View Full Version : Premodern Homo sapiens

Tuesday, November 4th, 2003, 01:01 AM

Premodern Homo sapiens

It has been suggested that the increased rigor of the glacial climate in Europe at this time was the impetus leading to the evolution of humans who seem to be physically more "modern" in several ways than Afro-Asian H. erectus. These people are often termed early or archaic H. sapiens, or sometimes placed in their own species, H. heidelbergensis. This view was acceptable so long as the most ancient African representatives of this group were poorly dated or younger, but studies in the later 1990s suggested some modification. The earliest human fossils in Europe were thought to date to about 500 Ka in England (a tibia from Boxgrove) and Germany (the mandible from Mauer near Heidelberg found in 1908). The long-known human fossils from Tighenif (previously called Ternifine, in Algeria), dated to 800-700 Ka, were transferred out of H. erectus by some workers because they present at least one derived feature of the lower jaw. Moreover, the partial skull from Bodo (Ethiopia) was also dated older than 600 Ka, and similar South African fossils were estimated to be of comparable age. These dates suggested that the earliest representatives of "archaic H. sapiens" may have lived in the northern half of Africa and perhaps evolved there from local H. erectus populations.

Then, in 1995, fragmentary human fossils and associated stone tools from the older levels at Atapuerca (Spain) were dated to about 800 Ka, implying that archaic H. sapiens appeared at about this date all over the western Old World. These specimens were named H. antecessor in 1997, and it was suggested that they represented the common ancestor of all later human varieties. Meanwhile, in 1996, a cranium lacking the face was described from Ceprano, Italy, in a context suggestive of a date of about 700 Ka or more. A revised reconstruction claims strong similarity to H. erectus, otherwise unknown in Europe. Finally, in mid-1998, most of a cranium from Buya (Eritrea), dated about 1 Ma, was described as being intermediate between H. erectus and archaic H. sapiens.

All of these finds, combined with theoretical arguments about the best way to recognize and delimit species in the fossil record, have led to competing interpretations of the number of species of Homo known in the past million years. Some workers continue to place all post-erectus fossils in archaic Homo sapiens, sometimes recognizing a variety of temporal and geographic subspecies (such as the Neanderthals and anatomically modern humans). A few have gone so far as to include H. erectus within an over-enlarged H. sapiens. At the other extreme, some researchers accept between three and six species in the same time period: H. antecessor, H. heidelbergensis (either restricted to Europe or extended to Africa and even East Asia), H. rhodesiensis (for early African "archaics"), H. neanderthalensis, H. sapiens (restricted to anatomically modern humans), and perhaps others. A possible middle ground would be to (1) include the earliest of these African and European populations in one named group [for example, antecessor, or perhaps mauritanicus (the name originally given to the Tighenif fossils), as suggested by J.-J. Hublin]; (2) combine all post-500 Ka nonmodern European fossils in neanderthalensis (including heidelbergensis here); (3) group nonmodern African fossils younger than Tighenif in rhodesiensis; and (4) restrict sapiens to anatomically modern humans worldwide. At least the last three groups, and perhaps also the first, could be recognized as subspecies of H. sapiens under certain theoretical models, and this interpretation is followed here. As yet, it is not possible to even suggest where this species may have originated from a H. erectus ancestor.

Early representatives of H. s. neanderthalensis and H. s. rhodesiensis occur in Europe and Africa between 500 (or even 600) and 250 Ka, thus contemporaneous with H. erectus populations in eastern Asia. They share somewhat larger brains (for body size), smaller teeth, more expanded facial sinuses and occiput (rear of the skull), but less robustness than in H. erectus. All these features are found in more extreme form in modern humans and in the late "classic" Neanderthals (see below). In most areas, these people still used Acheulean tools, but perhaps with greater efficiency. It is likely that these archaic H. sapiens spread gradually eastward across the Old World, replacing late-surviving populations of the broadly ancestral H. erectus everywhere by 200 Ka, when a poorly known (and here unnamed) variant occurs in northern China.

These three geographic variants (subspecies?) were not only distinct from H. erectus but also from each other to a greater degree than is true among living varieties or "races" of anatomically modern humans. In southern Africa, one cranium was found at Broken Hill, now Kabwe, Zambia (formerly Northern Rhodesia, hence the name Rhodesian man), and broadly similar specimens are known in South Africa (Saldanha and Florisbad), Tanzania (Ndutu), Ethiopia (Bodo), and Morocco (Salé and Thomas quarries). These people made Acheulean or equivalent Mode 2 tools and apparently hunted big game, between 650 and 250 Ka. Rare specimens from China appear to be younger, mainly dating to about 250-150 Ka. These include a nearly complete cranium from Dali, in central China, and a partial skull and skeleton from Jinniushan (or Yingkou), in the northeast, as well as scattered, less complete remains. All of these fossils, especially Dali, are quite similar to the African specimens just mentioned, as well as to some of the earliest European H. s. neanderthalensis. Other Chinese specimens, such as Maba (from the southeast), and the central Indian Hathnora (or Narmada) fossil, are partial crania which are both younger (perhaps about 150-75 Ka) and more derived morphologically, although not in the direction of either early anatomically modern people or the contemporaneous Neanderthals.


