Lecture 8: Modern Human Origins

Anatomically Modern Homo Sapiens


  • Western Europe
  • 35,000 Years Ago.

First find but not the oldest.

  • High broad forehead
  • Chin
  • Narrow nose
  • Small face
  • Globular vault
  • Slight brow ridges
  • Less robust post-cranial

Origin of modern H. Sapiens Hypotheses

Modern humans

  • Vertical forehead – Development of the frontal lobes of the brain
  • Largest volume
  • Different feature between hominins and genus homo – Encephalization
  • Difference between hominoids and hominins – Habitual bipedalism
  • Humans have a chin vs Neandertals – No chin

Heidelbergensis – 600 thousand years ago

  • Africa – About 200 thousand years ago, evolutionary event that changes heidelbergensis to homo sapiens
  • Common ancestor of both Neanderthals and modern humans

1. Single Origin /Complete Replacement / Out of Africa (Eve) hypothesis (Stringer & Andrews, 1988)

Origin of modern humans in Africa, with later replacement of all of other homo species (including Neandertals)

  • Remember the evidence – Based on genetics – Specifically mitochondrial DNA
  • Found in the mitochondria of the cell
  • Considered to be maternally inherited – Females pass on their DNA unchanged to their offspring, but only daughters pass it on to their offspring (Haviland et al., 2009).

Out of Africa Model

We all originated in Africa and modern humans then migrated out of Africa.

Based on

  • Morphological studies
  • Genetic studies
  • MtDNA
  • Because its in the cytoplasm, it doesn’t go thru recombination
  • We can track back mtDNA thru generations
  • Bottleneck effect – Problems a population of modern humans in Africa thru the speciation of heidelbergensis
  • Find the greatest diversity of mtDNA in that population because only a piece broke off and migrated outside of Africa
  • Tracked it back to approx. 200,000 years ago in Africa – Exactly the same as the stuff found in Omo
  • African Adam Hypothesis – Genes found only in the Y chromosome
  • Almost all paleoanthropologists support the hypothesis that we originated in Africa
  • Y chromosomes
  • Recent genetic profiling
  • Nuclear DNA

2. Multiregional hypothesis (Wolpoff)

Several populations in Africa, Asian & Europe evolving together from 100,000 – 40,000 years ago.

  • Regional diversity
  • Because these difference still exist, it can mean that there was regional evolution in these parts of the world (Haviland et al., 2009)

Based on

  • Tool assemblages
  • Fossil evidence

3. Partial Replacement hypothesis (Brauer)

  • Also recently called Limited Admixture Model

Anatomically modern humans 1st evolved in Africa, with later disappearance of other homo species due to hybridization & replacement

  • Suggests that there could have been limited mixture between archaic and modern humans, probably not significant to change the species

Due to morphological continuity and inability of genetics to entirely disprove interbreeding some researchers favor limited admixture

  • Acknowledges likelihood of some fertile interbreeding between archaic and moderns

Dispersals from African Homeland

Fossil Record


  • 195,000 – Origins of modern humans

Two major dispersals of modern humans from Africa

  • First to Australia and then to the Americas
  • Who were the direct descendants of heidelbergensis in Europe? Modern humans
  • First migration - ~80 thousand years ago

Middle East(Israel)

  • 120-80,000

1st major dispersal out of Africa

  • 70,000 years ago
  • Probably followed a southern route all the way to the far east and Australia

2nd major dispersal

  • 50,000 – 40,000 years ago
  • H.sapiens north to Eurasia then west to Europe proper
  • East to Siberia
  • Americas – Followed shortly after colonization of Siberia


  • Lake Mungo
  • 50,000 - 40,000 years ago skeleton
  • Malakunanja
  • 60,000 years ago

Likely route

  • Sunda region in NW
  • Cross huge gaps of H2O

The Americas

  • Humans entered Americas thru Beringia possibly as early as 35 thousand years ago
  • Overland to present day Alaska
  • May have come by boats along the pacific coast

Spread of Upper Paleolithic Peoples

  • Siberia 42,000

Who were the earliest North Americans?


  • Earliest inhabitant of North America
  • Skilled big game hunter – Thought to be responsible for the extinction of many large animals
  • Clovis points

Aboriginal Americans today

  • Most diverse language
  • 5 distinct genetic groupings
  • Probable ancestors of the indigenous today
  • mtDNA: 14,000 – 11,000 years ago

Homo floresiensis

Indonesian Island of Flores

  • 1st Dwarfed relative

Liang Bua Cave

  • Single skeleton
  • Found in 2012 – Called the hobbit
  • No signs of deliberate burial
  • 38,000 – 18,000 years ago – Coinciding with modern homo sapiens
  • Modern H.Sapiens - 35,000 years ago
  • Contemporaries
  • Evidence of island dwarfism
  • Isolated on the island so didn’t have the same environment as the modern humans but still adapted
  • 2 species exploited different ecological niches

Dwarf features

Adult female

  • 3.5 ft
  • 57 lbs
  • 380 cc

Island dwarfing?

