones that Homo erectus had been making for nearly a million years. The extra brain size of those early Homo sapiens had no dramatic effect on our way of life. That whole long tenure of Homo erectus and early Homo sapiens outside Africa was a period of infinitesimally slow cultural change. In fact, the sole candidate for a major advance was possibly the control of fire, for which caves occupied by Peking Man provide one of the earliest indications in the form of ash, charcoal, and burnt bones. Even that advance--if those cave fires really were man-lit rather than caused by lightning--would belong to Homo erectus, not Homo sapiens. (114)

...the evidence suggests that Neanderthals and modern humans diverged genetically between 500,000 and 600,000 years ago - around twice as far back in time as the 'Eve' bottleneck. These results indicate that Neanderthals did not contribute mitochondrial DNA to modern humans; Neanderthals are not our ancestors. (160)

Africa

...it appears that in Africa a new morphology begins emerging from roughly 600,000 years ago, when erectus begins taking on the form of the archaic Homo sapiens. The skulls of Saldanha Man, found on the Cape West Coast, and Broken Hill Man, from Zambia - both dating back approximately 500,000 years - show an increase in brain size and a shift in the dentition and facial architecture that hint at the modern human form. (142)

...archaic Homo sapiens...is really just a convenient term for the muddle of fossils from Africa and Europe between about one million and 200 thousand years ago. So-called archaic Homo sapiens seem to combine many of the robust features of Homo erectus: prominent brow ridges and a large face, with characteristics of our own species Homo sapiens, which has a more domed brain case and jutting chin. Although the evidence is not conclusive, it would appear that Homo erectus, or Homo ergaster, began taking on slightly more modern characteristics around 600,000 years ago and developing into the archaic version of our own species. One of the main problems with the African archaics, however, is the frustrating lack of specimens. In total, there are probably less than three or four dozen representative fossils of this group from all of Africa, and each varies slightly in its morphology from the others. (142)

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

 

Egypt

 

Indus Valley

 

China

Readers unfamiliar with details of our evolution might be forgiven for assuming that the appearance of Homo sapiens constituted the Great Leap Forward. Was our meteoric ascent to sapiens status half-a-million years ago the brilliant climax of Earth history, when art and sophisticated technology finally burst upon our previously dull planet? Not at all: the appearance of Homo sapiens was a nonevent. Cave paintings, houses, and bows and arrows still lay hundreds of thousands of years off in the future. Stone tools continued to be the crude ones that Homo erectus had been making for nearly a million years. The extra brain size of those early Homo sapiens had no dramatic effect on our way of life. That whole long tenure of Homo erectus and early Homo sapiens outside Africa was a period of infinitesimally slow cultural change. In fact, the sole candidate for a major advance was possibly the control of fire, for which caves occupied by Peking Man provide one of the earliest indications in the form of ash, charcoal, and burnt bones. Even that advance--if those cave fires really were man-lit rather than caused by lightning--would belong to Homo erectus, not Homo sapiens. (114)

Europe

In 1911, J. Reid Moir discovered an anatomically modern human skeleton beneath a layer of glacial boulder clay near the town of Ipswich, in the East Anglia region of England. The skeleton was found at a depth of 1.38 meters (about 4.5 feet), between a layer of boulder clay and some underlying glacial sands. These deposits could be as much as 400,000 years old. Moir was aware of the possibility that the skeleton might represent a recent burial. Therefore, he carefully verified the unbroken and undisturbed nature of the strata in and under which the skeleton lay. As for the condition of the bones, Sir Arthur Keith said it was similar to that of Pleistocene animal fossils found elsewhere in the glacial sands. The glacial sands in which the Ipswich skeleton was found must have been laid down between the onset of the Anglian glaciation, about 400,000 years ago and onset of the Hoxnian interglacial, about 330,000 years ago. It would thus appear that the Ipswich skeleton is between 330,000 and 400,000 years old. Some authorities put the onset of the Mindel glaciation (equivalent to the Anglian) at about 600,000 years, which would give the Ipswich skeleton an age potentially that great. (138)

South America

 

Mesoamerica

 

North America

 

Other