A Pocket History of Human Evolution by Silvana Condemi && François Savatier

A Pocket History of Human Evolution by Silvana Condemi && François Savatier

Author:Silvana Condemi && François Savatier
Language: eng
Format: epub
Publisher: The Experiment

Chapter 8

The Spread of Homo sapiens Over the Entire Planet

More than 135,000 years ago, the first Sapiens left East Africa to venture into the Arabian Peninsula and then into the southern parts of Eurasia. They arrived in Australia 65,000 years ago and in China more than 100,000 years ago, and for a long time, multiplied their numbers in these hot climates. Then, starting about 60,000 years ago, after mixing with non-Sapiens populations already present in Eurasia, they began moving farther north, entering Europe only around 43,000 years ago, and America 20,000 years later.

Homo sapiens’s migration from Africa distinguishes our species from all of the other hominins, because at some point, Sapiens stopped being subservient to a particular ecosystem (a tropical one) and have now conquered all of the biomes on Earth, including Antarctica, even modifying Earth’s climate. We’re also on our way to conquering space. Even though it seems to have happened slowly according to our notion of time, Sapiens’s expansion out of Africa was an explosive event on a geological time scale.

We don’t know when this major event was triggered, but the half of a Misliya-1 maxilla bone tells us that Homo sapiens was already living outside of Africa, in the Levant, more than 200,000 years ago. Later, their descendants, along with the newly arrived Sapiens, found themselves in contact with Neanderthals, who had expanded to the Middle East from Europe. Numerous pieces of material culture left behind by these two human species are identical. The genetic analysis suggests that genetic exchange had begun to take place at least 100,000 years ago.

At around this time, groups of Sapiens left behind numerous well-preserved fossil sites in the Levant, most notably in the caves of Skhul in the Carmel valley and Qafzeh, near the city of Nazareth. According to the traditional narrative, these ancient Sapiens from the Levant would have been blocked in their progress north toward Europe by the presence of Neanderthals. We believe, however, that their interactions with these new Neanderthals who came from the Levant were likely peaceful, at least in part, since the genetics indicate that at around 100,000 years ago, Neanderthal and Sapiens interbred. It’s clear that, more than anything else, it was the cold climate, not the presence of Neanderthals, that blocked Sapiens’s progress north for so long.

Since there were probably members of our species in the Levant at least 200,000 years ago, even 300,000 years ago, as evidenced by the studies of the human fossils found at Qesem (north of Israel) and Zuttiyeh (near the Carmel valley), it is clear that the expansion of Sapiens out of Africa took place over a long period of time. A team led by Katerina Harvati of the University of Tubingen in 2019 suggested an expansion of these ancient Sapiens in southern Europe, particularly in the Balkan peninsula at the Greek site of Apidima, around 210,000 years ago. But today the most robust and extensive paleoanthropological and chronological data show that these migrations began toward the south, since tropical Sapiens could go there easily.


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