Paradise Lost: How Homo sapiens appeared

(ORDO NEWS) — Homo sapiens comes from Africa, from where he later settled on all other continents of the Earth. If earlier this hypothesis caused controversy, then today, thanks to the many finds of archaeologists and geneticists, there is no doubt about it. We are all descendants of hunters and gatherers who lived … and this is where the difficulties begin. It is not known exactly where our first ancestors appeared in Africa.

Applicants for the place

The main candidates for the role of the “Garden of Eden”, in which the first people appeared, are the vicinities of Lakes Victoria and Tanganyika, located in the east of the “black” continent. It is there that the famous Olduvai gorge is located, where exceptionally ancient finds were made, including the direct ancestors of our species.

However, the sites of early humans are widely scattered throughout Africa, from Morocco in the north to South Africa. For a long time, it seemed that only new research would make it possible to select one or another specific region. But when the research was done, it turned out that the picture is much more confusing.

Take the famous “mitochondrial Eve”. We receive mitochondrial DNA only from the mother, and by comparing its sequences from residents of different countries, Allan Wilson and his followers showed that the common “foremother” of modern people lived about 200 thousand years ago in East Africa. Similarly, it is possible to trace the “Adam”, from which the ancestral sex chromosome got to the present men. If you compare its sequence with the Y-chromosomes of modern African tribes, you can find that he lived far from Eve – rather, in the northwest of the continent.

The situation is complicated by other findings. For example, the oldest skull (about 160 thousand years old), which can be unequivocally attributed to a representative of our species, was discovered in Ethiopia – in eastern Africa, but north of Tanganyika. And already about 100 thousand years ago, sapiens were found throughout the continent and even beyond: the corresponding remains, tools, and artifacts were excavated both in Israel and in the Blombos Cave in the south of South Africa.

Distributed garden

All this led scientists to a radical revision of previous ideas and the emergence of a new hypothesis – “pan-African”. According to her, there was no “Garden of Eden” at all, and populations of early humans lived throughout the continent, constantly mixing and interacting with each other. Just as there was no abrupt transition from ancestors to modern man with his hairless skin and cultural skills, so there was not one specific population in which this transformation could take place.

Different groups settled, separated, and reunited. In the event of abrupt climatic changes, some of them could decrease in number, or even die out altogether. But with the return of normal conditions, the survivors quickly spread, making contact with neighbors, exchanging cultural achievements, and, of course, genes. According to the American anthropologist John Hawks, “human evolution is more like a shaky river delta than a branching tree trunk.”

In ecology, such a structure, consisting of many interacting populations, is called “metapopulation”, and mathematical modeling confirms that the development of our species proceeded precisely according to this scenario. Usually, this is not very typical for animals. Spreading over a vast area, they tend to diverge – “divide”, forming separate subspecies, and then new species. However, the highest sociability of people and the ability to communicate allowed them to maintain ties and unity for thousands of years, to accumulate new knowledge.

“It has happened over and over again, in different places and for different reasons, for 400,000 years,” says Chris Stringer of the Natural History Museum in London. just like modern people inhabiting all continents.”


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