The best known of the archaic varieties are the Neanderthals, from Europe and western Asia. It now seems likely that this group evolved locally in Europe from earliest H. sapiens via intermediate forms ("pre-Neanderthals" or "ante-Neanderthals") such as those known from England (Swanscombe), Spain (Atapuerca), France (Arago, Montmaurin), Germany (Steinheim), and Greece (Petralona). They became adapted to the cold climates of glaciated Europe, with prototypical Neanderthal anatomy well established by about 200 Ka. During the warm interval about 120 Ka, they may have spread into the Near East and central Asia. In the cold glacial phase between 110 and 35 Ka, "classic" (or extreme), cold-adapted Neanderthals were abundant in cold northern parts of western and central Europe, while less extreme forms (perhaps more like their immediate predecessors) inhabited areas to the south and east. They were essentially stocky humans, but had long, low skulls with a projecting occipital region, large faces, teeth, and brow ridges; and brains averaging 1500 ml in volume. Their limbs and trunks were heavily muscled, indicating great strength, but many bones were broken and healed during life. They made Mousterian tools (a variant of Middle Paleolithic or Mode 3 flake-based tool kits), often lived in caves or wooden shelters where they controlled fire, hunted big game, and had primitive religious beliefs, including burial of the dead with grave goods.

There is intense argument among paleoanthropologists as to how "modern" the Neanderthals were behaviorally, in terms of their stoneworking and hunting techniques and modes of foraging, whether planned or merely ad hoc. Such controversies feed back into the question of whether the Neanderthals are a distinct species or, as accepted here, a distinctive subspecies of H. sapiens. A related question is whether the Neanderthals were in any way ancestral to anatomically modern humans, especially of Europe. Recognition of a separate Neanderthal species implies an almost absolute reproductive isolation and lack of genealogical continuity, while the opposite is true for most interpretations of Neanderthals as members of H. sapiens. Here, however, another intermediate position is taken: H. sapiens neanderthalensis is considered to have been geographically and culturally isolated from early anatomically modern humans and their ancestors, two independent but closely related lineages evolving in parallel until they finally met, after which the former group soon became extinct. See also: Neandertals

Spread of modern humans

One of the major foci of recent paleoanthropological research is the clarification of the area of origin and early history of anatomically modern humans, H. s. sapiens. The skull of this form is characterized by a small, upright face; small teeth and brow ridges; chin; and high, rounded braincase. There are no specimens of this type known (or even hinted at) anywhere in the world earlier than about 150 Ka. But from about 150-100 Ka, in eastern and southern Africa, some fossils suggest the persistence of a "Rhodesian-like" morphology, while others (for example, at Kibish, in the Omo valley of Ethiopia, or at Djebel Irhoud, Morocco) are often considered to be nearly modern. Two somewhat younger sites in South Africa have produced the most important evidence. At Border Cave, a partial cranium and other fragments may date to nearly 90 Ka; they are clearly modern in form, but their date is questionable. The Klasies River Mouth caves, on the southern coast, have yielded a sequence of layers with good dates and archeological context; the human remains dated about 100 Ka are scrappy but appear modern, with a chin, small brow ridges, and overall gracility. In combination, these remains and other, less complete fossils indicate that early moderns were living in sub-Saharan African by about 100 Ka. Archeological remains of comparable antiquity in South Africa and Zaire indicate that at least some of these people were making Mode 3 (MSA) tool kits with elements (such as bone harpoons) which do not appear in Europe until after 20 Ka. See also: Early modern humans; Paleolithic; Prehistoric technology

From such a possible sub-Saharan origin, anatomically modern H. s. sapiens may have spread across the Old World, differentiating into local races by 80-50 Ka. This view of human dispersal has received support from studies of the distribution pattern of human mitochondrial deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA) haplotypes (variants) and other genetic evidence. The majority of these studies suggest that the major dichotomy in modern human population genetics is between Eurasians and Africans. Such results fit well with the fossil evidence for African versus Eurasian divergence about 100 Ka. Moreover, dates on early anatomically modern remains from Israel (Djebel Qafzeh and Skhul) documented the presence of the ancestors of Eurasians outside Africa by about 110-90 Ka. This is especially intriguing because most Israeli Neanderthals have been dated to about 65-45 Ka, significantly younger than the early moderns. Even more complexity is implied by the near-identity of Mousterian tool kits associated with the Neanderthals of Europe and Israel (and farther east), the early moderns from Israel, and the "pre-moderns" from Jebel Irhoud (Morocco), but the implications of this cultural similarity are as yet unclear.

