January 25, 2011

Out of North Africa?

John Hawks points me towards this commentary in Science. I have always said that Africa was home to a structured population, due to its status as the birthplace of Homo and great ecological variability. Debates about African prehistory have traditionally centered on a few regions such as East Africa, with its fossil-friendly dry climate and South Africa where the number of important fossils is more a function of the presence of European colonists than the region's importance. So, it's good to see that more regions of the continent are receiving the scrutiny they deserve.

Science Vol. 331 no. 6013 pp. 20-23
DOI: 10.1126/science.331.6013.20

Was North Africa the Launch Pad for Modern Human Migrations?

Michael Balter

Until very recently, most researchers studying the origins of Homo sapiens focused on the fossils of East Africa and the sophisticated tools and ornaments of famed South African sites such as Blombos Cave. Few scientists thought that much of evolutionary significance had gone on in North Africa, or that the region's big-toothed, somewhat archaic-looking hominins might be closely related to the ancestors of many living people. Now, thanks to new excavations and more accurate dating, North Africa boasts unequivocal signs of modern human behavior as early as anywhere else in the world, including South Africa. Climate reconstructions and fossil studies now suggest that the region was more hospitable during key periods than once thought. The data suggest that the Sahara Desert was a land of lakes and rivers about 130,000 years ago, when moderns first left Africa for sites in what is today Israel. And new studies of hominin fossils suggest some strong resemblances—and possible evolutionary connections—between North African specimens and fossils representing migrations out of Africa between 130,000 and 40,000 years ago.

Link

3 comments:

Strat said...

It is appearing more and more that the place of origin of modern humans isn't in Sub-Saharan Africa but somewhere closer to Europe. So maybe today's Sub-Saharans aren't genetically closest to the original modern humans, they may just be a later offshoot from non-Sub-Saharan modern humans.

eurologist said...

I think it's both. It's a mixture of Europeans and North Africans for about 1 million years, at different times before present. It is also mostly, but not solely, out of Africa after additional innovations and mixtures starting 200,000 to 100,000 years ago - integrating with innovations in Europe and West Asia.

After 50,000 years ago, most everything was set in stone, it seems. World-wide.

terryt said...

"The data suggest that the Sahara Desert was a land of lakes and rivers about 130,000 years ago, when moderns first left Africa for sites in what is today Israel. And new studies of hominin fossils suggest some strong resemblances—and possible evolutionary connections—between North African specimens and fossils representing migrations out of Africa between 130,000 and 40,000 years ago".

Surely that is the demise of the 'Great Southern Coastal Migration Theory'. But I doubt it. The theory seems to appeal to so many, for some unkmown reason.

"It's a mixture of Europeans and North Africans for about 1 million years, at different times before present".

My sentiments exactly.

"After 50,000 years ago, most everything was set in stone, it seems. World-wide".

Perhaps not. At one time it was claimed that Javan H. erectus survived until nearly 30,000 years ago. If it did that provides a hybridism possibility in that region more recently than 50,000 years ago. And anyway groups of people continued moving around and forming hybrids with each other. In fact still are doing so. We're presumably not so different from Paleolithic humans.