  • Controlled fire
  • Made tools
  • Brain neurology more similar to modern humans than australopithecines

¨Modern Homo Sapiens ¨Cultural innovations

Modern Human Origins

  • Humankind achieved modern anatomy 195,000 years ago – Speciation event in AFRICA
  • Beginning to appear that something happened to early Homo Sapiens about 100,000 – 50,000 years ago

"Big Bang” of Cultural innovation

Late Stone Age (LSA) in Africa

  • 50,000-45,000 years ago
  • Modern humans appeared ~200 thousand years ago

Upper Paleolithic in Eurasia – 40,000 years ago (ESA) – Oldowan and Acheulian

  • Increased # of tool types
  • Production of many sorts of bone artifacts
  • Production of art and items for personal decoration
  • Increase in burial elaboration
  • Movement away from rock toward bone
  • Increased subsistence efficiency & population density

Upper Paleolithic 40,000 – 8,000 years ago

Aurignacian Tool Industry

Blade Technique

  • Highly standardized blades
  • Chip blades off prepared core
  • Blade – twice the length vs the width
  • Indirect percussion method – punch technique
  • Direct percussion is in the Oldowan industry

Pressure Flaking

  • Press (not strike) flakes off core with bone, antler or wood punch
  • Solutrean laurel leaf blades

Classic European Upper Paleolithic Cultural Periods

  1. Aurignacian 40,000 – 27,000 years ago
  2. Perigordian/Gravettian 27,000 – 21,000 years ago
  3. Solutrean 21,000 – 16,500 years ago
  4. Magdalenian, 16,500 – 11,000 years ago

Large Tool Kit

  1. Burin
  2. Fish hook, harpoon,
  3. Atlatl –spearthrower
  4. Bow & arrow

European Upper Paleolithic

35,000 – 10,000 years ago

  • Constructed Shelter
  • Long distance trade
  • Increased efficiency in cooking & heat
  • Hearths
  • Fuel
  • Clothing -Bone needles

1st Artistic Traditions

  • Cave art
  • Entoptic images
  • Thought that they were drawing what they saw in the darkness
  • Ornamentation
  • Sculpture
  • Engravings
  • Grave goods

Early European Cave Art

32,000 years ago

  • 1st evidence of figurative pictures
  • Caves of Lascaux, S. France
  • 17,000 years ago

Cave art meaning

  1. Sympathetic hunting magic hypothesis
  2. Fertility Magic Hypothesis

Venus Figurines

  • Perigordian period
  • Gravettian- 27,000 – 21,000 years ago
  • Fertility theme
  • Wide spread distribution in Europe

Elaborate burials

  • Bodies were places in graves dug in the ashes of previously occupied living sites
  • sprinkle the deceased with red ochre
  • Grave offering common

E.G. of Grave offerings

Sungir, 210 km NE of Moscow

  • 2 children
  • Boy 12-13 yo & Girl 9-10 yo
  • Laid out in a line skull to skull
  • Clothing
  • Given a tool kit of weaponry that was found on their shoulders
  • Suggests that there was some kind of reverence
  • The girl suffered from congenital disformity
  • More goods found in burials where there are people with disability
  • Decorated
  • Sculpted ivory mammoth under boys left shoulder
  • Equipped with weapons
  • Suggests social stratification at Sungir
  • Girl- pathological shortening and bowing of femora

Spread of Upper Paleolithic People

  • Australia & New Guinea 60,000 years ago
  • Siberia 42,000 years ago
  • Americas?
  • Pennsylvania, Meadowcroft Rockshelter 20,000 years ago
  • First Nations 14,000 – 11,000 years ago
  • Chile Monte Verde 12,500 years ago
  • Peru 11,000 years ago

Spread to Americas


  • Earliest inhabitants of North America
  • Skilled big game hunters
  • May have hastened extinction of many large mammals
  • Distinctive fluted spear points – fluted because of the channel
  • Earliest is clovis tradition

Paleolithic Trends throughout the world

  • Increased reliance on cultural adaptation, as opposed to biological
  • Related to increased cranial capacity
  • Must have been gene flow between populations – maintained as one species
  • Increased regionalization
  • Need to adapt to diverse environments
  • Distinguish own people from others
  • More efficient tool technology and different tool kits
  • Reduction of sexual dimorphism
  • Important implications on gender relations
  • Lack of dominance – cooperative relationships


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