The youngest known Neanderthal skull, found in the late 1970s, comes from southern France and is associated with tools of the Châtelperronian industry, a Mode 3 or 4 variety previously thought to have been made by H. s. sapiens. This specimen dated to 34 Ka has been alternatively interpreted as the maker of these tools (possibly after contact with Late Paleolithic moderns); as evidence for direct Neanderthal ancestry of moderns; or as a Neanderthal "captive" of moderns who made the tools. In some cases, more fossils do not solve problems but create new ones. Sites in southern Spain and Portugal have yielded less complete Neanderthal fossils and Mousterian tools dated about 30 Ka, after which modern H. s. sapiens was the sole form of human to be found anywhere. One reason for the success of H. s. sapiens may have been their greater tool-making efficiency, as documented by the Late (or Upper) Paleolithic Mode 4 blade-and-burin industries. These people included large quantities of worked bone in their tool kits (using burins to carve and engrave the bone), constructed dwellings of wood or of already fossilized animal bone, hunted large game, fished with harpoons, and in general behaved much like their living descendants. In many parts of the world, they also engaged in artistic pursuits, including carving small animal statues and perhaps calendars, as well as painting on the walls of rock overhangs and deep caves. See also: Paleolithic; Prehistoric technology

In 1999, Portugese and American paleoanthropologists described the remains of a 4-year-old child, buried near Lagar Velho, Portugal, about 24 Ka. The burial pattern and most of the child's morphology indicated links to the Gravettian culture, made by Cro-Magnon people elsewhere in Europe at this time. However, features of the lower leg bone (tibia) and lower jaw (the cranium was crushed and being reconstructed as of early 2001) suggested similarity to Neanderthals. The describers hypothesized that this individual might have been the result of hybridization between Neanderthals and Cro-Magnons, but other researchers argued that the morphology was not that diffrerent from what could be expected in a robust anatomically modern child and that hybridization would have resulted in features intermediate between Neanderthals and moderns, not clear features of each.

In contrast to the "Out of Africa" view of human dispersal (based on the idea that modern humans evolved in sub-Saharan Africa more than 100,000 years ago from Neanderthal populations) hypothesis accepted here, a minority view (the "Multiregional" hypothesis) interprets the fossil record to document the nearly parallel origin of modern humans in different regions of the Old World from a H. erectus ancestry. Each regional variety is said to present morphological characteristics linking archaic to modern populations, while gene flow between regions kept the geographical varieties united in a single species at any one time. Most scholars reject the implication that Neanderthals, for example, were ancestral to modern Europeans, or Chinese H. erectus to modern north Asians.

Many names have been given to early modern humans, especially in Europe, but these indicate only minor differences. The term Cro-Magnon derives from several skeletons found in 1868 in Les Eyzies, France. They gave their name to a "race" said to occur either just in France or across most of Europe. In fact, Cro-Magnon people were already essentially Europeans, while early Africans are known from sites in eastern and southern Africa. Australasia was colonized over water after about 70 Ka, with important finds at Keilor and Lake Mungo. New World Indians certainly originated from Siberia, by means of crossing a land bridge over what is now the Bering Strait. Many human fossil remains are known in the Americas as far back as 12 Ka, but some dates as old as 35 Ka have been obtained on archeological sites, indicating that perhaps several crossings of the land bridge occurred. See also: Early modern humans; Paleolithic; Prehistoric technology

Eric Delson

Dr. Solar Wolff
Wednesday, December 31st, 2003, 07:32 AM
There are a couple problems in which fossil evidence is never properly explained.

First, the early sapiens people found in Palestine which Coon originally said were sapiens-Neanderthal hybrids. They date before the out of Africa people put sapiens out of Africa. This article attempts to include them with a date of 110,000 to 100,000 years but the out of Africa people, using genetic evidence say max. 80,000 years. They say early extra-African sapiens, such as were in Palestine all died out.

Second, German scientists say recovered DNA from the original Neanderthal skeleton (Neander Valley) is too different from sapiens for hybridizaton or for Neanderthals to be ancestral to sapiens. Neanderthals had over 200,000 years of seperation if we include Swamscomb-Steimheim types as their ancestors. With 200,000 years in off and on in a glacial climate these guys would have been covered with fur, heavier than any chimp. No wonder sapiens didn't want to share genes with them.

Third, Australia was colonized by sapiens circa 70,000 according to the out of Africa people. Yet these skulls look like donkeys compared with every other sapien, past and present. Coon classified them all as erectus based on his cord-index. Thorne, who co-discovered the Kow Swamp skulls (the most recent of the bunch), originally called them erectus. Now, they have all done an about-face, trying to fall in line with genetics.

Also, Rhodesian-types were all simply evolved erectus. They were also strange below the neck but nobody wants to talk about that. They were also very late in time in some cases, lasting until about 25,000 years ago. Two populations inhabited South Africa until quite recently, the Rhodesian-type Untermenchen and the full sized Bushmen. Some think a single mutation bent the cranium and infantilized Bushmen from a Rhodesian ancestor. This does not account for the pelvic irregularities found in the Rhodesian types nor the very heavy and strong post-cranial bones which even Coon wanted to downplay.